Editorial 1/ Enter the Dragon
Editorial 2/ Run for your life
Privies and purses
Fifth Column/ Chomsky sounds like old hat
Different schools of thought
How to get gender into the mainstream
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ ENTER THE DRAGON 
 
 
 
 
The Doha ministerial conference formally sanc tioned China’s entry into the World Trade Organi zation, although a few minor formalities remain and will take another couple of months. China’s entry has taken almost 15 years. Leaving the WTO requires six months of notice, but entry is not that simple. An entry application has to be supported by two thirds of existing members. But prior to that, any existing WTO member can demand market access bilateral negotiations with the intending applicant. These are undertaken bilaterally, but following the most favoured nation principle, the best of these bilateral offers are eventually considered for final admission. India too has undertaken bilateral nego tiations with China. Political developments have at vari ous points postponed China’s entry. That apart, there has been the question of China’s status as a developing coun try. For countries joining the WTO after January 1995, de veloping country status (which grants certain privileges) is not automatic following the United Nations. classifica tion, but has to be negotiated at the time of entry. China has eventually entered as a developing country. Those in India who complain about the liberalization that India is constrained to implement as a result of WTO commit ments, should take a look at what China has had to do as a result of bilateral negotiations. This is true across the board, in areas as diverse as tariffs, agriculture, intellec tual property and services. This raises political economy questions within China. In the first flush of reforms, with agriculture providing the base of liberalization, trickle down benefits occurred and the poor were also benefici aries of the Chinese reform process.

However, there is increasingly a sense of alienation and a perception that reforms only benefit the rich. This leads to problems for agriculture and state owned enter prises, although discontent is difficult to manifest in the Chinese system. For the global trading system, the entry of a major trader is a welcome sign and increases the WTO’s credibility. Thanks to China’s entry, the percent age of trade conducted among WTO members will go up to something like 98 per cent. The implications for India are several and all of these are not equally important.

China obtains some privileges, like MFN treatment, but China was already a recipient of these privileges with major trading partners through bilateral agree ments. Non transparent Chinese export subsidies will be more disciplined. This is especially important for India, since India and China are often in the same export seg ments and India is consistently out priced. But all Chi nese pricing systems will not be subject to WTO disci plines. China and India can adopt common developing country negotiating positions at WTO fora. This seems unlikely in the immediate future. Instead, there is some evidence that India’s assumed leadership of developing countries is likely to be usurped. India will have to follow WTO norms in dealing with China, such as in anti dump ing investigations. The WTO’s dispute resolution system has so far been efficient. This will be put to the test when there are an increasing number of disputes involving China. This may not happen immediately, since existing members will first have to take stock of Chinese account ing and other practices.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ RUN FOR YOUR LIFE 
 
 
 
 
The new Juvenile Justice Act,which became law in April 2000, claims to exist for the .care and protec tion of children.. The escape of 18 boys from Dhrubashram . a government run observation home in West Bengal for children, neglected and under trial . raises crucial questions regarding the state’s efforts to provide such care and protection. It also calls for a re ex amination of the nature of legislation concerning chil dren. The first question must naturally be about security. How could these boys escape when they were officially under the supervision of a number of staff ? This could only point towards institutional negligence and the poor maintenance of the premises, which, in turn, lead to everything that is wrong with the implementation of the country’s laws regarding children.

The juvenile courts in West Bengal are now practical ly defunct. This is not only because of the general chaos the judiciary seems to be in owing to massive backlog, but also because of some of the loopholes and confusions in the law itself. For instance, the United Nations conven tion on the rights of the child, the Indian Penal Code, the Juvenile Justice Act and the Child Marriage Restraint Act provide different definitions of the .child. with re gard to age.This causes endless procedural irregularities and some grave injustice to children. The Juvenile Jus tice Act needs to be revised, and a new .juvenile board. has to come into operation soon, without which an im mense pile up of cases will continue to cause inhuman overcrowding in the remand and observation homes run by the state. Dhrubashram is no exception to this, cur rently housing almost twice its official capacity. This leads to pitiable conditions of existence for the children, and to staff disgruntlement and apathy. Nutrition, ac commodation and recreation suffer in such conditions, together with rundown premises because of the poor al location of funds. The saddest effect of all this is on the minds and bodies of the children being kept in these homes, their energies brutalized by overcrowding, inade quate care, and ineffectual and oppressive supervision. It would be grim if the recent escape leads to an intensifica tion of this .protection., instead of a serious attempt at making the law and its institutions more humane to wards those who have been left to look after themselves in whatever way they can.

