Editorial 1 / Spots on red
Editorial 2 / Where we are is hell
Misplaced euphoria
Fifth Column / The destitute are not criminals
The ways of the future
Document / Human beings as mobile commodities
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / SPOTS ON RED 
 
 
 
 
The popular perception that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal has strong links with the underworld refuses to die. Recent developments have, in fact, fortified the belief. There was, first, the arrest of some known criminals and shady characters from the hostel in the Salt Lake stadium, the lair of Mr Subhas Chakraborty. The party tried to free Mr Chakraborty from any complicity in the affair. Only loyalists were convinced by the party’s efforts to give Mr Chakraborty a clean billing. But nemesis has not abandoned its chase of the CPI(M). More recently, Mr Pinaki Mitra, a wanted criminal allegedly close to the CPI(M), has been arrested from a private lodge in Digha. Reports suggest that the links between Mr Mitra and the ruling party are so close that important members of the West Bengal secretariat have been forced to sit up and take notice. The reiteration by comrades that the CPI(M) has no nexus with criminals is beginning to acquire a hollow ring to it. The cynical plea that the contamination of criminal elements is the inevitable fallout of 20 years of political power seems to be devoid of any sense of responsibility and agency. There is a deliberate choice involved in extending political patronage to hoodlums and criminals, and that choice is tied to a particular style of political functioning.

That style of functioning places a high premium on the winning of elections. Electoral success in West Bengal, as the last 20 years have shown, is partly dependent on the use of terror in selected areas. The CPI(M) has made the use of terror and election management into a fine art. To do this, it has had to woo muscle power drawn from the underworld. This is now coming home to roost. The unearthing of CPI(M)’s criminal links sits very uneasily with the new image and orientation that the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, is trying to impart to his government. In the clean and efficient thrust that Mr Bhattacharjee is emphasizing, criminal elements cannot continue to receive official or semi-official protection. More and more criminals with known leftist connections are thus falling into the police net. This is more damaging to the CPI(M)’s past than to its present. Instead of attempting hamhanded cover ups, the CPI(M) should capitalize on this new development. It should come down heavily on those leaders who protect criminals, and declare that the CPI(M) is not a haven for criminals and their patrons. This will earn the party an enormous amount of goodwill. The party’s unwillingness to take such a radical step grows out of its realization that criminals have their uses on election day. To part completely with criminal elements, the CPI(M) will have to rethink its political style and restructure its priorities. It cannot be a party of change and refuse to change itself. A clean chief minister needs a clean party behind him.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / WHERE WE ARE IS HELL 
 
 
 
 
India demands very strong nerves — which is often a pithier phrase for a horrifically numbed public conscience. Forty three mentally ill men, women and children burnt to death in the beds to which they were shackled is not quite the sort of thing one is meant to take in one’s stride. But this is what happened in the holy town of Erawadi in Tamil Nadu. The venue was a privately run home for the mentally ill, one of about 15 in Erawadi, charging each inmate several thousand rupees. The home disregarded every human, medical and legal rule regarding the treatment of mental illness. The inmates’ screams, as they burned in their chains when the dormitory accidentally caught fire, were taken by the staff to be normal lunatic self-expression.

As always in India, such an incident reveals attitudes and realities which pervade society in less extreme and in everyday, unquestioned forms. The common Indian barbarism regarding mental illness is a combination of sheer ignorance, respectability, medical and legal backwardness and, in this case, benighted piety. Erawadi, with its dargah, is a centre of spiritual healing to which families flock and often leave behind their imbalanced members. The private system of care which then takes them in plays out all the prejudices inherent in such legislation as the Mental Health Act of 1987. This act’s attitude to the institutionalized treatment of mental illness remains custodial rather than therapeutic. It empowers the judiciary and the police to take mentally ill persons into custody, barely distinguishing them from vagrants and criminals. It makes no provisions for the rehabilitation of patients; and social, particularly familial, stigma tends to take over from the point of release. In the sphere of mental health, the demand for infrastructure and services far exceeds supply. About 20 million people require active mental health care in India. In the mid-Nineties there were as few as 50 mental hospitals nationwide with a capacity to serve about 75, 000 patients. This also results in rampant abuse of human rights, as a 1997 survey urged by the national human rights commission reveals. Mental health care is therefore brutalized by both the state and society in India, and this is to be kept in mind when advocating its privatization. Legal reform and state supervision have perpetuated an inadequate, backward and inhuman tradition of treatment. But the numerous homes in Erawadi do not seem to indicate a significantly more enlightened privatized sector either. This institutionalized mix of ignorance, squeamishness and brutality has recently found another object in India, the HIV-positive person or the AIDS patient. But the mentally ill remain its most cherished victim.

