Editorial 1 / Bear Hug
Editorial 2 / Not with The Lady
In our end is our beginning
Fifth Column / Thoughts for a settled future
Ferment at the grassroots
Why the dotcom bubble burst so quickly
Letters to the editor

The enduring stability of Indo-Russian relations was once again demonstrated by the recent visit of the Russian foreign minister, Mr Igor Ivanov, to India. Apprehensions that New Delhi’s growing proximity to Washington may weaken its relationship with Moscow were clearly misplaced. Despite the changes in bilateral ties after the end of the cold war, there is a continued convergence of bilateral interests and this makes it profitable for both India and Russia to maintain close ties. A Russian foreign office spokesman, on the eve of Mr Ivanov’s visit, quite appropriately defined the relationship as “problem free”, “self-sufficient”, “intransient” and which was not dependent on either Moscow or New Delhi’s relations with third countries.

A key concern for both countries is terrorism and the growing threat posed to regional stability by the taliban regime in Afghanistan. The two countries have established a Joint Working Group on Afghanistan. It may be recalled that during the visit of the Russian president, Mr Vladimir Putin, to India, both countries had agreed to coordinate their strategies to deal with the new form of religious terrorism, inspired by Pakistan and Afghanistan, that is seeking to subvert secular, multi-ethnic, pluralistic countries, of which India and Russia are among the largest. Moscow and New Delhi are now working together in the United Nations to impose tougher sanctions against the taliban “unless they cease support to international terrorism, drug trafficking and conform to international norms on human rights”. This is part of a global campaign, which includes the United States, against the medievalist regime in Afghanistan. India and Russia are also cooperating on nuclear and defence issues. During president Putin’s visit, a memorandum of understanding was signed on furthering bilateral cooperation on peaceful uses of atomic energy. Although the precise details of the memorandum are still not known, it signalled Moscow’s decision to move away from the Nuclear Suppliers Group strategy of blanket non-cooperation with India on nuclear issues until it accepts full scope safeguards on its facilities. Further discussion on the issue must have been a part of the agenda of talks with the visiting Russian foreign minister.

It is immature to believe that Indo-Russian ties could have been derailed by New Delhi’s enthusiastic reception of the speech of the US president, George W. Bush, on National Missile Defence. Although New Delhi clearly believes that it should engage the US on the issue, and welcomes plans to cut nuclear forces, it does not support a unilateral abrogation of the anti-ballistic missile treaty that was signed between the US and the Soviet Union in the Seventies. Moreover, both New Delhi and Moscow agree that a ballistic missile defence system should be developed only after wide consultation and consensus-building. New Delhi’s relations with Washington or Moscow must not be viewed in a zero-sum context. The cold war is over. India can and should build and sustain close ties with both Russia and the US.


During election time, any prime minister has to put on two hats. Wearing one hat, he is the leader of the nation, and with the other on, he is the leader of a political party. Thus, it will surprise nobody that Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, during his whistle-stop election campaign in West Bengal, should welcome Mr Ajit Panja. The latter is officially still a member of the Lok Sabha, elected on a Trinamool Congress ticket. But Mr Panja has decided to fly his flag of dissent against the decision and behaviour of Ms Mamata Banerjee, the one and only leader of the Trinamool Congress. Mr Panja has asserted that there was no formal decision within the party to leave the National Democratic Alliance and no formal letter was sent to the speaker of the Lok Sabha stating that the Trinamool Congress was no longer a part of the NDA. Mr Panja is obviously pained by what he thinks is Ms Banerjee’s highhandedness and he also disapproves of the decision to leave the ruling coalition. Mr Panja chose, just before the elections, to go public with his dissent and made the claim that other members of parliament from his party share his sentiments. Without going into the veracity of all that Mr Panja has said and alleged, it is clear that his words are music to the ears of Mr Vajpayee.