   

 
 
PRIVIES AND PURSES 
 
 
BIBEK DEBROY
 
 
“Iam arrive by passenger train Ahmedpur station and my belly is too much swelling with jackfruit. I am therefore went to privy. Just I doing the nuisance that guard making whistle blow for train to go off & I am running with .lotah. in one hand and .dhoti. in the next when I am fall over & expose all my shocking to man & female women on plateform. I am got leaved at Ahmedpur station. This too much bad, if passenger go to make dung that dam guard not wait train five min utes for him. I am therefore pray your honour to make big fine on that guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big report to papers..

In 1909, Okhil Chandra Sen wrote this letter to the Sahibganj divisional of fice, West Bengal. This letter should have been famous, because it apparently led to the introduction of toilets on trains. And the letter is on display at the Railway Museum in New Delhi. To be honest, I never noticed it there. But some visitor noticed it and sent a copy to Nury Vittachi of Far Eastern Economic Review, where it has been carried in the current version of .Travellers. Tales..

Trains, train tracks and defecation go together and one doesn.t have to read V.S. Naipaul to figure that one out. Any trip on the great Indian railway bazaar will do, for a sight that is common in the mornings and sometimes in the evenings as well. Train travel only makes a phenomenon more visible, es pecially to those of us who live in cities. What does one expect in a country where 70 per cent of the population doesn.t have access to sanitation?

Whose job is it to provide sanitation, public health, primary education and even infrastructure? The government’s. These are public goods. The poor can.t pay.The poor won.t pay.The government must subsidize these goods. The govern ment must spend on these items, as it has done ever since independence. As is inevitable, the government expenditure has leaked away. In wells that have never been dug. In roads that have never been built. In toilets that only exist on paper. Had it not been for some NGOs and had it not been for some Right to Information Acts that are now being passed, such ap parent government expenditure would have never been questioned. Rajasthan is only one example of this.

While on NGOs, on a recent trip to Hyderabad, I ran into two gentlemen from Naandi. I was vaguely aware of Naandi, about its exis tence as a corporate NGO. But until I met these gentlemen, I didn.t know that Naandi Foundation works with the Andhra Pradesh government to run a rural sanitation programme. Villagers are educated about dangers to health from open defecation, and toilets have been built in 46 model villages in 23 dis tricts. You can find the details in the Naandi web site, www.naandi.org. The eventual idea is to cover all inhabited areas.

The point about this exercise is that there may be government support, but there is no government expenditure.Vil lagers, including the poor, pay for these toilets, once their utility is clearly demonstrated, with Naandi providing some cross subsidy for the really poor. In several social sectors, including pri mary education, there is enough evi dence to show that even the so called poor are prepared to pay, provided the service delivery takes place. The reluc tance to pay is because service delivery, historically routed through the govern ment, has never taken place or has been poor. There is no accountability to users when the government is a distant one lo cated in the state capital, if not in Delhi. Isn.t it paradoxical that we should have so many centrally sponsored social sec tor schemes?

It doesn.t matter to the rich. To use a phrase by John Kenneth Galbraith out of context, a secession of the successful takes place. Not using government ad ministered delivery, the rich privatize sources of supply . education, power, water, health care, even security. Had this not been the case, the rich and the vocal would have been a powerful coun tervailing force, demanding better deliv ery, reducing corruption and improving public governance. It seems to me that this is changing and I don.t think this is purely wishful thinking. Unfortunately, most of the examples I can think of are in the South . Lok Satta in Hyderabad and the Public Affairs Centre in Banga lore, for instance. In each such case, there is an attempt to rate public servic es and exert pressure so as to make them more accountable. Lok Satta and the Public Affairs Centre are a bit more activist.

