Editorial 1 / Valley of fear
Editorial 2 / Standing out
Step through the confusion
Book Review / Thoughts on faith and freedom
Book Review / Rooted in joy
Book Review / Burning skies over Britain
Book Review / Tales of a broken land
Bookwise / Beyond puerile curiosity
Paperback Pickings / Increase of income and peace
Letters to the editor

The decision by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government to invite Pakistan’s chief executive, General Pervez Musharraf, for talks will invite widespread international approval. However, the parallel move by the government to revoke the six-month long ceasefire by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir suggests that New Delhi is either backing off from its stated commitment to initiate a peace process in the state or it believes that stability cannot be restored in Kashmir without engaging Pakistan. Either way, the decision will erode even further the confidence of the people of Kashmir in the Union government.

The ceasefire was by far the most important move made by New Delhi to reduce the alienation of the Kashmiri people. In recent years, the public sentiment against the government of India has intensified, particularly in the Kashmir valley, because of the harassment faced by the ordinary Kashmiri from the security forces during their counter-insurgency operations. Since 1995, separatist mobilization has been made possible only because of human rights violations, and rarely have people responded in large numbers to the call of azadi or secession. Understandably, therefore, the announcement of the ceasefire in November, 2000 was greeted enthusiastically by virtually all shades of public opinion in the Kashmir valley. The ceasefire did make the security forces more vulnerable to militant attacks and even perhaps eroded the morale of a section of the forces. It also lead to a re-grouping and consolidation of militants and increased the level of violence in the state. But the long term benefits — given the overwhelming Kashmiri sentiment against violence — were far greater than these short term costs. Not only did the unilateral ceasefire isolate forces that were continuing to perpetuate violence, and provide great relief to ordinary Kashmiris, but it could eventually have helped create the conditions under which the Kashmiri people — rather than security forces — would fight those who continue to spread terror and violence. Over the last couple of months, the ceasefire has not been scrupulously enforced, particularly by the local police. Nevertheless there were signs that Kashmir’s civil society had begun to re-assert itself and react against militant-inspired violence. The termination of the ceasefire will come as blow to these efforts. It can only be hoped that the Centre’s pledge that the security forces have been asked to exercise maximum restraint vis à vis the civilian population will translate into reality. It is rather intriguing that New Delhi has decided to end the ceasefire just over a month after the appointment Mr K.C. Pant as its negotiator; it is critical, however, that Mr Pant persists with his efforts to begin a process of meaningful dialogue with representatives from the whole spectrum of public opinion in Kashmir, especially with that section that is demanding secession from India.

New Delhi has been under international pressure to begin a dialogue with Pakistan. The move to invite General Musharraf will win India kudos globally. A dialogue with Pakistan can, however, only make sense if Islamabad assures India during the talks that it will rein in the militants, especially the jihadis, and not attempt to subvert — as it has been doing so far — New Delhi’s efforts to create a peace process in Kashmir. In other words, only if General Musharraf is looking for a face-saver to get out of the mess that he and his predecessors have made in Kashmir, will the dialogue yield results. If Pakistan is, however, planning to continue with its present policies, the talks will quickly reduce themselves to yet another dialogue of the deaf.


Stars and badges are all the same. As long as they carry out the same function, that of identifying members of a faith or community different from the ruling one. Echoes of Hitler’s Germany are inevitable in the new fatwa passed by the Muslim leaders in Afghanistan. All members of the Hindu and Sikh communities are to wear a yellow badge outside their homes. This fatwa will be enforced by the taliban in all of 90 per cent of Afghanistan under their sway. The taliban’s hardline Islamic rule has already caused serious changes in civic life. The brunt of the strictures have so far been borne by the women, whose rights to education, work and free and independent movement have all been infringed upon. The taliban may not have been expected to do anything else. But the hands-off attitude of major Western nations, which become vocal at the infringement of human rights elsewhere when it suits their interests, has contributed to the perpetuation of the misery of women in Afghanistan. It is therefore too much to expect that other nations will be interested in the loss of self-respect and sense of security of a handful of Hindus and Sikhs in that country.

For there can be no doubt that not only status but security too is being threatened by the yellow badge. Although the fatwa applies to all non-Muslims, in reality there are only a few Hindus and Sikhs to fit the category. Even their numbers have lessened drastically through the two decades of war. Obviously, those who have remained must have done so because their stakes are very high. To mark them out is effectively to give them a warning. A fatwa need give no reason. The mystery about this sudden decision would act as a palpable threat to a tiny minority. The level of insecurity is signalled by the decision announced by the representative of the Sikhs and Hindus living in Kabul that the targeted communities were “happy” with the taliban ruling and would follow it. Perhaps he should take a lesson from history. Compliance did not help the Jews.