   

 
 
MISPLACED EUPHORIA 
 
 
BY K.P. NAYAR
 
 
It has become a cliché to say nowadays that relations between India and the United States have been transformed beyond recognition. For this columnist, who reported from New Delhi on the ups and downs as well as the hopes and disappointments in Indo-US relations during the last decade, the most amusing development in the last fortnight was the ease with which Christina Rocca, the US assistant secretary of state for south Asia, cruised through the three different gates of South Block in the course of a single visit.

Even three years ago, the protocol-bound ministry of external affairs would have spent precious hours before her visit discussing the access she should be given and kept the US embassy in New Delhi on tenterhooks almost until she landed in the capital. Rocca sailed through the barriers which divide and set apart the prime minister’s office from the rest of South Block to meet the national security adviser, Brajesh Mishra. She met Jaswant Singh, the minister for both external affairs and defence: thus the rest of South Block was open to her as well.

It was the president, George W. Bush, who saw to it that this, indeed, was the case. After the way Bush received Singh in the Oval Office and asked the vice president, Dick Cheney, to have detailed talks with Mishra in Washington three months later, Rocca could have met anyone she wanted to in New Delhi. The Indians were simply bowled over by the reception they were getting in Washington.

But the history of Indo-US relations in the last 50 years teaches us that such euphoria has always been misplaced. The latest bout of Indo-US engagement, initiated during Bill Clinton’s second term as president, has so far been cosy because it did not require New Delhi to take any hard decisions.

It entered its most demonstrative and public phase at a time when Clinton’s presidency was already in the twilight zone. Clinton had left a decision on national missile defence to his successor, America’s only serious ground engagement was in the Balkans and the Clinton team effectively decided to maintain the status quo in Asia for the rest of its time in office. Even on the issue of the nuclearization of south Asia, the Clinton administration was quite willing, by that time, to let sleeping dogs lie. More so after the US Senate decided against ratifying the comprehensive test ban treaty.

But now, in the last few weeks, things have suddenly changed. The new Republican administration’s unilateralist policies have forced changes which could prove momentous for Asia in this century. New Delhi delights in the two meetings which the US president and the Indian prime minister have had in a span of less than one year. India is complacent that Vladimir Putin travelled to New Delhi last year although it was one of the last capitals on the Russian president’s itinerary: it came way down even after Pyongyang.

South Block’s spin doctors project Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s recent flight to Iran as a landmark trip, never mind the reality that for eight years after P.V. Narasimha Rao made a truly historic visit to Teheran, no Indian prime minister had bothered to follow up on the gains of that momentous journey.

And now compare this to what other players on the world stage are doing. Putin and the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, have met eight times in the last one year. The end result of these eight meetings, among other things, is a new treaty of friendship and cooperation between Beijing and Moscow, signed last month. It is significant that the treaty has been described by both sides as part of their effort to “preserve the global strategic balance”.

What is of even greater import to India is that this treaty was preceded exactly a month earlier by what Jiang calls the “Shanghai pact”, in an obvious reference to the now-defunct Warsaw pact. The Shanghai cooperation organization, created by this pact, brings together China, Russia and four key former Soviet republics in central Asia.

In the midst of all these critical developments, India’s response has been to let the world pass by: New Delhi is content to bury its head, ostrich-style, in the debris of Agra. It is sad for any Indian to see their country stranded thus, helplessly watching the receding tide of history. But thanks to the Bush administration’s pro-active diplomacy, New Delhi will not be in a position to remain a mute spectator to these developments for very long.

