Editorial 1 / First class first
Editorial 2 / No small matter
Style without substance
Fifth Column / Lenders scared of wrong decisions
When workers become a rampaging mob
Letters to the editor

The chief minister of West Bengal, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has an uncanny aptitude to surprise his critics. This may well be the most effective ace he has up his sleeve. His long tenure as the state’s home minister can at best be described as lacklustre; at worst his record as home minister can be put at par with the performance of his ideological bête noire, the Union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani. This, not to put too fine a point on it, is not saying much in terms of effectiveness. With this track record, when Mr Bhattacharjee took over the mantle from Mr Jyoti Basu, before the assembly polls, expectations from him were low. But Mr Bhattacharjee surprised everybody with his no-nonsense attitude and by the clarity of his policy priorities. He has gone on to build on this goodwill since he won a massive popular mandate in the elections. It would be an exaggeration to describe his short period in office as spectacular. But no eyebrows will be raised if it were described as impressive. Mr Bhattacharjee has shown a remarkable ability to think positively and to act outside the grooves of leftist conventional wisdom. He has been quick to decide and at most times, he has been effective. Most important, he has shown a refreshing honesty in admitting past mistakes and failures. All this has won him friends and admirers in unexpected quarters. Recently, when he described West Bengal as the “first boy” in law and order, his comments had seemed jejune. But the success the state police has shown in tracking down those involved in the abduction of Mr Parthapratim Roy Burman is a clear signal that when the state police want and are given a free hand, they can be among the best in India.

This swift countrywide operation by the police against organized crime needs to be followed up with legislation. It is important to remember that one reason why organized crime is trying to move into West Bengal is the existence of the Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act, which has made life difficult for criminal gangs in Mumbai. Mafia gangs have been forced to look for other pastures and they see West Bengal as a soft option. West Bengal needs the enactment of a similar act to dismiss such a notion and to ensure that those arrested cannot get away through some loophole in the law. Mr Bhattacharjee, if he is sincere about putting West Bengal on top, should not shy away from draconian measures. There can be no pussyfooting of organized crime: to stop halfway is to lose the battle.

The initiative displayed by the chief minister against organized crime in Calcutta raises the hope that his vision and effectiveness will extend to other areas in which West Bengal has fallen behind. Education is one such important area. Here, Mr Bhattacharjee’s firm denial of populism is clear from his refusal, despite protests, to budge from the decision to raise university and college fees. There are many other such spheres that in the past have been stifled by petty politicking and nurturing of vested interests. The challenge before Mr Bhattacharjee is to transform all this and more. He should not be daunted, even if, now and then, his own party becomes his principal obstacle. What now causes surprise should become the normal expectation. Only then will Mr Bhattacharjee be the first boy and raise greater expectations: to be the first boy is not enough, he also has to secure a first class.


It seems to have suddenly occurred to the Centre that children have rights. And the state has some sort of responsibility to protect and implement these rights. This is a much delayed reaction to a decade-old United Nations convention to which 191 countries have signed up. A cursory look at the articles of this convention would point up the enormity of the social and political transformations that would be necessary in order to get Indian society to even begin associating the concept of “rights” with children. Women, Dalits, minority communities have managed to inch closer to different orders of triumph in their battle for rights. However, untiring and often militant advocacy, articulacy and activism have to be kept up to sustain these victories. But the situation becomes particularly complex when rights have to be articulated for those who are often unable to conceive of or articulate the very idea of rights itself. In such a case, the transition from “charity” to “rights” — envisaged by the human resources development ministry — will have its own pitfalls. Especially in a society in which every kind of inequality, injustice and even brutality are endemic.

The salient features of the UN convention are fairness (irrespective of gender, physical ability, social background and religion, among other things) and the priority of the best interests of the child. Particularly relevant is article 12, which advocates the right of children to participate in decisions relevant to their lives, to influence decisions taken within the family, the school or the community that affect them. Given that this convention applies to boys and girls upto the age of 18, the protection of these rights will have to effect fundamental changes in the structure of not only such basic institutions as the family, schools and the judiciary, but also specific public spheres like the unorganized sector, sustained by the invisible exploitation of children. Attitudes to parenting, authority, education, health, freedom and sexuality will have to be re-examined unflinchingly, at every level and sphere of society. The proposed national commission for children, and the various governmental and nongovernmental organizations working with it, will have to clarify these fundamental principles in a society that poses every conceivable obstacle to delivering the most rudimentary fairness to its children.


Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Independence Day speech was notable for more than one reason. He became the first non-Congress leader to deliver the address for the fourth time. It was also ironical that the notes he struck had echoes of a Congress past.

There was firm espousal of pluralism in tones that would warm a secularist heart, even an explicit invocation that violence was incompatible with the spirit of Islam. He bent over backwards to emphasize his government’s commitment to the betterment of the poor and of rural India. Pluralism and a slight leftward tilt were the hallmark of Congress rule, which Vajpayee and his movement opposed tooth and nail for decades.

Ditto for the style of politics of the Indira Gandhi era, when New Delhi’s writ ran to the far corners of the land. No wonder that the poll by a leading newsmagazine last week gave her a clear lead as a decisive custodian of power. All through her life, the only way the opposition found of getting her party out of office was to simply pool their votes, and with the exception of the Left parties, to even merge themselves into one entity.

This perhaps is where Vajpayee’s own problems begin. He took the Janata Party experiment seriously enough to retain an image and appeal wider than that of his party’s, even in its days of darkness. For a time there was talk, though only talk, of even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh opening its doors to the religious minorities. It is easy to forget that free and fair elections were held for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir in 1977, and that for the first time a prime minister of India met a leading Naga rebel on foreign soil, the legendary A.Z. Phizo.

But the collapse of the Janata Party and the inability of the Bharatiya Janata Party in its Gandhian socialist incarnation forced a return to the roots. This is a legacy it has never been able to escape. It grew rapidly once it managed to find an issue that could strike a chord in the heartland of the Ganga valley. But by the early Nineties, this too had run its course and there was a return to the politics of opposition unity and coalitions. The ills were clear and the remedy easier still to spell out.

India needed the smack of a strong government. Murli Manohar Joshi spoke of a multi-pronged formula, “a riot-free society, a debt-free economy and corruption free politics”. The middle classes looked to the party as a harbinger of market-led reforms given its old ties with the trading communities. Those in search of a strong Centre felt it would reverse tendencies to secession through coercive means.

Whenever asked about how stable such an enterprise would be, there were two pat answers. The ideology and discipline of the sangh would see them through every storm. Sushma Swaraj gave this a further twist in her own inimitable style. She dubbed the 14-member United Front as “hydra-headed”, but asserted that with one large party at its core, a BJP-led alliance would be far more cohesive.

These now sound like famous last words. Prime ministerial power has had its deep attraction and appeal for the BJP, for it has detracted from its ideological baggage, and focussed on one of the only leaders who did not put in a public appearance on L.K Advani’s famous rath. It also exposed the Achilles heel of the Congress, with its vastly inexperienced leadership and a more disparate collection of Centrist and leftist forces.

But the realities of coalition politics have been more prosaic. There is almost a touch of hubris about Vajpayee as prime minister. Deep acrimony and an eventual break with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam marked his previous tenure in office. Now, the Shiv Sena has stepped into the slot vacated by it, losing no chance to drive home the fact that it has 15 Lok Sabha members of parliament. The Samata Party, a more inchoate entity and one more pliable for the saffron party to deal with, has virtually disintegrated. The other major player, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, has not only lost office in its own state, but threatens to drag New Delhi into a no-win battle with its successor regime in Tamil Nadu.

The situation within the party is no better. Bangaru Laxman’s exit in ignominious fashion may have put an end to social engineering at the apex, but the results at the state level have been mixed. In several regions of the country, the once unified ranks of the party of Hindus are deeply fissured on caste lines. Eventually, the party has outdone Mandal’s advocates at their own game, in expanding the scope of reservations. In order to prosper in politics, it has to steal the platform of its adversaries. Far from being a real alternative, it is simply a pale carbon copy.

