Editorial 1/ Winds of change
Editorial 2/ Fears in the dark
Every man is an island
Fifth Column/ Putin and the red carpet
Anything but splendid isolation
Document/ Policies from a women’s perspective
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ WINDS OF CHANGE 
 
 
 
 
The threat of terrorism all over India has created the most unexpected of political configurations as well as the most predictable of responses.Within the available gamut of reactions and suggestions voiced in the meeting of the Inter State Council in Delhi, the most profound, and in many ways the most bold, counsel has come from the chief minister of West Bengal, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.He has made it clear that he is not against the formulation of stringent laws to curb and eradicate terrorism. To this extent, his aims are in con cordance with those being put forward by the Union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, and the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But, unfortunately for those who would like to see in this a coming together of the views of Mr Bhattacharjee and the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, this is the only area of agree ment between the chief minister and the prime minister. In a sagacious suggestion that has important implica tions for India’s federal polity,Mr Bhattacharjee has sug gested that the promulgation of antiterrorist laws and ordinances should be left in the hands of state govern ments. The Centre’s proposal for introducing something like the prevention of terrorism ordinance aggravates the tendency to concentrate power in New Delhi to the detriment of the powers enjoyed by the states and thus to the ethos of federalism.

It is thus facile to see Mr Bhattacharjee’s position through the overused prism of state versus Centre. Mr Bhattacharjee’s arguments are pitched at a deeper level. Terrorism, however it is defined, affects first the law and order of a state and transitively the security of the na tion. If terrorism can be nipped as a law and order prob lem at the state level, it cannot threaten national security. Since law and order is a state subject under the Constitu tion, it stands to reason that the states should arm them selves with new laws to prevent the spread of terrorism. Thus there should be no need for the Centre to promul gate ordinances which, in their ramifications, transgress into the jurisdiction of the states. Mr Bhattacharjee is thus arguing in tune with the spirit of the Constitution in the matter of division of power between the state and the Centre.

The significance of Mr Bhattacharjee’s intervention will be foreshortened unless it is set beside another con text. His own party, the Communist Party of India (Marx ist), is opposed to any kind of draconian antiterrorist law. It has decided to oppose the proposed Central ordi nance, and the party’s politburo temporarily scuttled Mr Bhattacharjee’s attempts to pass the prevention of organ ized crime ordinance in West Bengal. In a bold step, Mr Bhattacharjee has taken up cudgels against his party’s central leadership and has announced that the POCO will be presented to the state assembly in the winter ses sion. It could be argued that even within his own party Mr Bhattacharjee is asserting the right of the state unit to take decisions on matters that affect the state.Within the CPI(M), like in the Indian polity, too much power is concentrated at the centre. Mr Bhattacharjee is challeng ing this concentration on two very different fronts. One can only applaud his courage, and welcome his efforts to break out of a straitjacket that history has made derelict.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ FEARS IN THE DARK 
 
 
 
 
The incredible history of a young female pavement dweller in Calcutta brings out how difficult and complicated sexual health work still is in West Bengal. Female powerlessness, sexual violence, brutal ig norance regarding HIV/AIDS, and the backwardness of government hospitals are some of the factors that non governmental organizations working on sexual health have to confront in the state. Gangraped in Bihar when eighteen, this girl was brought back, pregnant, to Calcut ta by her family, where she tested HIV positive in a gov ernment hospital. Her child died, and her family married her off, but without informing her husband’s family of her medical or sexual history. She conceived again, but by that time her husband and inlaws had come to know of her HIV positive status, and of her having been raped. She was thrown out of their home, only to be diagnosed HIV negative when taken for tests to the School of Tropi cal Medicine by an NGO.The earlier result was obviously wrong, but the damage had been done. She was disowned by her own and her husband’s families, and now fends for herself and for her child by working as a domestic help. She still finds it difficult to convince people . including most of the nurses and doctors in the government hospi tals who have refused to treat her . that she is not a health hazard.

