Editorial 1/ Call waiting
Editorial 2/ Unconverted
Of latest interest
Winnie Mandela’s nine lives
Document/ Civil society and small families
Fifth Column/ Friends, Maybe only for now
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ CALL WAITING 
 
 
 
 
After having been stuck, reforms seem to be inching forward on three fronts. First, there is discernible movement on disinvestments. Second, there is less discernible movement on opening up foreign direct investment in print media. Third, the information technology and parliamentary affairs minister, Mr Pramod Mahajan, took the opportunity of the economic editors’ conference to announce that the ban on internet telephony will be lifted from April 1, 2002. The international long distance market will also be opened up to private players from that date. Apart from ending Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited’s monopoly on overseas traffic, this recognizes convergence — although the government is still reluctant to recognize convergence between the ministries of information and broadcasting and information technology and merge the two. VSNL’s disinvestment is expected to take place this fiscal year and Mr Mahajan’s announcement effectively sets a deadline to the privatization decision. Whether VSNL’s valuation will be affected because of the announcement is a function of how one views internet telephony as opposed to traditional public switched telephone network traffic. Internet telephony can take many forms and can also offer web-enhanced value-added services. Which forms will be allowed and under what terms is still uncertain, since the department of telecommunications has only just requested the telecom regulatory authority of India to frame guidelines, such as entry norms. The American experience, where internet telephony has existed since 1995, does suggest that internet telephony does not substantially eat into PSTN traffic through substitution.

There are problems with reliability and sound quality and constraints through limited bandwidth and compression technology. Thus, corporate usage (where the meat exists) hasn’t yet switched to internet telephony, but for conversations within the same company. However, in instances where cost rather than quality is the issue, consumers are offered the choice and can bring down costs by almost 30 per cent. This does not automatically mean reduced traffic, since increased volumes more than compensate. Stated differently, internet telephony pulls up (or pulls down) the market, with international calls being available at the cost of local calls. Thus, while the VSNL valuation may be affected by the end of the overseas monopoly, the deadline for which was known, it is unlikely to be adversely affected because of the internet decision. Instead, VSNL’s internet backbone and gateways offer it the first mover advantage. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited also have obvious first mover advantages. Once entry norms are finalized, existing internet service providers can also boost revenue through long distance services. Obviously, the future belongs to those who can provide easy interfaces between PSTN and internet telephony. However, having decided to open up, the government should discard its control mindset and not try to unnecessarily regulate and shackle internet telephony. This assumes significance because the information and broadcasting ministry unfortunately continues to display the mindset of controls. A merger with the information technology ministry is long overdue on that count as well.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ UNCONVERTED 
 
 
 
 
Intimidation is no friend of logic. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were never known for logic, simply because intimidation is the only mode of communication they know. This time their aggression is being directed at scheduled caste and scheduled tribes organizations, of which about one million members have decided to convert to Buddhism on November 4. Absurdly enough, the sangh parivar brothers have decided that this is a Christian conspiracy. In these days of terrorism and mutual accusations of religious fundamentalism, nobody seems to be able to dismiss this insanity with the derision it deserves. Instead, security arrangements for the Dalit leaders are being talked about in advance. However meaningless, the threats promise violence. It is impossible to say what the sangh parivar’s aggression is directed at. On the one hand, it may be conversion itself, and not just conversion to Christianity as it had claimed so far. The trouble is that the parivar has sagely reiterated that Buddhism, together with Sikhism and Jainism, is part of the “larger family” of Hinduism. Therefore, the determined effort to pass the planned conversions off as a “Christian conspiracy”. Buddhism as a target is just not appetizing enough. It would also seem that the sangh parivar would like to keep its hostility towards religious freedom a secret.

On the other hand, its threatening attitude towards the Dalits inescapably throws up the issue of casteism, precisely the kind of hierarchy the Dalits hope to escape by conversion. Such a suspicion is inevitable, given the complete muddleheadedness of the sangh parivar’s rhetoric. In its excitement, it has completely overlooked the greatest contradiction in its ideological stance. Given the situation in the world today, making a bogey out of Christianity puts it, willy-nilly, on the side of another minority community which is really not its favourite. The VHP and the RSS were never known for their sense of changing times. Total ignorance has been their hallmark. The sangh parivar’s backward-looking attitude and lack of realism have resulted in its gradual distance from the Bharatiya Janata Party in spite of the umbilical link between them. It is a pity that the RSS and the VHP have to be thought of at all, every time they raise a hue and cry, because of the violence and disruption they represent. All they pose is a problem of law and order.

