Editorial 1 / Scenes by the well
Editorial 2 / Playing foul
Two cultures and a half
Fifth Column / Untold Woes of the indian farmer
A sorry reflection
Document / Help them to come to the forefront
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / SCENES BY THE WELL 
 
 
 
 
Nobody envies the speaker of the Lok Sabha. To have to uphold the ideals of decorum and dignity in an institution where these ideals are repeatedly and riotously violated — all in the name of another ideal, democracy — is not the most rewarding, or entertaining, of responsibilities. Yet, from time to time, noises have to be made and the drill displayed. The current speaker, Mr G.M.C. Balayogi, has just completed another such exercise. After a day-long conference on parliamentary and legislatorial discipline and decorum, he has led a group of senior politicians and chief ministers to draw up a code of conduct for Parliament and the state assemblies. The new thing about this old exercise is the inclusion of the state legislatures. The rest is all distressingly familiar — both the nature of the resolutions and the punishments for the breach of the code. There is, of course, talk of members of parliament and of the legislative assemblies having to record their assets and income in a register maintained by both houses and the state assemblies. This has a wearying history going back to certain stringencies attempted, in vain, by the election commission. The commission has been involved in a long tussle with the executive to establish disclosure norms and prevent criminal offenders from getting into the house and the assemblies. Its failure to implement this basic process of “purification” has been most flamboyantly exhibited in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where violent crime and scandals involving spectacular fortunes have become a matter of legislatorial and regional pride. The Manipur assembly would have been long paralysed into inaction if such a code were implemented. Mr Balayogi’s new code should also have an appendix for Beur jail. If such a code is to be implemented for the state assemblies then this is the reality it would have to address.

Compared to violent offences and undisclosed assets, bad behaviour in the house may appear to be a negligible evil. But ungovernable disruptiveness — of the kind that took place around the women’s bill for instance — could be a serious menace in the house, resulting in the most prodigious waste of time and money. Scenes in the well of the house, which Mr Balayogi and his predecessors have been unable to prevent so far, remain another notable feature of the parliamentary carnival. The role of the opposition has also remained fairly uniform in this matter, and there is nothing new in the current leader’s invoking of “consensus and cooperation”, and then charging the government with failing to seek either. Messrs Balayogi, Patil and Sangma have all confronted degrees of futility in trying to reform the culture and ethos of parliamentary politics. But between the rehearsal of such resolutions and their implementation comes the habit of anarchy which the idealist in such matters is free to regard as the sign of a robust democracy.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / PLAYING FOUL 
 
 
 
 
Scoring debating points cannot be a priority for governments and political parties when extremist challenges threaten civil society. The latest Maoist offensives and subsequent state retaliations in Nepal, in which over 250 people were killed, clearly demonstrate the enormity of the challenge. The rebels, who had threatened big strikes following the failure of the third round of talks with the government, must have been emboldened by their strength in remote, mountainous districts. It now seems that the Maoists’ surprising volte face on their old demand for the abolition of monarchy was only a ploy to mislead the government and buy time. Having pretended to give up their anti-monarchy stance, they stuck to the other two demands for a new constitution and a constituent assembly to frame it. Sceptics had suspected that this was a game to indirectly push their agenda for converting the Himalayan kingdom into a republic. This was not the first time that the Maoists had played foul with dialogues. Their earlier talks with the government before King Birendra’s assassination last June had been marked by similar subterfuges and betrayals. It was time the ruling and opposition parties realized the enormity of the Maoist threat. It is no secret in Kathmandu that the extremists had gained from the failure of the country’s fledgling parliamentary democracy. Since multi-party democracy came to Nepal in 1990, no government survived its full term to be able to formulate a strategy to tackle the Maoist menace. The bitter bickerings within, and between, the two mainstream parties — the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) — on the use of the army against the Maoists also made the task harder.