The stigma of rape on a woman is not a new thing in a society luridly fixated on female chastity. This woman bears the additional burden of a benighted fear of HIV/AIDS, not only among ordinary people, but also within the medical, paramedical and nursing profes sions. This breeds fear as well as secretiveness. Larger ethical questions of privacy, confidentiality and the obligatory disclosure of medical history, by individuals and by hospitals, are also relevant here. But the combina tion of medical progress, human rights vigilance, legal reform and social awarenessraising becomes particular ly difficult to achieve when sexual and medical taboos re main frozen within a medieval witchhunt mentality. And this is just as true within the family and the larger community, as within such public institutions as the state healthcare system. This is where the governmental sexual health projects remain clueless, apathetic and in effectual, leaving it almost entirely to beleaguered NGOs to do the bulk of the real work.

   

 
 
EVERY MAN IS AN ISLAND 
 
 
BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 
“No man is an is land,. John Donne says in one of his sermons, .entire and unto himself.. He was right, of course. Even if it were possible in some pastoral times, it is im possible today, in the teeming, tumul tuous cities and towns we live in. It is, if anything, more so in our villages,where no individual is considered to have a life which can be isolated from that led by the village as a whole. And so if a young man and woman fall in love, and that love is not acceptable to the common life led by the village, they are exterminated, as they constitute a threat to the fact of the common life they all lead.

Thus we see the truth of what Donne said; the existence of every man is linked to that of others. It cannot be any other way, for better or worse. The mur derous concept of what constitutes so cially acceptable behaviour in our be nighted villagers of Muzaffarnagar or whichever part of the country they in fest is one aspect of this; the economic hurlyburly of our cities is another.We are indeed linked to one another.

But, having said that,we must look at the whole business a little more careful ly.We may have links, in that we trade or do other business with one another, or we live according to some social codes in our villages. These are links, admittedly, but to whom, and how far do they go? This is a question that will become more and more important as things begin to change in this increasingly strange world we inhabit.

When Donne said no man was an is land, he implied that no man could af ford to be one, that the process of social and economic bonding would extend to draw in everyone, mankind as a whole, into its fold. In the early 17th century, Donne was talking about globalization as against the belief that every man was a world unto himself. Economics and po litical conquest made this a reality as time went by; and even as empires de cayed and collapsed, as dictatorial and totalitarian regimes grew, prospered and then fell, the globalization they as pired to, became, increasingly, an eco nomic and technological reality.

Multinationals now span the earth; media operations link most of the world together with an immediacy that is bewildering; a new style of living has been adopted by the young in large parts of the world. Ed ucational institutions in the more ad vanced countries have more and more students from other parts of the globe; and there is a wave of migration, tightly controlled for the most part, but one which ultimately cannot be fully con tained. It may be the Hispanics flooding into the United States of America from Mexico, Cuba and other Latin countries; south Asians streaming into Europe and north America, or Bangladeshis and Nepalis crossing into India; southeast Asians seek their fortunes in Australia; Africans in Europe and America; even the Canary Islands have their resident Gujaratis.

But we must ask again: is this a larg er society that’s emerging, a complex, pluralistic society, with many kinds of people knitted together, bonded together in some way? The answer is, tragically, no. Whatever the apparent linkages, what is, in fact, happening, judging from the events of the past few decades, is the opposite. Increasingly, local identities are being asserted; nationalism is in many places giving way to an aggressive declaration of the primacy of smaller groupings, ethnic, racial, religious.

In Africa, millions have been slaugh tered to assert these groupings, from the Yorubas, the Ibos, the Hutus and the Tut sies.What was once Yugoslavia has been torn apart by the Serbs and Bosnian Muslims, the Kosovars and Albanians who live in that tortured piece of earth. At home, there is strife in the Northeast, in Jammu and Kashmir, and, caving in to local demands, yet more states have been carved out . Uttaranchal, Chattis garh and Jharkhand. Gorkhaland and Bodoland will not now be denied, and there will be other groups wanting to raise the banner of their identity, no matter how tiny it may be.

Initially, one considered this to be a facet of the democratic process; one hid behind palliatives like the will of the people, the people’s verdict, and the rest of those fairy stories. As the democratic process in large parts of the world fal tered, or failed, as the leaders were, in creasingly, smaller men and women, they addressed smaller groups, and stri dently raised the petty demands of these groups in a desperate bid to keep their positions. And as they did, the new glob al technology made it possible for the media to broadcast these pictures and messages nationwide and globally.

