Editorial / Home and hearth
Writing for boys’ own weekly
People/ Zaheer Khan
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Virginia Woolf had felt that a woman has no country. This could be echoed by millions of women round the world — no country and no home. Often, caught between the desire for “independence” and the impulse to nurture, women become unsure of their “own” ground, uncertain of what they can really call their own space, how much they can afford to give up to find such a space or even whether they want to do it. In India, the economic need to be married is an unavoidable reality for a large section of women. The recent Supreme Court ruling that a married woman, even if divorced and staying with her parents, cannot be counted as a member of her parent’s family is an involuntary reminder of the bewildering tensions associated with the concept of a woman’s “place”. The Supreme Court, of course, was concerned with the law, as was the Orissa high court, whose verdict was being upheld. The definition of “family” under the Orissa Land Reforms Act is consistent and clear. An individual’s family consists of that individual, his or her spouse, and their children whether major or minor. A major son who is married and has separated from the family by partition or by any other means, is not part of the “family”. A married daughter, similarly, cannot be considered part of the family. There is no partition needed in this case; the departure to the husband’s home is the beginning of a new family.

This is perfectly just, given that it is matters of property and its division which make up the larger context of the definition. Property and inheritance laws throughout India have been repeatedly examined and often amended or reinterpreted in the attempt to give the woman a fair deal. The situation is not yet ideal, given the weight of traditional laws and the damage done by social usage. But most of the higher courts and the Supreme Court have been showing far more gender sensitivity than in the past, especially in recovering the spirit behind many of the Indian laws in order to rescue them from popular abuse induced by long practice. A strict definition of family is necessary whenever there is the possibility of later confusion over the division of property, especially in a state like Orissa, where land is a major contributor to the economy and where it is particularly difficult to arrive at a common and fair practice because of the many traditional customs of tribal groups, the shared use of forests and the concept of forest as common property.

But a fair law, its context and logic is one thing, the situation of women quite another. It is not exactly parallel to that of a married son who has gone his way by partition or other means. However much the law and the courts try to correct the injustices in the practice of society, they cannot yet remove the deep layers of insecurity within women. Indian society’s treatment of women — here “society” includes other women as well — has created a problem that will take more than the law to solve. That is why justice and logic in any issue which touches upon women bring up questions of what can be called the morality of justice. A divorced woman in India is not in an enviable position, even today, and even if she has property in her own name. In her case, the sense of family, or belonging, is sometimes as important as justice.

It is true that a definition of family is fundamental in the context of property and inheritance, and it is most often in cases regarding these questions that the court is involved. The law is not discriminatory. What is unfortunate is that the existence of such a legal definition is an indirect cause of insecurity for women just as the existence of many other laws are reason for a sense of security. It is almost impossible, still, not to touch upon women’s self-questioning about their identity and place through the most just and understanding of definitions.


The sufferings of Marie Colvin, the award-winning London-based American reporter who was blinded in Sri Lanka, arouses interest and concern, but also prompts disturbing questions about the conduct of Western journalism and the West’s attitude to Asian crises.

This intrepid 45-year-old woman who obviously lives by the sound and smoke of battle has been reporting for London’s Sunday Times newspaper since 1986. Yemen and the intifada, the Iran-Iraq and Gulf wars, Beirut, Chechnya, East Timor and Zimbabwe have been her baptismal fonts. “Marie has been in the front line for many years, operating with unfailing bravery,” noted the judges when bestowing on her the British Press Awards Foreign Reporter of the Year title. Agreeing, Warren Beatty thought that her life would make a great film.

It should also serve as an uplifting example for the media everywhere. It would be tragic if the injury to her left eye affects her career, and her assurance that it will not — “I am not going to hang up my flak jacket as a result of this incident” — has been received with relief even by those who fear that the public relevance of the crusading war reporter in search of private thrills is somewhat exaggerated. To be useful, physical courage such as Colvin displays must also be matched by impeccably professional standards of operation and reporting.

This is where her saga is found wanting. The long account that she wrote in the Sunday Times when the American embassy in Colombo flew her out to New York for an eye operation could do incalculable harm to the situation by presenting the Sri Lankan government as an evil ogre and the Tamil Tigers as valiant innocents. It is also bound to increase scepticism about the Western, especially American, commitment to human rights.

