Editorial 1/ Lost and crying
Editorial 2/ Holy writ
The third general
Forgotten lessons in history
Struggle for the right image
Fifth Column/ Building temples in the air
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ LOST AND CRYING 
 
 
MS MAMATA BANERJEE’S MERCURIAL
 
 
temperament does not enjoy being put in a corner, with other people calling the shots and with her options limited. But this is precisely the situation in which she finds herself both within her own party, the Trinamool National Congress, and on the stage of national politics. To a very large extent, she is the maker of her own plight. The defeat of her party in the assembly elections exposed Ms Banerjee’s vulnerabilities as a political leader. Her damage limitation abilities, crucial in a political leader, were non-existent. She seemed more concerned, in the immediate aftermath of the poll debacle, to nurse her own ego and the battering it had received than with the condition of her party workers. As a result, the Trinamool Congress appeared to be in disarray and its workers, including some of its leaders, looked lost and hopeless. Ms Banerjee’s re-emergence in the public arena has not really succeeded in restoring order in her own house. There is a lack of unanimity within the party regarding Trinamool Congress’s return to the National Democratic Alliance. This is a reflection of the fact that Ms Banerjee seems to have no firm views on the matter. Thus, Mr Ajit Panja, despite being a member of the Trinamool Congress and an elected member of the Lok Sabha, continues to act independently without any recognition of Ms Banerjee’s authority.

Ms Banerjee’s cup of woe is also filled by divisions within her party over the eviction of hawkers from some of the main streets of Calcutta. Mr Subrata Mukherjee, a prominent Trinamool Congress leader and the mayor of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, has threatened to quit the party unless he is given a free hand in the removal of hawkers. Trinamool Congress legislators are not especially keen to move against the hawkers. They see the hawkers as vote banks but Mr Mukherjee’s firmness on the issue is related to his eagerness to secure for the CMC a Rs 1400 crore loan from the Asian Development Bank. Ms Banerjee, whose natural instincts would be against the eviction of hawkers, is now trapped within her own populism, outside of which she has no ideology and programme. The risk of remaining populist on the hawker issue is that of losing Mr Mukherjee who is not exactly without support. Ms Banerjee can ill afford further divisions within the party. She is thus in an unenviable position: her personal image and goodwill are in tatters; her political future is uncertain; her party divided over a number of issues. She is a leader without an agenda, in danger of becoming a leader without a party. This is a major fall from the position of West Bengal’s sole anti-left spokesman. From a corner, one can only fight back. But if her tears in a recent party meeting are any indication, she has lost her combativeness. A lachrymose Ms Banerjee is a new, if pathetic, avatar altogether.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ HOLY WRIT 
 
 
 
 
It is truly edifying when the logic of events suddenly reveals itself to be flawless. The meeting held to condemn female foeticide, organized by the Indian Medical Association, UNICEF and the national commission for women, and attended by religious leaders, politicians, activists and women and children welfare department officials, embodied exactly such a flawlessness. The scale of female foeticide in India can be related directly to a combination of oppressive religious tenets, associated superstition and inherited social attitudes, aggravated by poverty and ignorance. It is perfectly, if perversely, logical that the so-called advanced segments in the nation, doctors’ associations and activists in the women’s movement, should actually organize an impressive do where the very regressive and repressive elements they are fighting are given pride of place. The idea behind the meet is symptomatic. That more people will pay attention to what religious leaders say than to what activists and politicians say. But that is precisely why the sex ratio in India is so frightening today. Society’s perception of women as unimportant and dispensable has its source largely in conservative religious beliefs. The power invested in female deities is in inverse proportion to the disempowerment of the human female in every sphere of life. By drawing religious leaders into saving the female embryo, the organizers have unloosed a tide of damaging assertions, about abortion, family planning, the superior position of the husband, and the greatness of sati — all in the name of scriptural wisdom.