   

 
 
OF LATEST INTEREST 
 
 
BY S. VENKITARAMANAN
 
 
In formulating the mid-term credit policy for the last year, 2000-01, I recall that Bimal Jalan had ruled out, in advance, any changes in bank rate and cash reserve ratio. The latest credit policy has, on the contrary, proved to be a significant turning point. Jalan has surprised the markets by decreasing both the bank rate as well as the cash reserve ratio.

The Reserve Bank of India has been under considerable pressure for cutting down interest rates ever since the developments of September 11, 2001, particularly since Alan Greenspan had also set an example of orchestrating a coordinated global reduction in interest rates, post-Black Tuesday. It was, however, a moot question whether, given the different situation in India, Jalan would follow the lead given by the central bankers of the affluent West. Intriguingly enough, he has done so. No one can say that the governor has not been responsive to the demands of a slowing economy.

The RBI governor has reduced the bank rate by a token amount of 50 basis points. The bank rate is the rate at which the central bank furnishes funds to various commercial banks by discounting their securities. Whether the bank rate reduction is a potent instrument to induce revival of the economy is, however, a matter of doubt. It is more a signalling device — signalling that the RBI is determined to introduce a lower interest rate regime.

The governor himself has said that the link between variation in the RBI’s bank rates and the actual lending rates of the banks, particularly at lower levels, is not as strong in India as in other industrialized countries. For one thing, there is structural rigidity in the banks’ operation of the interest rates. The cost of raising deposits by banks already stands at a high level of 7 per cent or more. The operating expenses work out between 2.5 to 3 per cent and in addition, the banks have to contend with the problem of non-performing assets. The feasibility of the banks translating the governor’s diktat to actual practice will, therefore, be constrained by each individual bank’s views on how far its bottomline can stand the reduction. No dramatic or immediate reduction can be expected in the overall interest rate structure of the country.

The question may be asked why the governor has decided to reduce the bank rate if he is not fully convinced of the effectiveness of its further transmission. One could argue that the governor is in a stronger position to persuade banks to reduce interest rates when he cuts the interest rate he himself charges on his refinancing facility. There is also the possibility that the governor has yielded to the pressures from the North Block for a material initiative in regard to a lower interest regime. Or, it may be a question of keeping up with the central bank Joneses.

The governor’s statement is frank in its analysis of the low growth prospects of the Indian economy, consequent on global developments. Indeed, he has pared down the estimated rate of growth from his earlier expectation of 6 to 6.5 per cent downward to a range of 5 to 6 per cent. He notes, however, that India is likely to be one of the few countries in the world which would show a growth rate of this order in the current year.

Jalan’s decision on interest rate reduction must have been the result of his reflections on the overall gloom scenario. Credit flows during the period April to October 2001 have been substantially lower than in the corresponding period last year. Scheduled banks’ commercial credit increased by just 6 per cent over this period, as against an increase of 9.7 per cent in the corresponding period last year. The same is true even if we take into account the commercial banks’ investments on bonds, debentures and shares of various undertakings. The increase in total flow of resources from scheduled commercial banks to the commercial sector increased only by 4.4 per cent in the current year, as against 8 per cent in the previous year. The year on year growth of total resource flow was 12 per cent, as against 20 per cent last year. All these indicate the need for a monetary stimulus. It is against this background that the RBI’s decision to reduce interest rates has to be viewed.

One of the important factors leading to corporate organizations borrowing and raising resources from the market is the realization of the investment intentions. In the current state of the economy, the prospects of increased investments in the private sector seem to be in doubt, faced as it is by a diminishing growth in aggregate demand. Unless the monetary stimulus initiated by Jalan is accompanied by a fiscal stimulus in the shape of larger public investments in the critical areas of roads, railways, power and irrigation. Jalan may be using the right instrument at a wrong time. Whether the government of India will dare to expand its public investments adequately is, however, a question which the North Block has to resolve, given its fiscal situation.