Among less .activist. ones, there is the Administrative Staff College in Hy derabad. This has brought out several report cards on public services . Ban galore in 1992, Ahmedabad and Pune in 1993, Madras in 1994 95, Calcutta in 1996, Delhi in 1998 99 and Hyderabad in 2000. These report cards deserve wider dis semination. Although comparisons across the cities are not strictly compa rable, here are some findings. Respon dents of Hyderabad show the greatest interaction with public service agen cies. Delhi is most satisfied with services provided. Most city officials expect and take bribes. Bangalore tops the list in this, followed by Hyderabad. Chennai has the most efficient staff. Customers are willing to pay more if better services are provided and have often invested large amounts in alternative (private) fa cilities. Thus people are indeed willing to pay. One might argue that these find ings are for urban and rich households and are not valid for the poor. Not true.

Take the most recent ASCI survey for Hyderabad.This has a general or overall section and a special section for slum households. Forty four per cent of re spondents in this slum category have a monthly income between Rs 3000 and 5000, so this is not a rich category. Ninety three per cent of slum households are satisfied with the post and telegraph de partment, and 68 per cent are satisfied with public transport. But almost all slum households are disgusted with solid waste disposal, storm water drains, roads, water supply, sewerage, electricity and telephones.

Not only are they disgusted, slum households also have to bribe for servic es, sometimes in cash and sometimes in kind. Each slum household pays an aver age of Rs 50 to Rs 250 a month as bribes. This substantiates the argument that corruption and bribery are not distribu tion neutral. As percentages of income, the poor tend to pay much more in the form of bribes. Hence, the present status quo is also anti poor and pro rich, no matter how many pronouncements are made in the name of the poor.

Are poor slum households willing to pay for better services? Twen ty per cent are willing to pay more, 80 per cent are willing to pay up to Rs 100 a month for better services. High on the priority list are public transport, independent taps and personal toilets. For independent taps and personal toi lets, poor slum households are willing to pay up to Rs 500 a month.

Back to the Okhil Sen question. Who will provide these toilets? The govern ment? If the government has not suc ceeded in providing them for 54 years, how will the government suddenly be come more accountable and efficient at providing public services? Yes, decen tralization will help. Yes, Right to Infor mation Acts will help. Yes, countervail ing pressure by NGOs and report cards and citizen charters will help.

In Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, there is also this great euphoria about how information technology will im prove public governance. Perhaps it will. But for e governance to occur, gov ernance has to improve. If governance is non existent, will cyber kiosks improve anything at all? It is also possible to go gaga over the Naandi kind of experi ment. .To hell with the government.We don.t want it. Such private sector initia tives will solve the problem.. I don.t think that is the answer either. The Naandi type experiment may well have catalytic effects, but they cannot handle the canvas of a large and poor country like India. There is a role for the government.

What kind of role? Therein lies the question for debate. The government has a financing or subsidizing role. It also has a providing and delivering role. Too often, we tend to equate the two and assume that if the government is paying for a service, it must also provide it.We know that government provisioning is inefficient and quality suffers, despite improvements that may come about through countervailing pressure and greater awareness among users of services.

So why must we continue to assume that the finance role and the pro viding role are synonymous? To take a not too hypothetical example, it is possible for the government to issue vouchers to targeted poor people. The vouchers have an in built amount of subsidy. But they can be redeemed anywhere, with private providers or with government ones. That brings in competition, and efficiency through competition. Similar to the way tele phone services have improved. But for such models to work, cobwebs need to be swept aside and we need to be clear about what Okhil Sen expects from the government.