Inevitably, we see the emergence of two shadowy adversaries, of two differ ent power systems. One is the economic, global economic system of multination als, even of world bodies like the World Trade Organization and the Organiza tion of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which are immensely powerful, which can . and often do . bend local govern ments to serve their global interests. With them are the power groups; region al power groups like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the alliances we have seen during the Kuwait War and now, as the US batters Afghanistan.

The other are the religious power centres. It used to be ideological, but that has given way to some thing not very different. Salman Rushdie was right, when, speaking about the present fighting in Afghanistan, he said that there’s no point saying this is not about Islam; it is about Islam, as it is about Zionism, it was till recently about communism. But the issue has nothing to do with religion or ideology; the average Muslim who is fighting in Afghanistan or raging against the US knows, as Rushdie says, little or nothing about the Quran. Nor does the average Israeli really know what the Bible says, as most people liv ing in communist countries knew very little of the tenets of communism. All that their beliefs consist of are, finally, some ways of living, some social atti tudes and the rhetoric of their leaders. The issue with these groups is the same . power.

The scenario as it now unfolds is fear ful.There is the awesome military might of the most powerful nation in the world, but one which has a system of gover nance ridden with selfdoubt, selfcriti cism and acquiescence to pressure groups. There is, on the other side, a net work of people bonded with hatred, seeking absolute power. All the pious talk one hears of exploitation, oppres sion and brutalization by an imperialist power is eyewash. Where, may one ask, are the oppressed of Africa in all this? Whose lands were taken away, who were pauperized, and were little better than slaves? Are they in the forefront of this holy war? The issue with these ji hadis, as with the others, is power, noth ing but power. They may lack military might; but they have one very powerful weapon . the civilian population of the world, all of whom are their hostages, to be slaughtered in such manner and at such times as suit their plans.

It is to this that we have descended from the universal bonding Donne preached; and only a visionary can say what the end of all this will be. For the present, all one can do is watch fearfully as these illmatched adver saries engage each other in battles fought by each side in its own way; watch, and try to comprehend the nature of this new world in which we have to learn to live.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ PUTIN AND THE RED CARPET 
 
 
GWYNNE DYER
 
 
“The Cold War is over,. the Russian president, Vladimir Putin (speak ing in German he learned as a KGB officer in Dresden), told the parlia ment in Berlin in late September. .The world is no longer divided into two camps.. At the same time, Russia’s most popular tabloid, Komsomolskaya Pravda,wrote, .This is just like the antiHitler coalition: Moscow has no alterna tive but to join it..

Russia backs the .war on terror ism. declared by the United States of America one hundred and ten percent, and in recognition of that Putin is getting the full treatment on his American visit. It’s no longer called a .summit. in the old style, for postSoviet Russia’s status has fallen too far to merit equal billing with the world’s only super power, but both in Washington and in Crawford, Texas, the red carpets are being rolled out for Putin.

But what is it, exactly, that Rus sia can do for the US in the current crisis? Washington doesn.t need Moscow’s permission to use the for mer Soviet bases in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for its campaign against the taliban regime in Afghanistan. The excommunist dictators of those countries, frightened of their own Islamic fundamentalist revolu tionaries,were already opening the door to Washington when Russia hastily blessed their decision in late September. Then there is the little matter of the George W. Bush administration’s determination to tear up the 1972 antiballistic mis sile treaty and deploy a national missile defence, allegedly against .rogue states.,which the Russians hated.

Extracting concessions

But as early as last June,Moscow began weakening its previous hos tility to the proposal, offering to consider amendments to the treaty if the US didn.t insist on gutting the whole thing. Russia was no longer the biggest stone in Bush’s path; the real trick will be getting the NMD past a sceptical Democra tic majority in congress. Yet Putin has taken this relatively weak hand and extracted major concessions from the Western countries on al most every front.

To begin with,Western coun tries have all tacitly agreed to stop treating the brutal Russian war against Chechen rebels as a human rights issue, and to accept Putin’s contention that it is part of the global struggle against .Islamic terrorism.. As for the European Union,which already accounts for 40 per cent of Russia’s trade and will rise to between 50 and 70 per cent over the next few years as fur ther eastern European states join, Putin got an EU commitment dur ing his Brussels visit in October to monthly Russian meetings with the organization’s political and securi ty committee.He also got a half promise from the EU to back Russ ian membership in the World Trade Organization.