Taking into account the relatively comfortable inflationary situation, the adequate foreign exchange reserves, the large food stocks and the comparative easing of oil prices, the time does seem opportune for a daring initiative by the government. Jalan and his colleagues have done their bit of monetary easing. It is now up to the government side to do its bit.

On the foreign exchange situation, the RBI governor has legitimately taken credit for the substantial expansion in reserves by nearly $10 billion in the last one year. The foreign exchange reserve management policy, which the RBI has adopted during the last few years, has also been fully justified. The forex situation is however subject to potential fragility, especially in view of the slow growth of exports and the dependence on portfolio flows.

The governor has commented on the need to expand exports. He cites the measures recently taken for reducing interest rates for exporters as one of the proactive measures taken by the RBI. The National Council for Applied Economic Research is undertaking a survey of exporter’s satisfaction and is currently interacting with bank officials, exporters and export organizations at various centres. Continuous improvization in response to the felt needs of the exporters without being doctrinaire is the need of the hour. Exports require careful nurturing. It is better to err on the side of liberalization than caution.

One of the intriguing features of the credit policy is the two-step reduction in CRR from the current 7.5 to 5.5 per cent. In the context of the excess liquidity perceived by the governor, the reduction in the CRR may not be quite justified. The proposed reduction, after taking into account the removal of exemptions, will increase liquidity by Rs 6,000 crore. An important question is how the banks will deploy these extra resources, given the slowdown in credit demand.

Foreign exchange reserves are currently at a comfortable level. Apart from the question of encouraging exports, the governor has also stressed the need for removing impediments in the flow of remittances and capital flows. The governor, has, in the recent period, initiated a number of procedural changes, which have been made for a more investor-friendly environment. The latest policy, which indicates a continuing willingness to improve the same augurs well for the foreign exchange situation. However, ultimately, capital inflows will depend on the overall macro-economic situation governance and the state of the markets, besides global uncertainties.

The governor’s latest mid-term review of monetary policy has been, by and large on expected lines, barring two surprises: reduction in bank rate and the CRR. The governor has given a push to the economy through these measures. It is now up to the government of India and the political leadership to respond to the monetary easing and the favourable conditions that the RBI governor’s policy has created.

The author is former governor, Reserve Bank of India

   

 
 
WINNIE MANDELA’S NINE LIVES 
 
 
BY ANSU DATTA
 
 
Once eulogized as “the mother of the nation”, then denounced by some as an inveterate populist and a huge embarrassment to the party, Nomzamo Zanyiwe Winifred Madikizela-Mandela, in short Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of the former South African president, and currently president of the African National Congress Women’s League, never fails to generate animated controversy, usually with a measure of drama.

On 19th October this year, she was arrested on 85 counts of fraud and theft involving more than $100,000 (about Rs 5,000,000). It was alleged that Madikizela-Mandela, together with her financial adviser, had struck a deal with a bank last year to obtain loans for 60 persons falsely claiming to be Women’s League employees who secured loans from the bank. They are said to have used letters on the organization’s official stationery confirming their employment, most of which were signed by Winnie. The authorities charged that $61,000 (about Rs 3,000,000) was subsequently deposited into Winnie Mandela’s personal accounts.

Winnie was later released on bail for 5,000 Rand (Rs 25,000) and ordered to return to the court on November 20, when a date for her trial would be fixed. If convicted, she could face detention for 15 years or more. The old speculation was once again revived: is this the end of the political career of someone who was once a junior minister and is still an elected member of the South African parliament? The proverbial cat has nine lives; how many does Winnie have? As before, no one is sure, for, hasn’t Winnie perfected the art of survival?

Winnie was born in 1936 in Pondoland, Transkei, now part of the Eastern Cape Province, of educated parents. She was one of the first black women in South Africa to study social work and be appointed a medical social worker. In 1957, she met Nelson Mandela, then an attorney and an up-and-coming leader of the ANC. After a brief courtship, they married. In 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was later sent to Robben Island, South Africa’s Andaman prison. He was released only in 1990.

Undaunted, Winnie continued to work for the anti-apartheid struggle daring various restrictions imposed on her movements. Her role in the struggle after the 1976 Soweto uprising, when the South African government massacred hundreds of school children, was nothing short of glorious. She was jailed under the internal security act, and subsequently banished to Brandfort, in the Orange Free State, where she knew no one and did not even speak the local language.

