Editorial 1/ Ask for the moon
Editorial 2/ Truce twists
Pretty maids all in a row
This above all/ Universal language of prayers and faiths
Fifth Column/ All the kashmir policies together
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ ASK FOR THE MOON 
 
 
 
 
The planning commission has produced a draft approach paper to the tenth five year plan. This is not yet final, but the basic contours are unlikely to change. Since the planning commission continues to exist, despite it having no role to play in a post-reform scenario, it must continue to justify its existence by planning and projecting, regardless of whether these projections make sense. Consider some developmental indicators it has in mind. There will be universal access to primary education by 2007. All villages will have access to potable water by 2012. Forest and tree cover will increase to 25 per cent by 2007. All major polluted rivers will be cleaned up by 2007. The infant mortality rate (per 1000 live births) will drop to 45 by 2007 and 10 by 2012. Not a single one of these targets is likely to be attained. For instance, the infant mortality rate has been stuck at around 70 for quite some time. Reforms and growth have however, already led to some improvements, and extrapolations of successes in these indicators are more plausible. The poverty ratio can indeed be 20 per cent (or even lower) by 2007 and 10 per cent by 2012. The literacy rate can indeed be 72 per cent (or even higher) by 2007 and 80 per cent by 2012. Implausibility also characterizes the planning commission’s more visible target, the real rate of growth in gross domestic product or national income. During the tenth plan, this is expected to be eight per cent. It is true that the government’s, and certainly the prime minister’s, target happens to be nine per cent.

No one can also deny that potentially, the Indian economy is capable of growing at eight per cent or even nine per cent. But surely the planning commission’s job is not merely to argue that asking for the moon is possible, but also to identify that which is plausible. With the economy in a band of six to 6.5 per cent, eight per cent in a plan starting next year is ridiculous. The incremental capital/output ratio is four. It is indeed possible for the ICOR to drop, thanks to reforms and pressures through competition and emphasis on productivity. But sharp declines from four are unlikely. Eight per cent growth then requires an investment/GDP ratio of 32 per cent. Foreign direct investment is unlikely to contribute more than two per cent, the planning commission expects 1.5 per cent. Simple arithmetic then requires a domestic savings rate of 30 per cent. Present levels are 22 per cent, having dropped from a peak of 25 per cent. Thus, even if the earlier peak of 25 per cent is attained, a further hike of five per cent is required and the source of this increase remains unclear. Household savings are already fairly high and private corporate savings are unlikely to shoot up. That leaves the public sector and the pathetic performance of public savings is the starkest failure of the reform process. The planning commission does have sensible suggestions on government wage bills and food and other subsidies. It says Rajiv Gandhi was wrong when he stated that only 15 per cent of money spent in the name of the poor reaches target beneficiaries. The commission’s figure is 10 per cent. If implemented, the suggested reforms can increase public savings. It is because of the implementation problem that projected figures amount to asking for the moon. Since India now plans a lunar mission, this is perhaps acceptable.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ TRUCE TWISTS 
 
 
 
 
By finally bowing to the longstanding demand of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) to extend the ceasefire with the insurgent group beyond “any territorial limits”, the Centre may have actually opened a Pandora’s box in the Northeast. This is borne out by the first reactions to the ceasefire extension in Assam and Manipur, where political parties have cried foul and accused the Union home ministry of jeopardizing these states’ territorial integrity . The NSCN(I-M) has been demanding an extension of the ceasefire to other “Naga-inhabited areas” in the region ever since it came into effect on August 1, 1997. This has been strongly opposed by successive governments in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, which have argued that the Centre’s acceptance of the demand would amount to giving legitimacy to the outfit’s other — and more portentous — demand for a “Greater Nagalim”. The other worry of these states is that the extension of the truce beyond Nagaland would practically unshackle the NSCN(I-M)’s activities in these states.