It was the Akal Takht in Punjab, a state where the sex ratio is particularly bad, that had first mooted the idea of institutionally condemning female foeticide, and penalizing the guilty with social boycott. The question is not whether this would be practical. The importance of the Akal Takht’s statement lay in the fact that a religious body wished to be seen taking a stand, and use its position as a means of raising awareness. Its objective was clear, it did not mess up its decision with issues of abortion or sati. Interestingly, the Akal Takht remained unrepresented in this “national” meeting. Although representatives from other religions were present and did speak, the overwhelming Hindu presence, with Sadhvi Rithambara of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad presiding, has given the whole campaign an unmistakable saffron taint. It is a simple question of credibility, and it is amazing that the IMA, the NCW and UNICEF did not see what was bound to happen when they organized the meet. Nothing could have damaged their cause more. Awareness would be sharpened only if traditional social attitudes, superstitions and beliefs in religion-dictated gender status can be gradually shed. By publicly acknowledging the influence of religious leaders in such an important issue as sex ratio, forward-looking forces in society have badly compromised their position.

   

 
 
THE THIRD GENERAL 
 
 
BY K.P. NAYAR
 
 
In a decade which extols the virtues of democracy non-stop from Vancouver to Vladivostok, it is tempting to assume that an usurper to state power like General Pervez Musharraf will have a natural disadvantage over a democratically elected leader like Atal Bihari Vajpayee when the two men get together for a summit which will be closely followed in capitals around the world.

However, India’s experience with three generals in Pakistan — Ayub Khan, Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf himself — should warn Vajpayee against even the slightest trace of complacency at the Indo-Pakistan summit next month. There is a popular — at times, dangerous — thread of conviction which runs through the Indian media, the country’s intelligence community and among its strategic analysts that patriotism demands they should run Pakistan down and ride a moral high horse while talking of that country even when Pakistan is clearly getting the better of India.

Notwithstanding the fact that some grandiose schemes against India by all these three generals came to nought, Ayub, Zia and Musharraf have been more than a match to India’s legitimate rulers. Those who were present at Vajpayee’s first meeting as prime minister with Nawaz Sharif in Colombo in 1998 were witness to the reality that Sharif was putty in the seasoned hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party prime minister. Nobody, none of us from the media present in Colombo at any rate, believed Indian officials who told us, off-the-record, on the night of that summit that Sharif had confided in Vajpayee about shunting off his vitriolic, acerbic foreign minister, Gohar Ayub Khan, who spat venom at India at every opportunity.

But that was precisely what happened. In less than a month, the high-flying Gohar Ayub was relieved of his charge and packed off to the less glamorous water resources ministry. It was a performance by Vajpayee which the Indian prime minister repeated when he met Sharif for the second time in New York a few months later. Vajpayee’s aides would be making a monumental folly if they advise him that the prime minister’s meeting with Musharraf next month will be anything like his three summits with the man whom the general deposed in October 1999.

Witness the way Musharraf handled the Americans through last week’s events when he strode into the presidency. His foreign minister, Abdul Sattar, a veteran of two high commissionerships in New Delhi, showed no trace of red-facedness or embarrassment when he met United States officials the day after Musharraf staged his “second coup”. Sattar’s performance was dramatically different from that of Sharif when the former president, Bill Clinton, summoned the Pakistani leader to Washington on July 4, 1999, and pressured Pakistan into pulling out of Kargil.

Last week, the deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, did bring up the awkward subject of Musharraf dissolving parliament and evicting Pakistan’s sole left-over from a democratic past: the president, Rafiq Tarrar.

Sources privy to the conversation assert that Sattar explained to Armitage that he had been away from Islamabad for about 10 days, and therefore, did not know about the general’s immediate plans. It may or may not have been true, but it was certainly more than what K. Raghunath, India’s foreign secretary during the 1998 nuclear tests, could do. Unlike Sattar, Raghunath could never make the Americans believe that he did not know about Pokhran II in advance. State department officials are convinced to this day that Raghunath, who was in Washington four days before the tests, misled the Americans on that score.

Sattar reinforced his alibi by declaring at a press conference in Washington just before meeting Armitage that he was told about Musharraf becoming head of state only the day before — after he had met the secretary of state, Colin Powell, and the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. No politician in India would admit to such ignorance or acknowledge that he had been left out of decision-making.

But the most important aspect of the Sattar-Armitage meeting was that having had his say about democracy in Pakistan, the deputy secretary of state went on to engage the visiting foreign minister about issues that really mattered in Indo-Pakistan relations.

At the end of the meeting Sattar and Armitage had agreed that Pakistan’s foreign secretary would travel to Washington as soon as the Vajpayee-Musharraf summit was over to apprise his US counterpart, Marc Grossman, of what transpired in New Delhi and Agra — and to chart out the future for US-Pakistan relations.