A few days ago, the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, unveiled in Canberra what amounts to a proposal to create an Asia-Pacific North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a new defence arrangement, for which the enemy will undoubtedly be China and Russia. It envisages the creation of a defence forum which will bring together the US and its three client states in the Asia-Pacific, namely, Australia, Japan and South Korea.

The proposal, announced after Australia’s ministerial-level talks with Powell and the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, took everyone by surprise because Powell had carefully cloaked his visit earlier that week to Beijing as a mission of accommodation to pave the way for a smooth American presidential visit to China later this year.

In fact, Powell went so far as to tell the Chinese official media that China “is a nation that need not be seen as an enemy”. It was a statement which seemed to go against the grain of the Republican party platform, which dubbed Beijing as a “strategic competitor” of the US. What Powell’s China trip and the subsequent unveiling of the plan for an Asian NATO make clear is that the Bush administration is pursuing a two-track policy on China, just as it is preparing to do the same with Pakistan.

On the one hand, it takes into account the need to prevent America’s disagreements with China from getting to the point of any confrontation. It also seeks to protect America’s huge commercial interest in China. On the other, it prepares the US and its allies for the next phase of the Cold War, which is to be fought in Asia this century, just as the earlier phase of the Cold War focussed on Europe.

With Pakistan, the two-track policy envisages saying in public all the politically correct things that today’s world wants to hear — a world in which democracy, human rights and the rule of law are the watchwords. Thus the US will continue to talk about the need to restore democracy in Pakistan, the need for economic reform, the unfairness of the blasphemy law, the need to stop honour killings.

On the other track, it will intensely engage Pakistan on issues where America’s vital interests are at stake. As a result, the Lashkar-e-Toiba is most unlikely to be declared a terrorist outfit and New Delhi should never expect a US position on Kashmir to be articulated on India’s terms. It has not gone unnoticed in New Delhi that unlike Clinton’s Islamabad visit, which was essentially meant to chastize Pervez Musharraf, Rocca said in Islamabad everything that the Pakistanis wanted to hear. Just as she said all the right things in New Delhi.

But let us get back to the broader issue of US policy in Asia that involves Washington’s dealings not only with Pakistan, but also with China — and Russia, which is as much an Asian power as it is European by virtue of its geography. The way things are going, Vajpayee may soon rue the day when he declared that India and the US are “natural allies”, because if and when the Asia-Pacific version of NATO is a reality and as the national missile defence plans progress in Washington, Vajpayee will be called upon to prove the worth of his declaration and demonstrate that India is, indeed, an ally of the US.

In an editorial soon after Powell unveiled the idea of an Asia-Pacific NATO, the Guangzhou Daily described Australia as America’s maqianzu, a Chinese term for foot-soldiers with the task of protecting generals on horseback. Will Vajpayee then reduce India to a role in south Asia similar to the one that Australia is playing in the Asia-Pacific? It is a tribute to American diplomacy that no official of the Bush administration has even hinted at the possibility that India could be part of the new arrangement which Powell outlined in Canberra — despite all the recent rhetoric about a strategic relationship with New Delhi.

The Americans know India well enough to realize that any public articulation of such a prospect would draw howls of protest from the likes of Natwar Singh, Somnath Chatterjee, Mulayam Singh Yadav and so on, not to speak of those in the Bharatiya Janata Party, which still believes in the values which it once considered sacrosanct.

Instead, Bush sent Robert Blackwill as ambassador to India. A paragraph from Blackwill’s study, entitled America’s Asian Alliances reads as follows: “Taiwan and China may well be on a path of military confrontation in the mid-term...If the mainland were to use force against Taiwan, it is probable that the US would help Taiwan defend itself. Is there any doubt that in those dire circumstances, the US president would seek tangible support from its allies: Australia, Japan and South Korea?” It is this passage which is the fountainhead of the most provocative foreign policy plan yet to be floated by the Bush administration — the idea of a NATO clone in the Asia-Pacific. And the author of that plan now resides in Chanakyapuri.