One’s initial reaction to the border clash between Indian and Bangladeshi forces was one of puzzlement about the brigade strength attack by Bangladesh forces against the Indian security forces. Also, outrage at the manner in which 16 Border Security Force jawans were killed after being tortured. One wondered why the official Indian reaction was low key.

Reports about the incidents and statements on them made in India and Bangladesh immediately after indicate that the origins of the clashes are more complicated than the initial versions given by both sides. This necessitates a more thoughtful approach to managing the implications of these incidents for the larger issue of India-Bangladesh relations. The welter of contradictory statements about the factual details of the border clash merits recall.

Initial reports from India were that Bangladesh forces launched an unprovoked attack against BSF cadre in the Pyrdiwah area, capturing the enclave. Then came the statement that 16 BSF cadre were “lured into Bangladesh territory and then murdered in cold blood, after being tortured.”

The statements of the Bangladesh government contradicted these versions. They averred that Bangladesh forces fired in self-defence against intrusions by the BSF. The statements in the period compounded the confusion about the border violence. One version was that BSF was in the process of building a road to the enclave of Pyrdiwah/Padua which was objected to by Bangladesh forces leading to the clashes.

Statements on the Indian side proceeded to explain the border clash in Boraibari area, first as a counter-measure by the BSF to balance the capture of Pyrdiwah by Bangladesh forces. Later this was modified to state that the Boraibari clash was the result of the BSF undertaking border exercises at a higher level of alertness after the incidents at Pyrdiwah.

The original statement that our troops were in some strange manner lured into Bangladesh territory was dumped because of its obvious implausibility. The cause for this violence is also subject to contradictory and confusing political explanations. Official pronouncements from India described the clashes as localized adventurism by Bangladesh forces on the border. There were oblique analyses that the Bangladesh Rifles chief, Major General Fazlur Rahman, might have undertaken this exercise autonomously without informing the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, or getting her approval.

There was further speculation based on the premise that the attempt was to create serious tension between India and Bangladesh with a view to embarrassing the Hasina government during the elections in Bangladesh: the exercise being engineered by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party with segments of the Bangladesh army and security forces.

While Indian public opinion is grappling with the confusing perceptions created by these statements, the director general of the BSF, Gurbachan Jagat, in an interview on April 29 categorically accused the chief of the Bangladesh army and the chief of Bangladesh Rifles of having launched a pre-planned attack against the BSF forces on the Assam-Meghalaya border. Indian intelligence sources have been quoted as saying that Bangladesh security forces’ offensive was preceded by consultations between the divisional commanders of the Bangladesh army at Mymensingh, Rangpur and Chittagong. Jagat also asserted that the initial reports about the BSF building an access road are not correct. Similarly, he has denied that the BSF had launched a counter-offensive in Boraibari to generate pressure on the Bangladesh forces at Pyrdiwah.

Though Hasina has ordered an inquiry, the official statement issued by the Bangladesh government, published on April 23, categorically asserts that Bangladesh forces acted in self-defence, and that the prime minister expressed pain and sorrow at “deaths on both sides”. Contrary to Indian claims, the Bangladesh statement does not refer to any apology or regret from Hasina or the government. It is totally silent on the torture and murder of 16 BSF personnel.

It is significant that neither the Bangladesh government nor the Indian has issued a statement giving details of sequence of events between April 15 and 21 (when the bodies of Indians were finally returned).

Sifting through these contradictions and claims, some facts are discernible. The Bangladesh army and security forces mounted an offensive against the BSF in Pyrdiwah. The operation was formally named “Operation Seemant”. The BSF did undertake some kind of a large-scale patrolling exercise in the Boraibari region which came apart and ended in fiasco, leading to the murders of BSF personnel. It also seems that the Boraibari violence occurred in Bangladesh territory. It is difficult to accept that a three to five battalion strength operation by the Bangladesh armed forces could be organized autonomously by any local Bangladeshi commander. It was planned at the highest military levels.

It is also reasonable to assume that Hasina and her government were generally aware of this operation as it was taking place. It is reasonable to conclude that the field intelligence and monitoring mechanism of the BSF did not anticipate the events between April 15 and 19. Its initial response was managed by local commanders.