The new prime minister, Mr Sher Bahadur Deuba, probably had no choice but to recommend to King Gyanendra that a state of emergency be declared all over the kingdom. But the king, who took over the reins in the aftermath of the Narayanhitty Palace massacre , would need much more from Mr Deuba, his Nepali Congress and the opposition CPN(UML) to build up a national consensus on the issue. Two basic factors have contributed to the rise and growth of extremist politics in Nepal — the abysmal poverty in a country whose per capita income is the lowest in the world, and an ill-equipped, oligarchical administration further crippled by corrupt politicians. Before it is too late, the politicians must clean up their act to restore flagging public faith in parliamentary democracy, for which, ironically, the people fought long and hard. Simultaneously, the government must address some of the agrarian and political issues exploited by the Maoists to lure the poor into their ranks. Although military action can no longer be avoided, both officialdom and informed public opinion in Kathmandu know that the army alone cannot solve the problem.

   

 
 
TWO CULTURES AND A HALF 
 
 
BY DIPANKAR GUPTA
 
 
The distinction between faith and science is quite old. It extends back to medieval scholars who had agreed upon the fact that both were valid sources of knowledge. What gives modern philosophy its distinctive edge today is the view that these different kinds of knowledge should not be seen in terms of mutual dependency. There is little point, therefore, in trying to merge one with the other, or in employing methods of science to matters of faith, and vice versa. Immanuel Kant was probably the first thinker to spell this out most forcefully. Indeed, this is the epistemological basis of secularism in modern times. Religion and faith have their own domain of expertise, and science has its own. It is incorrect to judge religion by scientific standards, and likewise, a scientific argument cannot be won by taking recourse to matters of faith.

These are then two distinct cultures. I know I am preying on C.P. Snow’s celebrated distinction between literary and scientific pursuits when I use the term “two cultures” here. But I do not think I am doing any grave injustice to the thrust of Snow’s argument. It is incorrect for people of faith to criticize science for being godless, which it probably is, and it is also wrong for scientists to make fun of faith-based knowledges simply because they follow different rules.

There are then these two distinct forms of knowledge and they both satisfy in different ways different aspects of the human urge. These two knowledges have inspired two different cultures, and they have to be respected in their own right. Just as science can extend to social science, faith-based knowledges can also extend to astrology and palmistry. It is not as if science is more important than faith, or the other way around. They are both distinct, separate and equally important to human kind.

Science and faith thus sponsor two different cultures, and this is quite proper. Those who appreciate this difference are people of culture. There are, therefore, fully cultured people on both sides: on the side of science and on the side of faith. But then there are also the half-cultured, who attempt to sneak faith-based knowledge into the domain of science. They are the ones who passionately argue that astrology is also a science. No cultured person from either stream would find it necessary to make such an extraordinary claim.

Obviously the proponents of this point of view belong to neither culture. They are therefore the half-cultured. They are probably failed scientists and failed believers too. If they were truly people of culture they would desist from all attempts to convert faith into science. There is something very cultured in following the tenets of science, as there is in adhering to the dictates of faith. Only those who are not confident in either culture will seek a merger of one with the other, or argue that faith is also science. A truly cultured person will not see the need for such manoeuvres at all.

Nor will a truly cultured person insist that the knowledge of palmistry and astrology also be taught in universities. Why should universities be the only abodes of knowledge? Temples, gurukuls and monasteries also create and expound knowledge. However, they thrive on a different kind of culture. A university is not the same as a monastery or math because the way it pursues knowledge is so different. Instead of faith, the university culture sponsors criticism. Regardless of whether it is social science or physical science, literature or art, the fundamental qualification necessary to be counted as a university discipline is that it should be open to criticism.

This criterion is crucial for it enjoins that all conclusions arrived at in such university-based disciplines are inherently provisional in character, that is they are accepted until something better comes along. If that had not been the case, physics would not have progressed beyond Newton.