He is a “Vulcan”, a member of a small foreign policy team which advised Bush on international affairs during his campaign. He has direct access to the president and will get things done for India in Washington. And he has begun his innings well in New Delhi with a public relations master stroke of visiting his embassy’s visa section on his first day in office. But there will be a price for what he does for India in Washington. Will India be prepared to pay that price? Either way, it will be impossible for New Delhi to remain much longer with its head buried in the debris of Agra.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / THE DESTITUTE ARE NOT CRIMINALS 
 
 
BY SUSANTA KUMAR BISWAS
 
 
The daring escape recently by Bandana, a deaf mute, and three other inmates from the Liluah home for destitute women was no isolated incident. It was a glaring example of India’s grossly malfunctioning rehabilitation system. Our superficial attempts at understanding the sheer desperation of these women by narrating a few gruesome torture tales and widely circulated stories of sexual abuse have, in effect, side-tracked the root cause.

The problem lies with the law itself — the Bengal Vagrancy Act of 1943. Section 2 (9) of this act defines a destitute or vagrant as a person who is found “wandering about or remaining in any public place in such condition or manner as makes it likely that such persons exist by asking for alms”. A special magistrate is responsible for identifying these vagrants or the destitute. Often, presidency magistrates, with vagrancy courts as their additional duties, do their duties either in haste or in a slipshod manner.

Considering the increasing number of vagrants in and around Calcutta, there should be at least one regular court to decide on a person’s vagrant or destitute status after a proper hearing as stated in section 7 of the act. But because of the government ignoring this need, a large number of men and women, some with proper homes and jobs, are packed into these homes. It is quite understandable that these people, often incapacitated by a lack of education or money, do not file an appeal against such misjudgments. Instead, out of sheer desperation they plan an escape.

No escape

A recent survey showed that almost 80 per cent of the inmates suffer from psychological disorders. Although there are separate homes for the mentally unstable destitute or vagrants, they are kept with the mentally stable destitute and vagrants. Psychiatrists, general physicians and proper medication are often unavailable. The abysmally low medicine grant of Rs 15 per month per inmate is insufficient and many suffer from contagious diseases that go untreated.

Formal education and vocational training are supposed to be a major feature of destitute homes. Figures however state the reverse. Out of ten homes only one, the Andul home, holds formal education classes. But even these classes are not held regularly because of the absence of teachers. Also, the tools and machinery required for vocational training are either heavily outdated or defunct.

This depressing scenario is at its nadir in the homes for children and the minor destitute. The intention of bringing these infants and destitute children to these homes is to provide them with job skills and educate them. In reality, the lacklustre effort ends up in creating individuals who are not allowed to acquire the skills required to fend for themselves.

Marginal elements

The greatest problem lies in the attitude. The police round up vagrants from railway stations or other public places under the threat of bodily harm. Wardens in the remand homes treat them like petty criminals. There is obviously something very wrong in the government’s approach to welfare.

That these people are a liability to the state exchequer is evident from the meagre funds allocated to remand homes. Finance department records show that during the last three years the budgetary allocations for all 11 remand homes have remained almost static. This partially explains the virtually dilapidated conditions of these homes.

The state government should also be asked why it has clubbed prisons and social welfare under one ministry. The vagrants are certainly not criminals. They are, at worst, the marginal elements of society. Constrained by circumstances, they are neglected by the mainstream. The main obstacle lies in how the concept of a welfare state is understood in West Bengal. Instead of welfare being for the people it often turns out to be for the state.

Hence, we have laws and policies that are treated as excess baggage by those who implement them. The same laws are found to be draconian by those whom they are meant to help. As a result, the vagrants drift further away from society only to land on the wrong side of the law. Or they escape the dragnet, only to return to their vagrancy and destitution.

   

 
 
THE WAYS OF THE FUTURE 
 
 
BY ANSU DATTA
 
 
The hullabaloo in south Asia over the Agra summit just about coincided with that of a much bigger, continental summit in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, at which a “new African initiative” was initiated early July. A kind of integrated development plan for the continent, this brings together the millennium African recovery programme, which is the brainchild of Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s president, and the Omega plan, the idea of the Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade. Three other statesmen have sponsored the move: the heads of state of Algeria, Egypt and Nigeria.

