Editorial 1 / No trust in units
Editorial 2 / Determined to kill
And so to the sticking points
Fifth Column / How to take a governor seriously
All the roads that lead to peace
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / NO TRUST IN UNITS 
 
 
 
 
Another sorry chapter in the history of the Unit Trust of India is about to come to an end. Following an assurance given by the finance minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, to provide an exit option to small investors within seven days, the board of trustees has finally announced a scheme which will allow all investors partial redemption at pre-announced prices over the next few months. This will continue until the UTI reverts completely to pricing which is based on the net asset value of each unit. The current price at which units can be redeemed is Rs 10. This is significantly above the NAV, but still represents a large loss to those investors who entered the scheme only recently. Although this announcement must have caused severe disappointment amongst several thousands of small investors, it was not entirely unexpected because it is difficult to conceive of a feasible scheme which could have come anywhere near satisfying all investors.

The finance ministry has rightfully refused any budgetary support to the UTI. After all, why should public money be used up to bail out small investors even if they belong to the middle classes? After some arm-twisting, the Life Insurance Corporation of India and other nationalized banks seem reconciled to provide soft loans to the UTI to enable it to come up with the money required to meet redemption demands once an exit option is exercised. But, this will simply provide some liquidity to the UTI. If the UTI were to allow redemption at prices very much higher than the current NAV, then every sane investor would go in for redemption to the maximum extent possible. This will then imply that the future NAV will fall even further unless the stock market effects a magical recovery. So, limited redemption at a price of around Rs 10 perhaps represents the best possible compromise.

However, no one can come out of this smelling clean. There is no doubt that the top management of the UTI has been at best pitifully inefficient. For several decades, it has been mopping up huge quantities of funds from a gullible public. The utilization of these funds has violated every norm of financial prudence. It has accumulated inordinately large quantities of useless financial instruments, which have lowered the average rates of return as well as the NAV. But the UTI continued to pay out large dividends. It could only afford to do so because it was running the equivalent of a giant Ponzy scheme. The finance minister has been quick to disclaim all responsibility, taking refuge in the excuse that the UTI was an autonomous body. But surely, this is ingenuous to the point of being ludicrous. The government provided the UTI a bailout package of Rs 3,000 crore not so long ago. Surely it was the government’s responsibility to ensure that this sum was utilized in an appropriate manner. There have been innumerable reports in the media that the UTI had not made any significant progress in restoring its health. If journalists could write knowledgeably about the problems being faced by the UTI, then the government too must have known all the relevant facts. Why did it not act sooner? Perhaps only an impartial inquiry will unearth all the skeletons in the cupboards of the UTI and the finance ministry. The government can only restore the confidence of the public in the nationalized financial institutions by forthwith setting up such an inquiry commission.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / DETERMINED TO KILL 
 
 
 
 
Legislation and technology could be conflicting factors in social change. In India, the advancements in medical technology has only fostered more brutal forms of gender discrimination and imbalance. According to a report by the World Health Organization and the Indian Medical Association, ultrasonography helps in killing around 20 lakh female embryos every year. West Bengal is the first Indian state to have criminalized the sex determination of human embryos. The latest census has revealed that the ratio of girls to boys surviving up to the age of six has dropped. Although Bengal seems to discriminate less, or less blatantly, than some of the northern states, its below-six girl to boy survival ratio has also fallen from 1991 to 2001. Hence, the state government’s laudable stand to implement the Supreme Court’s recent directive on sex determination.

Two broad areas of doubt remain, the first being particularly relevant to the actualities in West Bengal. Implementing the government’s ruling would depend almost entirely on the health department. Identifying and maintaining a constant vigilance on the numerous clinics, laboratories, nursing homes and hospitals equipped with ultrasonography would demand a degree of commitment, will and efficiency that the health department’s abysmal performance has given the public no reason to expect from it. Ultrasonography has a wide range of diagnostic uses, and to slip in the extra bit of information about the sex of the foetus is easy and would be extremely difficult to monitor. Within a system hellishly mired in disorganization, callousness and corruption, fostering every kind of inhumanity, a concern for the gender ratio is difficult to imagine. Second, the effectiveness of such legislation in the face of deeply entrenched social attitudes remains a matter of debate. The eradication of brutalities normalized into unthinking ways requires the sustained will of the machineries of state, as well as societal awareness and progress. Criminalization of sex determination certainly avoids the alarming mindlessness of engaging religious leaders to contaminate the issue with sundry bigotries, all profoundly inimical to the wellbeing of women. But a law requires a tough administration and an alert society in order to make an actual difference.