But increasingly, since the mid-Eighties, Winnie’s activities caused considerable embarrassment to her husband and to the ANC. She talked of ending apartheid by using “necklaces”, a popular euphemism for killing suspected collaborators by putting tyres round their necks and setting them alight. Also, the construction of a palatial house on which she is said to have spent £125,000 (about Rs 9,000,000) in one of the poorest areas in the country raised a storm. But the worst was yet to come.

In 1990 — on the allegation that she was involved in the killing of a 14-year old activist, Seipei Stompie Moketsie — Winnie received a suspended sentence. Moketsie was a member of the Mandela United Football Club, which comprised a group of Soweto youths serving as Winnie Mandela’s bodyguards. Observers say that members of MUFC spent more time “protecting” Winnie and engaging in other “related” activities than playing football. These apparently involved eliminating anyone who opposed them. Her problems were compounded when several other anti-apartheid militants were said to have been killed on her orders.

In 1997, some of these cases were referred to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for which Winnie testified. In all, more than 30 persons appeared before the commission, accusing her of organizing and participating in assault, abduction and murder. But Winnie was unruffled. A contemporary observer describes vividly how she arrived at the court, flamboyantly, in a different set of clothes every day, surrounded by her bodyguards.

The huge white Mercedes limousine that brought her had a licence plate which read 666 NWM GP. The letters stood for her name and her native Gauteng province, while the three digits, 666, reminded all of the anti-Christ in the Bible, summing up at once Winnie’s ideological stance and defiance of the establishment.

Defiance of the prevailing establishment, which she thinks lacks legitimacy, seems to be Winnie’s favourite pastime. During white rule, this meant ignoring banning orders, leading illegal marches, and openly flouting racial laws that meted out third class status to the overwhelming black majority. In liberated South Africa, she has repeatedly challenged the establishment, administered, ironically, by her former colleagues, including her ex-husband, Nelson Mandela, and now Thabo Mbeki, Nelson’s successor and currently the country’s president.

In doing this, she has rallied behind her thousands of poor blacks, to many of whom dismantling the apartheid structure is inordinately and unjustifiably delayed. Political differences with Mbeki seem now to have gone down to the personal level. Recently at a well-publicized rally on Youth Day, the president is said to have pushed her aside when Winnie, after a belated appearance on the scene, went to greet him with a kiss. Mbeki has also publicly called her a gossip for reportedly spreading rumours about his alleged extra-marital affairs.

Probably Winnie, more than any one else, symbolizes South Africa, with all its contradictions, its boom and bust. And just as there are two South Africas, hyphenated by the 1990 watershed when the apartheid structure was given a final push, similarly there are two Winnies: Winnie Mandela and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Winnie Mandela stands out as the fighting mother of the nation with her clenched fist raised in defiance of the South Africa of apartheid, her beautiful face radiating utopian promise to millions. Then there is Winnie Madikizela-Mandela of the later days who flaunts her affluence to the frenzied ululation of her admirers, taking us to the new South Africa where, because of misplaced files and mislaid statements of key witnesses, the authorities fail to take action against her in face of overbearing evidence.

How did this happen? There must be a complex combination of factors accounting for this transition from hope to despair. But no one should forget that life has not been particularly kind to Winnie. When Nelson was sent to prison in 1962, Winnie — then 26 years old — was left to fend for herself and her two daughters, aged only 4 and 5. Of the 34 years of married life, the Mandelas lived together only for six years. The racist government did everything possible to break her. At one stage, she was subjected to 17 months solitary confinement under the suppression of communism act. At other times, she was arrested twice a day.

Harassed and tortured, Winnie was squarely brutalized by the apartheid system and partly, in consequence, transformed into a person who would, ruthlessly and cynically, try to crush all opposition to what she thinks is her own and her followers’ entitlement. Disillusionment with the slow progress of the demolition of the old system and increasing corruption at all levels extending even to some of yesteryear’s heroes contributed to the disintegration of “old-fashioned” ideas of morality and to the triumphant march of crass consumerism — two conspicuous attributes of the new South Africa as of many other countries.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ CIVIL SOCIETY AND SMALL FAMILIES 
 
 
 
 
A committee of international and Indian experts, voluntary and non-government organizations and government may be set up to regularly review and recommend specific incorporation of the advances in contraceptive technology and, in particular, the newly emerging techniques, into programming development.