A fourth one, Libya’s Muammar Gadaffi, has been cheering flamboyantly for some time. Although other leaders considerably diluted Gadaffi’s grandiose plan of what he calls “the new USA”, a borderless United States of Africa, it will be unkind to underestimate his contribution to the initiative. The Constitutive Act of the Union was, after all, conceived in September 1999 in Sirte, Libya’s beautiful coastal town, under the auspices of Gadaffi, and adopted by the Organization of African Unity in the July, 2000 summit in Lomé, Togo.

The new plan will replace the OAU, founded in 1963, with the African Union. All 53 members of the OAU have signed the act, with 37 member-states, accounting for just over the two-thirds required to have the treaty take effect, having ratified it. The initiative has also received support from the United States president, George W. Bush and the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan.

The need to “depart from ways of the past” was stressed as the main reason for transforming the 38-year-old OAU into an African Union. Furthermore, the African initiative was made more pragmatic, carefully avoiding the dreams of Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere that proposed a syncretic mélange of pan-Africanism with ujamaa or African socialism.

The inspiration behind the African initiative is derived obviously from the success achieved by the European Union. The UN secretary general, Annan, was in fact speaking for all the 39 African heads of state and government, assembled in Lusaka for the 37th and final OAU summit, when he said that the African Union is “to do for Africa what the European Union has done for Europe.” The African Union is expected to operate through an executive, a central bank, a monetary fund, a parliament and a court of justice.

The Lusaka meet, described as “a historic summit”, saw the usual round of lobbying for the prize posts of the new outfit. The office of the new secretary-general went to the former foreign minister of the Ivory Coast, Amara Essy, at the end of a gruelling eight rounds of deadlocked voting.

The new plan highlights the key problem areas of the continent: civil wars and inter-state conflicts, economic stagnation and decline, various health-related problems aggravated by the AIDS pandemic, and wide-spread illiteracy. African leaders realize that a solution to these problems will need wise and far-sighted planning, together with massive investment of resources. They also know that socio-economic development has to be backed by political democracy, leading to the empowerment of the people. And that the pre-condition to all this is conflict-resolution andestablishment of peace in more than a dozen countries where conflict is raging currently. A high level summit is no place for addressing these issues. So they have to be left to expert committees and task forces.

The five architects of the African initiative — the heads of state of Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa — are due to hold a meeting in New York during the September session of the UN general assembly. They will lobby for a special UN resolution in support of the African move. This will be followed in November by a summit in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. At this summit, African heads of state and government will probe the problems of implementing the initiative, including the question of funding, in consultation with representatives of the private sector, donor agencies and international financial institutions.

It is estimated that a total of $64 billion (roughly equivalent to Rs 300,000 crore) will be needed for the African economy to grow by 7 per cent annually. This will ensure that the objective of ridding the continent of underdevelopment, illiteracy, hunger and conflict is attained within the ambitious time frame of 2015. By any estimate, this is a daunting task. Fortunately, it seems that the new secretary general means business. Within hours of his election he promised “early and concrete” results during his one-year tenure of office, in the course of which he will oversee the transition of the OAU into the African Union.

As a fresh initiative emerging from the continent to grapple with the perennial problems of under-development and conflict, the new move has been generally welcomed. The Senegalese president, Wade, one of the five architects of the African initiative, called it “a political leap forward”, while to Annan it is “a historic effort”.

However, Africa-watchers have sounded a word of caution. Beginning with the early Sixties, they say, Africa has witnessed a number of plans of closer integration with lofty ideals, many of which proved too difficult to be implemented. The creation of the OAU in 1963 was greeted with widespread euphoria. But its record does not inspire much hope. Perhaps its heaviest impact was felt in the corridors of international decision-making agencies as a solid vote bank, especially in issues relating to the race question and the decolonization process in general. But the OAU’s performance, styled by an observer as “conspicuous inaction” in several crucial crises, left much to be desired. This was especially evident in the actual struggle for liberation of African peoples south of the Zambezi. Nor has the organization been particularly successful in resolving regional conflicts of which Africa has seen many during the recent past.

The mandate of the African Union “to do for Africa what the European Union has done for Europe” is most desirable as an ideal. But fighting underdevelopment, poverty, illiteracy, civil unrest, inter-state conflict, and the AIDS pandemic has to go beyond the expression of a pious wish. It needs foresight and a strong political will. It also involves the task of dismantling existing political and administrative structures and to replace them with new ones. This is not easy because there are vested interests — national, regional and international — that cannot just be wished away.