The home ministry’s announcement of the extension does not explain why the NSCN(I-M)’s demand, rejected for the past four years, has now been accepted. Obviously, the Centre this time cowered before the outfit’s threat to pull out of the current ceasefire agreement unless its demand for the extension was met. While ceasefire and peace talks are necessary to end the 53-year-old insurgency in Nagaland, it will mean more trouble if other states in the region feel their interests are being manipulated to appease the Naga rebels. There could still be one argument in favour of the extension: the NSCN(I-M) ope-rations would be suspended in larger areas in the Northeast. This was the hope of the Arunachal chief minister, Mukut Mithi, who said his government had “no problem” with the extension of the truce areas if the Naga outfit followed the ceasefire ground rules. But the group has a history of not only violating these rules, but also taking advantage of the ceasefire to expand and consolidate its bases. Considering that the NSCN(I-M) is the mother of all insurgent groups in the Northeast, such an eventuality might, instead of dousing the flames in Nagaland, lead to unlimited flare-ups in other parts of the region. To preempt this, the agreement about the extension of the truce areas should have had a clause enabling the Centre to call it off should the NSCN(I-M) try to subvert it.

   

 
 
PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW 
 
 
BY S.L. RAO
 
 
The sex ratio — the number of females for every thousand males in the population — has been declining since the beginning of this century. Only the census figures of 1981 and 2001 have shown some improvement in the proportion of females in the population, over the preceding census. Monica Dasgupta has argued forcefully that the decline in the number of females for every thousand males in the population is indicative of female foetuses being aborted or females having died prematurely. She points out that the increased imbalance in the number of females in the population during the Eighties was concentrated heavily among children. She estimates that during the decade 1981 to 1991, 1.2 million female children between 0 to 6 years were missing. To these must be added another 0.7 million female children aged above seven years, a total of almost 2 million female children in just one decade. These figures show some improvement over those from the earlier census counts.

The analyses of the population data from the recent census of 2001 are now becoming available. They suggest that we are a little more caring about the lives of children and women above the age of seven, but not of the female children below age six. Despite the apparent improvement in the number of females in the population in this census, there is perhaps a greater spread among more states, of the “missing women” syndrome, that is, the absence of females expected to be alive.

In an article in the latest issue of the Economic and Political Weekly, Mahendra K. Premi has pointed out that internationally, the sex ratio (of the male live births per 100 female live births) varies between 102 to 107 boys per 100 girls, due to biological reasons. This tends to get neutralized by about the age of 20 due to higher levels of mortality among boys than girls. But there is clearly a tendency for more males to be born than females, which appears to be strong in India.

The sample registration system, an inter-censual sample estimation that is considered very reliable, showed the average sex ratio at birth to be 109.5 in 1981-90 and 111 in 1996-98. One reason given for this is that females are not reported and hence not counted in many households. However, surveys conducted after the census enumeration have shown that overall undercounting has been falling, and that there seems to be little difference between undercounting of males and females.

Premi examines mortality rates separately for children below the age of six, and those aged seven and above. From 1961 to 1991, the number of female to male children up to age six declined in each census. All the major states showed a decline between 1981 and 1991. Except for Kerala, Sikkim and Lakshadweep, this decline among children below the age of six has continued, according to the 2001 census. The worst affected are Gujarat and the north Indian states of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Chandigarh, Uttaranchal, Haryana and Delhi. Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh show an improvement. Female children above age seven show a positive improvement in numbers in relation to male children in all states (except for inexplicable declines in Daman and Diu, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli). This improvement is explained by the improvement in living standards and medical facilities.

In addition, there has been an overall improvement in life expectancy for both males and females. The 2001 census shows a higher life expectancy for females than for men. This greater reduction in female mortality has improved the overall sex ratio in the country in the 2001 census to 933 females per 1000 males, versus 927 in 1991.

However, as has been indicated earlier, the discrimination against female children below the age of six has continued. The higher death rates for female children up to the age of four and even up to age nine, has persisted. In the 0 to 4 age group, the problem is most serious in Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. But in the other major states, the differences seem to have disappeared.