The prime minister is justifiably miffed at Ms Banerjee’s exit from the NDA. As the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Mr Vajpayee must be aware that in West Bengal his party has lost a valuable ally. The BJP has no independent standing in the state. Its gains in the last Lok Sabha accrued to it because of its tie up with the Trinamool Congress. For the forthcoming assembly polls, it has been forced to fight alone and be caught in the middle of the battle royal between Ms Banerjee and the Left Front. Neither is friendly towards the BJP. Thus Mr Panja’s show of solidarity to the NDA is like a godsend to Mr Vajpayee both as prime minister and as leader of the BJP. It is logical that Mr Vajpayee would like others in the Trinamool Congress to follow in Mr Panja’s footsteps. Mr Vajpayee has thus given an open call to the other Trinamool Congress MPs to come back to the NDA fold. This might appear to be an advocacy of defection. But Mr Vajpayee, as leader of the NDA and the BJP, is justified in trying to increase his support in the Lok Sabha. For the nonce, Mr Panja has had no imitators. But this might change if Ms Banerjee’s showing is not up to expectations. On the other hand, if she makes it to the Writers’ Buildings, Mr Panja might find himself in a political cul de sac with his exit cut off.


Technological strides are unstoppable. The television screen will now bring bloodsport right into your living room. An execution is programmed in one of the southern states in the United States. The person to be executed, it hardly needs any saying, is a black citizen. A television company has applied to the state authorities for exclusive rights for showing live the execution. All you have to do to be a part of the participatory sport is to pay the necessary fee to the pay channel; you can then relax in your love seat and watch the nigger die the deserving death. A nigger by definition always richly deserves the death that is handed down to him.

The event stresses a basic fact of life. The claim that technological advance always signifies a higher level of civilization is altogether untenable. Technology promises to reach unprecedented heights in the 21st century. That has nothing to do with civilization though. Technological progress, it might even be suggested, has, under certain circumstances, an inverse relationship with civilized modes of behaviour.

Bloodsport, in its relatively modern version, refers to the hunting of foxes and similar species. In olden days, in its raw form, bloodsport implied something much more exciting, much more raw. The amphitheatre — or was it the Coliseum — was full of a Roman crowd thirsting for blood. The crowd did not have to wait for long. The lions were already roaming the arena; they were thirsty for human blood and hungry for human flesh. Soon, the slaves were pushed in to the glee of the roaring lions. They threw themselves on the slaves and tore the human bodies limb by limb; they gobbled huge lumps of human flesh with blood oozing from their mouths and spilling onto the ground. The frenzy of the crowd would reach fever pitch. Entertainment, thy name was bloodsport, the letting of human blood.

The ambience is of course vastly different today. The supposedly civilized people, nourished by continuous technological marvels, want entertainment to be brought to their living rooms. The family would gather round the ersatz fireplace and stare, with indolent eyes, at the 48-inch television screen across. Perhaps a Chopin nocturne will be played, or a movement from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The children would munch their hamburgers and their parents would sip bourbon on the rocks. It would have been better if there were a proper beheading. But, here again, technological advance is the deciding factor; you cannot wage a battle against cultural progress either.

The instrument chosen these days for snuffing out the life of a condemned prisoner is most of the time an electric shock, or a lethal injection. The TV company would have, however, made appropriate arrangements with the prison authorities. Given their cooperation with each other, the tempo would be slowly built over half-an-hour or a 45- minute period. The master of ceremonies would dig into history and go rapidly over the record of past executions in the state and the method used in each case; this would be accompanied by film clips.

Shots would be shown of interviews with the judge who ordered the execution at the final stage, with the prosecuting lawyer and with the advocate who defended the accused. The state governor who rejected the mercy petition would not be denied his say either. Members of the family of the about-to-be-executed prisoner — his mother, wife, teenage daughter — would be allotted two minutes each; equal time would be given to members of the victim’s family. There would be pictures from different angles of the cell occupied by the condemned man during his final days. Details of the course of the last meal he had just eaten would be mentioned. Shots, long, medium and short, of the run-down house in the shanty town where the man used to live with his family, would be projected on the TV screen for one full minute.