One hopes that these issues are being taken serious note of by the architects of the initiative. Probably the Zambian president, Frederick Chiluba, was referring to this problem when he promised to push for the harmonization of various regional and sub- regional groups such as the Arab Maghreb Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and the Southern Africa Development Community.

The significant thing, however, is that African leaders have, collectively, registered their concern at the desperate situation the continent is faced with. As Chiluba, the new African Union chairman, told the closing session: “Africa does not have the luxury of time. We are living in an era where change takes place...in milli-seconds.”

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / HUMAN BEINGS AS MOBILE COMMODITIES 
 
 
 
 
The trafficking of people for prostitution and forced labour is one of the fastest growing areas of international criminal activity and one that is of increasing concern to the United States administration, congress and the international community. The overwhelming majority of those trafficked are women and children.

An estimated 1 to 2 million people are trafficked each year worldwide; 50,000 to the US. Trafficking is now considered the third largest source of profits for organized crime, behind only drugs and guns, generating billions of dollars annually...The largest number of victims come from Asia, with over 225,000 victims each year from southeast Asia and over 150,000 from south Asia.

The former Soviet Union is now believed to be the largest new source of trafficking for prostitution and the sex industry, with over 100,000 trafficked each year from that region. An additional 75,000 or more are trafficked from eastern Europe. Over 100,000 come from Latin America and the Caribbean, and over 50,000 victims are from Africa. Most of the victims are sent to Asia, the Middle East, Western Europe and North America.

In 1998, the US administration launched a government-wide anti-trafficking strategy of (1) prevention, (2) protection and support for victims, and (3) prosecution of traffickers. Internationally, the Clinton administration has launched a number of bilateral and multilateral programs. The international community has been meeting since 1999 to draft a protocol against trafficking in conjunction with the United Nation convention against transnational organized crime...

The reasons for the increase in trafficking are many. In general, the criminal business feeds on poverty, despair, war, crisis, and ignorance. The globalization of the world economy has increased the movement of people across borders, legally and illegally, especially from poorer to wealthier countries. International organized crime has taken advantage of the freer flow of people, money, goods and services to extend its own international reach.

Other contributing factors include the continuing subordination of women in many societies, as reflected in economic, educational and work-opportunity disparities between men and women.

Many societies still favour sons and view girls as an economic burden. Desperate families in some of the most impoverished countries sell their daughters to brothels or traffickers for the immediate payoff and to avoid having to pay the dowry to marry off daughters; the hardship and economic dislocations caused by the transition following the collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe, as well as the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

The lack of opportunity and the eagerness for a better life abroad have made many women and girls especially vulnerable to entrapment by traffickers. With the weakening of law enforcement in post-communist societies, criminal organizations have grown and established themselves in the lucrative business of international trafficking; the high demand, worldwide, for trafficked women and children for sex tourism, sex workers, cheap sweatshop labour and domestic workers.

Traffickers are encouraged by large tax-free profits and continuing income from the same victims at very low risk. The inadequacy of laws and law enforcement in most origin, transit and destination countries hampers efforts to fight trafficking. Even in the US, more effective legal remedies are only now being considered. Prostitution is legal or tolerated in many countries, and widespread in most... Penalties for trafficking humans for sexual exploitation are often relatively minor compared with those for other criminal activities like drug and gun trafficking.

Few victims dare testify against the traffickers, fearing retribution for themselves and their families since most governments do not offer stays of deportation or adequate protection for witnesses. The disinterest and in some cases even complicity of governments is another big problem...In some cases, police and other governmental authorities accept bribes and collude with traffickers by selling fake documentation. Local police often fear reprisals from criminal gangs so they find it easier to deny knowledge of trafficking. Many countries have no specific laws aimed at trafficking in humans.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Whose wedding is it anyway?