The story reads like a gripping boys’ own adventure that makes no pretence to political insight, historical explanation, journalistic honesty or mature judgment. Ironically, it says nothing either about the roots of legitimate Tamil protest, and the genuine disabilities under which the minority laboured after independence. Nor does it disclose that friends in the Palestine Liberation Organization (which has a role in arming and training the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) had promised her an interview with V. Prabhakaran who has, apparently, so far given only two interviews to the foreign media. Obviously, a third interview would have been a tremendous feather in Colvin’s journalistic cap.

Armed with that promise, therefore, she applied for a Sri Lankan visa, saying that the visit’s purpose was to interview the foreign minister. Visa easily obtained, she checked into Colombo’s Galle Face hotel. But when government emissaries sought her there for the ministerial appointment, Colvin was nowhere to be found. Escorted by the Tigers, she had slipped surreptitiously into the rebel-controlled northern area known as the Vanni to keep her promised tryst with Prabhakaran.

Colvin’s colleagues in London were unable to say why the interview never did take place. If she fooled the Sri Lankan government, the LTTE seems to have fooled her. But it gained a rich propaganda bonanza from her complicity, for the report that she filed from the rebel stronghold roundly blamed the government for “an unreported humanitarian crisis — people starving, international aid agencies banned from distributing food, no mains electricity, no telephone service, few medicines, no fuel for cars, water pumps or lighting.”

There is nothing in this description to indicate that the Vanni’s plight is entirely of the Tigers’ making. The Sri Lankan forces have not laid siege to peaceful villages; they have been trying since 1995, when Jaffna capitulated, to restore the government’s writ in the remaining rebel stronghold. But in Colvin’s version, the authorities have bottled up 500,000 unoffending Tamil civilians under an economic embargo, betrayed the spirit of the negotiations through a Norwegian envoy, and clamped censorship on what is happening. “The only news of the problems with those negotiations came from the government”, she says, the statement itself giving the lie to her accusation, and testifying to the LTTE’s powerful international voice.

This simplistic narrative made no effort to delve into the tortured century-old history of Sinhalese-Tamil relations. Nor to explain Chandrika Kumaratunga’s dogged attempts to push through a new constitution that is federal in all but name and which would allow the Tamil-inhabited areas a large measure of autonomy. Colvin did not breathe a word of the methods by which the Tigers raise funds globally and exact unflinching obedience at home. There are allegations of running drugs and guns, the forced recruitment of small boys, and a campaign of terror against not just Sinhalese leaders who can be counted as foes, but, even more, against all moderate Tamils.

From Lalith Athuladmudali to Neelam Tiruchelvam, the list of martyrs is long. Indeed, any Tamil of vision and wisdom who seeks to serve the Tamil nation within Sri Lankan parameters is marked out and gunned down. The LTTE exterminates all rival political parties.

Instead, Colvin describes in detail how she “was ambushed while trying to walk out of the (Vanni) area last Monday”. This is pure fabrication for, by her own admission, the army was unaware of her nocturnal escapade. A regular military patrol happened to spot her and her Tiger companions (who promptly melted away leaving her wounded and bleeding on the ground) but with no idea of her identity. The burst of shrapnel fire that hit her was not directed at her. She just happened to be caught in the crossfire, an anonymous figure in the jungle.

As soon as the patrol discovered that it had a foreign woman on its hands, it rushed her from one hospital to another for x-rays and treatment, provoking the ungracious complaint that she was “never out of army custody”. She also chooses to read sinister meaning into the army surgeon’s generous offer of an immediate operation. Still indulgent if nervous, the military then got in touch with the American embassy and allowed its “personable public affairs officer” to spirit her away like a latter-day Sir Galahad.

Predictably, Colvin’s own American imagery is more vividly cinematic. “It was like the moment in a classic Wild West movie when the quiet guy faces down the armed and dangerous gang.” She is probably already considering film rights.

The Tigers might derive satisfaction from her litany of calumny and self-dramatization, but British journalists who cover the Sri Lankan civil war are not taken in. They make several points. First, her report of the adventure is misleading. Second, she should not have deceived the government about the purpose of her visit — the Tigers could have smuggled her into the Vanni, or Prabhakaran could have met her elsewhere. Third, why does she not say anything about the PLO’s role and the promised interview that never was? Finally, the excitement of the midnight capture and the damage to her eye would have been avoided if she had returned openly by daylight along the village road instead of skulking in the jungle after dark.