It is true that there are different schools of astrology. Followers of one school are critical of other schools, but these are more like sectarian differences. It is not as if by criticism one is advancing knowledge in astrology, or admitting at any stage that the knowledge handed down from hoary preceptors, of whichever sect, is wanting and fallible. Distinctions between diverse schools of faith are meant to last. There is a certain grandeur about them. They are not easily forsaken just because there is a piece of phenomenal evidence that points in a contrary direction. Of course, there is a lot of criticism around, but it is always a criticism aimed at others: never at oneself. This is the true weight of doctrinal differences.

The culture that flourishes in universities is different, and it is not as if one culture is better or worse than the other. If a university discipline is not open to criticism from within, it loses its raison d’etre. Physical and social sciences are constantly being scrutinized and critically evaluated. Consequently, they undergo modifications, and some of them are quite radical in character. Researches are funded in universities, not to propagate a point of view, but to look for flaws within it.

Incidentally, this holds for arts and aesthetics as well. Literary criticism is the staple activity in all departments of literature in any recognized university around the world. To teach Tulsidas, or Shakespeare, is not to commit passages from these venerable authors to memory, but to study them with a critical eye. There are differences of opinion between literary critics, and even here there is always plenty of room for fundamental revisions and recasting of one’s initial positions.

It is necessary to appreciate the specific culture that informs universities and underpins their activities. A university is not the proper place for pursuing the culture of faith. This is where the chairman of the University Grants Commission is completely wrong. Astrology does not belong to universities, its true home is elsewhere. After all, as any truly cultured person will vouch, university-based knowledge is not the only kind of knowledge. Nevertheless, in his pursuit of half cultures, the UGC chairman erred by arguing that astrology was a science like physics and chemistry.

In doing so, he was forced to blur the distinction between astronomy and astrology. When this idea met with a lot of resistance, he sought the path of least resistance and likened astrology this time to social science. What he did not realize is that he was still functioning in the zone of half cultures because whether it be social science or physical science or even literature, the basic tenet of all university disciplines is that they should be fundamentally criticizable.

The half-cultured often argue that astrology has made many successful predictions. But this is not the issue. What cultured people know and the half-cultured must appreciate is that the knowledge of astrology is pursued differently from university disciplines. Astrology may or may not be effective. It is not as if every subject taught in universities is effective and practical. In fact, there is a strong body of opinion that believes that university-based knowledge should not be tied to efficacy and relevancy directly. Religion, in most cases is very effective and extremely rewarding.

It offers a great degree of solace, strength and wisdom in ways science cannot even begin to. But this does not mean that religion is science or is better than science or that it should be taught in the same place where science is taught. This is what the half-cultured want, and this is what cultured people from both streams must resist.

The author is professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / UNTOLD WOES OF THE INDIAN FARMER 
 
 
BY PRABHAKAR KULKARNI
 
 
The struggle against poverty and the plight of the rural poor should not lose its priority in the context of the American war against global terrorism. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s realization that farmers should have a prominent place on the national agenda and the Nationalist Congress Party’s recent rally at Delhi, led by Sharad Pawar, highlighted rural issues in general and farmers’ plight in particular.

The National Democratic Alliance recently stressed the importance of agricultural reforms and export potential. Compared to rural areas, the urban centres are better looked after. But neither agriculture nor agro-based industries are so thoroughly assessed as to locate specific difficulties. A survey of farmers’ plight in various states has shown that the causes behind farmers’ suicides have not been duly analysed. As a result no remedial action has been thought of. While politicians use incidents of suicide for attacking either the government or their political rivals, the urban elite ignores them as cases of poverty, vulnerability to addictions or suffering caused by the farmers’ own carelessness.

No sugar on this pill

But the farmers’ problems should be assessed against the background of rural economy and the marketing of agricultural products. In almost all other economic transactions, those who produce the goods have the right to decide the market price of the product. But farm prices are not fixed on the basis of cost production of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, water and other in-puts, besides electricity and manual labour. Farm products are thrown into the market with the result that their price-structure collapses with market fluctuations.