   

 
 
AND SO TO THE STICKING POINTS 
 
 
BY ACHIN VANAIK
 
 
Even those who carried the lowest hopes and expectations of what the Agra summit would bring have to be disappointed by the outcome. No declaration or joint statement, let alone working groups to carry on detailed issue-wise discussions; only the commitment to meet again at another forthcoming summit. In short, the step forward in bilateral relations has turned out to be much smaller than earlier anticipated.

But the fact that it is, all said and done, a step forward must not be obscured or dismissed as of no consequence. And we must be on our toes because this process of reconciliation that has begun remains fragile. Already the pattern of “blaming the other” side for the failure to arrive at a common agreement or statement at the summit has taken shape.

This form of posturing is being indulged in by the mainstream of the media and by the security establishments in both countries, including by the two governments. The only consolation is that the governments are carrying out this exercise rather more politely than elsewhere and that parallel to this, they are also both stressing that the process of dialogue and the efforts for reconciliation will continue and build upon whatever was achieved in the discussions in Agra.

But this attitude of “blaming the other” must not go on for too long or become too strident. It needs to cool down and die out so that a proper atmosphere can again be constructed for future discussions. In reality, the responsibility for the disappointing final outcome is shared between both governments, tho- ugh not necessarily in equal proportion.

We need to apportion carefully this blame and we must do so as objectively as possible. This requires stepping out of the “official frameworks” of analysis, argument and judgment which are assiduously peddled by both governments and by most members of the wider security and media establishments of both countries. It is not a coincidence that those who have been most seriously and consistently committed to promoting better relations and friendship between India and Pakistan (civil society groups and individuals engaged in what has come to be called “Track Three diplomacy”) have been precisely those who have also most consistently criticized and been sceptical of their own government’s claims and posturings.

Understanding the basic reasons for the Agra impasse (which go beyond issues of media manipulation and pressure from “internal” hardliners) is necessary if we are to have a chance of avoiding its future repetition. The alternative to institutionalizing a process of constant dialogue is a worsening spiral of hostility and its ever-present accompaniment — the threat of war.

The summit highlighted three fundamental “sticking points”. It was the failure to even temporarily paper over these through appropriate words that prevented the signing of a formal agreement/ declaration or even a joint statement. These were the centrality of the Kashmir issue to bilateral relations, references to the involvement/aspirations of the Kashmiri people and the issue of cross-border terrorism. The fact that all the three problem areas are related to Kashmir is testimony enough to the centrality of the Kashmir issue. It is therefore pointless and disingenuous of Jaswant Singh to claim as he did in a post-summit press conference that while Kashmir is an issue, it is not the only issue, nor the core issue.

It is the core issue bedevilling India-Pakistan relations and must be recognized as such. In so far as nuclearization makes Kashmir a potential flashpoint for a nuclear exchange (which it does), it is absurd to pretend that this is not so. But nuclearization has also radically changed the framework of bilateral relations and therefore of prospective negotiations. The threat it poses is so profound and new that even though it is intimately connected to the Kashmir issue, it also takes on an autonomy of its own. The two countries have to move towards discussion here even if they can’t agree on “talks about talks” regarding anything else. It is revealing that neither side exhibited sufficient awareness of this essential autonomy and urgency of the nuclear issue.

The Indian side just went on and on about Pakistan’s “unifocal” chant of Kashmir and how India in contrast had a broader view covering a large range of issues in which nuclear risk reduction and related concerns were one. But then both governments, defending their acquisition of nuclear weapons, have a common interest in soft-pedalling the matter lest the “danger” it represents be “exaggerated”. After all, the region is now supposed to have become nuclearly “safer” despite the need to put in place risk reduction/safety measures.