The 2001 census is only the second in the century since 1901 to have shown an improvement in the overall sex ratio. We can compliment ourselves on this achievement, especially as it appears to be due to government initiatives in health and nutrition. But the improvement is not uniform across all states.

Digging a little below the overall data immediately displays the anomaly of the low female ratios among children, again concentrated in some states. There does not appear to be any relationship between the economic status and development of a state and the sex ratio.

On the other hand of course, until we can study the sex ratios by age in different income and socio-economic classes, we cannot draw any conclusion from this observation. We cannot yet conclude that improvement in living standards and education improves or does not improve the sex ratio. The chances are that it might not, if the adverse female child sex ratios are due to deep-seated prejudice against female children. This in turn might be caused by economic factors like high marriage expenses or land inheritance rights.

Surveys on household health expenditures have shown that less is spent on female children than on male children. Anecdotal evidence also suggests severe discrimination in the states with low female ratios regarding adequate and nutritious food for female children. It is a shame that despite constitutional provisions and well-intentioned governments, India has not succeeded in achieving a transformation in the situation.

Reservations for women in panchayats will no doubt, over time, empower women and help improve their status. But it is economic power that is missing. Enforceable property rights, alimony and widow pensions that are adequate, wages equal to men, penalties against discrimination in employment, free meals to all children in school, nutritional supplements to pregnant and lactating women, micro-credit for women —are only some measures that have, when used, made a difference. There are many others. Not all of them need money. They do need enforcement.

But health and nutrition programmes require fiscally responsible states. This is something that we do not have. Loss-making state-owned enterprises, irrational subsidies that are mostly reaching people for whom they are not meant, nil or low user charges for water, electricity, and so on, condoning the theft of public goods — all these have led to bankrupt state governments that do not have the funds to put into such schemes. Even such programmes as there are, spend most of the funds on administrative expenses, not on the actual services.

The declining or low numbers of females to males in our population are a disgrace to our democracy and representative governments. They represent a licence to kill female children by murder or by neglect. Governments condone these murders and neglect by not ensuring the provision of health and nutritional programmes that could change the situation.We have to reform our policies and ourselves if we are to prevent the continuance of the killing fields that our female children inhabit in much of India.

The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research

   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL/ UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE OF PRAYERS AND FAITHS 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
When I was a child of about four living in a tiny village with my grandmother, she taught me my first prayer. I was scared of the dark and prone to having nightmares. She told me that whenever I was frightened, I should recite the following lines by Guru Arjun:

Taatee vau na laagaee, peer-Brahma
saranaee
Chowgird hamaarey Raam-kar, dukh lagey
na bhaee
(No ill-winds touch you, the great Lord your
protector be
Around you Lord Rama has drawn a
protective line.
Brother, no harm will come to thee.)

Being young, innocent and having infinite trust in my granny’s assurances of the efficacy of these lines, I found they worked like magic. Later, I discovered that most Sikh children were taught the same lines even before they learnt other prayers. The hymn had four more:

Satgur poora bhetiya, jis banat banaaee
Raam naam aukhad deeya, eka liv laayee
Raakh liye tin raakhan har, sabh biaadh
mitaayee
Kaho Nanak kirpa bhaee, prabhu bhaye
sahaaee
(The true guru was revealed in his fullness,
the one who did all create
He gave the name of Rama as medicine, in
Him alone I repose my faith.
He saved all who deserve to be saved, He
removes all worries of the mind.
Sayeth Nanak, God became my helper, He
was kind.)

Mark the Hindu terminology in this short prayer: Peer, Brahma, Raam-kaar, Raam-naam, and Prabhu. As a matter of fact, a painstaking scholar counted the number of times the name of god appears in the Adi-Granth.