When markets are flooded with farm products, prices come down and a scarcity means the rise of prices. The scarcity is artificially created by middlemen and merchants. That is why traders of farm products get rich, while farmers remain poor. Traders get bank credit facilities, while farm credit is restricted to crop valuation which is not only uncertain, but considered at a low level by bankers who ascertain the farmers’ credit limit. Agriculture is not a sector for bank loans, and hence land assets are not considered for loan limits.

Sugarcane and jaggery are considered cash crops. But their conditions are the same as foodgrains, cereals, onions and vegetables. Sugarcane producers are as much exploited as are farmers producing other commodities. The more the factories’ production cost, the less the price paid to sugarcane producers. Besides, the state governments have issued instructions to deduct various amounts in the name of small savings, housing schemes, rural development, chief ministers’ funds, education tax and other expenses from the final sugarcane bills. This amounts to taxation on agriculture.

Survival kit

The outcry that agriculture has remained tax-free and should therefore be brought into the tax-net is thus ill-founded, particularly with regard to sugarcane production. The farmers are so neglected and exploited that, in times of crisis, they either have to get themselves trapped by private moneylenders or commit suicide. The new wave of globalization and conditions of the general agreement on tariffs and trade may flush away whatever farmers may get by persistent effort and experiment. This is because under globalization Indian farmers have to face competition with overseas farmers who are well off and also enjoy a number of facilities and incentives from the governments of their own countries.

For instance, in Europe, if a farmer keeps 15 per cent of his land vacant, he is given a compensation grant. This is because the government wants to provide vacant land for tree plantation in order to maintain the ecological balance. This means the farmers get a grant without spending for cultivation and production. The loss to farmers due to fluctuation in market prices is also compensated.

The problem is that the Indian government has no plan to subsidize or compensate for farmer’s losses if he fails to compete in the global market or to survive global market fluctuations. Unless their plight is duly assessed, adequate credit facilities are given, and compensation packages finalized, it would be difficult for farmers to survive in any market, particularly under the present rural conditions.

   

 
 
A SORRY REFLECTION 
 
 
BY JANAKI NAIR
 
 
The choice of glass, sometimes smoked or black, in construction which has become so widespread in Bangalore, has its own perils. There is an insouciance to the black glass that reflects back on the street the street itself, the clash and roar of traffic, the distracted pedestrian or the shadow of the tree. On some occasions, its visibility, its proclamation of privilege invite anger which leaves its mark in broken window panes, as after the kidnapping of Rajkumar from the city.

The solid granite structure, which was the most distinctive feature of the colonial and the immediately postcolonial public architecture in Bangalore, quickly gave way to a Nehruvian preoccupation with reinforced concrete. Public and private buildings alike bore the marks of thrift and dull imagination. The military barracks powered the democratic imagination: barrack-style hostels, offices, hotels, schools and shops allowed for repetition on several floors. Sometimes, even such austerity made the structure stand out, like the Visveswaraya Towers, strikingly different from the ornamental public buildings with whom it shares space in the central administrative area. But even such imaginative structures were doomed by the uses to which they were put.

Now the global pattern of consumption has led to widespread use of steel and glass, evoking images of a non-India. The most recognizable image of Bangalore city, the Vidhana Soudha, now jostles with the steel and glass towers of the international technology park. Granite gives an “illusion of permanence” to the political and bureaucratic setup and the new brittle economy that is tied too closely to the vagaries of another economy several thousand miles away.

Glass is an unfortunate material because it is expensive and vulnerable to the kind of urban furies that even a city like Bangalore occasionally faces. The “theft of the image”, to borrow Umberto Eco’s phrase in his discussion of the mirror, or the gentler landscape of the Japanese garden is somewhat inappropriate when the image is not that of a restful but a busy street. It crowds it further with with multiple visions of the sound and fury of the city. Narrow one way streets appear to converge and clash when glass or polished granite is freely used on both sides, adding to the visual disorder of our streets. Only rarely does the creation build upon the past.