Sir — That the dreamlike marriage between the Irish actor, Pierce Brosnan, and the former model, Keely Smith, has captured the attention of the media is proved by the flashing of their picture on the front page of the leading dailies. Even a newspaper like The Telegraph has fallen prey to this craze. As a regular reader of this paper, I was disappointed to see what reminded me of the perpetually “starstruck” tabloids famous in Britain. It is amazing to see that despite the best efforts made by the couple to keep the details away from the paparazzi, the media have still managed to get the details about the celebrations. But what does the common reader gain by knowing about the whopping amount a glossy magazine has reportedly paid the actor for the picture rights? This only brings out the stark truth about the world remaining divided between those who are privileged and those who are not. It will be a relief for readers like us not to have to look at such images when one picks up the paper over a morning cup of tea.

Yours faithfully,
Preeta Ray, Calcutta

Fire fighting

Sir — The Central government has done grave injustice to the Nagas by withdrawing the ceasefire from Naga inhabited areas beyond Nagaland, while extending it in the state. The inability of the Centre to keep its word has led to the loss of trust that the Nagas had come to place in it. They had not opposed the ceasefire and had, in fact, expressed their agreement with the Centre’s decision through rallies held in Delhi, Kohima, Dimapur, Ukhrul, Senapati, Tamenglong, Chandel and other places. Despite this, the Centre chose to listen to the opinions of the Manipuris and the Assamese while deciding the fate of the Nagas.

No other community should be allowed to stall the Naga movement for unity. The uprisings in the neighbouring northeastern states against the demand for a greater Nagaland are both unnecessary and unwarranted. As Thuingaleng Muivah said, “The Nagas are not seeking anybody’s land, but only what historically belongs to them”.

Yours faithfully,
K. Ashuni, Shillong

Sir — I am surprised at the allegations being made against the Nagas by various groups of people. Recently, a Doordarshan news clipping showed a procession of students carrying placards in protest against the demand for a greater Nagaland. One of the placards said, “Nagas do not believe in unity in diversity”.

As a government employee, I had lived in Nagaland between 1988 and 1989. My experience in Nagaland tells me that the Nagas themselves are a combination of different tribes speaking various languages. Nagamese, a sort of broken Assamese, is the lingua franca in the state. The so-called Nagas are a prime example of unity in diversity.

Yours faithfully,
M. Dasgupta, via email

Sir — The removal of the three words, “without territorial limit”, in the discussion on the ceasefire between the Central government and the chief ministers of the northeastern states has renewed tensions in Nagaland. The agitations which are being reported are a clear indication that the Nagas are not concerned with peace. Their sole interest is to acquire their land with complete disregard for the Manipuris. This single-minded desire to possess a separate land solely for the Nagas will only lead more Manipuris to sacrifice their blood to prevent the loss of their land.

Yours faithfully
L. Deepak Singh, via email

Sacred bonds

Sir — The article, “Till death, not distance do us part” (July 31), was interesting. I am a mariner’s wife and the “parting on compulsion” factor concerns me a lot. My husband has to sail for several months in the year. On countless occasions, I am asked how I cope with the loneliness and whether our relationship will survive the distance. I can confidently say that where there is a will, there is a way. I strongly believe that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Kahlil Gibran aptly said, “Let there be space in your togetherness”.

Long distance relationships can no longer fail because of a lack of communication. Companionship can be maintained through letters and emails. Loneliness is a state of mind and let it not bother us. In fact, couples should consciously take time apart to strengthen the relationship.

Yours faithfully,
Suman Sanyal Ranjan, Calcutta

Sir — I agree with Dola Mitra that being out of sight does not mean being out of mind (“Till death, not distance do us part”). Often, when we are constantly with the person we love, romance gets buried under the everyday routine of our lives. We tend to take the other for granted, much to the detriment of our relationship. The spontaneity that keeps a relationship going is always there in a long distance relationship because the partners make the most of their time together. But distance could break a relationship standing on a weak foundation.

Yours faithfully,
Rinita Saha, Calcutta

Sir — According to Dola Mitra (“Till death, not distance do us part”), the only problem faced by couples in a long distance relationship is infidelity. In fact, that is the most minor problem. Lack of face to face interaction, communication (emails are not accessible to all), and absence from the day to day routine are factors which could tear the relationship apart. Sadly, the article does not even touch on these problems.

Yours faithfully,
Rachna Singh, Mumbai

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:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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