Since both governments have a common interest in covering up the de-stabilizing threat caused by the arrival of nuclear weapons, this will not be a “sticking point” regarding the initiation of serious dialogue between the two sides now, or in the future. The pressure to treat not just nuclear safety, but disarmament, seriously, has to come from the outside public.

In the event, both sides did finally agree that addressing the “Kashmir issue” was basic to improving bilateral relations. The problem lay with the trade-off for what is still seen by the Indian side as a “concession” (namely, putting Kashmir on the agenda) and not as a reality that must be openly and forcefully acknowledged regardless of trade-offs. Thus the Indian side demanded a reciprocal “concession” from the Pakistani delegation.

It is here that the old mindsets of the two countries and their security establishments ultimately triumphed. The Indians raised the issue of cross-border terrorism and the Pakistanis countered by raising the issue of the Kashmiri people’s aspirations/involvement, which India promptly rejected. If Pakistan does not give such short shrift to the Kashmiris, it nonetheless excludes the option of Kashmiri independence and will not countenance any diminution of its control over “Azad Kashmir”.

In short, both sides continue to use Kashmir as basically an arena for their respective manipulations and are most certainly not putting the suffering of the Kashmiri people (on both sides of the line of control) at the heart of their political concerns. On the issue of cross-border terrorism, it is self-righteous and hypocritical of India to only talk of this while denying the reality of its own state terrorism and repression of civilians in the valley and opposing public scrutiny and condemnation of its own behaviour.

It is self-righteous and hypocritical of the Pakistan government to pretend that the fanatical jihadi organizations are “freedom fighters” for a worthy cause when they have long forfeited public support in the valley and when their goal (a governing Islamic order) is deeply undemocratic and their methods violent and reprehensible. Moreover, everybody knows that these jihadis are crucially dependent on Inter-Services Intelligence support.

Behind the failure to arrive at an agreed declaration in Agra lie the ugly mindsets of the two governments and their large supporting choruses outside. If the next summit is to move forward to some agreement, then ideally it should come about through a mutual self-evaluation and attempts to break away from these mindsets. But this is hardly likely — elite nationalism in both countries is far too belligerent, communal and self-serving.

We will probably have to settle for the hope that more skilful diplomacy, a greater sense of urgency on the part of the two governments, and stronger public pressure/sentiment, can all combine to produce another modest step forward. Maintaining this momentum may then eventually lead to that self-questioning which alone can end the self-righteous hypocrisies of both governments and much of their elite backing. That alone will bring about the conditions in which a lasting, because just, peace for all, including Kashmiris, might be forged.

The author has recently co-authored the book, South Asia on a Short Fuse: Politics and the Future of Global Disarmament

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / HOW TO TAKE A GOVERNOR SERIOUSLY 
 
 
BY NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT
 
 
The Constitution review committee has, very recently, raised an important proposal for the consideration of the people. According to it, the office of the governor has, in recent years, been unduly devalued. To restore dignity to this office, the review committee feels that a committee consisting of the president, vice-president, prime minister and the chief minister of the state should be vested with the authority of nominating the governor. It feels that the changed method is likely to improve Centre-state relations and to enhance the dignity and integrity of the incumbent.

Under the prevailing arrangement, the president nominates the governor and the state leaders have no say in such appointments. For this reason, the governor is often looked upon as the “Centre’s man” and, naturally, when a state is ruled by a different party, a certain hostility surrounds his role and activities. The review committee, for this reason, thinks that the changed method of appointment would bring about a desired harmony in the Union-state relations while also improving the governor’s image.

The office of the governor has become a profitable instrument that can be used in the political interests of the party in power at the Centre. Article 155 reads, “The governor shall be appointed by the president”, clearly suggesting that the president enjoys an absolute authority in choosing the governor. Of course, it is the prime minister who makes the actual choice, and his intention is only authenticated by the presidential fiat.