By the time Sattar was on his plane back to Islamabad, Musharraf had allowed the Americans to bask in the belief that they had walked a high moral road in dealing with totalitarian excesses in Pakistan. In the process, the wily general lost nothing; he gave away zero.

The Bush administration is in the process of drawing up a new policy towards Pakistan. It aims to get rid of the pussy-footing that was the hallmark of the second-term Clinton administration’s Pakistan policy and return to the certainties of the Clinton team’s first term. But the new policy will also take into account the change in relations with India which have brought New Delhi into Washington’s strategic calculus and avoid parity between India and Pakistan, at least overtly.

No one is more interested in the contours of this new policy than Musharraf who, like Zia before him, hopes to be around in Islamabad for some time to come. It is wishful thinking in New Delhi that Musharraf will do anything to sabotage an emerging new relationship with the Republican administration: his elevation to the presidency was carefully timed to make sure that it will cause the least ripples in Washington. Contrary to all the hype in India about the continuing US sanctions against Pakistan and Washington’s insistence on a democratic Pakistan, the lasting message which Sattar left behind in the US last week was that the Bush administration had better work with Pakistan on a cooperative relationship.

Just as New Delhi convinced the US over the last two years that the full potential of Indo-US relations cannot be realized as long as sanctions are in effect, Islamabad has convinced the Bush administration that sanctions have only served to strengthen Islamic fundamentalist forces in Pakistan.

Notwithstanding the general’s military attire, Musharraf has persuaded the Americans to take his administrative reforms and his war on corruption seriously. His finance minister, Shaukat Aziz, has done a good job of getting international lending institutions to loosen their purse-strings in dealing with Pakistan.

For that matter, Sattar stopped just short of accusing the Americans of being responsible for south Asia’s current nuclear impasse. Without mentioning the Americans by name, of course, Sattar said that with the erosion of Pakistan’s conventional military capability — on account of the Pressler amendment and so on — Islamabad has been forced to rely on strategic defence, including nuclear weapons and missiles.

There will be enough takers in the Republican administration for this line. After all, this is precisely what many Republicans have been telling the Clinton team for the last four years when Washington’s tilt towards India began to manifest itself. Besides, there is bipartisan support in the US on preventing Pakis- tan from becoming a failed state. So, in a way, Musharraf will be looking for the failure of his talks with Vajpayee next month. This will help advance his cause not only in Washington, but elsewhere in the world as well. Musharraf’s only concern will be to ensure that he does not get blamed for the summit’s failure.

His grand gesture in pleading with the Indian prime minister to tone down the rhetoric in the run up to the summit is a classic example of how Musharraf will try to manipulate New Delhi so that the world blames Big Brother India for south Asia’s perceived strategic woes.

Vajpayee’s big challenge, on the other hand, is to find a way of moving forward on Kashmir. The BJP leadership will be loathe to admit that the prime minister had no option but to invite Musharraf for talks. The ceasefire initiative by the Vajpayee government in November had reached a dead end. The choice before the prime minister’s office was to either lose men and material in Kashmir on account of the non-working ceasefire or prepare for a massive deterioration of the ground situation there.

Even a decision to just call off the ceasefire would have created ripples abroad with Musharraf accusing India of raising tensions in a “nuclear-armed” south Asia. India successfully overcame this dilemma by calling off the ceasefire and, in quick succession, inviting the general for talks. It was a master-stroke which worked. But now Vajpayee has to pay the price for it by actually playing political chess with a general who has already outsmarted politicians in his own country

   

 
 
FORGOTTEN LESSONS IN HISTORY 
 
 
BY MADHUSHREE C. BHOWMIK
 
 
“History,’’ muses a visiting anthropologist to Bihar, “here lies mutilated by apathy and assassins’ bullets.” He points to a steep ridge that juts out ahead. The stretch straddles the meandering Son river, midway between the Aurangabad and Gaya districts — a stone’s throw from Dehri-on-Son.

The rugged landscape is ancient — probably dating back to the Archaean era in the geological timescale. It forms the outer sandstone shell of “Gondwanaland”, which cradled the bulk of the central plateau prior to the continental drift.