There is tenuous simmering down of the situation. But there have been demonstrations and protests on both sides of the border. These border events will negatively affect Indo-Bangladesh relations for sometime.

The government of India’s reaction has been low-key, practical and based on the larger and deeper consideration of sustaining good relations with Bang- ladesh. India’s reaction is also influenced by the fact that it does not wish to embarrass the Hasina government which is supposed to be more friendly towards India during an election year. Also, the origins of the border clash could perhaps not be blamed on Bangladesh alone. Jaswant Singh distinguished between the events in general and the brutal killing of Indian security personnel, when he declared the brutalization of 16 BSF jawans leading to their death as unacceptable.

There is fairly authoritative information on Hasina’s telephone conversation with A.B. Vajpayee. She expressed sorrow and pain at the events and she felt they could have been avoided. There was no apology from her. She confirmed ordering an investigation into the events. The demarche of the foreign secretary, Chokila Iyer, with her Bangladeshi counterpart, Syed Mu- azzem Ali, led to Bangladeshi forces vacating Pyrdiwah.

Two actions by the Bangladesh government cannot be explained away. First, their largescale offensive in brigade strength in the Pyrdiwah sector. Second, their torture and murder of BSF jawans. India must raise these issues with Bangladesh and sort them out at the appropriate official level.

Jaswant Singh could have been sent to Dhaka within 48 hours of the border clash. This decision was not taken because of the lack of clear cut evidence about the origin of the conflict. Now it is too late for any such move. Foreign secretaries of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries will meet in Colombo in June. Iyer could have a detailed exchange of views to sort out problems with her counterpart, Syed Muazzem Ali, during this SAARC meet.

India has unresolved border disputes with Pakistan, China, Nepal and Bangladesh. Our endeavour should be to resolve those among these disputes which can be managed more easily. Regardless of short-term political considerations, India should ratify the 1974 agreement on exchange of enclaves with Bangladesh and expedite the exchange of the enclaves to resolve border disputes with that country. Simultaneously, we must strengthen and intensify our broader security management arrangements to counter not only the phenomenon of illegal migration, smuggling and so on but also to counter the impulses or anti-Indian political attitudes entertained by some political segments in Bangladesh, encouraged and abetted by extremist religious forces and Pakistani intelligence agencies.

One cannot wish away the fact that our initial reaction has resulted in a public perception of our being a soft state, though our governmental reactions are based on long term considerations affecting Indian interests. Public perception mentioned above can only be eliminated by structured and purposive action to stabilize Indo-Bangladesh relations, where Bangla- desh does not take Indian thresholds of tolerance for granted.

The author is former foreign secretary of India


Edited By Meera Kosambi,
Oxford, Rs 575

“The Maharashtrian psyche still grapples with the dilemma of understanding, and slotting, Pandita Ramabai,” writes Meera Kosambi in her introduction to Pandita Ramabai: Through Her Own Words.

Readers have scarcely had access to the writings of Ramabai. A social reformer born in Karnataka in 1858, Ramabai’s progressive thoughts on women’s emancipation and religious faith marginalized her in the wider social spectrum. As translator and editor, Kosambi’s aim has been to present a coherent body of Ramabai’s works, in Marathi and English, and to trace in her the concurrent forces of a feminist consciousness and religio-cultural transition from Hinduism to Christianity.

In an era in which women’s education was greatly discouraged, Ramabai skipped an early marriage and learned Sanskrit scriptures under her parents’ tutelage. Her adolescence was spent in penury and her parents died of starvation. Later, she married a Bengali Brahmo and was ostracized by her in-laws (Ramabai being a Brahmin and her husband a Sudra). After two years of marital life in Assam, Ramabai was widowed with an infant daughter at the age of 24. By then, her erudition and oratorical skills had earned her the title of “Pandita”.

Ramabai shifted to Maharashtra and founded the Arya Mahila Samaj with the intention of freeing upper-caste widows from oppressive customs. This also marked her career as a reformer and her growing feminist consciousness. In Stri Dharma Niti, published at about the same time, she berates women in a sermon-like tone for lacking the will to break free from the shackles of ignorance. A code of conduct is formulated with Sita and Savitri as role models. Although the ulterior motive for improving the women’s lot seems to be meant for producing a stronger male Indian populace, she pinpoints the need for mutual consent in marriage and the futility of religious rituals. This stance is a bold defiance of the rigid caste set-up.