Such would be the exhibition of bloodsport in its most sophisticated, state-of-the-art form. The Roman coliseum and the Greek amphitheatre are anachronisms. The 21st century demands that entertainment of this genre must be brought right into your home. The children would shriek in pleasure at the sight of the man dropping off dead even as you sip your bourbon on the rocks, stretching your legs on the chaise longue.

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the man sent to his death would be black. He must have committed a murder, or at least the prosecution must have convinced the judge in the lower court — and the various layers of appeal courts subsequently — that he must have committed the murder. Sometimes the condemned person need not himself commit the murder; if he were an accessory after the fact, that itself would satisfy the judiciary. In case the smoking gun was not available, even circumstantial evidence would do, should the accused happen to be black.

We are obviously back to the savage age. Technology, it follows, has nothing to do with levels of civilization. Sophistication, too, is an irrelevant issue. You can be terrifically sophisticated and yet belong to the tribe of savages, for you enjoy nothing more than the viewing of the execution of a black person while relaxing in your chaise longue. Once the event is over, there would be an exchange of views amongst neighbours over the telephone on the quality of the presentation just as, in the time of emperor Vespasian, Rome’s rabble would applaud or downrate the performance of the lions in the act of mauling the slaves.

According to the lexicon currently in vogue in civilized societies, cosmetics is interchangeable with sophistication. This is borne out by the change of nomenclature of those who were once called niggers. Some 50 years ago, they were redesigned as blacks. Now, with the further honing of civilization, the sobriquet used is Afro-Americans. Sophistication however shifts nomenclature, it does not affect attitudes or behaviour patterns.

In the celebrated presidential election in the US which took place on the Tuesday following the first Monday of November last year, blacks were turned away from the polling booths in their thousands; no, the problem was not that their names were not listed in the poll register; the alibi had a touch of, shall one say, sophistication; what could be done, the ballot papers were exhausted. That was not all. The civil rights legislation of 1956, which also embraced the issue of voting rights, has not made the least difference. Even as late as today, in as many as 14 states in the south, blacks are prevented from casting their vote on the ground that they are former criminals, notwithstanding the fact that they have completed their period of sentence and are no longer either in prison or on probation or parole; their names are excluded routinely from the voters’ list. Easily a million blacks continue to be disenfranchised in this manner.

Four decades ago, Luis Buñuel had produced a devastating film, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which lampooned the hypocrisy of the upper classes in the matter of bodily functions. He merely anticipated, with prescience, the retrogression of civilization which has accompanied technological advance. Those bragging of technological super-sophistications are, it would seem, in their modality of life and living, little better than the primitive savages. T.S. Eliot, speaking on behalf of Western civilization, summed it up most cogently: “In our end is our beginning.”


Slums and squatter settlements have become a permanent feature with Indian cities and pose a formidable challenge to urban planners and economists. What is often missed is the fact that these are largely a product of a particular policy — rent control. Lack of accommodation and distorted planning, often believed to be the reason behind these settlements, are only symptoms of a malaise. Rent controls, which jeopardize the possibility of having a market in rental housing by allowing tenants to usurp rented properpty, are actually to blame.

The pernicious effects of rent control legislation has long been recognized by economists. Rent controls are price ceilings imposed to freeze rents at a time when equilibrium rents are rising either due to rising demand — because of a growing population and incomes — or because supply of rental housing is falling.

Rent control almost invariably leads to housing shortages, black market prices, laws that prevent eviction of tenants and a resultant reluctance of tenants to move out. While the first generation of tenants may gain from controlled rents, future generations suffer from a drastically reduced supply of rental accommodation.

These effects of rent control have been obvious in the United Kingdom. Rent control was introduced there in 1914. Within 60 years, the market for rental accommodation almost disappeared. In 1989, the British government was forced to scrap rent controls.

To black market

Whenever rent controls have been imposed, black markets have appeared in rental housing. Landlords demand large entrance fees from new tenants and many even try to evict existing tenants. Tenants may sublet their accommodation, charging the market price while paying the controlled price themselves. Rent control does not assure a secure supply of cheap housing for lower income households. Instead, it redistributes incomes from landlords to tenants, who may not be necessarily poorer.