Virtuoso performance

Recognizing that Bush & Co. are wholly committed to the massive .Son of Star Wars. boondoggle, and that the only chance of halting it lies in a congressional revolt against the sheer cost and futility of the thing, not in Russian opposi tion, Putin has cut his losses on this front. Bush and Putin discussed a deal at last month’s AsiaPacific economic summit in Shanghai in which Russia agreed to amend the ABM treaty in return for really deep cuts to the permitted numbers of American and Russian strategic nuclear warheads: down to 1,500 each, from current totals of over 6,000.

It has been a virtuoso perform ance by Putin. In the face of deep reservations among his own senior officers and a general perception elsewhere that Russia is no longer a vitally important piece of the puz zle, he has managed to make con siderable progress on what must now be acknowledged as his long term goal: the full integration of Russia into the West.

Why would a former KGB offi cer, a man of deeply autocratic in stincts, adopt that as his goal? Be cause senior KGB people were the only people in the old Soviet Union who were encouraged to think dis passionately about political strate gy; because integration with the West is Russia’s best available strat egy for gaining prosperity and re gaining some influence over its en vironment . and because the real democratization of Russia that must accompany integration will not happen fast enough to threaten Putin’s power.

It has been observed that Putin is the most proWestern ruler of Russia since Catherine the Great. That is true, but that didn.t stop her from remaining an autocrat down to the end of her days, either.

   

 
 
ANYTHING BUT SPLENDID ISOLATION 
 
 
MANI SHANKAR AIYAR
 
 
While Jaswant Singh was doing all he could to not be isolated from the United States of America on Osama bin Laden, the US trade representative, Robert Zoellick, was doing all he could to isolate Murasoli Maran at Doha. Such dis sonance between foreign policy and for eign commercial policy has been at the root of our synergized failures in both for eign and foreign commercial policy. One can only congratulate Maran on having boldly asserted the national inter est in his opening intervention in Doha. It was a straightforward statement of what was right and true. Moreover, it was de signed to flag not only what India needed but what Like Minded Countries needed. Indeed, the very concept of the Like Mind ed Countries evolved by Maran at Doha constitutes a major new departure in in ternational trade relations, updating earli er concepts like the Group of 77 and the Group of 15 developing countries which were in urgent need of revision.

Yet, at the end of the day, the LMC did not stand by India. And an isolated Maran was forced to retreat, covering his flank with tortured explanations of how he was not really retreating, but, like Mullah Omar, undertaking a feint that would let him live to fight another day. The fact is that the Americans to whom Jaswant Singh has pledged India unreservedly in the American battle for American inter ests have repaid Singh’s kindness by refus ing to even acknowledge, let alone pro mote, India’s interests in the World Trade Organization, interests which are caught up with the very economic survival of the nation. Maran’s bold and principled stand at the start thus ended in empty posturing.

Could this have been handled better? Not only is this possible; it is essential. There is nothing wrong in being alone. After all, the national bard has taught us to sing, Ekla chalo re. But if we decide to walk alone, we cannot run back the mo ment we find we are alone.When the inter im government was ushering us to inde pendence, India under Jawaharlal Nehru took the bold step of breaking all relations with South Africa.We were entirely alone in the world in doing so. And we had to pay a heavy economic price for this. Decades were to pass before our example was fol lowed by others. Eventually, it was the world which joined us, not we who joined the world. The collapse of apartheid near ly 50 years after we showed the world, all on our own, the right and moral way, was a vindication of a foreign policy that does not believe only in joining the herd. At the same time,we spent those decades not just walking a different path . .which made all the difference. . but in persuading others to frequent .the path less taken.. (Robert Frost, Nehru’s favourite poet.)

Equally,when on the morrow of inde pendence, Nehru decided against throwing our lot with either the West or the East, India was alone in doing so. Not till a decade later did the idea of nonalignment begin to take root. Eventu ally, 20 years later, twothirds of the inter national community came over to our side, and it was the quarrelling superpow ers and their allies who were reduced to a minority.