Such is the state of affairs at the Centre as well. The Congress survived so long in power due to its capacity to mediate between competing interest groups and lobbies. It absorbed many into its fold, but retained a wider identity. The BJP has been unable to push through agendas even when these have been close to its heart. On privatization, there have been major tussles within the party and the cabinet, with the result being that little has moved. Even on women’s reservation, the party is as paralysed as the Janata Dal was: Vajpayee is certainly a stronger prime minister than Inder Kumar Gujral, but on issues of substance he is as much a victim of countervailing forces as his lightweight predecessor.

Nowhere is this lack of direction as serious as on the economy, with the party’s own middle class base showing clear signs of restiveness. Save for the Golden Quadrilateral, no major scheme has actually moved ahead towards implementation stage. The investment famine continues unabated, and there is no sign of industrial recovery. Worse still, the panic among small investors will have major political consequences even in once safe bastions of senior leaders of the BJP. Vajpayee’s misfortune is that he entered office when the powers of government were shrinking due to severe fiscal constraints. The sheer size of internal debt and the mounting burden of salaries have left little, precious little, to spend by way of development.

Some of his predecessors had a better time simply because of wider secular trends that were in their favour. Indira Gandhi’s base among the poor and the middle class owed not a little to her ability in the Seventies to spread wealth if only a bit, and widen opportunities available to those with rising aspirations. Even Rajiv Gandhi gained from the increase in agricultural productivity and the expansion of the small-scale sector in the decade of the Eighties.

Today’s economic landscape is a bleak and challenging one. Patronage available to ministers in both Centre and the states has shrunk markedly simply because the government does not have the money for new welfare or infrastructure programmes. Tenures in office have grown shorter; priming the pump is more unlikely. The BJP’s own focus has rarely included a clear notion of what to do with power for the wider public good. Perhaps, this will explain more than any other single factor why it has never ever returned to office after a full five-year term.

The party’s own success concealed a deeper failure to read a tectonic shift in Indian politics. The era of leaders who could tower over the rest of the polity is long since past. The political mechanisms and economic instruments that made that kind of power possible no longer exist. Premiership has more to do with form and less with the substance.

The author is an independent researcher on ecology and political affairs and former fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum Library, New Delhi


Free flow of money from the banking system to the capital markets invariably leads to a scandal in India, and each time, the government reacts by forming panels and ordering a formal inquiry.

These investigations are neither able to recompense the people who lose money, nor create systemic checks that can prevent similar disorders in future. The stock market scandals of 1992-93 and 2000-01 are similar in nature: while the public sector banks took the hit last time, the co-operative and private banks have been affected this time.

As in 1992-93, the Unit Trust of India, has got dragged into it. Despite recommendations by the joint parliamentary committee that probed the 1992 scandal, to bring UTI under the regulatory supervision of the securities and exchange board of India, successive governments have chosen not to do so. The present government even denied having any knowledge about its troubles, till the sale and repurchase of its flagship scheme, US-64, was suspended.

Each time, the government finds some scapegoat to shoulder the blame, while pressing the panic button across the entire range of government institutions which for some time goes into a huddle, putting the entire economy off balance.

The economist, Abhijit Banerjee, analyses the situation: “There are two ways of looking at the situation. One, everyone in the public sector is corrupt, and two, some of them are corrupt, while there are many more, who are not so, but too conservative and scared of taking wrong decisions.

Corrupt or frightened

Situations like this make these people even more nervous. They have a natural tendency to go by sound financials, and care little for sound ideas. Even if companies with sound financials go downhill, you can’t blame the bankers for lending to them. The other alternative is to invest in fully secured instruments like government securities and infrastructure projects though return on these investments are relatively lower.”

The woes of the IFCI is a case in point. This term-lending institution has not been able to recover nearly Rs 500 crore because state governments refused to honour guarantees. Though Banerjee feels that fear of taking wrong decisions affects the banking system more than corruption, the Central vigilance commissioner, N. Vittal, feels corruption is at the root of the disorder. “Now more than ever, the incompetent will have an excellent alibi for not doing what they are supposed to do. All the talk of the UTI management being pressurized by influential people is nonsense. All that one had to do...was lodge a complaint with the CVC,” he notes.