The Kaimur Hills, located in north Bihar’s Kaimur district, is home to one of the country’s oldest pre-historic (megalithic) rock sites, at par with Bhimbetka in the Narmada valley of Madhya Pradesh. Twelve intricately painted rock panels depict the “pre-historic” man’s close ties with nature in startling shades of natural dyes.

The shelters are out of bounds for conservationists. The hills are controlled by a clutch of gun-toting Maoist ultras, who have laid siege to history. The caves serve as their hideouts, the rock panels their makeshift target practice zone. The vagaries of man and nature have taken their toll on the paintings, which are covered in thick layers of calcite and grime. In some places, bullets have chipped blocks off the panels and defaced the walls.

Kaimur showcases the cultural rot that gnaws at Bihar’s treasure trove of history. It tells the story of an illustrious past laid to waste by a violent present, bloodied by the endemic gun-culture. Neglect and decay are all that meet these remnants of an era bygone.

Almost all the historical sites in Bihar and its sibling, Jharkhand, are in the grip of the “red underground”, which is vocal in its ideological disregard for the past. Superficial though it may sound, the state government (or governments) is largely to blame for the desecration of history. A state, which owes its genesis to a chain of complicated historical events and socio-political epochs spread over a millennium, was quick to disown its past as democracy struck its roots and mutated into an ugly form of mobocracy at the turn of the previous century.

Bihar witnessed a surge of violence in the name of vendetta as society fractured along caste lines, deluging heritage in torrents of contempt. The past was relegated to the backburner and issues relating to caste, corruption and power took the centre stage. While other state governments initiated efforts to preserve the past for posterity, Bihar forgot to pay even lip service to it.

Radical forces opposed to the perpetuation of the state’s royal lineage declared war on anything remotely connected to it, cashing in on the pervasive ignorance and grinding poverty among certain caste groups. By the time, realization dawned, it was too late.

Even now, awareness is little. The secular Rashtriya Janata Dal government at Patna, which likes to describe itself as socialist, and the National Democratic Alliance government at Ranchi, which prefers to dub itself “elitist,” pay scant attention to culture.

Bihar’s attempts at heritage conservation hinge on noisy mahotsavs — lavish song-and-dance extravaganzas, interspersed with a few workshops and symposiums — at the Buddhist tourism circuit. Rajgir and Vaishali are witness to grand “tourism festivals” every year. Conservation is intrinsically linked to tourism or, in other words, revenue generation for the cash-strapped state. History takes a backseat on such occasions and historical relics — other than those pertaining to Buddhism — are allowed to sink into oblivion. More often than not, they either turn into Naxalite hideouts or dens for anti-social elements.

This warped “use” of heritage is linked to the economics of the state. While the heritage zone between Gaya, Nalanda, Rajgir and Vaishali have been brought under the Buddhist tourist circuit with liberal aid from Japan, work on the Pataliputra restoration project at Kumrahar on the outskirts of Patna — the seat of the mighty Magadh empire — under the aegis of the state government remains suspended. The area lies submerged in water from the sewers. The Archaeological Survey of India and the Bihar state archaeology directorate cite paucity of funds and non-co-operation by local inhabitants, who have encroached into the area, as spanners in their work. But the truth lies somewhere else — there are no Japanese sponsors to help conserve a major archaeological site .

The rock shelters at Gaya’s Barabar Hills, a Jain pilgrimage resort, dating back to 252 BC are also controlled by Naxalites who often intimidate tourists. Much the same way, the 5th century AD Shiva temple hewn from a single rock mass at Kahalgaon in Bhagalpur district stands the risk of being eroded by the Ganges.

For the Jharkhandis, however, culture is trapped within the realms of ethnicity. History, too, eddies in its debilitating confines, shackled in endless soirees of tribal songs, dances, folk traditions and art. Jharkhandis refuse to acknowledge its tangible side — ruins of the myriad relics that dot the countryside.

That may explain why the new state government has not been able to set up an archaeological directorate despite draining crores of rupees on the “cultural uplift’’ of the indigenous race. Jharkhand abounds in centres for tribal performing and visual art, but an ambitious museum built near the Chandil dam under the Subarnarekha multi-purpose project languishes in neglect. Built during the late- Eighties to preserve the 12th century AD relics that were dug up during the dam construction, the institution has failed to serve its purpose. The dam washed away an entire Pal dynasty settlement. The authorities, barely managing to retrieve a handful of artefacts, stowed them away in careless abandon at the museum.