Rent controls also lead to inefficient use of housing. Tenants have unlimited rights to use, but limited rights to manage, modify or transfer property. In the absence of necessary renovations, rented property often becomes run down. Again, rent control distorts the system in favour of those who stay for a short term. Nowadays, landlords mostly enter into short-term agreements with tenants.

The class of landlords is also not homogeneous. While some are law-abiding, others use illegal means to enforce contracts and often extract higher rents from the lower end of the tenancy market. Rent control thereby ends up affecting the low-income tenant, who is compelled to go to the informal rental market with little or no legal protection. Such rental markets are what are known as slums or squatter colonies.

Way to the dump

Although the link may not be immediately evident, rent controls directly lead to the growth of slums. Since the poor and lower middle class cannot afford anything other than rented accommodation, they have to solicit the assistance of politicized slumlords. All rented accommodation below the ceiling imposed by the rent control laws are under the control of land mafias in large cities.

According to a study, the total population in the slums of India should cross 6.18 crore this year, which is 21.25 per cent of the 29.10 crore urban population. In West Bengal, the total urban population is estimated at 2.36 crore, of which those in slums number 66 lakh.

While there has been natural growth of the urban population, migration from rural areas has aggravated the problem. Cities like Calcutta have had to further cope with the influx of refugees at the time of Partition and wars. The shortage of shelter caused by archaic rent control laws has forced large numbers of the poor people to live in slums and on the pavements. If rent control is scrapped and transport to the suburbs improved, a market for cheap rental accommodation may come up where people will find quality housing.

While new houses have to be constructed on a massive scale to house the poor slum dweller, abolition of rent control would go a long way in freeing the market for rental housing and thereby enable the poor to move into quality housing they can afford.


Twentyfour year old Vijay Kumar Singh, suave, intelligent, “informed” and armed with an engineering degree is the new face of rural Bihar. Singh could have been moving up the corporate ladder in any blue chip firm. But the youth spent the better part of April canvassing in Nahrwar, a village in north Bihar’s Saharsha district.

Singh wooed upper caste voters and clashed with his Dalit adversaries while contesting for the mukhia’s post in the recent panchayat polls. “I did not get a permanent job after completing my MSc from Magadh University. Even my part-time job as lecturer was not confirmed. So I am in the fray, shaping my destiny”, says Singh. The Vijay Singhs of Bihar are not only redefining their own destiny, but that of the state. They are charting a new cou- rse for Bihar’s backwaters. “The panchayat poll has levelled us all”, observes Singh.

The recently concluded panchayat polls in Bihar threw up a peculiar assortment of candidates –— rich feudal landlords, the educated unemployed, farm labourers, rich housewives and NGO activists. It was a mad scramble for the rural development pie, a slot in the village level panchayat. These grassroots level hubs are also the opportunity for politicians to consolidate money and muscle power at the expense of the vast multitude of the rural poor. They therefore fielded their brothers, sisters and even wives.

Saharsha in its microcosm reflects all that ails Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Bihar. Paradoxically, it is also the nucleus of change. Flanked by river Kosi, it is a hostile terrain ravaged by floods and frequent outbreaks of kalaazar. Its agrarian society is fractured vertically along caste lines.

The friction caused by candidates like Vijay Singh and his like and those of the backward castes, who are asserting themselves for the first time, is mirrored in the bloody clashes that rocked the district prior to the polls. There are also a motley crew of women desperate to break the gender cordon. “While men are socially mobile, women are consigned to the bottom of the heap. But this time we are going to assert”, is what Nilam Prakash, a 32 year old backward caste woman contestant had to say. Prakash was the butt of upper caste ire “for allegedly inciting the Dalits against them” through her organization, the Mahila Chetna Vikash Manch.

From Saharsha, down the south Ganga basin, the plains of erstwhile central Bihar have witnessed violent social upheavals despite the high agricultural output. The acrimony between the backward castes and the upper castes have perpetuated an atavistic war between the landlords’ private militia, the Ranbir Sena, and the pro-Dalit Naxalite groups. Issues like “actual possession of land” allotted to Dalits following land reforms and the demand for basic minimum wages spurred members of the warring caste groups to field themselves in the polls.