Close to the Centre

Thus, the appointment of a governor becomes a “political” matter since most of them come from public life and are chosen for their affinity with the Centre. Meanwhile, people of different acumen, and occupations have been inducted — they are former generals, bureacrats, judges and so on. But the nomination has always been a unilateral affair because the legal authority under Article 155 is vested in the Centre.

Two conventions regarding the appointment of the governor are now taking shape. The first is that a non-resident is normally chosen to serve as the governor. The second convention of appointing the governor by the Centre after consultation with the state government has not yet been crystallized. The Sarkaria commission states that there should be a continuation of this practice, but consultation does not mean total concurrence. If the chief minister has any valid objection, it should be listened to, but it does not have to be followed.

With a gradual change in the federal pattern, some changes in the mode of gubernatorial appointment are inevitable. Theoretically, though the position of the governor is quite independent of the Centre, he has to act under Central regulation and the refusal to toe its line may entail his untimely ousting. Thus, the provisions regarding his appointment and dismissal have made him a docile instrument in the hands of the Centre.

Changing federation

Significantly, a number of governors have exercised some of their over-riding powers which remained unused during the Congress period. The healthy growth of the federal system requires that the governor act as a state figurehead and not as a Central agent. The Sarkaria commission rightly suggests that the appointment of the governor should depend on a compulsory consultation with the chief minister. The governor should have eminence in “some walks of life”, a scant connection with local politics, be hardly involved in active politics and should have lived outside the relevant state.

If appointments are made on the basis of these recommendations, much tension in Union-state relations will be resolved. The suggestion forwarded by the review committee is more praiseworthy because it is in favour of forming a broader committee and the nomination of the governor by this committee is sure to keep the governor above political controversy.

The appointing authority of state rulers should be curbed because while making appointments they look out for their own interests. Second, the Centre’s right to nominate the governor was part of the scheme by the writers of our Constitution to create a centralized federation. So, we must take into account this necessary obligation before making a change in the appointment of the governor.

   

 
 
ALL THE ROADS THAT LEAD TO PEACE 
 
 
BY SUDIPTA BHATTACHARJEE
 
 
Over the past weeks, which witnessed turmoil in the Northeast after the extension of the Naga ceasefire “without territorial limits” and the hype and subsequent disappointment over the Agra summit, one aspect emerged clearly: the need for multi-track diplomacy in situations where hardline confrontation stymies talks and leads to a stalemate.

While much has been written about Kashmir, in the Northeast, the Meiteis and Nagas, and on a smaller scale, the people of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have resorted to diverse mechanisms of protest since June, all symptomatic of a deep-rooted anger and frustration over a ceasefire.

The Nagas and their brethren in the surrounding states have long called for the extension of the ceasefire between the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) to all Naga-inhabited areas. When the other state governments were consulted on this, they categorically refused, and with reason. Despite this, the Centre went ahead and unilaterally extended the truce, thereby unleashing a virtual siege in Manipur and sporadic but determined protests in the other states.

The concept of greater Nagaland or Nagalim, first propounded by Angami Zapu Phizo, now forms the basis of any talks between the Centre and National Socialist Council of Nagaland leadership. The Nagas will inevitably follow this up with a demand for independence, not autonomy. So the Centre, given its present lack of a comprehensive policy and an unfathomable penchant for soft-pedalling the question of India’s integrity, is only deluding itself that junkets in Bangkok or Amsterdam or Geneva will resolve the crisis before the situation careens out of control.

India has been fairly reluctant to experiment with any framework outside Track One (government-level) diplomacy. Yet multi-track diplomacy, a conceptual framework designed to reflect efforts at ensuring a truce, has made much headway over the past decade, especially in peace initiatives by countries like the United States.

One of the major advocates of Track Two diplomacy, ambassador John W. McDonald, said in Washington DC recently: “There has been a growing realization that the world is not structured to cope with most conflicts...In a vacuum, alternatives arise and people step forward. This stepping forward is fuelled by a frustration that citizens feel when governments fail to be effective, innovative and imaginative in dealing with long-standing problems.” Kashmir and Nagaland are both cases in point.