The total comes to around 16,000. Of these over 14,000 are of Hindu origin: Hari, Ram, Govind, Narayan, Krishna, Murari, Madhav, Vithal and so on. There are also a sizeable number of Islamic origin: Allah, Rehman, Rahim, Kareem and so on. The purely Sikh coinage wah guru appears only 16 times.

The point I am trying to make is that all religions borrow a lot from others with which they come into contact: there is not a single religion in the world which has not borrowed some concept or the other from another: some of its vocabulary and even its ritual. In the Judaic family of religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — there is plenty of evidence of wholesale borrowing. A good example is Islam. Its monotheism (belief in one god) also exists in Judaism and Christianity. Its five daily prayers have roughly the same names as those of Jews;its greeting salam aalaikum is a variation of the Jewish shalom alekh; turning to Mecca for namaaz is based on Jews turning to Jerusalem; their food inhibitions (regarding pig’s meet as unclean; halaal is the same as Jewish kosher), the custom of circumcizing male children (sunnat) is also Jewish.

The intermingling of faiths is much more in evidence in the Indic family of religions: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. All share belief in karma, the cycle of birth-death-rebirth, meditation and so on. Needless to say, they also share much of their religious terminology.

Since Sikhism was the last of these major religions and the only one to come into contact with Islam, it is the only one which, coming in contact with the Bhakti cult, took a lot of the terminology of Islam from sufi saints.

When the thekedars (contractors or purveyors) of religion claim that their faith owes nothing to others and is therefore purest of the pure, they make me laugh at their ignorance.

A getaway in the hills

Once in a while, everyone should get away from the drudgery of earning a livelihood and live in solitude doing nothing. Besides needing a break, I had other reasons for my wanting to get out of Delhi. The first fortnight of May was a hell of dust-storms, hot winds and humidity. So I betook myself to Kasauli where I have a small cottage.

I had to rue my impatience. Two days before I was due to leave, it started to rain: fresh, moisture-laden breezes began to blow. There was quite a downpour the night before I left. As I drove to the New Delhi railway station, I passed lines of laburnums (amaltas) in all their golden glory. Windsor Place was a sight for the gods: golden yellow covered the trees, golden yellow carpeted the ground below. It was too late to turn back.

I had booked myself on the Shatabdi Express. Shatabdis are meant to travel from one major city to its terminals without any stop. The Delhi-Chandigarh-Delhi Shatabdi is more than 95 per cent full at either end when it starts on its three hour journey.

It only stopped for two minutes at Ambala where a few passengers got off and some got in. Since then, politicians meddled with its schedule. Om Prakash Chautala, the chief minister of Haryana, persuaded Mamata Banerjee who was then the railways minister, to add two more stops, at Panipat and Kurukshetra. I saw no one get off or board the train at either station, but it added another half-an-hour to its journey without generating any revenue.

Chandigarh was unpleasantly warm. I was lucky to get an AC taxi. Mercifully there was not much traffic on the road and we sped fast, laburnums, gulmohars right to the base of the Siwaliks at Kalka. Thereafter, it was a succession of jacarandas (neelam) in full bloom. I was in my summer villa an hour later than usual.

Kasauli has more to it than being one of the oldest cantonment towns raised by the British in preparation for a war against the Sikhs. Its fresh air was considered the best treatment for tuberculosis and dozens of sanatoria went up in the surrounding pine-forested hills.

Soon after, the Pasteur Institute was built on the crest of a hill to produce sera against rabies and snake-bite, and is now known as Central Research Institute. Being only a six-hour drive from Delhi and two hours from Chandigarh, made it much sought after by people wanting to escape from the heat of the plains. It is also rich in the variety of its flora and fauna. My little garden is full of bird song all day long: white-cheeked bulbuls, doves, parakeets, crows, mynahs, whistling thrushes, woodpeckers, flycatchers and many others.