The chairman of the Housing Development and Finance Corporation, Deepak Parekh, says, “Even if, for argument sake, we admit UTI’s investments were influenced by politicians, all that was required to prevent this from happening was one person refusing to comply,” but admits that this is certainly easier said than done.

Simply refuse

But it is widely apprehended that the investigations will result in a loss of motivation, and, as in 1992, the PSU banks and financial institutions are likely to cut down further on lending. The steps taken by the government in response to the scandal have already generated fear in the market, and a quick recovery looks unlikely. This, in turn, means that things will also not look up for UTI. To make matters worse, the government has decided that banks will not be allowed to lend more than five per cent of their total advances to the capital markets, meaning that fund flow into the markets will diminish significantly, deferring the recovery further.

Vittal says that the JPC should be a catalyst for reforms, and cites the example of the security and exchange commission, the market regulator in the United States. The SEC is staffed by professionals and lawyers. Very little time is wasted in prosecuting people in the US, the crooks are debarred from the markets forever, and the people who lose out are compensated.

In India, a panel of 30 ministers was formed. The members of the panel understood very little about the markets, and had to go through a number of technical sessions to get the basics right. The number of reports that has so far been submitted to the JPC can be measured in metric tonnes. The JPC predictably has taken a month off. The panel will meet again once Parliament closes.


Nothing can surpass the mystery of a protest which has no leader, particularly when the protesters are largely women. The wildcat strike by nearly 10,000 garment workers — most of whom were women — at the Peenya industrial area in northwest Bangalore on July 24, 2001, came as a shock to the media, the police and to the established trade unions alike. Workers who poured out of one factory (Apex Garments) called out those from other factories in protest against a rumour that a new rule would make it impossible to withdraw their provident fund until they were 45 years old. None of these units appears to have had unions. This leaderless strike action was predictably brief, lasted for a day, but turned violent, providing scope for speculations on “vested interests” who mysteriously manipulated the workers. Once more, as many times before in the history of capitalism itself, workers have been deprived of the capacity to act on their own.

For some time now, the only workers in Bangalore whose lifestyles have interested the media have been the “knowledge” workers, particularly those whose fate is tied so closely to the American economy, and alas, have had to return to an unvarnished life “on the bench”, minus their souped-up cars, TGIFs and weekend resorts. Some English newspapers have even begun carrying words of advice on how to survive the “pink slip”.

Long unused to thinking about workers as anything but a deterrent to industrial closure, and unions as a needless drag on productivity, it is no wonder that the garment workers’ strike was largely eclipsed by the reports of violence. How did these workers come out onto the streets in thousands on the basis of a mere rumour, refuse to identify their leaders, and draw brief, if violent, attention to their quiet and unremarkable lives in nearly every part of this city? Why did the arson and violence break out? And of what do these explosive events remind those in power, beyond the “urgent need” to deploy battalions of women police?

The stoning and burning of buses began a good two hours after the peaceful protests had started, but nevertheless in most English news reports “worker” quickly deteriorated into “rampaging mob” or “trouble-makers”. Not long after, they also became “anti-socials”. Needless to say, this was taken from police information. At least two newspapers gave no hint that these workers were mostly women. The Kannada papers, on the other hand, which after all must be what the garment worker reads, have been more circumspect in discussing the event for what it was — a labour protest, primarily by women, which did indeed turn violent. The editorials in The Prajavani and Deccan Herald did call for sober introspection on this event, and remarked on changes which link workers to a global market in clothes, but at less-than-local wages, warning that this is only a portent: the threat of higher excise duties, it was noted, will all but wipe out these smaller garment units.