Since the Nagas are set on independence and India will not compromise on that premise, what purpose do the periodic talks serve? Why can the Centre not integrate the talks to include the communities and tribes whose interests are at stake? If we adopt a multi-track paradigm, a people-to-people contact could first prepare the ground before the Nagas and the Central delegation meet for talks.

There are avenues aplenty to explore in this new module. While Track One deals with the government, Track Two comprises non-governmental organizations and professionals. Track Three is the business class, Track Four the private citizen (very effective in the present situation), Track Five is the realm of research, training and education, Track Six is activism (peace-making through advocacy), Track Seven caters to religion (relevant, again, in this context), Track Eight sees to the funding while Track Nine deals with the media.

Although the external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh, has discouraged any media role in solving disputes, given the inherent dangers of misinformation, propaganda and distortion of facts, the media does balance a “vertical” relationship between the public and policy-makers with a “horizontal” one among the varied participants in a multi-track system. Its role can never be entirely discounted.

The situation in Manipur and Nagaland today is a no-win one. In 1997, Isak Chishi Swu and T. Muivah had reportedly said, “For us, Meiteis and Nagas are brothers and sisters of the same parents. They are inseparable under any circumstances.” What an antithesis to the fire which has been raging in the two states for the past couple of months.

Experts feel that the hiatus between ground reality and state policy is responsible for the alarming scenario. It is deeply saddening and unfortunate that the Centre now views the Naga problem as a prestige issue and has stooped to appeasement without considering the fallout. By extending the area under ceasefire to all Naga-inhabited areas, it has set Manipur, with no secessionist record, on the path of dissension. The Meiteis have protested as one and effectively, not limiting the demonstrations to Manipur alone.

The united outburst has taken the Centre, used to ad hoc pacifist measures, completely by surprise. In a classic volte face, it first sought to calm tempers by speaking of a parliamentary resolution, then a review and finally even promised an amendment of the Constitution if all else fails. The tardy handling and vacillation have now not only pitted the Nagas against the Meiteis, but also rekindled separatist demands by other outfits like the United Liberation Front of Asom. In a kaleidoscope more complex than the scenario in Jammu and Kashmir, it has become imperative that the Centre formulate a sterner policy.

Compromises come in many forms. New Delhi’s anticipation that the extension of the ceasefire area would be greeted by all-round euphoria boomeranged because of two reasons.

First, it chose to ignore the stand of the governments of the surrounding states. Second, it took the people’s acceptance of its decision for granted. If the Centre, far removed from the Northeast in more senses than one can enumerate, hoped to achieve a semblance of dignity by diverting the issue and driving a wedge between tribes, it miscalculated. And not for the first time either.

The Naga campaign, systematically levelled at an international audience, has been quick to reiterate its claim to independence. “The main point the Nagas want to get across to the Indian people is that our elders made known our position before India became independent. So Delhi cannot treat us as traitorous secessionists, separatists and anti-nationals. We are not against the Indian nation. We are not trying to secede from a Union we agreed to be a part of. We are a neighbour of India, admittedly a tiny one, but with a definite idea about ourselves.”

This view of the Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights is not an isolated one. Well-heeled, articulate young Naga men and women in sundry corners of the world drive home these points just as succinctly. They hold Indian passports, have been educated in the country’s top institutions but stake claim to a divergent history and view India as the aggressive neighbour.

“When the Simon commission came to India in 1929 in the course of its tour across the subcontinent to assess public opinion on certain proposed measures for reforms, the Nagas replied in writing that they were not to be included in any reform scheme as they claimed the right to decide their future on the basis of their pre-British status.

“The Akbar Hydari-Naga pact of 1947 came to an ignoble end when the Government of India declared it had nothing to do with it. Sensing that any ambiguity would result in serious complications, the Naga National Council declared Naga independence on August 14, 1947,” the NPMHR says. This fact, it claims, exonerates the Nagas from any devious secessionist intent. Interestingly, the Hydari agreement mentions the need for unification of Naga-inhabited areas. So does the 1960 one, which led to the creation of the state of Nagaland in 1963.