In April and May I can hear the plaintive cuckoo calling as it flies across the valley; koels come up and call to each other from the dense foliage of the toon tree under which I sit. The only other sound is of the wind soughing through the pines. It is sheer bliss.

Kasauli can also stake its claim to be on the map of Indo-Anglian writing. Ruskin Bond was born here. Ruth Prawer Jhabwala used to be a regular visitor and wrote some of her novels here. Anita Desai wrote Fire of the Mountain after experiencing one which almost engulfed the town. Bulbul Sharma, painter-novelist, has an orchard-cum-home down the slopes. Vivan Sundaram, painter and biographer of his aunt, Amrita Shergill, has his villa above mine. Geetha Hariharan has spent some time here and no doubt worked on her novels. We also have some local aspirants to literary fame. Baljit Virti, who teaches at Pinegrove school is polishing up her first novel. Ambika Sharma of The Tribune is working on a history of Kasauli.

Being a mini-celebrity in a mini- sleepy cantonment has some points in its favour. Kasauli has no scenic spots. The only one we can boast of is its highest peak called the Monkey Point, even though there are no monkeys. Nevertheless, the legend was engendered by the locals that Hanumanji, on his way back with the life-giving Sanjeevini booti, put one of his feet on this hill. Now we have a Hanuman mandir on its peak and the panda there makes a good living from the offerings it receives.

Monkey Point also gives a spectacular view of the plains below, the Sutlej meandering its way is lit up with gold at sunset; Kalka at the base of the hill, Surajpur Cement Works and beyond it Chandigarh are a splendid view at night. On the northern side, you can see the lights of Shimla.

After having visited Monkey Point, visitors passing by my house drop in uninvited. Most of them have not read anything by me except my joke books. For them I am some writer-shiter. All they want is a joke-shoke. Besides them, a King Kong, a monster-sized rhesus with a bright red posterior hangs around my front garden and eyes me balefully as an unwelcome trespasser. His beady eyes are always fixed on me and tell me in no uncertain terms, ‘Bugger off,’ this is my home”.

Placing education over god

When Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was education minister in Nehru’s government, several representations were received protesting against a project to build an educational institution because the land allotted to it encroached on an old Muslim graveyard. When the file came for final decision to the Maulana, he wrote the following note in Urdu: “Qabrein hain to kya? Ilm kee raah mein agar khuda bhee aaiye to usey hataa do — what if there are graves? Even if God were to come in the way of education, he should be removed.”    

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ ALL THE KASHMIR POLICIES TOGETHER 
 
 
BY A.N. DAR
 
 
Well before the arrival of General Pervez Musharraf, the atmosphere in India suggests the government is desperate to push through all its Kashmir policies at one go. There is no gradual stepping up, no starting and waiting for the results. But why this rush?

While the Pakistani chief executive officer was sent an invitation for talks, the ceasefire was ended on the one hand and K.C. Pant, appointed New Delhi’s new interlocutor in Kashmir, was rushed to the valley to talk to whoever was willing to talk. But if Pant had to go to Kashmir and start talking to separatists, the ceasefire should have been extended so that a proper atmosphere was created for the emissary to work in. Yet the ceasefire was ended in a hurry, Musharraf invited and Pant made to go to Kashmir. It looks as if various plans had been put together and one fine afternoon the government just decided to implement them.

Any thinking person with whom Pant wished to talk would have asked what use was it to negotiate with an interlocutor when the big two were to talk a few days later in New Delhi. It does not speak well of the policy formulation and it put Pant in a curious position. He has been compared to G. Parathasara- thy who had brought about a Kashmir settlement by talking to Mirza Afzal Beg, who was Sheikh Abdullah’s emissary. It should be remembered that the two mediators were left on their own to do their work.

Tough proposition

Let us look at the issue from the point of view of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference. Had it talked to Pant, there would have been no way it could have met its demand of talking to Musharraf. Pakistan would have been upset if the Hurriyat “devalued” itself by talking to the Indian interlocutor. If the Indian side had brushed away the Hurriyat demand of meeting the Pakistan CEO, this would have been held against the Indian government. Already, it is making good use of New Delhi’s reluctance to grant it passports to visit Pakistan.