The fashion industry has high visibility in a city like Bangalore, where the show of female body parts is routinely used to launch a range of (often unrelated) products. But the hands that lie behind the growing fashion industry, the thousands of garment workers who toil to produce cheap fashion wear, are largely invisible and silent. There is, in fact, no accurate estimate of the number of garment workers in the city today, but it is at least 70,000. The majority of these are women, scattered in small and large units all over the city. Their conditions of work, though not quite reminiscent of life in the “dark satanic mills”, are deplorable, while their dispersed and scattered locations make unions more difficult to organize.

The workers, mostly young women, are not given appointment letters. Identity cards are the only badge of security. Some small units operate from manufacturing slums such as Tilaknagar, employing a few dozen young women on wages that do not meet the minimum wage requirements. Larger units, like the ones that are in the Peenya area and include the well known Gokuldas Exports, pay their workers in the range of Rs 54 to Rs 75 a day, although, to quote a 1998 audit done for Verité by Anita Gurumurthy and Lakshmi Anantnarayan, “all workers are non-permanent casual workers”.

Overtime has no meaning in these units, for although the working day begins at 8.30 am and should end at 5.15 pm, the unrealistic targets set by the management require them to stay at least an hour longer and sometimes skip lunch; many have to work on Sundays. The secretary of the Bangalore district garment workers’ union, Leelavathi, said that each batch of tailors, helpers and checkers (of about 50 people) is expected to complete between 165 and 220 garments per day, and whoever does not reach the target is expected to serve overtime though pay slips rarely record overtime correctly. Overtime in winter, when workloads are heavier, is just as routine as lay offs without warning in summer when the demand is slighter. This is a unique combination of piece work and daily wages that the garment industry has achieved.

Workers are issued a certain number of tokens to be used to go to the toilets: even pregnant women are not allowed to exceed this quota. Apart from the tailors, all other work in garment units is done standing, and women are not allowed to sit on the floor, not even when there is no work. Master cutters and most supervisors are men, in a factory setting which involves a majority of women: harassment is therefore an occupational hazard. Some garment units do not employ women who are married. Workers who have longer service records are entitled to leave, but only rarely are they actually granted days off, although deductions for employees’ state insurance and provident fund are routinely made. Women rarely accumulate privileges based on experience, and it is usual for units to cut short their tenure and re-employ them to avoid paying gratuity.

It needed no union to teach these legions of workers that their labour is neither justly nor fairly rewarded. Indeed, garment unit owners take great pains to keep away the “trouble-making” trade unionists through the tried and trusted method of firing potential organizers. But the Peenya incidents showed that one cannot buy peace through repression. When two units of J.B. Exports closed down recently, the 1,400 workers began thronging the provident fund office to settle their dues: an irresponsible provident fund official said they would not be settled before they turned 45. An industry that thrives on women who save for their weddings, and which makes sure that married women have only a tenuous hold on the jobs, makes the provident fund an important insurance. Yet tales of harassment at the provident fund office are the rule, with claim-forms only handed out for a bribe of Rs 250.

Yet, if the “surprise” of the police and media is easily explained, why were the established trade unions taken aback by the wildcat strike? Anonymity is something as unsettling to unions as to factory managers, the police and the media. The anonymity of a large mass of 10,000 workers, most of them women, must be even more threatening for those who have not come to terms with the new workforce and work cultures of Bangalore city.

There were two unusual aspects of this anonymity which are important in our times. One was the strength of rumour in a city which prides itself as the information technology capital of the country. After all, it was wrong and misleading information that sparked off this bout of protests by workers. But we well know from the Ganesha milk- drinking episode that the electronic mode is no proof against the spread of rumour and might in fact assist it.

The women who marched to the provident fund office and were told that the rumour was false refused to believe the officials and wanted a clarification from the highest authority in the state, the chief minister himself. Such rumours thrive on the knowledge that both provident fund withholdings and interest rates have gone up and come down at will over the past few years. The widespread coverage of the Unit Trust of India scandal may have added a sense of unease to these women whose working lives are precarious in any case.

Then there was the anonymity of the crowd, a refusal to name any leaders, and a clear and pointed programme of action: to establish the truth of whether their well-earned money would be paid to them when they needed it. There is a terrible poignancy to this rumour and its widespread effect on this population of garment workers. It shows that few, perhaps none, of these women expect to reach the age of 45, rumoured to be the age at which they could expect their dues.