Similarly, in the economic sphere, India was a foundermember of the gener al agreement on tariffs and trade at a time when the very concept of .developing countries. did not exist (the word was .underdeveloped.). But by a process of standing up, even if this meant standing alone, in favour of special measures for the lessdeveloped, and patiently building up, through activist diplomacy, political as much as economic, a coalition in favour of such special measures, India was able to blaze the trail to Part IV of GATT which for the next three decades took care of all of our special problems. And again it was India that took the lead in not only estab lishing the United Nations conference on trade and development but also in setting up the Group of 77 developing countries within UNCTAD which protected and pro moted our interests all through the Six ties, the Seventies and the Eighties. Spot ting by the last year of his prime minister ship that G77 had grown too diffuse to be effective, Rajiv Gandhi in 1989 took the lead in establishing G15, a smaller and tighter grouping of likeminded develop ing countries that could operate as the swordarm of the developing community as a whole.

These groupings for economic reasons were backed by the grouping for political reasons . the nonaligned movement. In deed, such was the synergy between for eign policy through NAM and foreign eco nomic policy through G77, that the G77 agenda became integral to the NAM pro gramme and NAM gave G77 its political teeth.

Jaswant Singh has abandoned NAM. And, therefore, Maran was aban doned by the LMC. It takes more than courage to stand up and be counted, as Maran tried to be at Doha. What it takes is principled, patient and persistent consen susbuilding, especially among the like minded. But how can an India which sneers at nonalignment, mocks at G77 and neglects G15 build such a consensus? By suddenly discovering expressions like LMC at Doha? No. Not until we have an LMC movement which is political and backs an LMC movement which is eco nomic and then synergizes the two will there be any credibility to a Maran on the burning deck at Doha. To stand up merely to prove that you can buckle at the knees might be a token of loyalty to Atal Bihari Vajpayee; it cannot be a credible expres sion of either an independent foreign poli cy or an independent foreign economic policy.

Maran’s fundamental mistake was to not recognize that the National Democrat ic Alliance is the instrument for coopting India into someone else’s world order, not for constructing a new world order our selves. Jaswant Singh’s craven begging of the Americans to make us part of their war on Afghanistan was in glaring con trast to Maran demanding that the WTO be an organization of equals, based on eq uity and justice for all. That is why Maran is now having to hide his humiliation be hind a barrage of verbal subterfuge. He believes . or wants us to believe . that he has returned from Doha bloodied but un bowed. The fact is that Singh had left Maran with no bargaining chips. Which is how Zoellick so swiftly disarmed the LMC, leaving India quite as isolated in Doha as the taliban is in Kandahar.

If, therefore, the nation is to make any use of the breathing time of two tiny years that Maran and the LMC have wrested at Doha, it is essential that we re turn to the Nehruvian synergy between foreign and foreign economic policy.With in the broad framework of the NAM, India should work towards a political LMC grouping. The emergence of such a group ing will in itself lead to its expansion, just as the Brioini meeting of the NAM First Five . Nehru’s India, Nasser’s Egypt, Tito’s Yugoslavia, Nkrumah’s Ghana and Sukarno’s Indonesia . led to NAM. And the quintessential message must remain the same, namely, resistance to the quest for domination with the aim of promoting a world of coequals. Once the clarion call of independence in foreign policy is both sounded and pursued, the LMC embryo conceived at Doha should be assiduously nurtured to fullfledged birth as was the G77 through UNCTAD all those halcyon years ago. Even a beginning in this direc tion will give us clout over the likes of Zoellick,which was so embarrassingly ab sent at Doha.

Alas, I have little doubt that Maran’s isolation at Doha is as nothing compared to his isolation in the NDArun cabinet. So, good try Maran, but if you really want to stand up and be counted, come over to our side.You cannot be a wolf among a flock of sheep.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ POLICIES FROM A WOMEN’S PERSPECTIVE 
 
 
 
 
Since women comprise the majority of the popu lation below the poverty line and are very often in situa tions of extreme poverty, given the harsh realities of intra household and social discrimi nation, macroeconomic poli cies and poverty eradication programmes will specifically address the needs and prob lems of such women. There will be improved implementa tion of programmes which are already womenoriented with special targets for women. Steps will be taken for mobi lization of poor women and convergence of services, by of fering them a range of eco nomic and social options, along with necessary support measures to enhance their capabilities

In order to enhance women’s access to credit for consumption and production, the establishment of new, and strengthening of existing, microcredit mechanisms and microfinance institution will be undertaken so that the out reach of credit is enhanced. Other supportive measures would be taken to ensure ade quate flow of credit through extant financial institutions and banks, so that all women below the poverty line have easy access to credit.