The author is director, Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, New Delhi

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ CHOMSKY SOUNDS LIKE OLD HAT 
 
 
 
 
It is becoming more and more fashionable to deride and dis miss any point of view that ap pears even remotely .radical. or .politically correct..We are living in times when lauding the .politi cally incorrect.. be it the slaugh ter of innocents, poking fun at women or abusing the .fringe.. is becoming part of the dominant cul ture. It has a powerful spread, ir reverent of values and ideology, forever ready to defend its prescrip tion of how it wants the world to look. This is an era when even a .liberal. is not safe from jibes and caustic remarks. Communists are an endangered species. Only the right is marching ahead.

Nothing could have hammered the point home more crudely than reactions in a section of the media, a day after Noam Chomsky,well known dissident academic from the United States of America, deliv ered a lecture at the Delhi School of Economics. These reactions were in tune with what we hear every day: There are no takers for peace, no one is interested in a just and eq uitable world, protests are passé. The world is globalized, so are opin ions, and any dissidence is a mark of lunacy.

So when hundreds of people queued up at the FICCI auditorium and then at the Delhi School of Eco nomics to listen to Chomsky, it ap peared to some to be nothing more than an irrelevant exercise by .pseudo intellectuals., most of whom, it was said, .snoozed.while the professor from MIT spoke. The audience at the DSE, sneered some, were chasing celebrities like Arundhati Roy for their autograph.

Who cares?

They even found the DSE’s .Gand hian. surroundings something to jeer at. But then, do not most uni versities have a Gandhian ambi ence? And is it such a folly to hold a lecture in the open to accommodate the maximum number of people ? At the risk of being labelled a .pseudo., I would like to point out that the vast majority of those who listened to Chomsky did not fall asleep, but were listening to words that seem to have become so very unfashionable. Like John Lennon’s .Imagine.. a song for peace, how ever elusive the idea seems to be now. It is now the time for perform ers like Eminem,who win awards for singing paeans to violence and songs about killing mothers. The audience is rapturous at the orgy of violence, they want more aggres sion, more horror.

They had it all on September 11. But it has not sated our craving for horror. If anything, it has whetted our appetite for more bloodshed. That is why when Chomsky spoke against the war and punched holes in the US’s thesis, he was derided as someone who had nothing .new to say.. He was reading from what appeared to be an old script.And what was so new about what hap pened on September 11 in the US, and its aftermath (we are not talk ing about its scale or the magnitude here but about terror and how its manifests itself) . apart from the fact that America, for the first time, had to lick its wounds and got a taste of its own doings?

History isn’t news

Twenty years ago, the then US pres ident, Ronald Reagan, made the fight against international terror ism the core of his country’s for eign policy. So what was new about president George W. Bush’s present doctrine of .War Against Terror.?

No, Chomsky was not saying anything new. It has become the media’s favourite sport to mock at activism, the politics of protest, ag itations on the street . in short an entire sub culture they want to write off. That is why when Arund hati Roy takes to the streets on be half of the dispossessed and gives a powerful voice to the subaltern, she is derided as a .publicity seeker. transgressing her boundaries.Why can she not just keep churning out books instead of meddling in af fairs that are .not her concern.? They should not be an author’s con cern. But then whose concern are they anyway? Ideally, they should be nobody’s!

There is, unfortunately, nothing .new. about war. Just as there is nothing .new. about reports on war. The devastation, the horror, the loss of lives run through all the wars fought since ancient time.

There is nothing new about peace either. That does not mean that we stop calling for an end to ag gression and bloodshed, and do everything in our power for a peaceful, just world. If you accuse Chomsky of reading out of an old script then you will have to accuse history of repeating itself like .re cycled news stories..

   

 
 
DIFFERENT SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT 
 
 
INDRAJIT RAY
 
 
Last week, one of the leading dailies in the United Kingdom, The Times, revealed their univer sity league table for the current year. This prestigious newspaper ranks all the universities in the UK by certain popu lar and academic criterion. This year. s table shows that .new. universities such as Essex, Birmingham,Warwick and York are consolidating their positions. They have even become rivals to the old giants, Cambridge and Oxford.Warwick and York in particular, both founded in the Sixties, featured in The Times top five. In a sepa rate ranking, based solely on teaching per formances,York has been placed second in the table, losing the top spot to Cambridge, but maintaining its position above Oxford.