That the Centre stands to blame for the present imbroglio is no longer a matter of debate. Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation for this crisis by bringing Nagaland under the ambit of the home ministry from the external affairs one. When the former prime minister, I.K. Gujral, brokered the July 1997 truce, he told Parliament that the Isak-Muivah group and the Centre had “mutually agreed to suspend operations for three months with effect from August 1,” but conveniently omitted mention of the area to be covered by the ceasefire. The NSCN(I-M) acted with alacrity and switched nomenclature to Nagalim the following year, implying all Naga-inhabited areas in the Northeast.

Gujral had categorically maintained that the Centre had at no stage agreed to the concept of a greater Nagaland, the then home minister, Indrajit Gupta, had asserted that no step would ever be taken that “would affect the territorial integrity of Manipur”. The Manipuris thus have every reason to feel betrayed and their announcement of a civil disobedience movement from next week is quite justified.

Veiling the peace talks in mystery has been another cause for suspicion. While propaganda from clashing groups is in full voice, retaliatory postures are gaining ground. The alarming aspect is that, according to a statement issued by the Senapati-based Naga Credentials International (Senapati is one of the Naga-dominated districts of Manipur, along with Ukhrul, Tamenglong and Chandel), “the Nagas may have to resort to violent protests, having learnt that loud and violent protest alone is heard and heeded”. Thus by prevaricating and bungling, the Centre has actually unleashed a spectre of unabated violence in the Northeast.

Examples of inept handling of the situation abound. Atal Bihari Vajpayee reportedly gave an assurance about extending the territorial limits of the ceasefire to all Naga-inhabited areas during his meeting with NSCN(I-M) leaders in Paris in September 1998. This was corroborated by the interlocutor, Swaraj Kaushal, who was replaced with K. Padmanabhaiah because the government reneged on the issue. Today one hears that Padmanabhaiah may be replaced by P.A. Sangma. But whoever the emissary, the foremost hurdle remains insurmountable.

No agreement can survive in an atmosphere of mistrust, and any talk of a ceasefire or political will is futile till the embers of ethnic conflict die down. The way the Kashmir issue was handled will surely set a precedent that will reverberate in the Northeast in the years to come. When the monsoon session of Parliament begins next week, it will be up to the leaders from the region to snatch the initiative and ensure that the fire does not engulf the entire Northeast.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Create your own fiasco

Sir — The bailout package envisaged by the Unit Trust of India seems to be the best option available to the trust. It has not only opened up the scheme’s transactions, it is also indirectly encouraging investors to not withdraw from the scheme. But this is only the starting point for UTI. It is one thing to innovate a bailout package for a self-created fiasco. It is quite another to efficiently manage such a vast fund and give the investors a reasonable return for their money. UTI has needlessly traded in equities, contrary to the suggestions given by different committees and in total violation of the promise made to the government during the earlier bail-out package. The government should monitor the fund closely, and it should be managed in such a manner that the net asset value is close to the administered rate by June-July, 2003. This is possible only if UTI displays a similar competence to that shown while innovating the bail-out package. Otherwise, not only UTI, but the entire mutual fund industry will suffer.

Yours faithfully,
Dhrubajyoti Ray, via email

Dead little girls

Sir — Soma Marik’s editorial, “How little girls are unmade” (July 10), was an admirable article. It is shocking that religious leaders are invited to a convention against female foeticide when religion itself is the main culprit.

Female foeticide has its roots in religion. First, according to a Hindu myth, a deceased person’s soul is liberated only when the son performs last rites. Unfortunately, this myth has influenced the minds of most Indian couples. The desire to have a male child, to obtain a ticket to heaven, is still prevalent in India. This search results in a high birth rate as well as in female foeticide. The latter becomes popular since rearing a child exerts a monetary pressure on most parents. Indian couples march a step ahead of the family planning schemes by planning not only the size of their family but also the sex of its members.