In 1882, Ramabai left for England to study medicine. There she wrote The Cry of Indian Women — a radically different piece from Stri Dharma Niti — as a fund-raiser for the Arya Mahila Samaj. The dichotomy of the former work is erased in this moving tale of the plight of Indian widows, whose rehabilitation and uplift would be her consistent goal. The Cry also endorses Ramabai’s nationalist feelings. She boldly accuses the British government of amassing Indian wealth but doing nothing for the country in return. Indian Religion, written in 1883, reveals the seeds of a Christian influence on her mindset.

From 1886, Ramabai travelled extensively in the United States to generate awareness for her reform projects back home. The wide network that she had developed during a two-and-a-half-year stay financially aided her schemes later. The High-Caste Hindu Woman, written and published in America, became instantly popular. It analysed the caste and religion-based suppression of women and the anti-female orientation of Hindu scriptures.

On her return to India she opened Sharada Sadan, a shelter home for widows, in Pune. Later, Mukti Sadan and Kripa Sadan were also founded to rehabilitate famine victims. Her agenda also included their proselytization. Written around this period, A Testimony of Our Inexhaustible Treasure and The Word-Seed, record her reinforced belief in Christianity.

Ramabai’s contemporaries mistrusted and questioned her nationalism as they saw in her a British agency of expanding colonial rule. But for Ramabai, the Christian worldview reflected the egalitarian society that she had always dreamt of.

The book will, at the very least, stimulate a growing interest among researchers in the life and times of this dynamic personality who continues to defy categorization. For the uninitiated too, it can be quite engrossing.


By Samantak Das 
Edited By Sukanta Chaudhuri,
Oxford, Rs 595

In his essay entitled “The Poet’s Religion”, Rabindranath Tagore asserted that “Poetry and the arts cherish in them the profound faith of man in the unity of his being with all existence, the final truth of which is the truth of personality. It is a religion directly apprehended, and not a system of metaphysics to be analysed and argued.” A little later in the same essay he wrote, “So long as there is no absolute separation between the positive ideal and the material obstacle to its attainment, we need not be afraid of suffering and loss. This is the poet’s religion.”

Five years later, in the essay, “The Principle of Literature”, he reasserted his views regarding creativity and literature. “That which is not known by logic, which defies definition, whose value is not in any practical use, but which can only be intimately felt, finds its expression in Literature, is the subject of Aesthetics.”

At first sight, such statements seem an odd amalgamation of Romantic metaphysics, mid-Victorian aesthetics and upanishadic idealism (refracted through the prism of the Brahmo Samaj). But to read them thus would be doing him an injustice for Rabindranath was well aware of the main currents in contemporary Western literary/aesthetic theory and practice. It was just that he felt that such theories and practices had no place in the Indian scheme of things, and therefore, were irrelevant for him as artist or critic.

While his alleged antipathy to Modernism drew criticism from many quarters, Rabindranath remained steadfast in his view of literature as an essentially social activity, rooted in joy (ananda) and beauty, and having as its ultimate aim the fusion of the individual self with the Infinite. “The word sahitya [literature] comes from sahit [together]. Hence, if we take into account its etymological sense, we find in the word sahitya the idea of a union…nothing except sahitya or literature can establish deeply intimate ties between one person and another, between past and present, between far and near”.

Rabindranath’s views on life, language, creativity and literature evolved over many decades of intense literary and critical activity, and any attempt to contextualize and understand his ideas and opinions on these matters must look at his prolific creative and critical output from the late 1870s to 1941. It is here that the Oxford Tagore Translations prove an invaluable resource, particularly for those lacking Bengali.

The second volume of the Oxford Tagore Translations brings together, in English translation, Rabindranath’s writings on literature and language composed over nearly six decades. The earliest essay, “Nirab Kabi O Ashikshita Kabi” (translated as “Silent Poet, Untaught Poet”), was written in 1880, when Rabindranath was just 19, while the last essay, “Gadyakabya” (“The Prose Poem”), was published in 1940. Taken together, the 39 pieces in the collection (roughly a third of his writings on language and literature) provide a fascinating glimpse into how a practising artist derived and developed his ideas regarding the functions and forms of his art.