Granite, abundantly available in Mysore, was for very long freely used in building anything from pump houses or textile mills to private homes or castles in the state capital. The rough hewn surfaces of the granite blocks lent grandeur to the buildings of the colonial time. The pump house, railway station or electrical sub-station also made free use of wrought iron, structural materials of an industrial age that were bent into delicate tendrils in an imitation of nature. These ghosts still haunt the city landscape. Long after the looms and winding machines of Binny mills were stilled, these acres of granite in western Bangalore stand as reminders of the plenitude of a different era when land and building material were for the taking.

Plenitude of a different kind has overtaken the public works department’s imagination since the late Eighties, particularly in privately built shopping and “new economy” workplaces, hospitals, schools and apartment buildings. The rough hewn granite soon gave way to polished granite, and now there are few buildings that do not sport such facades.

The most distinctive feature of the architectural style of the last decade is the spacious atrium, an enclosure of carefully tended nature which provides the illusion of outdoors. Cocooned from noise, heat and dust, it allows only a distilled air of privilege to circulate. In its hushed glassbowl interiors, the atrium attempts to keep out the public life of the street , with its unexpected and perhaps unpleasant encounters of crowds at the street corner. The new social life within these spheres of stillness do not reflect the contentious lives of the city.

Even if architecture and designs were borrowed from other cultures and climes, history always furnished a standard of beauty. The city borrowed liberally from its Hoysala, Chalukya or the more recent colonial past. The historical image was for long epitomized in the colonial bungalow — a low pitched-roof structure set amidst acres of land that signified the social distance between the ruling elite and the indigenous population. It was a time before democracy came into being. The occupants of the bungalows of early 20th century Bangalore lived safely in the assurance of the obedient poor, and therefore thought nothing of the dangers of maintaining low walls and gates.

This image of the city was carefully nurtured by the now disbanded Bangalore Urban Arts Commission, so that several reinforced concrete structures were forced to adopt the ubiquitous arch in deference to colonial times. Where colonial architecture was itself an undistinguished imitation of the classical Palladian style — sporting slightly undersized pediments or corinthian columns — it was zealously mirrored in new structures. The high court complex was thus faithfully reproduced in its entirety, a mirror image of the far from distinguished original. The nostalgia was not just for the style but the substance of a time long gone.

Today privilege wears a more guarded look. The new architecture proclaims itself through the high-security enclaves which guarantee its occupants a life safe from the disorders of the streets. The colonial masters used a mixture of force and persuasion to keep democracy at bay. In the postcolonial period, this refuge from the crowd outside is more naked, through the 24 hour security systems, and the high and impenetrable walls with only one point of entry. This “city of fear” nevertheless flaunts its new found wealth in a number of ways: polished granite, crenellations and pitched roofs, red tiles carefully buttressed by reinforced concrete.

The conquest of the city by glass has made the ghosts of the past irrelevant. Other more experimental and distinguished contemporary architectural styles are carefully guarded secrets, since Doshi, Correa and Rewal are confined to campuses on the edge of the city. They are lavish, aesthetically interesting and yet largely invisible on an increasingly nondescript skyline. But on the whole, the democratic imagination has not soared above the merely imitative. It is this, rather than the inability to preserve the older architecture, that demonstrates the real poverty of urban imagination.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / HELP THEM TO COME TO THE FOREFRONT 
 
 
 
 
The existing legislative structure will be reviewed and additional legislative measures taken by identified departments to implement the policy. This will also involve a review of all existing laws including personal, customary and tribal laws, subordinate legislation, related rules as well as... regulations to eliminate gender discriminatory references... The specific measures required would be evolved through a consultation process involving the civil society, the National Commission for Women and department of women and child development...