The success of these universities lies undoubtedly in their modern systems of administrating teaching and research. This is in contrast to the situation in India. Our traditional colleges. and universities. downward slide is because of their stick ing to old structures and obsolete adminis trative legislation. For example, Presiden cy college recently put forward a proposal to teach a new post graduate level course in applied economics. Last week, the high est policy making body of Calcutta Uni versity, the syndicate, met to discuss this particular proposal. They voted against the plan. The decision was justified using university legislation . probably as old as the university itself . that does not allow affiliated colleges to teach courses inde pendently.A syndicate member added that they would have to .change statutes. to allow the college to teach such a course. And this would involve a .drawn out process..

The issue to be discussed here is not whether one particular college should be allowed to teach a course in applied economics. The issue rather concerns the whole structure of gover nance of universities and colleges, partic ularly on the subject of curriculum de sign, contents and organization of cours es. The message from the UK appears to be clear. It is time to shrug off the burden of traditional systems to find success, no matter how .drawn out. the process may be.

But any future model of university governance for Calcutta must take into ac count the several administrative struc tures that already exist. Calcutta Universi ty and Burdwan University have many af filiated colleges, and each college varies in size, reputation and power. But no matter how big they are, these colleges must func tion under the same centralized gover nance of their respective universities. They must teach courses approved and governed fully by the university. Any of these colleges and their departments has next to no autonomy over the setting of its curriculum. Jadavpur University is in contrast a campus university with the pos sibility of greater central control, but if anything, its departments are al lowed more freedom than Calcutta and Burdwan.

These different models do not need to be a problem however. In the UK, the Oxbridge colleges are run in completely different ways from the new universities. Diversity does not need to hinder mean ingful reform. Universities in the UK have concentrated on the shared principles of academic freedom, flexibility and trans parency rather than the differences in structure.

Thus, in the UK it has been realized for some time that the academics at the de partmental level know better what to do than the administration. Departmental committees have been empowered to offer a wide range of courses consisting of sin gle and joint honours degrees with attrac tive combinations of subjects such as eco nomics with finance. Departments work together to provide further interdiscipli nary degree programmes. They even allow for transfers between programmes. This creates a wide range of modules that cater for the academic interests and choic es of the students. Students are encour aged to develop applied, analytical and transferable skills through participation in so many courses.

Our university programmes must however continue to provide core areas of subject knowledge and in troduce students to various theoretical ap proaches. The design and the contents of the curriculum should also be related to the aims and objectives of the programme itself, and separate courses have the ap propriate system of prerequisites, ensur ing coherence and academic progression. This is especially the case for the social sciences, suggesting as they do so many other branches of knowledge. Further more, new programmes must be subject to external scrutiny and be approved by the central university governing bodies. Clearly, the university is responsible for monitoring and developing teaching qual ity at the departmental level through regu lar departmental reviews.

But although it is important for a uni versity to maintain such systems, they can also be reformed so as to enhance the qual ity of our programmes. It is those princi ples of flexibility and choice, used so effec tively by the UK universities, in particular the newer ones, that we need to adopt.

It must be remembered that depart ments, and the individual colleges at Cal cutta and Burdwan, are not just parts of the university. They are what make the university. The governance should identi fy its proper supervisory role, so that de partments can take the initiative. Forth coming visits by the National Assessment and Accreditation Committee will hope fully emphasize these issues, and bring us more in line with the UK universities. Uni versity inspection teams in the UK, and of course the league tables, have done much to bring an edge of friendly competition to the academic world. And importantly it has made issues of university improve ment a subject of national debate.

It might also be said that the universi ties make the towns and cities in which they are placed. They provide the human resources as well as being a vital symbol of the town itself.Do we want to present to the world the centralized dic tatorships which have hardened in place since British times? The freeing of our universities can become a vital statement in West Bengal’s attempts to remove both its imperial and more recent communist past.