As Sisir Kumar Das puts it, in his superb introduction to the volume, Rabindranath “is undoubtedly one of the makers of modern Bengali criticism and among the most perceptive critics in the language, if not the best”. His criticism is not reducible to a single formula or method. The restlessness and constant experimentation that are the hallmarks of his creativity are found in ample measure in his critical writings. These do not begin from any clearly discernible or well-formulated theory of literature. They are rather the work of a creative writer and intellectual intensely involved in the social and political affairs of his time, possessed of a passionate love for his mother-tongue, steeped in Sanskrit and English literature, and acutely conscious of his role in the forming of a new Bengali sensibility.

It is not possible, in the brief space of a review, to indicate the breadth and range of the issues that are present in this collection. However, three things may be marked out for particular mention.

The first is Rabindranath’s presentation and discussion of the texts of classical Sanskrit literature as living works, free of the influence of traditional Sanskrit hermeneutics. As Das puts it, “for Rabindranath, Sanskrit literature is not a venerable mummy to be preserved in a mausoleum, but a presence still alive and beautiful, capable of speaking to the modern reader.”

The second is his recovery and validation of non-canonical forms of literature — baul songs, children’s rhymes, rural literature. Without Rabindranath, it becomes difficult to imagine the formation of the modern Bengali literary idiom that partakes of both the rural and the urban, the subaltern no less than the highbrow.

And finally, there is his refreshingly original consideration and criticism of Western, particularly English, writers, free from any hint of subservience to an allegedly “superior” civilization — one that was, moreover, ruling India at the time Rabindranath was writing. It took rare courage and independence of opinion to assert, in 1902, that the “principal theme” of Shakespeare’s The Tempest is “the conflict and strife to dominate”, or to compare the play with Kalidasa’s Shakuntala and find it lacking.

Rabindranath’s essays on the Bengali language are equally interesting. They combine a writer’s concern with the basic nuts and bolts of his craft along with an ardent patriot’s wish to examine and improve his mother-tongue and a teacher’s desire to impart lucid instruction.

The translations that make up this volume, although made by several hands, are of a uniformly high standard and conform to the principles enunciated by Sukanta Chaudhuri in his general editor’s preface.

Despite the many and magnificent virtues of this book, there are a few minor slips that should be corrected in subsequent editions, for this volume is likely to become the standard non-Bengali selection of Rabindranath’s writings on literature and language. These include the following. The “0” (zero) that has inexplicably slipped into the word, “literature”, on page 192. The omission of “Moon” from the title of the book for which Asit Kumar Haldar originally drew his “Mother and Child”, used to illustrate the essay “Children’s Rhymes”. This surely should be “The Crescent Moon” and not just “The Crescent”. The table of contents gives the wrong page number for the essay on children’s rhymes. Finally, the editors would do well to consider including an index (of names and critical concepts) in subsequent editions of this work.


By Paul Addison and Jeremy M. Crang,
Pimlico, £ 8

In this edited volume, Paul Addison and Jeremy A. Crang, two historians of the University of Edinburgh, attempt to find out how the numerically-inferior British army could win over the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. Brian Bond, one of the British contributors of this volume, shows that on July 31, 1940, the Luftwaffe began its attack on the British airfields with 1,600 aircraft. Against them, the Royal Air Force’s Fighter Command could use only 720.

Initially, the Germans were destroying 120 British pilots per week. Britain simply could not sustain this sort of loss for long. But, owing to Hitler’s faulty strategy, when the Luftwaffe switched to bombing London in September, the RAF got a breathing space. But, why did the attack actually fail?

A German historian, Klaus A. Maier, argues that the answer lies in the fact that the Germans were using medium-scale bombers. But, his argument that the solution to the Luftwaffe’s operational problems was heavy bombers is problematic. In the post-war period, we have seen that both in Vietnam and in Yugoslavia, heavy bombers have failed to win wars by themselves.

Further, the heavy bombers, because they were slower, were sitting ducks for fast fighter planes. Besides, the RAF fighters naturally performed better over the British skies because they were on home territory.

Meanwhile, the German pilots had to fly over the blindingly foggy North Sea and had to make risky landings on small grassy airstrips. This made them tense and nervous. These feelings are vividly portrayed by a former Messerschmitt pilot, Hans Ekke-Hard Bob.

Was the Battle of Britain really a big battle? The Russians do not think so and assert that it was peripheral to Operation Barbarossa. Richard Overy’s essay points out that, in Russian conception, a big battle is a bitva. The Russians derived the concept of bitva from the Clausewitzian concept of schlact (slaughtering of human beings).