The moribund state machinery, comprising an axis of the local police, magistrates and block officials, zealously guards its turf against a possible invasion by the “marginalized” groups, who threaten to swamp the system with their new found belligerence. For instance, in Patna’s Punpun block and the adjoining Masaurhi and Dhanarua, the lines are firmly etched. Any territorial encroachment results in violent skirmishes between the police and the Naxalites.

The pragmatic ultra-left thus decided to change tack this time by shedding its mantle of aggression. While the feudal militias — there are many like the Ranbir Sena, the North Bihar Liberation Front and Pandav Sena — battled for a mere 10 per cent of the total panchayat upper caste votes, thereby diluting their might in the melee, the more astute reds extended tacit support to the democratic process. They used their guns to field their men in vantage seats and for the first time remained silent on poll boycott. A former Maoist Communist Centre activist, Iqbal, who contested the polls, contends: “If we don’t place our men at the right places, the social equity process will be reversed. ”

Iqbal’s telling remark signals the winds of change. Post-poll Bihar will ne- ver be the same again if a new order manages to break into the 23-year old “iron chest democracy” of Bihar legitimized by an unholy mukhia-contractor-mafia nex- us. (The term, “iron chest”, owes its origin to the mukhias’ practice of stashing away funds, ordinary complaints, or development projects in iron chests in their offices). The new members will handle over Rs 12,000 crore in state and the Central funds annually. The presence of a large number of Dalits and women candidates, a fallout of the reservations, might imbue the structure with more transparency.

“The system should work better this time”, says state panchayat minister, Upendra Prasad Verma. At least 32,000 women candidates and over 50,000 Dalits are expected to find a place in the 8,438 gram panchayats.

However, a study by Participatory Research in Asia came out with revealing insights into the large participation of women in the exercise. “A lot of men saw their rule in the panchayats end following implementation of women’s quota. Therefore, they pressured their wives or other female members in the family to contest the polls.When elected they are forced to act like puppet,” cites the report. Any rebellion is quelled with ruthlessness.

In Bihar, “the form of retribution on women by vested interests can be violent; the resurging Dalits may have to make more sacrifices for daring to take on their oppressors”, feels Kishori Das, general secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties.

Despite these structural and institutional constraints, Bihar will have to ensure basic infrastructure and stem corruption. For the stakes are high. Statistics show that only 34 per cent of the primary schools have concrete buildings. About 52.63 per cent of rural Bihar live below the poverty line.The state has the highest maternal mortality rate after Orissa. It stands at 470 per 1,000 women, 90 per cent of whom are from the villages. Female literacy rate stands at a dismal 23 per cent ag- ainst a national average of 39.43 per cent.

“Fifty per cent of village tubewells are defunct. Government employees from the block office refuse to visit the village to repair them on petty grounds. Often they ask for bribes to do the work. These problems wait to be redressed by the mukhia and his ward members”, rues a member of CENCORD, an organization supporting the panchayat experiment and rural development. “Petty village disputes drive people to come to police stations where the daroga-feudal landlord nexus leads to compilation of false cases in exchange for bribe. These need to be immediately sorted by panchayat”, says the deputy inspector general of Patna.

The mood is very angry in rural Bihar. “We will heckle the panchayat members if they fail to deliver”, warns a housewife in Vaishali. She believes that the collective ire of women and the poor can provide enough ballast to overturn the system.

“Bihar can claim to be the cradle of ancient Indian civilization and the land of rulers and kingdoms which boasted of the best in successful governance”, observed a high court judgment in Patna while flaying the lack of an efficient local self government in the state months ago. But the state’s journey deep into the “national consciousness of old village self-rule” may take some time. As the high court aptly observed, “It (the panchayat experience) was lost many years ago. A generation of experience has been wiped out”. But then a new dawn has just broken in Bihar’s villages.


