Editorial 1 / Royal touch
Editorial 2 / Peace talks again
Forgotten amendments
Fifth Column / Enough is as good as a feast
This is not your war
Document / A sobering survey of drinking habits
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / ROYAL TOUCH 
 
 
 
 
That India is a paradox is a cliché which worn its usage rather well. One reason for this is the truth embedded in it. The paradox is rooted in attempted imposition of a modern democratic ethos on an entrenched feudal culture. This imposition articulates itself in various ways. Witness the durbar style of politics that most important political leaders encourage. Witness the flourishing practice of sycophancy. And witness, most importantly, the prevalence of dynastic principle in Indian politics. The ceremony that marked the entry into the Congress of Mr Jyotiraditya Vikramrao Scindia underlines the continued importance of dynasty in Indian politics. Mr Scindia is a new entrant into the party; one assumes that despite the Congress’s declining influence, other young men and women in different parts of India are also joining the Congress. But their entry is not marked by any fanfare, neither is Ms Sonia Gandhi present on those occasions. Mr Scindia’s entry was ceremonial because he happens to be the son of Madhavrao Scindia, who died tragically in an air crash a few moths ago. Ms Gandhi was present to witness the passing of the Congress torch from one generation of the Scindia’s to another. The ancestry of the entrant is more important than his own personality and his abilities. The episode thus exemplifies what is at the heart of the dynastic principle where birth is more important than the individual and his abilities.

The principle is most evident within the Congress. Rajiv Gandhi, with no political experience, was elevated from the position of a novice to the prime ministership merely because he was the son of Indira Gandhi. Ms Sonia Gandhi took on the mantle of the Congress presidentship as the widow of Rajiv Gandhi. What is more, Congressmen seem to welcome such moves and do not find them contradictory to the democratic ideals that the Congress upholds. But other parties are also not free from the curse of dynasty. In Bihar, Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav had no hesitation in handing over the chief ministership to his wife Rabri Devi, who had been nothing more than a housewife. In Orrisa, Mr Navin Patnaik became a leader of consequence on the strength of being Biju Patnaik’s son. Instances can easily be multiplied.

The dominance of the feudal mindset in India has been overlaid by centuries of Brahminism which also privileges birth over all other attainments. This has prevented the maturing of democracy in India. Political choices are made not on the basis of merit, but because of family or some other primordial ties. The campaign for Sonia Gandhi in Amethi is orchestrated on the lines of her being that constituency’s daughter-in-law. People are lured by such a slogan. Such a response from uneducated villagers can perhaps be forgiven. But when educated persons, knowing what constitutes a democratic society, come together to celebrate a young man who follows his illustrious father’s footsteps to join the Congress, there is cause of concern, consternation and cynicism. There is an absence of self awareness reflected in such episodes which point to the shallow foundations of Indian democracy.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / PEACE TALKS AGAIN 
 
 
 
 
Peace talks may take long to achieve breakthroughs, but the important thing is to ensure that they do not break down. The prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, sent out such a signal by meeting Mr Isak Chisi Swu and Mr Thuingelang Muivah of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim in Osaka during his Japan trip. The meeting should go some way in repairing the damage caused to the peace process earlier this year by the controversial proposal to extend the truce with the NSCN(Isak-Muivah) beyond Nagaland. That Mr Vajpayee’s meeting had a salutary effect on the talks was proved by subsequent developments. Not only did the two Naga leaders publicly record their appreciation of the prime minister’s gesture, but they also carried forward the talks at a meeting with the Centre’s interlocutor, Mr K. Padmanabhaiah, in Bangkok last week. Also,the talks in Osaka must have inspired fresh hopes for the Naga Hoho, the apex body of Naga tribes, which plans to launch a “reconciliation programme” in Nagaland this week to involve all tribes, the church and various people’s organizations in the search for peace. Even such apolitical moves can help create the climate of opinion for peace.

It is difficult to see, however, how the latest demand by the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party for the resignation of the chief minister, Mr S.C. Jamir, is going to help the peace initiatives. In 1986, the then Mizoram chief minister, Mr Lalthanhawla, stepped down to facilitate the Rajiv Gandhi-Laldenga accord to end that other insurgency in the Northeast . But the Naga peace talks do not seem to have reached a stage that calls for a similar move. In fact, the state BJP unit’s demand looks politically motivated against a Congress chief minister because its statement asking Mr Jamir to step down also accuses him of corruption. BJP leaders, both in the state and at the Centre, should know that peace in Nagaland is infinitely more important than capturing the government in Kohima. What happens in Nagaland also has a spin-off in neighbouring Manipur, as last May’s violence in Imphal over the truce extension showed once again. A political game must not be even attempted in Nagaland barely three months before another assembly poll in Manipur.