Sensitize, train and equip rural and urban health centres and hospitals towards providing geriatric healthcare.

Encourage NGOs and voluntary organizations to formulate and strengthen a series of formal and informal avenues that make the elderly economically self-reliant.

Tax benefits could be explored as an encouragement for children to look after their aged parents.

Converge information, education and communication efforts across the social sectors. The two sectors of Family Welfare and Education have coordinated a mutually supportive IEC strategy. The Zila Saksharta Samitis design and deliver joint IEC campaigns in the local idiom, promoting the cause of literacy as well as family welfare. Optimal use of folk media has served to successfully mobilize local populations.

The state of Tamil Nadu made exemplary use of the IEC strategy by spreading the message through every possible media, including public transport, on milestones on national highways as well as through advertisement and hoardings on roadsides, along city/rural roads, on billboards, and through processions, films, school dramas, public meetings, local theatre and folk songs.

Involve departments of rural development, social welfare, transport, cooperatives, education with special reference to schools, to improve clarity and focus of the IEC effort, and to extend coverage and outreach. Health and population education must be inculcated from the school levels.

Fund the nagar palikas, panchayats, NGOs and community organizations for interactive and participatory IEC activities.

Demonstration of support by elected leaders, opinion makers, and religious leaders with close involvement in the reproductive and child health programme greatly influences the behaviour and response patterns of individuals and communities.

This serves to enthuse communities to be attentive towards the quality and coverage of maternal and child health services, including referral care. Public leaders and film stars could spread widely the messages of the small family norm, female literacy, delayed marriages for women, fewer babies, healthier babies, child immunization and so on. The involvement and enthusiastic participation of elected leaders will ensure dedicated involvement of administrators at district and sub-district levels.

Demonstration of strong support to the small family norm, as well as personal example, by political, community, business, professional and religious leaders, media and film stars, sports personalities and opinion-makers, will enhance its acceptance throughout society.

Utilize radio band television as the most powerful media for disseminating relevant socio-demographic messages. The government could explore the feasibility of appropriate regulations, and even legislation, if necessary, to mandate the broadcast of social messages during prime time.

Utilize dairy cooperatives, the public distribution systems, other established networks like the Life Insurance Corporation at district and sub-district levels for IEC and for distribution of contraceptives and basic medicines to target infant/childhood diarrhoeas, anaemia and malnutrition among adolescent girls and pregnant mothers. This will widen outreach and coverage.

Sensitize the field level functionaries across diverse sectors (education, rural development, forest and environment, women and child development, drinking water mission, cooperatives) to the strategies, goals and objectives of the population stabilization programmes.

Involve civil society for disseminating information, counselling and spreading education about the small family norm, the need for fewer but healthier babies, higher female literacy and later marriages for women. Civil society could also be of assistance in monitoring the availability of contraceptives, vaccines and drugs in rural areas and in urban slums.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ FRIENDS, MAYBE ONLY FOR NOW 
 
 
BY N.K. PANT
 
 
It is strange that while taking tough and controversial decisions in national interest, governments often conveniently sweep the usual procedural, legal and ethical formalities under the carpet. George W. Bush’s recent decision to waive the United States of America’s sanctions on Pakistan and India following the terrorist attacks on the US is a case in point.

The sanctions against India, which were clamped under section 102 of the Arms Export Control Act (Glenn Amendment), ended US assistance. Under this clause, sale of American defence hardware and services were prohibited and the US government agencies were forbidden from facilitating credit and financing purchase of military equipment, spares and dual use technology items even for civilian projects in India.

Following the waiver of the sanctions, the US department of commerce has reportedly pruned its “entity list” that barred American companies from dealing with India with regard to export of equipment and technology transfer to the science and technology organizations in India. Washington has still retained restrictions on 16 entities belonging to Defence Research Development Organization and Indian Space Research Organization out of which 200 were on the original US prohibition list.