Effective implementation of legislation would be promoted by involving the civil society and the community. Appropriate changes in legislation will be undertaken, if necessary. In addition, the following measures will be taken to implement the legislation effectively. (a) Strict enforcement of all relevant legal provisions and speedy redressal of grievances...with a special focus on violence and gender related atrocities, (b) Measures to prevent and punish sexual harassment at the place of work, protection for women workers in the organized/ unorganized sector and strict enforcement of relevant laws ... (c) Crimes against women, their incidence, prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution will be regularly reviewed at all crime review fora and conferences... Recognized, local, voluntary organizations will be authorized to lodge complaints and facilitate registration, investigations and legal proceedings related to violence and atrocities against girls and women, (d) Women’s cells in police stations, ...family courts, mahila courts, counselling centres, legal aid centres and nyaya panchayats will be strengthened and expanded to eliminate violence and atrocities against women, (e) Widespread dissemination of information on...legal rights, human rights and other entitlements for women, through specially designed legal literacy programmes and rights information programmes...

Training of personnel of executive, legislative and judicial wings of the state, with a special focus on policy and programme framers, implementation and development agencies, law enforcement machinery and the judiciary, as well as non-governmental organizations will be undertaken. Other measures will include: promoting societal awareness to gender issues and women’s human rights; review of curriculum and educational materials to include gender education and human rights issues; removal of all references derogatory to the dignity of women from all public documents and legal instruments; use of different forms of mass media to communicate social messages relating to women’s equality and empowerment.

The 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution have served as a breakthrough towards ensuring equal access and increased participation in the political power structure for women. The panchayati raj institutions will play a central role in the process of enhancing women’s participation in public life. PRIs and local self-government will be actively involved in the implementation and execution of the policy...

The involvement of voluntary organizations, associations, federations, trade unions, NGOs, women’s organizations, as well as institutions dealing with education, training and research will be ensured in the formulation, implementation, monitoring and review of all policies and programmes affecting women...

The policy will aim at implementation of international obligations/commitments in all sectors on empowerment of women such as the Convention on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Convention on the Rights of the Child, International Conference on Population and Development and others...International, regional and sub-regional cooperation towards the empowerment of women will continue to be encouraged through sharing of experiences, exchange of ideas and technology, networking with institutions and organizations and through bilateral and multi-lateral partnerships.

Concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Voiceless in Bonn

Sir — A recent article suggested that women will not be represented at the talks on the Afghans’ future in Bonn (“Left on the outside, looking in”, Nov 25). The dismissal by the former king, Zahir Shah, of an earlier suggestion to allow two women in his working group can only lead to what one women’s rights activist has called “less-than-50 per cent government”. But I would suggest there are many other more critical gaps in representation. Given the current situation, the Northern Alliance’s political wing is of course present at Bonn. Then there is Zahir Shah’s representation. The other two groups are the Peshawar Assembly for Peace and the Cyprus group, made up of disgruntled exiles who have until now remained aloof from the situation. How exactly do they correspond to the ground situation? Where are the Pashtuns who will dominate the South? I fear the United Nations is groping after a quick-fix legitimacy which, whilst filling the seats at the table, has left many, dangerously, without a voice.

Yours faithfully,
Sudeep Mukherjee, via email

At home with terror

Sir — If Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf, has read the article “Not the season for sanity” (Nov 22), he must be mighty pleased. Why, right now, he may even be busily drafting a congratulatory note for Ashok Mitra. After all, there are not many other people in India who would call Kashmir an “occupied territory”, and say that it is being held by India by sheer military might, and it will hardly be possible to prevent mediation by the United States of America and the state’s eventual secession.

As India is a democratic republic, these views have their place. But let there also be discussion on the lack of freedom of speech in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, and the repeated presence of foreign (read Pakistani) militias in Kashmir.

As for the eventual “secession” of Kashmir from India, the world’s political equation has changed drastically after September 11. It will become increasingly difficult for militants to operate anywhere in the world. Rogue nations that support them do so at their own economic and political peril.

Musharraf must hope that the “war on terrorism” does not touch upon the valley and Pakistan’s role there. But even if it does not, India has been besieged with the problem of terrorism from disgruntled groups ever since independence, not only in Kashmir, but in the Northeast. We have tackled these problems with our own resources, with varying degrees of success. We shall continue to deal with terrorism with or without the attention of the US.