   

 
 
FORGOTTEN AMENDMENTS 
 
 
BY TAPAS MAJUMDAR
 
 
The new Constitution (93rd amendment) bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha a fortnight back and passed unanimously the same day after only a couple of hours’ discussion. How many would have noticed that this was a re-incarnation of the old 83rd amendment bill that had been introduced in Rajya Sabha as far back as July, 1997? The objective in either case was to incorporate the right to education in the list of fundamental rights.

As to why the original 83rd amendment bill — which had to go through considerable processing in Parliament and was subjected to lengthy public debate — had to languish at the hands of the same political players in Parliament for such a long time, and why ten other amendments of the Constitution would had to go through the mill, the 83rd amendment bill withdrawn and the new bill introduced remains a bit of a mystery. It was even rumoured in the capital that the bill would perhaps take just another day in the Rajya Sabha and be passed unanimously there too, and in a few more days receive the president’s consent to become part of our Constitution.

If there was a riddle here as some of my friends think, I would not try to solve it — for, frankly, I do not have a clue. In any case, not wishing to look the gift horse too closely in the mouth, I would rather take this as a welcome seasonal gift and a very pleasant surprise for us all. To be sure, our political parties too, both in power and in opposition, can jointly claim due credit for what has been a truly amazing performance on their part. When one remembers that such shows of solidarity have not been at all conspicuous in the nation’s parliamentary life in these troubled times, the urgency and solidarity shown by them in the case of the 93rd amendment, for once, has been quite remarkable.

It is important to recall, in this context, the famous judicial decisions of the Supreme Court (mainly those of 1992 and 1993 and later, consequentially, also one of 1997) that have given us the definitive interpretation of the directive principle of state policy contained in article 45 of the Constitution, which said, “The state shall endeavour to provide for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.” This interpretation had laid down that the right to education was indeed justiciable as a fundamental right flowing from the fundamental right to life. Article 45 was only meant to indicate the “parameters” (0-14 years of age) within which the right may be confined for the present.

The judgement of 1973 on the Unnikrishnan writ petition, in effect forced government into action. It led to the formation of the Saikia committee of Union and state ministers; and then on the basis of its report advocating explicit inclusion of the fundamental right to education in the Constitution, an Expert Group was set up to look at the costs involved. That group (referred to in the media as the Tapas Majumdar committee) reported in 1999 that no more than one percent of the gross domestic product was needed annually for the additional expenses to achieve the objective of universal elementary education. But in real and physical terms the task was difficult, particularly because a sustainable and universal elementary schooling system would need recruitment and training of a vast number of regular teachers in thousands of new schools. To achieve this, not merely legislation and budget allocations, but also strong social prioritization in favour of regular schooling of all children (particularly every girl child in the hitherto deprived sections of the people) had to be adamantly pursued.

There has already been an important Supreme Court case that may be more talked about in the coming years — the writ petition, Satya Pal Anand (1997). Under the Supreme Court’s direction, the Union government as well as the governments of the states and Union Territories had to submit their progress on the areas of “energization” agreed upon for promoting the fundamental right to education defined by the court’s 1993 judgment. Some of these areas were the establishment of primary schools in every revenue village, upgrading primary schools to the upper primary level by lowering their present 4:1 ratio, providing free textbooks in all government and aided primary schools, and converting all single-teacher schools into dual teacher primary schools.

Let me quote now from the new 93rd amendment bill. First, the bill addresses the list of fundamental rights: “After article 21 of the Constitution the following article shall be inserted, namely, 21A, the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen year in such manner as the state may, by law, determine. Consequentially, the amendment seeks to change the directive principle in article 45.

“For article 45 of the Constitution, the following shall be substituted: ‘45. The state shall endeavour to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years.’”

Second, the bill also adds a fundamental duty: “In the article 51A of the Constitution, after clause (j) the following clause shall be added, namely: ‘(k) who is a parent or guardian to provide opportunities child or as the case may be, ward, between the age of six and fourteen years’”.

Both features have proved strongly controversial, at least in public. What would be their impact? Those who helped in introducing these two features, and many more who are now fighting to remove them, seem to agree that the amendment would do what it was intended to do: remove a good part of the weight of the burden of universal elementary education off the chest of the government.

For my own part, however, I would think differently. First, the proposed amendment does not directly address the fundamental right of life included in article 21 at all. It, therefore, cannot extinguish any right of the people inferred by the Supreme Court in the decisions referred to above. Second, as for the fundamental duty of the parents, particularly parents in poverty-stricken families, I would only recall the past experiences of more than a dozen Indian States which had coercive laws of the same kind only on their books that could never be exercised. As J.P. Naik once said, it would be easier to fill the jails with erring parents than to fill the classes with truant children. In any case, the absence of demand for education from the parents (which is often only conjectured and now being less and less reported) would absolve the state from its own fundamental duty to provide the supply of education for all.