Thus, the Russians defined a big battle in terms of large-scale warfare with a million combatants who are motivated by hatred and try to annihilate the enemy — in other words, “Total War”. And casualties in such a combat ran into millions. Stalingrad and Kursk were for them bitvas.

On the other hand, in the Battle of Britain, only a few thousand combatants fought each other and their losses remained low compared with the later carnage of World War II.

In spite of not being a bitva, the aerial duel had serious implications. The German failure convinced the Americans that they could be supplying aid to Britain on a large scale and it would not turn out to be wasteful expenditure. Further, the Luftwaffe’s failure strengthened Hitler’s determination to wipe out Russia from the face of this earth before the Americans started landing in Europe.

Credit is due to the editors for not only getting an array of accomplished historians from all over the world but also for breaking new ground in this kind of non-fiction writing by including the memoirs and letters of the war veterans.

Contrary to the official documents, the veterans’ accounts show that they thought of themselves as modern knights and they viewed aerial combats as chivalric duels. The war is also historically important because it was the last of its kind before Europe was engulfed by Der totale Krieg.


Edited By Suvir Kaul,
Permanent Black, Rs 595

The Partition of 1947 remains one of the most cataclysmic and complex events in the history of the Indian subcontinent. Misery, pain, hatred, anger — a plethora of feelings are evoked by the event, even today. The book under review, The Partitions of Memory: The Afterlife of the Division of India, is a collection of essays which tries to delve into the memories of this historic event.

Five decades after it happened, the nightmarish experience of Partition continue to shape our collective identity and public policy. Several creative endeavours have been attempted to explore the circumstances at the time. These include films, plays, literary exercises and so on. But, according to the editor, Suvir Kaul, they are “at best a scratch on the surface” rather than a systematic exploration that this historic experience demands. This book is a conscious attempt to analyse the human dimensions of violence and displacement contemporaneous to and resulting from the Partition.

Mukulika Banerjee’s essay describes the political and ethical movement of the time in the North West Frontier Province, which was treated with great suspicion by the colonial authorities, the Muslim League and the Congress. Banerjee spoke to seventy of the survivors of the Khudai Khidmatgars.

Joya Chatterjee’s article revolves around the difference between relief measures actually offered by the government to the Bengali refugees during the Partition and the measures which were demanded by the refugees themselves. While government officials viewed rehabilitation as a charitable obligation, the refugees claimed it as their rights. This dialectic between right and charity/obligation has broader implications for citizenship in India today. Ramnarayan Rawat’s piece on Dalit politics, at a cursory glance, looks unrelated to Partition. But, Rawat argues that the constitutional protection of minority rights, which came in the aftermath of the Partition and independence allowed the Dalits to claim a political community and identity of their own.

Sunil Kumar investigates the history of the national monument, the Qutb Minar. By mapping its history —how different Muslim rulers built, broke and rebuilt the Qutb complex, Kumar debunks the myth of a continuous, monolithic Islamic presence in India. Richard Murphy gives an account of how Partition is relived every evening at the Wagah border and how the celebration of Basant has been appropriated by the Lahoris in such a fashion that it ceases to be uniquely Hindu. Urvashi Butalia studies archival material, mainly letters written by people directly affected by the atrocities of Partition. Priyamvada Gopal visualizes gender dynamics during the Partition.

This volume is undoubtably a significant contribution. It looks into the trauma and dislocation of Partition, which, in turn, shaped the two nations and its institutions. But, one crucial methodological problem persists in it. Although psychoanalysis, oral history and unstructured interviews constitute the most fashionable discourse today, how far can the diagnoses of individual psyches be extended to form general conclusions? What about the questions of reliability, validity and authentication?



Case studies, that is, intensive analyses of individual units (persons or business houses), are usually included as appendices in a book, provided to illustrate some exceptions to the rule. Because everything does not always fall into a fixed pattern of behaviour and there will always be exceptions to the rule, more and more postgraduate texts provide case studies after the fundamentals of the subject have been explained.

But there’s a minor hitch. To whom does the case belong under copyright laws? To the author or to the individual who is being analysed? Take medical case studies. If permission has not been taken from the patient or his successors, is the publication of the medical history a violation of confidentiality, even when names, places and other details have been changed?

By its very nature, a medical case history is a story in which the altering of a few apparently small details may have a significant effect on the judgments to be made or the lessons to be learnt. The finest deviations from fact or the most intimate characteristics of a patient and the course of the disease often carry clues to the entire point of the story.