Women’s perspectives will be included in designing and implementing macroeconom ic and social policies by institu tionalizing their participation in such processes.Their contri bution to socioeconomic de velopment as producers and workers will be recognized in the formal and informal sec tors (including homebased workers) and appropriate poli cies relating to employment and to her working conditions will be drawn up. Such meas ures could include:

Reinterpretation and redef inition of conventional con cepts of work wherever neces sary e.g. in the census records, to reflect women’s contribu tion as producers and workers.

Preparation of satellite and national accounts. Develop ment of appropriate method ologies for undertaking (i) and (ii) above.

Globalization has present ed new challenges for the real ization of the goal of women’s equality, the gender impact of which has not been systemati cally evaluated fully. However, from the microlevel studies that were commissioned by the department of women and child development, it is evident that there is a need for refram ing policies for access to em ployment and quality of em ployment. Benefits of the growing global economy have been unevenly distributed leading to wider economic dis parities, the feminization of poverty, increased gender in equality through often deterio rating working conditions and unsafe working environment especially in the informal eco nomy and rural areas. Strate gies will be designed to en hance the capacity of women and empower them to meet the negative social and economic impacts, which may flow from the globalization process.

In view of the critical role of women in the agriculture and allied sectors, as produc ers, concentrated efforts will be made to ensure that benefits of training, extension and var ious programmes will reach them in proportion to their numbers. The programmes for training women in soil conser vation, social forestry, dairy development and other occu pations allied to agriculture like horticulture, livestock in cluding small animal hus bandry, poultry, fisheries etc. will be expanded to benefit women workers in the agricul ture sector. The important role played by women in electron ics, information technology and food processing and agro industry and textiles has been crucial to the development of these sectors. They would be given comprehensive support in terms of labour legislation, social security and other sup port services to participate in various industrial sectors.

Women at present cannot work in night shift in factories even if they wish to. Suitable measures will be taken to en able women to work on the night shift in factories. This will be accompanied with sup port services for security, transportation, etc.

The provision of support services for women, like child care facilities, including crèch es at workplaces and educa tional institutions, homes for the aged and the disabled will be expanded and improved to create an enabling environ ment and to ensure their full cooperation in social, political and economic life. Women friendly personnel policies will also be drawn up to en courage women to participate effectively in the developmen tal process.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

The present bothers

Sir . The continued detention of 1,000 American south Asians and Muslims contravenes Article 9(2) of the international covenant of civil and political rights ratified by the United States of America. This document states that .no one shall be subjected to arbitrary ar rest and detention.. There has also been serious discussion in the media about the introduction of torture . .only. psychological, of course . to force confessions from those arrested. Both President George W. Bush and British prime minister, Tony Blair, made great statements after September 11 about a Western way of life: freedom of speech and religion, freedom from persecu tion.The current argument that torturing one terrorist would save the lives of many is a crazy logic which undermines the pious words and the reason behind waging the war in Afghanistan (.When the past awakens. Nov 1). The Indian government, too, has no reason to be complacent since it can boast of the same fourth degree methods employed against suspects in its custody.
Yours faithfully,
Kamla Mukerjee, Washington, US

Stepping out

Sir . It was a delight to hear that women in Kabul have ventured out into the streets for the first time in five years without the supervision of the husband or a male family member (.Screams stop, smiles come back., Nov 15).With the fall of the taliban they have gone back to work and to school. However, I would like to comment on the continued use of the burqa. This repressive article of clothing is not mentioned in the Quran,which only stipulates that women should be wellcovered. The same prescription holds for men and this was undoubtedly a sound advice to people living in arid areas.