The author teaches economics at the University of York, UK

   

 
 
HOW TO GET GENDER INTO THE MAINSTREAM 
 
 
 
 
The policy will be widely disseminated so as to en courage active partici pation of all stakeholders for achieving its goals. Specifical ly, the objectives of this policy include (i) creating an environ ment through positive econom ic and social policies for the full development of women to enable them to realize their full potential, (ii) the de jure and de facto enjoyment of all human rights and fundamen tal freedom by women on an equal basis with men in all spheres . political, economic, social, cultural and civil, (iii) equal access to participation and decision making of women in the social, political and economic life of the na tion, (iv) equal access of women to healthcare, quality education at all levels, career and vocational guidance, em ployment, equal remunera tion, occupational health and safety, social security and pub lic office, (v) strengthening legal systems aimed at the elimination of all forms of dis crimination against women, (vi) changing societal attitudes and community practices by active participation and in volvement of both men and women, (vii) mainstreaming a gender perspective in the de velopment process, (viii) elimi nation of discrimination and all forms of violence against women and the girl child, and (ix) building and strengthen ing partnerships with civil society, particularly women’s organizations.

Legal judicial systems will be made more responsive and gender sensitive to women’s needs, especially in cases of do mestic violence and personal assault. New laws will be en acted and existing laws re viewed to ensure that justice is quick and the punishment meted out to the culprits is commensurate with the severi ty of the offence.

At the initiative of and with the full participation of all stakeholders, including com munity and religious leaders, the policy would aim to encour age changes in personal laws such as those related to mar riage, divorce, maintenance and guardianship in order to eliminate discrimination against women.

The evolution of property rights in a patriarchal system has contributed to the subordi nate status of women.The poli cy would aim to encourage changes in laws relating to ownership of property and in heritance by evolving consen sus in order to make them gen der just.

Women’s equality in power sharing and active participa tion in decision making, in cluding decision making in po litical process at all levels will be ensured for the achievement of the goals of empowerment. All measures will be taken to guarantee women equal access to and full participation in de cision making bodies at every level, including the legislative, executive, judicial, corporate, statutory bodies, as also the ad visory commissions, commit tees, boards, trusts etc. Affir mative action such as reserva tions/quotas, even in higher legislative bodies, will be considered whenever neces sary on a time bound basis. Women friendly personnel policies will also be drawn up to encourage women to partici pate effectively in the develop mental process.

Policies, programmes and systems will be established to ensure the mainstreaming of women’s perspectives in devel opment, as catalysts, partici pants and recipients.Wherev er there are gaps in policies and programmes, women spe cific interventions would be undertaken to bridge these. Coordinating and monitoring mechanisms will also be de vised to assess the progress of such mainstreaming mecha nisms. Women’s issues and concerns, as a result, will be addressed and reflected on spe cially in all concerned laws, sectoral policies, plans and programmes of action.

to be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Footprints on a wasteland

Sir . I would like to offer some perspective on the recent news that the illustrious Gucci might be coming to Calcutta (.Gucci footprint in city. Nov 12). Gucci is not considering Park Street for a branch outlet like another Fifth Avenue. It has instead found in Calcutta the cheap labour and lack of scrutiny which makes moving its current manufacturing bases out of the West so profitable.Would Gucci’s .ambassador. to India, Benedetto Amari, ever have considered opening a tannery at the Calcutta Leather Complex, built in a protected wetland area, if he knew that the site had been dubiously acquired from poor farmers? Would he have balked at the news that the Supreme Court could declare illegal the current proposal by the CLC to pump tanning chemicals into waterways leading to the Sundarbans for the 18 months before a proper treatment plant is set up? Sadly though, these are just the sort of shortcuts that makes Calcutta so attractive to fashion houses.
Yours faithfully,
Bappa Sen, via email

Is it in the genes?

Sir . The article, .Glad to be Gay. (Sept 29), has refocussed public attention on the subject of homosexuality. Let me point out a few things. First, it is interest ing to note that none of the ancient reli gions, including Hinduism, have had any objection to homosexuality. They believe it to have a biological basis and explain it thus:we are male or female according to the decision made by our psyche and we develop our mentality accordingly. But when a psyche enters the wrong embryo, which may happen sometimes,we have a female character in a male body and vice versa. This helped explain the phenome non of trans sexuality,where a man feels he is actually a woman trapped in a male body and so forth. Most important, mod ern science’s discovery of the gene that causes homosexuality confirms its .natu ral. aspect.