One cannot be quite sure how strongly the members actually had felt about these two features in the Lok Sabha, where amendments to the bill could have been, but actually were not moved by any party, whether of the left, the centre or the right. However, one hears that some of the opposition parties are actually “mulling over” the exercise of that option in the Rajya Sabha, if the media reports were to be believed. But the reports also suggested that no party wants to throw the first stone in Parliament, figuratively speaking, over what was seen as such a consensual issue and then rue the indiscretion afterwards when the amendment fails.

I do hope that the Rajya Sabha members would finally recover from the trauma they have just faced and soon take up the 93rd amendment bill defiantly as part of “business as usual”. In all humility, I would beseech our elders not to let go of this opportunity, and give a little more time than usual to what could be, arguably for India, this century’s most momentous issue.

The author is professor of economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / ENOUGH IS AS GOOD AS A FEAST 
 
 
BY JAYDEV JANA
 
 
Nutritional security is one of the integral factors determining sustainable food security. After World War II, food security in India was considered only in physical terms of sufficient production and adequate availability of food. In the Seventies, it was felt that economic access to food is equally important, and in the Eighties, the focus shifted to individuals. It was acknowledged that food security has to be ensured not merely at the household level, but at the level of the individual as well, because within a family, women and children, particularly female children, often tend to be more undernourished.

In the Nineties, it became evident that sanitation, safe drinking water and the intake of necessary micro-nutrients are equally important for nutritional security. Access to environmental sanitation and pure drinking water is the sine qua non for nutritional security with regard to food security. In the United Nations’ millennium report, Sustaining Our Future, it has been stated that more than one billion people all over the world lack access to safe drinking water, while half the world population lacks adequate sanitation. Unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation cause an estimated 80 per cent of diseases in the developing countries.

Sick and hungry

According to the World Health Organization, 250 million cases of water-related diseases arise annually and result in 5 to 10 million deaths. In India, water sources are inaccessible to 50 per cent of the 5.6 million Indian villages, and only 29 per cent of the country’s population has access to adequate sanitation. The WHO and the World Bank have reported that infection through hookworms and allied diseases are leading causes of childhood and maternal disability in India.

Indigenous and traditional water harvesting and storage need to be consciously promoted for sustainable safe drinking water sources. India is the largest producer of fruits and vegetable in the world and accounts for nine per cent of world fruit production and 11 per cent of vegetable production. India’s poultry production is unparalleled, and it has also achieved astounding success in milk production through the white revolution. The green revolution has burdened the country with a buffer stock of food grains.

Despite this rosy picture, India has one of the highest levels of malnutrition, particularly among women and children, in the world. What is intriguing is that while Indians live longer and have a median age at death which is much higher than Africans, there are many more undernourished children in India than in Africa. The “protein-energy-malnutrition”, which is the calculation of general under-nourishment, is nearly twice as high as in sub-Saharan Africa.

Knowing better

In India, undernourished mothers give birth to undernourished children and inadequate nutrition compromises children’s physical and mental development. A survey conducted by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau has revealed that on average there has been virtually no improvement in the consumption of food or nutrients in the surveyed states between 1975 and 1989, despite the significant increase in food production in India during the period.

A lack of knowledge of dietary requirements and the nutritive value of different available foods is also a cause of malnutrition in India. Awareness among women plays an important role in this regard. Children whose mothers are illiterate are about twice as likely to be under-nourished as children whose mothers have received an education. The joint Food and Agriculture Organization and WHO expert committee on nutrition has recommended various solutions to the problem of malnutrition through education and training programmes.

Spreading awareness through mass media, development of a regular nutritional surveillance system and simple biochemical tests for detection of micro-nutrient deficiencies, identification (region-wise) of foods rich in micro-nutrients, improvement of sanitation and a synergistic relationship between safe water and appropriate sanitation should be vital components of the general strategy to meet the hidden hunger of nutrients.

   

 
 
THIS IS NOT YOUR WAR 
 
 
BY PARIMAL BHATTACHARYA
 
 
I mpatient with the muted signals from Delhi, Mamata Banerjee recently went out into the streets with an elaborate agitation programme for her party. There would be street-corner meetings every Saturday and processions on Sundays in the city and districts. Thus, while Calcuttans should brace up for endless traffic snarls before Christmas, for her beleaguered party workers Mamata would appear like Santa Claus with her bag full of protests and agitation.