If Musharraf now asks for an audience with the Hurriyat, there is no way India can turn down the request of a guest. Hurriyat would have been willing to talk to Pant had Musharraf not been coming to India. The party would have made a list of its greivances against the Indian government and used it to further its propaganda. The Hurriyat now has obviously changed its stance. Despite being put down by New Delhi, it wants to keep alive its demand of wanting to mediate.

This is not to criticize the way Pant went about his work. He was given a situation from which he could not draw much advantage. But he did talk to various representatives of regional interests — the Ladakis, who got themselves heard on their demand for Union territory status, the Muslims of Kargil who opposed this demand, the Panun Kashmiris who wanted a separate area for the migrant Kashmiri Pandits, the people of Jammu and those who are responsible for the present prosperity of Kashmir, the boatmen and tourist operators.

Relief, in word and deed

It provided a catharsis for, what Pant called, the “pent up” feelings of the state. But, there should be more of this. For working out a political arrangement, a different kind of negotiation is required.

Pant also met political groups who cannot turn the tide but do voice the feelings of people. One remarkable person was Ghulam Mohammed Shah, who said it was wrong to say that Kashmir is an integral part of India. This, coming from a leader who has been a former chief minister, should surprise everyone. Pant could have asked him why someone who had sworn allegiance to India should talk like this. Yet he seems to have reserved all his ire for the Hurriyat. Both Pant and the government should have realized that the Hurriyat is guarding its flanks.

The other high point of the visit was Pant’s talk with Shabir Shah, a leader who has the credentials of a separatist but who has the courage to strike out on his own without following the Hurriyat. But by himself, Shah cannot be of much help.

Pant must have made his observations about how to give a good life to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. He can use these to create a better atmosphere of development there. He could give Kashmiris better schools, more electricity and a greater number of jobs. He should have realized that some of the anger against India comes from the lack of these amenities.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

The lady’s new cocktail dress

Sir — As the Union minister for information and broadcasting, Sushma Swaraj is probably the obvious choice to lead an Indian delegation to the United States for a series of meetings with the US entertainment industry bosses (“Sushma eyes slice of Hollywood pie”, June 13). It can be assumed that the discussions will centre around US-India collaborations in entertainment. In other words, the success of the trip will be determined by how many American producers the delegation can rope in to invest in Indian entertainment in general. For the lady who attributes most Indian social “maladies” to the invasion of the West (meaning the US), it will take more than a small volte face to speak the new language. In speaking it well, she might invite to the Indian screen even scantier dresses and freer sex — the very things she seems determined to banish. Good economics and good morals are at odds in her party’s scheme of things. Her failure to choose between the two will lead to even greater doublespeak.
Yours faithfully,
L.K. Khandelwal, via email

Watch him go

Sir — The execution of Timothy McVeigh should be condemned by all the civilized nations of the world (“McVeigh executed by lethal injection”, June 12). It is a barbaric act and cannot be justified on moral grounds. Life is meant to be lived and all human beings have the right to live and die with dignity. Instead of executing men for their crimes, the government should try and analyse what drives them to commit such heinous acts. No human being has the right to take the life of another, no matter how grave the provocation. The president of the United States, George W. Bush, was wrong in saying that McVeigh’s death has brought “not vengeance but justice” to the families of his victims.
Yours faithfully,
K.B. Singh, Imphal

Sir — The execution of Timothy McVeigh raises a number of interesting questions. On the one hand, it demonstrates the effectiveness of the judicial machinery of the US, which is superior to our own. On the other hand, it gives rise to a feeling of uneasiness about the role of the state as the dispenser of justice. That the state, in this case, has also created a spectacle in the name of justice, is disconcerting. The editorial, “Stare them down” (June 16), is right in pointing out that the state has used the personal compulsion of the victims’ families to see McVeigh die.