Second, the unfortunate plight of Indian women in our society in general and in the marriage market in particular. The speakers at the New Delhi convention embodied the paradox of the same people worshipping devis while practising female foeticide. Thousands of Hindu girls have been sacrificed in the name of sati in the past and of dowry in the present. Parents fear the birth of a female child as it might cost them a fortune to find a suitable boy for her. These socio-religious reasons make a woman a victim of emotional as well as economic discrimination throughout her life.

It is perplexing that some women’s rights activists like Madhu Kishwar are bent on promoting the religious leaders as moral and ethical guardians of the masses. They argue that these leaders will prove to be more effective than the law enforcement machinery to counter the atrocity of female foeticide. We must realize that recruiting the offenders to correct the crime is not the answer. Only a scientific and logical bent of mind and a properly formulated practical plan can nip the problem of female foeticide in the bud.

Yours faithfully,
Sujit De, Sodepur

Sir — The sex-ratio as revealed in the 2001 census is appalling when compared to the earlier ones and proves that sex-selective abortions as a means to female foeticide is widespread in this country. This can largely be attributed to the fascination of the majority with having male children to carry on the lineage while also not proving to be an economic burden on parents. Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh are prime examples of states assailed by this belief. Paradoxically, our traditional teachings and culture favour the male child while new technology helps us to abide by the same cultural norms. If we do not pay attention to the yawning gap in the sex ratio, multifarious problems such as sex-crimes and an imbalance in the reproductive scale might arise. It is time unethical abortions are eliminated and sex determination tests banned.

Yours faithfully,
Ahtesham Ahmad, Andal

Sir — The report, “Surat doctors turn counsellors to fight foeticide” (June 22), should serve as an eye-opener to greedy and unscrupulous medical practitioners in other states. Yet another report, “Girl child killings threaten gender balance in Bihar” (June 18), is alarming. In some north Bihar districts there are reportedly only 600 females per 1,000 males. It is unfortunate that the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1996, has been flouted by indiscriminate pathological laboratories throughout the country despite knowledge of the risk involved for the foetus.

Time is running out. Though, the Union health minister, C.P. Thakur, had rightly advised that a direct intervention programme must be launched to stop female foeticide and illegal abortions, we have not yet seen any action plan. One wonders whether the government takes this problem seriously.

Yours faithfully,
Mohanlal Sarkar, West Bengal

Trial scenes

Sir — The United Nations war tribunal is right in trying Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes committed by him during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. It is common knowledge that during any war, various heinous crimes are committed. The people behind these ghastly deeds deserve to be punished. But if Milosevic is tried for his alleged crimes, others like Pinochet, Savimbi and the Saudi Arabian rulers have never been tried for similar crimes? His trial seems to be a mere cloak for the West’s attempt to punish him for ignoring its diktat on the future of Yugoslavia.

Yours faithfully,
Biswapriya Purkayastha, via email

Sir — At the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal not a single political leader or military commander of the victorious allied forces of the United States and the United Kingdom was tried for war crimes such as the nuclear holocaust of Hiroshima-Nagasaki or the atrocities committed during the Vietnam war. All those who were tried and convicted were from the defeated countries. The same is true of the present United Nations war crimes tribunal trying Slobodan Milosevic.

Not a single person from the victorious US, UK or NATO countries involved in the Bosnian war is being accused, let alone tried for any war crime. It seems that no military or political leader from these countries ever committed or was responsible for a single war crime and that all war criminals belong only to the defeated countries.

Yours faithfully,
N.B. Grant, Pune

Parting shot

Sir — On my way back to the car from New Market, I was accosted by an urchin of around six to seven years age who followed me, intermittently begging and tugging at my dupatta. When I reached my car, I got in and took out my purse. The only change I had was a 50 paise coin which I gave to the boy. The urchin looked at the coin, and to my immense surprise tossed it back through my window. He also told me that I could keep the coin if that was all I was going to give him, before making a face at me and walking off. I was too stunned to respond.

Yours faithfully,
Radhika Singh, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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