Pipeline project

The ball had started rolling almost a year back when the previous US congress had recommended Bill Clinton to lift sanctions against India. However, despite repeated pleas from US business groups, Washington, for reasons best known to it, delayed the decision citing the maze of procedural complexities. The Republicans followed the same policy. Black Tuesday changed all that. Following it, the US wasted no time in lifting sanctions for it needed support from Pakistan as well as India in fighting the curse of global terrorism.

Since withdrawal of sanctions was on the cards for some time, the waiver met a lukewarm response in India. Though the removal of restrictions may not be of much consequence to India’s economy, easier access to dual use technology will bolster indigenous defence and space programmes. Public sector units, ordinance factories and the corporate sector will be able to use hi-tech components for sophisticated military hardware and collaborate with the US in designing and manufacturing the latest combat and support equipment for the Indian armed forces.

There is no doubt that the controversial restrictions proved detrimental to several indigenous defence projects in India which were near completion. In this context, the two most ambitious projects — the light combat aircraft and the advanced light helicopter were the main victims.

Withdrawal symptoms

The US had put an embargo on the sale of GE 404 jet engines, which were to be fitted into the LCA. The US had also denied the fly-by-wire system for the aircraft. The technology sold earlier by the US firm, Martin Meritta, was immediately withdrawn. The American software engineers who were working in Bangalore adapting the systems to the Indian LCA and making the necessary changes in software were called back. A team of Indian scientists working on the project in the US was curtly told to return to India. This was the first major setback to the multi-million dollar LCA project conceived in 1985. The LCA, designed to replace the ageing MiG fighters, was expected to enter squadron service with the Indian Air Force in 2003.

Situations may arise in the future when the US will resort to such pressure tactics if it perceives India coming in its way. It is quite possible that the national interests of the world’s two largest democracies may again be at variance, compelling the US to impose sanctions on India if the latter does not toe the American line. Policy-makers in New Delhi may ponder and imbibe relevant lessons from the unsavoury episodes of the past and prepare for contingencies in the global market where sophisticated technology has become highly complementary and interdependent even amongst the nations on the technological forefront.

The time has come to give concrete shape to the oral fulminations of our politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats about self-reliance. India should try to create a large and varied technology base for which ample talent is available in India itself.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Change of heart

Sir — It looks as if the world is determined not to put up with the “big brotherly” attitude of the United States of America. The latest evidence of this has been Israel’s refusal to accept the US demand that it pulls out from some cities of the West Bank (“Israel dismisses US diktat as ‘not valid’”, Oct 24). As expected, there has been an outbreak of violence after the assassination of the Israeli cabinet minister, Rehvaam Zeevi, by alleged Palestinian gunmen. What is most disappointing about the affair is that the Israeli prime minister, Shimon Peres, is acting in an arrogant manner and has justified the action of Israel. Consequently, one suspects that the US may now take serious offence at Israel’s attitude and reformulate its policy toward it. This would result in the changing of power equations in west Asia and that in its turn would affect the peace process considerably. The event also incites the feeling that the US’s sudden love for the Palestinians is not a genuine concern. It arises out of its sheer necessity to win Arab support for its role in the Afghanistan crisis.
Yours faithfully,
Mandira Bhattacharya, Calcutta

Blind to the problem

Sir — The article, “Bearding the sardar” (Oct 19), is out of context when it pontificates on Sikhism’s social and cultural underpinnings. The unfortunate killing of a Sikh in Arizona and incidents of harassment of Asians in the United States of America after September 11 are the tragic outcome of gross stereotyping of Osama bin Laden by the media. This is compounded by America’s ignorance of other faiths and cultures. Rukun Advani’s statement that the shooting of a Sikh man in Arizona took place because of the visual and mental deficiency of the American people is misplaced and his reference to “sambar slurping madrasi” is indeed in poor taste.

As if to provide further comic relief, Advani tries to trivialize the Sikh moral tradition and launches into a flimsy argument about the precepts of Sikhism and the propriety of kesh as its hallmark. Levity is impermissible in matters of faith and Advani would do well to study some serious works on Sikhism such as the Gospel of Guru Granth by Duncan Greenlees and Who is a Sikh by W.H. McLeod, rather than refer to latter-day Euro-centred thesis by the likes of Harjat Oberoi.