Cutting across the forests, up north, lies a chain of ancient rocks. Deep within the bowels of the Hazaribagh reserve forest, these outcrops and their adjoining terrain hide a lustrous past — man’s first tryst with metal. The Hazaribagh story is perhaps even more poignant. The constituency of the Union minister, Yashwant Sinha, Hazaribagh boasts of a regal past which traces its origin to the iron age. Ruins of ancient iron ore foundries and “terracotta” furnaces used for smelting the ore litter the area surrounding the crumbling Hazaribagh fort. The frayed ramparts are now the domain of the district’s most dreaded clan, the Maoist Communist Centre, which has overrun its labyrinthine portals.

The Maoists have also usurped the pre-historic rock shelters at Isco, a small hamlet in Hazaribagh’s North Kamarpura basin, which contains nearly 14 billion tonnes of premium grade coal. The principal threat to the shelters here is illegal mining, which thrives in collusion with the mafia-Naxalite nexus. The site, virtually cut off from the mainstream and conservation efforts by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage and that of a local activist, Bulu Imam, has almost been destroyed. The rock art here is of the highest quality, featuring a series of anthropomorphs, numerous animals and petroglyhs. The most extraordinary feature is perhaps the rows of complex geometrical figures, including proto-Indian motifs akin to the Indus hieroglyphs.

Though the area has been declared protected by the Union ministry of environment and forest, the mafia continue to prey on the natural treasure. For instance, metal slags from the pre-historic smelting sites are quarried for road conservation for a pittance. The MCC rakes in the commission and profits from this clandestine mining.

Development and conservation are not incompatible. Rather, in every advanced nation of the globe, they are touted as complementary to each other. The past fuses harmoniously with the present to create a fine aesthetic balance. But Bihar and Jharkhand are anachronisms. Development here has skirted the past to embrace the chaotic present, precipitating a cultural crisis.

   

 
 
STRUGGLE FOR THE RIGHT IMAGE 
 
 
BY AMITAVA BANERJEE
 
 
Cinema has long been used to create mass awareness. But, unfortunately, in the last four decades Indian films on many occasions have featured comic characters with some kind of disability. This might be a disability in speech, hearing, vision or limbs. Sometimes the characters are mentally unstable as well. Such representations almost always send out wrong signals to the people. They create a misleading image of physically and mentally challenged people. This reinforces stereotypes of disabled people and results in their humiliation.

Of late, two Bengali films, Dekha and Paramitar Ek Din, have had prominent characters who are disabled. In the former, there are two blind characters and in the latter, there is a schizophrenic young woman and a child with cerebral palsy. Aparna Sen, in Paramitar Ek Din, has dealt with the problem of mental instability in a realistic manner.

Facing it alone

However, the doctor’s part in the film leaves room for improvement. It also shows that the central character, Paromita, takes her child to the Institute of Cerebral Palsy by herself. This is typical of our society where fathers rarely take up the responsibility to attend to a disabled child’s requirements. The whole task is somehow assumed to be the mother’s. The film also depicts an extremely cooperative mother-in-law. This may not be the norm in the real world.

In Dekha, however, Gautam Ghosh has wasted the opportunity to rectify attitudes towards the disabled. The film is too preoccupied with cultural anxiety and sexual complexities, and this detracts from a serious exploration of the lives of visually-impaired people. Koshish was one of the first Indian films to handle speech impairment in a realistic manner.

It could be us

In the Fifties and the Sixties, there were a good number of Bengali films in which one of the main characters was mentally unstable. This was shown to be the result of some accident or trauma. But, unerringly, at the end of the film, there would be another such accident or trauma and everything would be once again rendered “normal”, the disability having been miraculously overcome. Deep Jele Jai and Shyamali were notable exceptions. The Hindi film, Anjali, of the late Eighties, carried an unmistakable message about society’s treatment of mentally-challenged children.