Yours faithfully,
Subhobrata Sengupta, via email

Sir — Ashok Mitra’s article, “Not the season for sanity”, appears to be prophetic. On the same day your newspaper also covered news of the Hizbul Mujahedin’s proposals to create a political party (“Delighted Delhi grabs Hizb double bonus”, Nov 22). Mitra suggested that a UN plebiscite might be forced down our throats by the US, rather than taken of our own volition.

The Hizbul Mujahedin are clearly aware of events in Afghanistan. As a largely “homegrown” militia with only a Pakistan imposed leader — Salahuddin — their ethnic voice is sure to be heard when the US is searching so diligently for a broad based government in Afghan-istan. K.C Pant is reported to have welcomed the news, thinking the Hizbul Mujahedin is playing for state-wide elections. I would suggest the Hizbul Mujahedin have in mind the next phase of the war on terrorism. They are playing on the world stage for an audience who would be quite happy to see Kashmiri secession.

Yours faithfully,
Tamal Banerjee, Calcutta

Call again

Sir — The recent scrapping of all telephone advisory committees is to be welcomed. The original purpose of these committees was to allocate phones on a priority basis when there was a big waiting list. The entire scenario has now changed with ready availability of phones, and in a high speed market economy subscribers demand to be put directly in touch with their service providers. More important, the TACs’ abolition has also put an end to widespread corruption and also the misuse of TAC membership.

The distortions first began in the Sixties when TAC membership was enlarged to include “unrepresented interests” and ubiquitous “social workers”. For some unscrupulous new appointees to the TACs, membership meant unrecorded income from recommending phones to the highest bidders. Subsequent developments were still more disturbing: TAC members were given phones for their use, a large number of free calls, and travel allowances. Some used their TAC membership to influence tenders and contracts.

Bihar in particular seemed to have found a concentration of talent in telecommunication, with over 2,000 TAC members, Patna having some 400. These ridiculous numbers only came to light when the telephone lines of some 200 members in Hazipur district were cut off for non-payment of telephone bills for calls made in excess of authorized freebies. It is little wonder then that the government has decided to scrap the TACs, though I imagine many activists must be missing their free phone calls.

Yours faithfully,
M.R. Pai, Mumbai

Sir — I wish to record the negligence of Calcutta’s telephone department. On the rural island of Sagar in South 24 Parganas there is a telephone exchange office, generally suffering from some “technical fault”. As a result, residents spend most of their working lives off the island, and must remain silent in their critical or joyful moments. Several residents have of course applied for new telephone connections, but without response. The minister of state for communication, Tapan Sikdar, has committed his department to the development of rural areas. Might I suggest that the restoration of TACs might help bring attention to the suffering communities?

Yours faithfully,
Chandan Bhunia, South 24 Parganas

Trained to kill

Sir — I am not always a great admirer of “General” George Fernandes ( “Teens, General George wants you” Nov 25) because of his often inconsistent statements, his known “foot in the mouth disease”, and shifting political stance. But when he chooses to be clearheaded, he makes more sense than most. I could not endorse more his desire to make military training mandatory.

In India, at every level of life, there is growing evidence of indiscipline, be it moral, civic or political. We pride ourselves on our factional nature and perhaps the only time we stand united is when we are at war or on the cricket field with Pakistan. We need to inculcate a sense of national purpose in our youth. By bringing them into a common fold through military training we shall be developing their character and spirit.

As the minister of defence rightly says the task will be huge, logistically and financially. But if he can make it come about, he will through that one single act, do the country a great service.

Yours faithfully,
M.H. Mehta, Calcutta

Sir — Trust the Indian defence minister to say something sensational. Military training for the young smacks less of “nation-building” than of aggressive patriotism. In an uncertain world full of wildfire rumours, militarism is a powerful concept. The irony has escaped him, of course: compulsory military training for a nation which has not been able to make elementary education compulsory in 54 years.

Yours faithfully,
Ritu Kashyap, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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