The journey back seems to have been deliberately provocative. Given the Tigers’ predilection for female suicide bombers, it is a wonder that the army did not shoot at sight and to kill. A further point that is made is that since Britain has now followed other governments in proscribing the LTTE as a terrorist outfit, no British newspaper should have any truck with it.

Many full-blooded reporters would of course reject this counsel, but their defiance would impress only if the outcome bears the hallmark of responsible journalism. Sri Lanka’s Tamils have many legitimate grievances and need and deserve friends in other communities at home and abroad. But they can gain nothing from flashy here-today-gone-tomorrow operators whose interest in self-glorification prompts them to titillate the world with distorted pictures of the situation on the ground.



Coming Age

Magic was in the air at the Gujarat State Fertilizer Corporation Ground, Baroda this week. In a nail biting finish, one underdog pipped another to win the Ranji trophy after nearly four decades. The last gasp 21 run victory for Baroda had come in large measure due to an inspired burst from Zaheer Khan, who fitted in to the script perfectly, a small town boy (make that a village) who until a few years ago was a bit of an underdog himself.

It is a sign of how much Indian cricket has travelled in the last two decades that the four semi-finalists in this years Ranji trophy were Baroda, Railways, Orissa and Punjab. An unlikely foursome, if ever there was one. And yet another indicator that small towns in India can now lay as much stake to Indian cricket as places like Mumbai. “A lot of cricket is being played in the interiors. It is just a question of exposure. The more you explore, the more talent you are likely to get,” says Aungshuman Gaekwad, former Indian coach, test player and resident of Baroda.

Zaheer Khan has certainly turned out to be a goldmine. The moment he turned out for India at the ICC tournament in Nairobi, he served notice that he was no run-of-the-mill Indian medium pacer. “Zaheer is much more aggressive, and sent bumpers flying past the Waugh brothers,” noted Peter Roebuck, cricket writer and former Somerset captain. He went on to add, “Zaheer bowled fast and swung the ball back into the right-handers. It is not a bad combination. If he keeps his head, he will be around for a long time,” added Roebuck gushingly.

The more Zaheer’s graph has soared, the redder the faces of Mumbai selectors have become. A young Zaheer from Srirampur village in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra had initially tried his luck for the Mumbai team. A late bloomer of sorts, he started playing cricket seriously only when he was in Class XII. Until then he had always been a bit of a tennis ball cricket player.

As luck would have it, he didn’t get in. The city slickers did for sure. But he had been noticed by former test player Sudhir Naik. Naik suggested some quick damage control and asked him to join the MRF pace foundation in Chennai. He was to spend three gruelling years there, learning the tricks of the trade from Dennis Lillee and resident coach T.A. Sekhar. Naik played godfather once again when he suggested that Zaheer opt for the Baroda Ranji trophy team. It took only one season with them before he found himself pitchforked into the Indian team, running up to bowl for the country against Kenya at the Gymkhana Ground of Nairobi. His competition in the Mumbai team, the ones who had been preferred over him — Abey Kuruvilla, Paras Mhambrey, Manish Patel and a few others — were not even sure of their places for the Ranji trophy team by then.

In the three years that he spent with the MRF academy, Zaheer was constantly adding extra zing to his bowling. Lillee advised him to go and take advantage of a stint with the Australian cricket academy. He came back a wiser bowler.

Somewhere along the way, he also junked his dreams of becoming an engineer, the staple ambition of any ambitious small-towner. The 22-year-old now talks only of cricket and his role models. “Well, I guess it has to be Dennis Lillee. But I also have great admiration for Wasim Akram. He has an amazing ability to swing the ball both ways and bowl yorkers at will,” he said in an interview not so long ago.

It is no wonder that many are already seeing him as yet another Wasim Akram. He is TV friendly — as he has proved in a Pepsi advertisement — and is now surely on his way to becoming yet another poster boy for Indian cricket. And he is as aggressive as they come. All through the just concluded Australian series, he constantly sparred verbally with the batsmen even as he bowled his heart out. Steve Waugh sure did get a lot of attention from this youngster. He always had. Even in his first tournament in Nairobi, he had first served notice with a dream delivery that had dismissed Waugh.