In any case, no special merit attaches itself to beardless faces. At all times and in all cultures — Hindu, Jew, Christian or Islam — natural facial hair and turbans have symbolized wisdom and commanded respect and reverence. One must also remember that Rabindranath Tagore wrote evocative poetry to celebrate the the martyrdom of Bhai Taru Singh who was scalped for refusing to part with his kesh.

Yours faithfully,
Saran Singh, Calcutta

Sir — Rukun Advani’s article makes for interesting reading. But somehow his treatment of the recent attacks on Sikhs and other ethnic minorities in the US seems oversimplified. It is not just the question of Sikhs being mistaken for Afghans and bearing the brunt of a “visually challenged” American population. How does one explain the spurt of attacks on Asians at large, the most recent being the ordeal of an Indian girl beaten up by a gang of Pakistani youths (“Hammer attack on Indian girl in Derby”, Oct 19)?

The terrorist attack on the US is also cause for the increase of hatred between the so-called “enemy” nations. In the incident mentioned, the girl was beaten up not by whites but by a group of Pakistani youths. Behind the facade of hatred for all things American, a number of people are taking advantage of this chaotic situation. Measures should be taken to prevent such untoward incidents from taking place in the future.

Yours faithfully,
Ritwik Sarkar, Udaipur

Sir — The report, “Sikh shot dead in Arizona” (Sept 17), says that a Sikh and a Pakistani were shot dead in Arizona and Texas respectively in attacks on ethnic immigrants following September 11. The terrorist attacks have roused the worst passions among Americans, which has led to the attacks on minority populations. The American nation seems to be convinced that Muslims are the perpetrators of the carnage. They might be wrong. In the meanwhile, good sense should prevail since the attacks are cowardly acts.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta, Calcutta

Bad health

Sir — The recent incident of the heckling of the superintendent of Calcutta Medical College, allegedly at the hands of Communist Party of India (Marxist) cadres during the eviction drive in the hospital show the pitiful state of affairs in West Bengal. The reported involvement of the CPI(M) legislator, Lakshmi De, who is said to have instigated the violence in the hospital premises has definitely tarnished the image of the state government. The setting up of a one-man truth finding committee under Prasanta Sur, evidently to prove the “concern” of the government has not salvaged the situation for the party.

Not surprisingly, the committee has given a “clean chit” to De (“Sur panel gives clean chit to De”, Oct 21). When the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, along with some other party members had already dismissed the the allegation against De a day after the unfortunate event, one can hardly blame Sur for toeing the party line. The episode is a sad reminder of the fact that any effort made to improve the state of health will surely face hurdles, ironically, put up by the CPI(M) itself.

Yours faithfully,
Debasree Chowdhury, Calcutta

Sir — The attempt of the state health minister, Surya Kanta Mishra, to introduce reforms fell flat on its face because of the violence that marred the hospital eviction drive. To add to his problems, his party members seem responsible for the events at the hospital. Not only that, as admitted by the CPI(M) state secretary, Anil Biswas, himself, there was little co-operation from party cadres when the committee instituted to look into the matter tried to probe. This resulted in the delay of the report. There is enough ground for suspecting that there must have been pressure from higher levels to let Lakshmi De go scotfree.

Yours faithfully,
Naren Sen, Howrah

Mistaken identity

Sir — The report, “Backwards’ panel blow to Jogi” (Oct 23), was shocking. The recent findings of the national commission for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, which has ruled Jogi’s claims of ST status fraudulent, would severely impair the politician’s political career. There are innumerable people like Jogi who exhibit their false lower caste identity to gain special political benefits. There are others who change their religion to lay claim to vacancies in civic bodies. This is a criminal offence and should be treated accordingly.
Yours faithfully,
B.S. Ganesh, Bangalore

Sir — The national commission for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes report has clearly shown that Ajit Jogi is a fraud. Although Jogi claims that this move was “politically motivated”, his theory can be easily debunked by the fact that the probe was headed by a former Congress member of parliament, Dileep Singh Bhuria.

In a country where the norm is to get work done through the back door, Jogi’s venture fails to surprise us. The most shameful part of the story is that Jogi is the chief minister of a state. Interestingly, Congress office-bearers reacted with complete indifference to the commission report. Does this signify that the Congress knew about the crime already?

Yours faithfully,
Prabir Mitra, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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