In many cases, as we have seen, such stoppage of work is far from voluntary, for women are dismissed for getting married, for simply getting older, or for having put in too long a service, which entitles them to gratuity. There is perhaps no more eloquent statement on their working conditions than this sudden, sharp outcry from the garment workers in Bangalore.

The euphoria in recent years over the new class of knowledge workers who are steadily adding to the country’s foreign exchange reserves has eclipsed the garment workers’ very substantial contribution to these very reserves: garment exports until recently had the edge over IT exports. Even less known in these times is the fact that Bangalore’s trade union movement in the post-independence years took root in that very region, the Peenya industrial area, an area which has been severely deindustrialized since the Nineties. In 1981, there was a historic mingling of red and green when the farmers’ jatha from Nargund/Navalgund poured into the city from the north during the historic public sector strike. The area around Peenya resembled a carnival ground, with nearly all workers, students and others out on the streets, cheering the jatha as it entered Bangalore. More than a lakh of chapathis were collected to feed the visitors to the city.

In the mid-Eighties, there was a remarkable strike in response to a call to support the jailed union leaders of Mysore Wire. The women who joined this wildcat strike came from J.L. Morrison, a pharmaceutical firm, and were asked to lead the peaceful march but were not spared the police lathi in spite of their gender. Now the Peenya industrial area has drastically changed character. More and more small scale units have shut down or yielded space to garment units, and there is a slighter union presence, but none of this has prevented the outbreak of protests.

But by and large, it was the violence against public buses on that day that has received much more attention in the news reports than the plight of workers whose desperation reached such levels. The struggles of women workers of BPL, who engaged in a historic strike two years ago to fight for a union, were completely eclipsed by the tragic bus-burning incident in which one worker lost her life. The arson in Peenya must not be the smokescreen behind which the very urgent problems of garment workers are allowed to disappear.



Back to the family

Sir — The presence of the external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh, as the chief guest at a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh meeting in Bangalore has provoked some talk regarding his future role in the Bharatiya Janata Party (“Jaswant reopens succession debate”, Aug 14). Singh, who had earlier made his reservations about the RSS known on more than one occasion, seems to have changed tune. Indeed, with the prime minister being plagued by ill-health, the hunt for his successor seems to have begun. Even though L.K. Advani is the man who is most likely to succeed Vajpayee in case he steps down, Singh’s clean image and his success as foreign minister may help him woo the ideologues of the sangh parivar. Being a shrewd politician, Singh is not unaware of this and seems to be making the most of the opportunities that have come his way. He has before him the best example, that of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had become a serious contender for prime ministership after he had written a piece for the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser.

Yours faithfully,
Nina Singh, via email

The genteel mean

Sir— It was heartening and amusing to read Ramachandra Guha’s “amended thesis” on the inclinations of the modern (or is it the postmodern?) Bengali (“Contested cosmopolitans”, Aug 15). He has earned our thanks and our appreciation by proposing the middle path, reminding us in the best traditions of liberalism, of the difficult balancing act between being progressive and being reactionary. However, there still remains two crucial lacunae in his revised thesis. Both are the result of prioritizing theory over practice.

First, even if one agrees with him that there is no itinerary for the Bengali bhadralok other than the Dum Dum to JFK/Heathrow route, the flaw in his thesis remains — Guha has set the intellectual a class apart from his more ordinary counterparts. Undoubtedly, this comes from a confusion in defining the term, “bhadra” — which in Bengali means “gentle” or “courteous” rather than intelligent. Guha seems to be suggesting that the sadharon lok are not bhadralok.

Second, the three choices that Guha leaves his readers with at the end of the article may be difficult to implement. According to him, one can either retain one’s individuality and thus reject everything foreign, or absorb everything alien that one comes in contact with. A third and more learned choice would be to use one’s judgment and retain the best of both cultures. The only problem with such an analysis being the non-resident Hindu revivalist who “accommodates” himself somewhere between the first two categories mentioned by Guha.