There is a lot he will have to learn if he wants to become the Wasim Akram of India, to move from being a good bowler to becoming a great one. He is already enjoying his batting. There were the four consecutive sixes against Zimbabwe last year. And the crucial three-quarters of an hour that he spent at the crease in Chennai during the cliff-hanger last test match with the Aussies. “I have to work more on the incoming delivery. And then I also tend to stare down the leg side,” he confessed in a recent interview. There is also the art of bowling the slower ball which he is yet to master.

But he has done enough to put the other India on the map. In the dust bowls of the country’s hinterland, there are a lot of wannabe Zaheer Khans waiting now, for their season in the sun.



That’s what friends are for

Meet the new political bum-chums. The Union minister, LK Advani, and the Tehelka ravaged former defence minister, George Fernandes, are now inseparable. They talk for long hours, travel together and hold rallies to live down the NDA’s Tehelka shame. One other subject of common interest between the dosts — to get even with the Vajpayee-favourite Jaswant Singh, who has within his clasp the crucial portfolios of external affairs and defence. Another thing between friends — once the Venkatswami commission gives a clean chit to the NDA convenor, Advani and George allegedly have plans to swap posts. The home minister would become raksha mantri and George the minister for internal security and home. For Advani, who recently found out that Sardar Patel actually occupied the South Bloc and not his present office, it will be his chance to inhabit the chamber Patel once sat in. But if occupancy of a seat made one into its former occupant, Advani should have become BR Ambedkar by now. Looks like personal choice has stalled the process here. Anyway, our minister with his dear friend is trying his utmost to stave off the Tehelka storm. One reason to meet the media baron and TDP sympathizer, Ramaji Rao, who was requested to persuade N Chandrababu Naidu to join hands with the NDA. With the 29 TDP MPs, NDA could make up for the recent desertions. Friends in need are friends indeed?

Pandemonium in the house

If Congresswallahs haven’t developed a fear psychosis about Parliament, it would be a miracle of sorts. Proceedings in the two houses are becoming a nightmare for the party because every advantage for the opposition somehow turns into the stickiest of points. The second part of the budget session proved to be no different when after its hopeless performance in the Lok Sabha, the Congress found itself the laughing stock in the Rajya Sabha as well. Manmohan Singh decided to take on Yashwant Sinha on customsgate, challenging the finance ministry on how it had appointed BP Verma as chairman of the Central board of customs despite the vigilance inquiries. One could see Singh eating his words when Sinha promptly got up and began reading from the confidential report given by the finance ministry when Manmohan was himself in charge. The CR, much to Singh’s consternation, spoke highly of Verma. Unable to bear it any longer, Singh and his party were seen trooping out of the house as Sinha continued to regale members with more details of Verma’s CR. Little wonder the Congress so readily agreed to the adjournment move.

All there is in a name

The other side of politics. The common surname with the former Samata Party president, Jaya Jaitly, seems to have become a major problem for the other Jaitleys. Each time there is an allegation against Jaya Jaitly, it is presumed by the minions that the woman is the better half of the Union law minister, Arun Jaitley. To elaborate on this difficulty. Soon after the Tehelka expose, Arun’s wife had gone for a medical examination. At the medical centre, Mrs Jaitley was amazed to find doctors, nurses and the other members of the staff looking at her rather strangely. Some even went to the length of sympathizing with her, adding that she was being harassed for no fault of hers. Our lady continued to be befuddled by the varied expressions, till the medical reports reached her. The reports were addressed to Jaya Jaitley, w/o Arun Jaitley. The attendance of the Arun Jaitleys at the wedding of Jaya Jaitly’s daughter, Aditi, was probably to clear the confusion. One Jaitly, presumably, is not as good as the other.

Monkeys in our orchard

The other side of Calcutta. At the Chandni Chowk Metro station, reveries were suddenly broken by a loud bark, “You cannot do this”. This was either from the footballer Chima, or a Chima look-alike and meant for a bhadrolok who had displayed a rare agility by suddenly overtaking the man in front and punching his ticket on the exit gate. While the one with the athletic frame argued that it was his turn, the other slunk away. But he had the bhadrolok brigade to take up his cause. In a chorus, thebabus hurled their choicest invectives at the rebel. His colour was discussed and so was his race. Then he, together with the rest of his breed, were referred to as jambubans (monkeys), who had taken over Bengal’s sports and who dared to hold the bhadrolok in contempt. All this in pure vernacular and in third person to the back of the gigantic man who strode out of the Metro station and into the burning Central Avenue beyond. Would you still doubt Bengali courage?