Some parts of the material can be pretty gruesome and many would hesitate to disclose them. But any doctor would tell you that in clinical descriptions, there is no substitute for absolute truth and often no substitute for gruesome details. But the absolute truth, in all its stark reality, may be perceived by the patient as a violation of privacy and confidentiality. What, therefore, is to be done about this, short of so modifying the story that it loses its meaning?

The obvious answer is to render the patient completely unrecognizable. Or, that permission should always be sought because then it would be all right to go ahead and publish all the details. But, even if we assume that permission would be given, the patient has almost always no idea of the detailed scrutiny to which he and his disease will be subjected by the physician-author.

But there are counter-questions. Doesn’t the doctor’s need to tell the story, which may have far-reaching implications for future patients, justify such a breach of confidentiality? Is it, in fact, a breach of confidentiality at all, if the identity has been completely concealed? Further, since clinical descriptions routinely appear in medical journals, usually without permission, is there really any difference between writing the case history in a book and writing the same thing in a journal? To whom does the story belong in the end?

Since copyright law is unclear about this, we have to react in our own, individual ways. If the publication is being done for the greater good of the community and not because of a puerile curiosity, there can be no consideration of ethics, confidentiality or even loyalty to patients. Of course, there have been many cases written to appeal to the most prurient of the readers’ instincts.

For instance, Simone de Beauvoir’s descriptions of the last days of Jean-Paul Sartre is an example of writing for the audience, without any concern for medical ethics and respect for privacy. In the final analysis, there is only the reality that a writer feels and this itself validates the efforts. So, change the names and places and don’t worry about the consequences.


Compiled and Edited By Mala Dayal
(Ravi Dayal, Rs 175)

Mala Dayal’s Towards Securer Lives: Sewa’s Social-Security Programme is a readable and educative account of an extraordinary cooperative achievement. It outlines the social security programmes of the Self-Employed Women’s Association, which has been organizing women workers into their own union since 1972. Founded by Ela Bhatt and with a membership of over 300,000 today, SEWA is both an organization and a movement, a confluence of the labour movement and the cooperative and women’s movements, of and for poor, self-employed women workers, who constitute 96 per cent of the Indian unorganized sector. There are different chapters focussing on the principal spheres in which forms of social security become imperative for working women — child care, healthcare for women and their families, housing and insurance. The writing weaves together the personal accounts of individual members, descriptions of policies and activities, critique of government policies and their implementation and the analysis of results and data, done with a remarkable absence of obfuscating jargon. A subsection of “Impact of child care” is entitled “Increase of income and peace of mind”. And there is no sentimental sloganeering. Just a lucid and committed account of how economic self-reliance could be realized by women for whom autonomy could have been an inconceivable condition.

Edited By Thomas Christiansen, Knud Erik Jorgensen and Antje Wiener
(Sage, £ 18.99)

Thomas Christiansen, Knud Erik Jorgensen and Antje Wiener’s The Social Construction of Europe claims to be the first book to systematically introduce and apply a social constructivist perspective to the study of European integration. Social constructivism is located in terms of its philosophical and methodological origins, thereby making new theoretical contributions to the constructivist debate. The book presents sophisticated discussions of key concepts like the EU as a federal polity, constitutionalism, globalization and a common European foreign policy. An important, though prohibitively priced, book for students of International Relations.

By Anita Nair
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Anita Nair’s Ladies Coupe is a novel about Akhilandeswari, 45-year-old Tamil Brahmin, “spinster, government employee, historian, eater of eggs”. Usually, “she does what is expected of her; she dreams about the rest.” One day she takes a train to Kanyakumari, and in the eponymous ladies coupé, meets, and listens to the life stories of five women, all ordinary women with indomitable spirits. For Akhila, the smell of a railway platform would always fill her with “a sense of escape”. This novel is an interlaced, and a rather ineffectively melancholy, meditation on whether single women can be happy.



Doing his act

Sir — Puppet on a string. That is probably the best way one can describe the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is not Jhandewalan alone pulling the strings, as the recent muddle in Manipur indicates, the BJP is being led by the nose as much by its allies as by party members (“Chaos again”, May 23). The editorial might be right in pointing out that politicians in the Northeast often take on party affiliations to suit their interests. Be that as it may, the overruling of the party whip by the Manipur legislators is still surprising. It could be that the party has very little control, and possibly interest, in the far off hills. But the fact that the party hierarchy instils no fear or sense of discipline in the members’ minds shows a curious trend. This trend in fact could spread elsewhere as the power equations in the party become more and more confusing. If it needs regular lunches to pacify the hardliners in the party who in turn take orders from Jhandewalan, Vajpayee in future will have more recalcitrant party members than he can cope with.