Before his accident in 1995, Christopher Reeves had said in a television interview that “anything could happen to anybody”. He recounted his last movie, Above Suspicion, in which he plays the part of a paraplegic person. For this, he had to visit rehabilitation centres and clinics to find out more about paraplegics. Little did he know that the knowledge he thus gained would hold him in good stead within seven months. He has later commented, “We should never walk by somebody who’s in a wheel-chair and be afraid of them or think of them as a stranger. It could be us — in fact, it is us.”

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ BUILDING TEMPLES IN THE AIR 
 
 
BY SURENDRA MOHAN
 
 
The evidence tendered by sangh parivar leaders before the Liberhan commission might be riddled with inconsistencies, but the opportunity is being exploited to the hilt to revive the Ram janmabhoomi agitation. Despite assurance from the Bharatiya Janata Party that the construction of the Ram temple is not on the agenda of the government, the party has been forced to harp on the rhetoric following successive failures on almost all fronts.

The performance of the BJP and its allies in the recent assembly elections is one major reason for going back to the vote-catching gimmick. The party has also suffered loss of face in the Manipur fiasco. On the other hand, it has had to admit the failure of the Kashmir ceasefire. And in spite of insisting that it would not negotiate with a military ruler, the prime minister has, after all, invited General Pervez Musharraf for talks. The invitation has annoyed the hardcore sangh members. The Ram temple refrain may be an attempt to show that the old agenda has not been put on the backburner.

The BJP’s position has also been compromised by the fact that many of its cadres have joined veteran leader, Dattopant Thengadi, in criticizing the government’s economic policy. Even earlier, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have admonished the BJP on its policies.

Against the grain

The areas where the government has been criticized most are corporatization of agriculture, amendment of the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Act, suspension of tribal rights over forests to enable their commercial exploitation, changing the Industrial Relations Act and the Contract Labour Act to ensure availability of a cheap work-force and the decision to build new dams that would unsettle the tribal population. Privatization of public sector units and the removal of quantitative restrictions that would invariably hit agriculture and industry have also been severely criticized. The BJP’s mainstay, the petit bourgeoisie, has been left by it to fend for itself.

The BJP presumably believes that the frustration of these people would make them more amenable to manipulation by it. The political think-tank thus seems be hellbent on reviving the old communal bogey. The response of the sangh leaders to the Liberhan commission queries only attests to this fact.

First, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh boss, K.S. Sudarshan argued that the mosque had been blasted by a bomb, obliquely hinting that Islamic terrorists were at work. Advani asserted that the Ram temple had already been in existence when the Uttar Pradesh government permitted the offering of aarti in 1986. Yet it is commonly known that the idol was surreptitiously installed in 1949.

Head hunting

It is also being contested by the sangh that V.P. Singh as prime minister had offered the disputed site to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas to build the temple there.

The trust was indeed offered land, but this was away from the mosque. Thus, Singh had been keen to protect the mosque. Second, an ordinance promulgated by the government had ordained acquisition of the “disputed” building to prevent its demolition by fanatics. The Supreme Court, to which the dispute was to be referred, was requested to convey its findings to the president. The government however had no powers to acquire waqf property, nor did Article 243 give complete decision-making authority to the Supreme Court.

It is possible that all the details were not conveyed to Advani, who was in jail at the time. But, surprisingly, he is said to have “rejoiced” in a Bihar jail on hearing that kar seva had been performed at the dispute site. Yet, Advani could not but have known that two separate injunctions by the high court prohibited performance of any kind of construction activity on the disputed site. Yet, he was happy that his followers had defied the law in August 1990 and again in November the same year.

However, what the BJP now seeks is neither the truth nor respect for the law. It is after power, just as before. According to one hypothesis, if the communal propaganda of the BJP creates a ground swell, it could be seen holding the parliamentary elections simultaneously with the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh early next year.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

A closet of one’s own

Sir — Pinky Vincent’s article, “Doomed to closet confinement”, describes, albeit a bit tritely, the hideousness of the closet in which most lesbians have to live in India. That a member of the support organization, Sappho, herself cannot be open about her sexual identity signifies the inability of these groups to fight the deeply-entrenched psychological stereotypes about sex and sexual personality that people live with in India. Malavika, the woman in question, also fears that she might be harassed or suspended from work if her colleagues and others discover the truth. Obviously, our society inflicts this fear with such effectiveness that it penetrates every form of liberal value one has inculcated and learnt to believe in over the years in school, college, university or at the workplace. Another incredulous thing is that our society discriminates on the basis of gender to such an extent that it is invariably far easier for men who have sex with men to conduct their sexual, and equally, their daily lives than it is for lesbians.
Yours faithfully,
P. Kaul, via email

Danger first

Sir — The accident involving the hanging man on the metro rail has once again proved that in India safety norms are followed only on paper (“Nightmare ride on Metro”, June 20). How and why did the door close on the unlucky passenger? Mechanized sliding doors are supposed to be fitted with an auto-return system in case there is an obstruction during the closing of the doors.