Looking back at the dotcom boom, it was too short and too good to last long. Ironically, most people trying to figure out what went wrong have little idea about what it was all about. The dotcom hype had motivated different people in different ways. For many, the boom fuelled speculative urges, encouraging them to pick up information technology stocks at high premiums. The underlying conviction was that IT held the key to more and more riches. Another group wanted to make careers in IT. These included housewives, budding graduates and middle-level professionals. All of them homed in on obscure training centres for developing software skills, investing precious family savings. The more ambitious among the computer literates registered in the World Wide Web by floating dotcom companies. Venture capitalists and fund managers pumped money into portals for raking in the moolah. Flush with funds, newly enlisted dotcoms grabbed fresh products of the best management schools and technical institutes, at fabulous salaries.

The bourses felt the biggest tremors. Dotcom shares sold like hot cakes. Several people, traditionally allergic to stock markets, ventured into the unknown, tempted by dotcom lucre. The urban middle class showed unprecedented eagerness in buying dotcom chips. They gambled with practically whatever they had. In the process, little known companies with hardly any credentials gathered tidy sums by going public. When the bubble burst, the shareholders were left holding shares worth far less than what they were bought for.

Watch it go up

What led to the boom in the first place? One of the major reasons, arguably, is the spell cast by IT. IT is billed as the best bet for the future. Over time, India has built up a large body of competent IT professionals. Quite a few Indian IT companies are going great guns. There are examples of large resources being mobilized from overseas markets. Nevertheless, the domestic IT industry doesn’t yet have the ability to absorb the exponentially growing IT manpower in the country. Jobwise, the industry firmly remains a buyers’ market.

Most of the new dotcom managers had assumed that Indian consumers were ready to adapt to the portal culture. The younger generations are certainly computer savvy. But this is true for only a chosen segment of the country’s consuming class, even in urban areas. Computer illiterates in the country still outnumber the literates by a large margin. Computers are yet to become as affordable as the common man would like them to be.

Computer-based consumer services will take more time to emerge as alternatives to the traditional systems. The portal floaters played their cards a trifle too early. Till now, the IT services market in the country has a greater producer bias. To get even, the market would require a much longer time. The dotcom bubble had to burst. It would be interesting to know how many of the dotcom sharepickers had actually operated a computer themselves.



Long and winding road

Sir — What several great men get only long after their deaths, the Indian cricket captain, Sourav Ganguly, seems to have got quite early in life — a one-and-a-half kilometre road in Rajarhat is about to be named after him (“Sourav avenue”, April 22). The news produces feelings of both joy and fear. True, Ganguly has proved his worth as a cricketer and has worked his way to become a figure Bengalis can be proud of. Unfortunately, in this country, professional performances and achievements are never evaluated in isolation. They come with moral strings attached. The hasty removal of the chapter on the “Haryana hurricane”, Kapil Dev, from the Haryana government’s school textbooks following the charges against the former cricketer in the matchfixing scandal is a case in point. It is unlikely that Indians will learn overnight to keep the moral and professional realms apart. Perhaps this is why roads and institutions are best named after distinguished individuals once they are dead and gone.

Yours faithfully,
Rajeev Bagra, Calcutta

Doing things with words

Sir — It is quite clear from the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the meaning of the word Hindutva, Mukul Kesavan elaborates in “Hindutva comes to court” (May 6), that difficult days are ahead for the minorities in this country. The very meaning and concept of a democracy as being tolerant towards all religions and as a protector of minority groups are already in danger of being reversed. The implications of the Supreme Court verdict for the Northeast are significant. The secessionist movement of the Nagas, based on the demand for political autonomy, will appear the smallest of worries compared to the conflagrations that might happen if this perception of the Indian democracy persists.

Yours faithfully,
H. Ghonglah, via email

Sir — The double talk emanating from the White House under George Bush speaks volumes about the stand of the United States with respect to India. It can be recalled that Pakistan had been indirectly labelled a “terrorist state” by the US. Not just this. The US made unfavourable noises against Pakistan in a recently released article on global terrorism. Hours later, it praised and complimented Pakistan for being cooperative with the US in fighting terror. What more does one need as an example of hypocrisy?