Does the state have the right to turn death into a spectacle? Is capital punishment justified in our times? Most of these questions remain unanswered. Capital punishment affords the guilty the chance to escape, since death spares him from serving his sentence. Perhaps, a life sentence for capital crimes would be more effective as it would mean that the guilty would spend the rest of his life in prison.

Yours faithfully,
Sujata Burman, via email

Sir — Timothy McVeigh participated in the death of 168 men, women and children in detonating the bomb that ripped apart the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, six years ago. In an inevitable reversal of fortune, multiples of the number killed took part in his death. Is this justice? Or is it tracing the steps back to the tenet of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth?

If the idea was to pay the killer back in his own coin, then the game was certainly not played in a fair manner. The violent death that McVeigh gave to those present in the building that fateful day does not stand in comparison to the painless death of clinical precision he was allotted. The privileged few, who witnessed putting him to sleep, may have gone back home with the assurance that McVeigh will not be around to kill again. But has the spectacle helped in any way to exorcise the loss of their loved ones? If it has not, then the whole idea of making a spectacle of it fails.

Yours faithfully,
Sunanda Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — By blowing up the Federal Building in cold blood, Timothy McVeigh committed a crime and he was executed for it. It was a well thought-out plan which was carried out with great precision and skill. Further, McVeigh was not mentally unstable. One should not blame the families of the victims who are entirely justified in their desire to watch McVeigh die. By committing this act, McVeigh had forfeited his right to a private death.

Yours faithfully,
Nita Varghese, via email

Thou shalt not

Sir — The article, “A closed society and its enemies” (May 31), was thought-provoking. By giving legal sanction to live-in relationships, the Allahabad high court has raised a number of pertinent questions. The concept of living together outside wedlock is essentially a Western concept. Even though our society has changed over the last few years, our values remain the same. Most of us have been taught to respect our elders and place their happiness over our own.

The mental make-up of most Indians is conventional and hence different from that of Westerners. What is amazing is the kind of double standards one comes across whenever the issue of live-in relationships is discussed. Staying together out of wedlock is usually a way of evading the responsibilities that accompany marriage. Young people today talk about being economically independent and retaining their individuality. Yet very few of them take the step of moving out of their parents’ home at the age of 18 unlike their Western counterparts.

Moreover, marriage binds two people in a way that no other relationship can. In the absence of marriage, the ties between a couple cannot be sustained. Most live-in relationships end with one of the partners getting tired of the other and walking out. Further, what happens to the children who are born out of such a relationship? Will the law recognize them as legitimate? Legal sanction should not be confused with moral sanction. Unless couples can find acceptance in society, their freedom will mean very little to them. Freedom without responsibility usually loses its appeal after a short while.

Yours faithfully,
Madhumita Saha, Calcutta

Sir — The Allahabad high court deserves praise for granting legal sanctity to live-in relationships (“Morality debate on live-in sanctity”, May 23). One can almost visualize the reaction of the sangh parivar and the criticism that this historic judgment is bound to invite from the so-called guardians of our society. It is difficult to understand why such a relationship should not be given the same respect and acceptance that is accorded to marriage.

Indian society is well known for its double standards. An erring husband can easily get away while a woman is forced to live with her husband even if he is abusive. It is time we learn to set aside our preconceived notions about marriage and premarital sex and give the present generation a chance to live life on its own terms.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Parting shot

Sir — More and more people are buying cars these days. As a result, areas like Gariahat, Sealdah and Shyambazar are becoming even more crowded, especially because of their proximity to some of the city’s most famous shopping malls. The state government and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation need to take the necessary steps to build underground or rooftop parking lots in these areas. Given that Calcutta has very little parking space, new shopping complexes should be allotted space for car parking.
Yours faithfully,
Shyamal Pain, Edison, US

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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