We have also known quite a few self-proclaimed intellectuals (Bengali and otherwise) who can very easily “accommodate” themselves between the academically progressive and the shamelessly acquisitive. The third category which Guha talks about is undoubtedly a laudable one. However, it cannot remain a bookish concept. It has to be believed in and worked on.

Yours faithfully,
Gabbar Singh, via email

Sir — I have read with great interest Ramachandra Guha’s article, “Contested cosmopolitans” (Aug 15), where he has cared to refer to the letter that I had written in response to his previous article, “Rooted cosmopolitans”, (July 22). In the former article, Guha has criticized my use of of a pseudonym and has accused me of lacking the courage and courtesy to use my real name.

However, Guha needs to be reminded that the custom of using pseudonyms goes back to 2nd century BC, to Plato and Themistocles. Many poets used pseudonyms to conceal their identities and also to experience the thrill of literary transvestism. The underlying principle behind doing so is to take advantage of the distinction between one’s private and public selves and use it for different purposes. It is just that the art of letter writing sometimes thrives on other incentives.

Yours faithfully,
M.O. Gambo, Shillong

Sir — Ramachandra Guha ended his essay, “Rooted cosmopolitans” (July 22), by describing Rabindranath Tagore as the last Bengali bhadralok of distinction who was both Bengali and Indian. In his follow–up essay, “Contested cosmopolitans” (July 22), Guha describes his statement as “provocative”. He also states that Tagore was both Eurocentric and a true Bengali. In this context, it would be pertinent to point out that Guha’s argument notwithstanding, to most Bengalis this does not matter one way or another. Both Gandhi and Tagore will always be remembered because of their contributions to society. In fact, as rightly pointed out by Guha, the similarities between the two men are astounding. Both had larger-than-life personalities and were respected by their countrymen as well as by Westerners.

Yours faithfully,
Tathagata Chakraborty, via email

Guinea pig farm

Sir — “The great Indian laboratory” (Aug 5), by G.S. Mudur paints a shocking picture of the decline of the Indian medical establishment and of medical ethics. The use of Indian patients as guinea pigs for experiments conducted by foreign multinational companies reveals a horrifying lack of concern in Indian authorities. It is even more disheartening to know that Indian doctors have been involved in trials of experimental drugs and therapies and have defended their decision to do so by arguing that such trials will allow Indian patients better access to frontline therapies. One cannot help wondering whether these honourable physicians will subject members of their families to such unauthorized experiments. The importance of medical research cannot be denied. However, all such research should be carried out with the proper authorization of the government.

The Indian medical establishment seems to be taking advantage of the fact that patients and their families often stake their fortunes in order to secure the best treatment for their loved ones. It is imperative that the health ministry and the Indian Council Of Medical Research try to formulate laws that would prevent the use of Indian patients as guinea pigs. A comparative study of the functioning of the drugs controller general of India and the food and drugs administration (of the United States) has exposed the inadequacy of Indian medical organizations in this sphere.

Yours faithfully,
Shankha Roy, Calcutta

Sir — With heaps of garbage lying around and stray animals stalking their premises, state-run hospitals present a dismal picture. Much is being said about improving the existing work culture in West Bengal. However, the increasing number of deaths in state-run hospitals tells its own story.

Most government hospitals are not adequately equipped to treat patients with serious ailments. The lure of big money and better opportunities draw most doctors to private clinics and nursing homes, leaving the government hospitals bereft. It is time for the government to clean up its act so that patients do not die because of the lack of treatment. Proper funding and management can help turn things round.

Yours faithfully,
Debi Shankar Chakraborty, Hooghly

Parting shot

Sir — The news report, “Saris set for London shelves ” (Aug 10), was interesting to read. Modern fashion designers, in their eagerness to cash in on the overseas market, are destroying the uniqueness of the sari. While the Indian community in London must be thrilled to hear that Selfridges will soon be housing a collection of saris by Indian designers, it is debatable whether British women will take to the sari.

Yours faithfully,
Nivedita Dutta, Calcutta

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