Second, there is supposed to be an interlock circuit which does not allow the train to start until all the doors of the rake are closed. The evasive explanations offered by the metro officials creates suspicion about the safety of the interlocking system. This system was in all likelihood provided by the coach manufacturer and most probably, despite the existence of faults, they were ignored at the risk of passenger safety.

The accompanying failure of the alarm system also proves that these are only ornamental devices which do not actually work. It is the duty of the maintenance staff to check the devices at regular intervals to see whether or not they are working. If random checks are carried out on the rakes in service, probably all would fail to conform to the safety norms as stipulated by worldwide standards on underground railway.

Moreover, if the metro officials do their part of the job, the police will not have to be brought in every now and then to pacify angry mobs. This will save some people some trouble.

Yours faithfully,
D. Basu Roy, Calcutta

Sir — It was horrible to read about the commuter with his two hands caught in the closing doors of the metro coach. Apparently, he had to travel the length of an entire station with the better part of his body dangling outside. More than a miracle, it was the courage and the goodness of the co-passengers who actually held on to the poor man’s hands that rescued his life.

A very good idea, that the metro officials have obviously not heard of, would be to position large mirrors against both ends of the platform which are at such an angle that they enable the drivers to see all the doors of the train. This will prevent such incidents from recurring.

Yours faithfully
A.K. Ghosh, Ranchi

Sir — The metro railway officials pay little attention to its fire safety norms. Every morning at about 9.30 am at the Esplanade station, one can clearly see that Room No. 6 — a stone’s throw away from the Calcutta Police booth — is used as a full-fledged kitchen. A very big heater is also used inside. The shutters to the room are kept lowered, lest commuters notice that this activity is being carried out inside. Unfortunately, the culprits underestimate the powers of observation of the people.

Yours faithfully,
Surajit Basak, Calcutta

Doing it now

Sir — Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s determination to improve the industrial and economic climate of the state without wasting any time makes perfect sense. His meeting with the industry heavyweights at Alimuddin Street, his slogan, “Do it now”, and his directive to his ministers to submit annual plans for each ministry to the industry minister, Nirupam Sen, display his sincerity in maintaining this sensible stance.

Surprisingly, although not unexpectedly, his efforts are being undermined by his own comrades. Recently, M.K. Pandhe, general secretary of the Citu and a politburo member, has said that he is ready for a debate with Bhattacharjee on the question of West Bengal’s industrial revival (“Poll sweep prompts Citu rethink on industry”, June 5). What is the debate for? Is Bhattacharjee not doing his best already? This kind of attitude must be criticized because it only undoes the good work done by others.

Yours faithfully,
Samir Bose, Calcutta

Sir — In the news report, “CM joins Nirupam in job plainspeak” (June 6), Bhattacharjee has encouraged young people to look for avenues in entrepreneurship because they cannot realistically expect to land themselves jobs. By discouraging job-seekers from looking for regular jobs, Bhattacharjee thinks his task of guiding them has been accomplished. But shouldn’t he first create suitable infrastructure for youngsters pursuing entrepreneurship?

Yours faithfully,
J.C. Bose, Calcutta

Simply taxing

Sir — In India, the financial year is from April 1 to March 31 of the next calendar year. While filing income tax returns, the financial year, assessment year, previous year and so on have to be mentioned and all in terms of two calendar years. This confusion can be eliminated by making the calendar year the financial year. This is the practice in many countries and makes the filing of income tax returns much simpler.
Yours faithfully,
C.V.K. Moorthy, via email

Sir — I was pleasantly surprised when I got the income tax refund due to me from the income tax department in Calcutta, and that too without any hassles. Who says there is a dearth of honest income tax officials?

Yours faithfully,
R.K. Raj, Calcutta

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