Yours faithfully,
Jaisurya Raut, Calcutta

Another face of Marx

Sir — That prominent businessmen of West Bengal had to visit the headquarters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and offer a helping hand in the industrialization of Bengal is a poignant reflection of the present business scenario in West Bengal (“Business pilgrimage to red sanctum”, May 21). In an era of globalization, this is a paradox. The new Marxist chief minister of West Bengal is aiming at an information technology led industrialization. But there are several things that need to be kept in mind.

As per one estimate, the total number of people who have direct access to internet connection is only three to four million in this country, which is less than half a per cent of the total population. To put extra emphasis on infotech would be asking the poor to eat the proverbial cake when they cannot even have the bread. Today, knowledge regarding IT is limited to a few. Most in the bureaucratic set-up have no idea of the benefits of IT and e-governance. Policy-makers themselves do not know where computerization can be introduced. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s plans for IT based growth seem premature.

Yours faithfully,
Sankar Lal Singh, Calcutta

Sir — Notwithstanding Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s honest intentions to rise above political differences to take West Bengal to new heights of industrial and employment resurgence, it would have been prudent of him to have avoided the “iron curtains” at his party headquarters for the tete a tete with the representatives of the Confederation of Indian Industry.

Although there may not have been any hidden agenda apart from honest discussions regarding industrial rejuvenation, the event raised many an eyebrow. There were alternative places available for such discussions in the Great Eastern Hotel (an all time government favourite) or the CII’s own Williamson Magor Hall at the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Yours faithfully,
Biplab Ganguli, Calcutta

Sir — The recent meeting of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee with members of the CII speaks volumes about the optimism of our chief minister. The presence of Nirupam Sen as the minster for industry will definitely help in creating a new West Bengal. The reaction of Sanjeev Goenka, president of the CII, is in itself a partial assurance of that future. The people of West Bengal are looking forward to a change and new chief minister deserves a chance and some time.

Apart from industrial development and growth, Bhattacharjee should give a thought to infrastructural development and the growth of rural Bengal. To compete with other states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and so on, a wider objective should be kept in mind and planning should be done on the macro-level.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — The emphasis being placed by the new chief minister on “accountability”, that is, evaluation of the government’s performance, is welcome.The key questions are how this performance can be measured periodically, against what benchmarks, and by whom. Credibility requires evaluation by a neutral party, not by someone within the government or in the politburo. And the evaluation has to be done in a transparent manner, so that all the facts and analyses are available to the public.

One possibility would be to invite the World Bank to carry out a state economic report, similar to the reports it so successfully did for Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The states gained valuable knowledge, and in the case of Andhra Pradesh, N. Chandrababu Naidu became an international celebrity, or “role model”, in the process.

The West Bengal government had rejected an offer from the bank earlier, but now that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is beginning with a new mandate and great self-confidence, it would be ideal to reconsider the idea.

The challenges ahead are truly formidable, but this is the time to create realistic benchmarks for measuring future progress and to ensure the creation of a cohesive and internally consistent programme.

A relationship with the bank can also lead to greater foreign direct investments, better and more realistically-priced infrastructure, and a well-funded education programme. The new government can only gain respect and credibility by inviting such outside scrutinies.

Yours faithfully,
Anandarup Ray, via email

Sir — Today, when intellectuals, industrialists and the media are literally swooning over the disarming smile and sweet reasonableness of our chief minister elect, Rudrangshu Mukherjee’s “Smiling Buddha” (May 15) was a timely intervention. It seems as if admission of past mistakes is enough, and the terrible price West Bengal has to pay for these mistakes (like driving away investors through militant trade unionism, aversion to computer education and installation, removal of English from primary levels in schools) is of no consequence.

Actually, a smiling Buddha, a vitriolic Jyoti Basu, a band of super-efficient lower rung leaders who ensure single digit votes for opponents in hundreds of polling booths, are all parts of a well thought out gameplan. This is a grand design to convince the electorate. The party is all things to all kinds of people — intellectuals, industrialists, the bhadralok, or the lumpen proletariat.

I agree with Mukherjee that the “smile on the beaming face may be shortlived”, but for an altogether different reason. The smiling face will not have to be put on for the next four years and ten months.

Yours faithfully,
Asoke Mookherjee, Calcutta

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