Footnote / He’s got the ticket to ride

It’s one man holding up the Congress baton. Chief minister of Chhattisgarh, Ajit Jogi, starts his day and his speeches in the praise of Soniaji, “Unke kripa se, unki aashirwad se mein mukhya mantri bana hoon (“With her wishes and blessings, I have become the chief minister”). And quite justifiably. The former party spokesman, was neither an MLA, nor an MP from Chhattisgarh. He had, moreover, lost the Lok Sabha elections from Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh. And in the rat race for the hot seat, he was struggling behind a dozen candidates with only three of the 48 Congress MLAs in the state by his side. It was madam who made him the CM and Jogi is all gratitude. Naturally he believes, “Is desh ko agar koi sawar sakta hai, saja sakta hai, chala sakta hai, woh hai Soniaji (if there is anyone in this country who can nourish it, embellish it, run it, it is Sonia)”. Naturally also, it is Jogi and not Digvijay Singh, the one who finally garnered 41 MLAs to Jogi’s side, who gets a joyride with madam in her aircraft for the next programme in Bhopal. And thereafter for another meeting in Mumbai. Looks like Jogi will go places.    


Minister, be sporting

Sir — The current crisis between the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the sports minister, Uma Bharti, seems to be going beyond control (“World Cup boycott ball in Atal court”, April 25). Their is a clash of egos between them. First, a sports minister should be a person who has adequate knowledge of sports. It is unfortunate that there is hardly anyone capable of doing this job in India. It is also sad that people are bringing politics into sports. Tension between India and Pakistan is a very old affair. We need healthy relations between the countries and there will be many factors going against this; but we have to try and stop these. Why is Bharti unnecessarily trying to create a vitiated atmosphere?
Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Incorrigible Bihar

Sir — Bhaskar Ghose’s article, “That dreadful state” (April 13), gives us much to ponder. The incident at Mohammed Shahabuddin’s village in Siwan exposes the fact that state power is subservient to the dons and criminals who rule Bihar. These politicians who openly defy the rule of law get away with anything. Despite their criminal records they enjoy immense political clout.

Bihar still suffers from over-population, political discontent and extreme poverty. Officials are too fearful of their own safety to resist the lawlessness and the police seldom pursue criminal cases against powerful members of parliament and the legislative assembly. The question that stares us in the face now is: “who is responsible for this pitiable condition of the state?” Perhaps, the citizens of the state and the protectors of the law have to share the blame for their ineffectuality.

Yours faithfully,
Sheeba Samul, Calcutta

Sir — Nirmalendu Bikash Rakshit paints a very bleak picture in “Bihar’s misrule of the law” (April 18). The ransacking of the office of the transport secretary, N.K. Sinha, by the member of the legislative assembly and Rabri Devi’s brother, Sadhu Yadav, was shameful. This is an example of how civil servants and the elected representatives of the people can come into direct confrontation. No one doubts that civil servants can make mistakes. But the procedure to be initiated against him should be legal and democratic. For the fulfilment of personal interests, Sadhu Yadav decided to overstep all limits of civility. Bihar seems to be moving towards anarchy. How long can this be allowed to continue?

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Azimganj

Sir — The Bihar panchayat elections have exposed the reality of the security arrangements in the state. The events of booth-capturing and widespread violence have proved once again that crime cannot be removed from Bihar in spite of every effort made by the Centre. Democratic values simply do not matter.

,dt>Yours faithfully,
Krishna Murari Kumar, Sherghati

Parting shot

Sir — In “Chief Justice” (April 17), Arun Jaitley is supposed to have rejected the probe into the acquisition of immovable property by Justice A.S. Anand because it would be “subversive of judicial independence”. But, judicial independence relates only to the judicial process. The judiciary is after all an organ of the state. Isn’t it accountable to the state and to the people? Whatever happened to checks and balances?
Yours faithfully,
Thura Juragam, Vellore

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