Women of these areas, both before and immediately after the rise of Islam, had traditionally worn long gowns and large hooded scarves. Purdah in those days implied that neither sex, either man or woman, should regard each other with lustful eyes. But its later association with burqa meant a lot of suffering for woman. I suggest that the men of Afghanistan, if they really wish to pro tect their women, invent rules to control their own libidos. And if women need protection then they ought to be trained martial arts.

Yours faithfully,
Saima Afreen, Calcutta

Sir . Kabul has emerged from the veil. With the collapse of taliban rule there seems to be a lot of joy and happiness amongst the city’s inhabitants, especially women. Thanks to the Northern Alliance and the support of the United States of America,women can now remove their burqa as effortlessly as men can shave off their beards, both of which are symbols of fear and subjection.

Yet all this seems to be only on the sur face. Although conditions have improved for women, freedom is still a long way to go.Women must continue to fight against the chauvinistic tendencies of Islamic culture, be they represented by the tal iban or hardliners in the Northern Al liance. The jubilation at the recent World Muslim Women’s Games, and the story that Afghan women trekked desperately across their country to attend it, symbol ize the courage of Afghan women.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir . It will be interesting to follow how the Northern Alliance deals with the question of women’s liberty. Although the mood is jubilant in Afghanistan and women have been asked to go back to work, it is doubtful that the new govern ment will go overboard on the issue. Five years of repression must have left some imprint on the people’s mind. So the chances are that there will be no immedi ate transition to miniskirts, nor will there be much tolerance of such a trend, especially since women are themselves not very sure of what they are now in for. Which in other words mean that women have to first get over the fear of persecu tion before they give up their burqa.

Yours faithfully,
J. Sen, Calcutta

Building for the future

Sir . The government was recently re ported to be considering a railway project to facilitate commuter services in nine cities at an enormous cost of Rs 25,000 crore. Instead of indulging in the fancy, the government could consider building around each city a 100 metrewide circu lar highway with 40 km diameter from which radials lead into the city.A system of toll gates would attract private invest ment and ensure the maintenance of the road. The land required for this need not be purchased: the owners could be guar anteed annual payments indexed to infla tion from money made by the toll gates. This is a cost effective and necessary scheme, already being taken advantage of in Europe.However, despite the terrible state of transport in India, I doubt politi cal common sense will suggest itself.
Yours faithfully,
T.H. Chowdary, Secunderabad

Sir . The road to Digha is in a horrible condition. It is probably because the road is so frequently used that it has deterio rated so much. But the West Bengal gov ernment should realize that Digha surely will not remain a tourist destination if travellers have to face such an ordeal. Moreover, throughout the route we were forced into paying endless mobs money for pujas despite there being a warning against such harassment from the gov ernment.

Yours faithfully,
Arnab Dutta, Calcutta

Sir . Thankfully, none of the numer ous schemes to build roads that is being reported every day is going to material ize. Had it been otherwise, the two sets of ringroads around Calcutta, one on the city’s outskirts, the other at a 50 km ra dius,would have become an environmen tal disaster. They would encourage Cal cutta to continue sprawling, instead of promoting investment in wastelands in side Calcutta. More realistic plans of linking up different parts of north Cal cutta have been defeated by the same flawed logic of not investing in the cur rent infrastructure.We have a wonderful tram and underground railway system. While cities across the West are looking at plans to reintroduce trams,we are con sidering scrapping ours because they are seen to lead, by the same peculiar logic, to congestion. Let us make meaningful plans about how to invest in Calcutta’s transport, instead of investing in ring roads.

Yours faithfully,
Shamim Afzal, Calcutta

Sir . The proposal for an elevated ring road around Calcutta is an excellent plan. I was recently in Bangkok which has such a road from the airport leading to different parts of the city. The traffic flow is smooth and I wondered if such a sys tem could be introduced in Calcutta.

Yours faithfully,
Saryu Sheth,Calcutta

Way to speak

Sir . The editorial, .Pick of the lot., (Nov 18), on the planned introduction of English earlier in our schools rightly notes the importance of the language as a tool of communication in India. The lan guage is now deeply rooted in the culture of people and its facility is increasing every day with the revolution of informa tion technology. Electronic media has en sured that everyone accepts English as the language of communication. From this perspective it is necessary to intro duce English at an earlier age to our children.
Yours faithfully,
Devanath Rawal, Tirupati

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