The recent allegations made by the US about the security of the minority groups in India (“India under US minority watch”, May 2) are absolutely baseless and probably a planned attack too. The US has no direct access to what happens in the interiors of India. As such, its judgment is based on the exaggerated accounts of the attacks on minorities published in international newspapers and journals. The answer to this allegation can be, and should be, given at the diplomatic level. India should express its displeasure in the strongest possible terms.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — There has been no dearth of reports, in the national and international media, of attacks on the minorities ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance came to power. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, to which most of the BJP leaders owe allegiance, every now and then, comes out with venomous remarks against Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities. The RSS chief, K.S. Sudarshan, famously spelt out the need to “Indianize” the Christian church.

It is not surprising that most of these incidents have reached the West, and have generated concern. The most recent example is the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom castigating India for not taking enough care of its minorities. India can very well take offence, but it is unlikely to affect the US, obviously the more prosperous country among the two. Nobody doubts that India will have to gulp down the insult, keeping in mind its economic interests at least.

Yours faithfully,
S.B. Santaram, Noida

Sir — L.K. Advani’s statement before the Liberhan commission, that December 6, 1992, the day of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, was one of the most depressing days of his life, is quite useless (“Babri bleeding-heart prays for mandir”, April 11). Advani, along with Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, was seen and photographed by the media on the demolition site while the temple was being brought down. The minorities have been at the receiving end of the biased policies of Advani and his party. Can his excuse make up for both the material losses, and the irreparable rift caused between Hindus and Muslims since that day? It is only to be hoped that the commission can distinguish between rhetoric and the truth.

Yours faithfully,
Abdus Salam, Asansol

Girl trouble

Sir — The Akal Takht has taken a bold step on the matter of female foeticide by deciding to expel from Sikh society those who destroy female embryos (“Save the girl”, March 26). This step should be followed with stricter measures by other communities. In the pre-Islamic period, it was the custom of the Bedouin Arabs to bury the newborn female infant because their nomadic life could not ensure adequate protection to women. With the advent of Islam, the act was not only condemned as heinous and shameful, but was actually abolished within a short time through the fear of god. Islam also installed the woman in a position of honour and dignity. Lack of care and affection for the female child that one associates with Islam now, are later developments and do not have the sanction of the religion. Hindu reformers, too, tried to restore the dignity of women. This is the right time for people of all religions to think seriously about ways to save the girl.

Yours faithfully,
S.A. Rahman Barkati, Calcutta

Sir — A few days before the Akal Takht announced that all destroyers of the female foetus would be expelled from the Sikh community, Sabita Ghosh, a young housewife, did not flinch before throwing one of her newborn children out of a bathroom window of a Calcutta hospital. She apparently wanted to take home just one of her twin girls. Fortunately, the child survived the fall. The mother has been taken into police custody.

What Sabita has done cannot be condoned. However, all said and done, one cannot but feel that we and the keepers of the law are missing the wood for the trees. What prompted the woman to act as she has done? Reports have revealed that her husband and in-laws refused to accept her since she had given birth to girls. Shouldn’t they be the ones to be taken into custody? They have, by their rejection of the children and the mother, forced her to resort to the crime of trying to dispose of one of her babies.

It is a harsh truth that women are still victimized for bearing girls. Female foetuses are aborted. The notion that girls are only brought up to be given away in marriage is largely prevalent, particularly among the lower middle classes. Marriage, in its turn, means arranging for a dowry. Since a girl is seen as a drain on what may be strained financial circumstances, she is unwelcome.

Sabita Ghosh’s case should serve as an example for a society that needs to seriously think about where it has gone wrong. What is involved here is not merely a question of a criminal offence, but something that goes deeper. The ills of sex-determination and dowry can be truly realized through a concerted effort at general education. Only an educated society could be expected to treat its women as individuals and not as procreating units.

Yours faithfully,
Kamalini Mazumder, via email

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