It is also interesting to note the com monality of opinion between the Hel lenic Greeks, Romans and ancient Hin dus on this matter. The aversion to homo sexuals as abnormal beings is a purely se mitic or .cosmopolitan. thought. By .cosmopolitan., I mean the monotheistic movements of the Christo Judaic tradi tion, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For them it is too complex to comprehend anything that is different from the tradi tional concept of a man woman union.

Indians being victims of Victorian prudence since the 19th century have a special dislike for homosexuals and, in deed, much of the bourgeois values we protect today as our own are anything but Indian. Even today, followers of the old Greek faith express outrage at the fact that Christianity, unable to accept the concept of educated women, tried to in sult ancient Greek female poets like Sap pho by coining the term .lesbian.. In re ality, the island of Lesbos, from which the term lesbian is coined, home to these po etesses, produced some of the most excel lent Greek lyrical poetry.

I might add that conservative con cepts of encouraging motherhood and discouraging adoption by lesbians are conflicting, considering that in the latter case the child will have two mothers.

Yours faithfully,
Indrani Bhattacharya, Howrah

Sir . I look forward to the day when, as in Europe, conventional symbols of .masculinity. are subverted by the gay movement. Our culture has been inun dated by images of guns and hugely mus cled men. There is an alarming accept ance of male violence. I recently saw a streetside vendor selling a poster of the latest film star, with the usual steroid en hanced muscles and compensatory ma chine gun. This, in Europe,would be de scribed as .butch., and given the conde scension it deserves.As a result of this attitude, other models of masculinity have been able to emerge, for which I am sure the women of Europe must be pro foundly grateful.

Yours faithfully,
Seema Gupta, via email

Anything but safe

Sir . Former railway minister, Mama ta Banerjee, had managed to place a moratorium on fare increases for train passengers. Nitish Kumar, taking over from Banerjee earlier this year, has steadily increased taxation.A .safety surcharge., rather a hefty one, has been introduced for all types of passenger fares. The question that needs to be asked is, has there been any substantial im provement in the safety provision for pas sengers? If not,where has the money gone?

It is obvious that there has been no ad ditional employment of police besides the usual railway protection force. Nei ther has there been a drive to ensure greater vigilance.

I presume, the lion’s share of the money is in the state’s treasury, waiting to be spent bankrolling some election campaign. Either let Kumar be honest, or let’s make railway finances more accountable.

Yours faithfully,
Swarup Sarkar, via email

Sir . Why is Mamata Banerjee silent on the imposition of the surcharge for passenger safety? She had threatened to leave the National Democratic Alliance when the prices of petroleum were raised last time, on the plea that this would hurt the common people. The reason for breathing fire on the petroleum hike was to garner public sympathy for the assem bly election. Since her ploys have worked so far, should we deduce that she has abandoned our plight for more profitable election winners?

Yours faithfully,
Sukla Das, Jamshedpur

Sir . While travelling on the Doon ex press to Hardwar on September 27, our sleep was interrupted several times at night. I woke up at the Gaya station to find that our compartment was filled with hawkers although the lights were off and most people were sleeping. I won dered how the train guard could allow hawkers to enter so late at night. It was only after we had left Gaya station that I found the chain of my suitcase cut and my suitcase missing. There was no ticket examiner or policeman on the coach. I had to break my journey at the next sta tion to report the theft, but there was no competent person at the station to take my complaint. I waited for two hours and was finally told that I had to report the dacoity at the station where it had oc curred. I told him that I had missed the train which led back to Gaya. Only then was I allowed to submit the report to the station master. I was not compen sated for my ticket and I lost Rs 26,000. Doesn.t my treatment make a mockery of the recently imposed safety surcharge?

Yours faithfully,
Prakash Kumar Gupta, Midnapore

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