While many of the issues Banerjee has picked up have an appeal for the urban middle-class, like the power tariff hike or the opening of liquor shops in residential areas, high on her agenda is one subject that directly concerns the city’s poor: the proposed water tax for slum dwellers. On this, she has already got support from Subrata Mukherjee, the city’s mayor and one of her key lieutenants. He has sworn that the Trinamool Congress-controlled Calcutta Corporation would never impose water tax on slum dwellers even if that led to the dissolution of the elected civic board. For Mukherjee, though, this is a departure from some of his recent pro-reform stands, notably hawker eviction, where he even crossed swords with his leader.

Protesting a proposed water tax on slum dwellers is an issue that not so long ago would have seen Banerjee in her element. If nothing else, it would at least have made some fiery television footage for the local news channels. Not anymore. Her alliance at the Centre with a coalition government that allows foodgrains to rot in godowns while people die of starvation, has given her pro-poor image a beating. Recently, the wishy-washy manner in which she handled her party’s agitation against the eviction of Tolly’s nullah settlers has put a serious question mark on her probity.

At this juncture, perhaps, Banerjee cannot do without the support of the destitutes in the city’s slums, the social segment that has been the mainstay of her party. But can they do without her? The question is not about the political fortune of a person or a party, but the way politicians have usurped and handled issues relating to the city’s underprivileged.

To put it simply: why do we need a Mamata Banerjee, or any other politician of any hue for that matter, to showcase issues regarding the urban poor, issues that call for professional and dedicated activism? Perhaps because we don’t have a Medha Patkar to fight for them, or a Jockin Arputham. Last year, Arputham got the Magsaysay award for his three decade-long fight to transform the lives of slum-dwellers in India and abroad. In 1975, Arputham, himself a resident of Mumbai’s Janata Colony, formed the National Slum Dwellers Federation that has successfully rehabilitated more than 2 lakh families in Mumbai and 6 lakh families in 34 cities across India. In 1991, Arputham was invited to South Africa to work for the homeless. Named Shack Dwellers International, the movement has spread to four other African and five Asian countries.

Arputham has a novel approach to the problems affecting slum dwellers which he calls “productivity-oriented activism”. His counsel to the government is simple: “Don’t give us your charity, give us your planning. If you don’t have answers to our problems, we have. If you do it for us, we will help you.”

In an electoral system that hinges on favours doled out, one cannot expect such activism from a politician. Moreover, it calls for a completely new attitude. In a city like Calcutta, slum-dwellers are an integral part, comprising nearly half of the urban population. They provide a valuable workforce, recycle garbage, and subsidize the lives of the better-off citizens. The squalid settlements clogging the city’s nooks and crannies, an eyesore to a casual observer, are also symbols of indomitable energy and enterprise in the face of misery. It is important to tap that energy and co-opt that enterprise on to urban planning. To do that, one needs to listen to what these people have to say, rather than fight their cause with one eye turned to the television camera.

And what do the slum-dwellers have to say about a price on civic amenities like water and sanitation? Public Affairs Centre is an organization that publishes reports on people’s expectations and levels of satisfaction regarding public services in various cities. In its recent survey conducted in six cities including Calcutta, it was found that slum-dwellers are willing to pay considerable sums for personal taps and lavatories. In short, they are ready to pay for improved civic services. Calcutta, it must be noted, does not rank high in people’s willingness to pay for such services. Perhaps, it has got something to do with the politics of charity and largesse that has long expanded its roots in the minds of the Calcuttan living in slums.

Another reason is the water situation, which in most Calcutta slums is better than what it is in other Indian cities. Being a riverine city on the lower reaches of the world’s largest delta, Calcutta has access to fairly abundant potable water from surface and underground sources. Also, there are a large number of public taps or standpoints — about 10,000 in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation area — catering to the needs of slum-dwellers. But about 60 per cent of the water that flows through them goes to waste. The quality of this water is also terrible. The frequent outbreak of gastro-enteritis, hepatitis, dysentery and other water-borne diseases in city’s slums tell their own story.

In this scenario, the government’s proposal for a water tax in slum areas can lead to meaningful agitation and negotiations. For example, as a water tax without wide individual connectivity does not make any sense, the residents of slums can demand free or subsidized water connections, leading to better water management and improved quality of life. Rejecting the proposal outright, and letting things remain as they are, is but cheap populism.

This often happens when politicians hijack the cause of the urban poor. In political upmanship, the plight of the destitute serves as a spring- board. Take, for example, the case of the settlers around the Tolly’s nullah. When Banerjee announced the grand extension project of the Metro rail upto Garia, the 1,100 families on the side of the canal, many of whom have ration cards and voters’ cards and have been living there for more than thirty years, was hardly on her mind. None of these families, incidentally, were against the Metro rail extension or the dredging of the canal. All they wanted was rehabilitation.

However, in the government’s urban development schemes, these marginal people never find a place, not even on the margins of plan papers. The international agencies who lend money do not have provisions for them. The state government offered a meagre transportation allowance to the hapless families and unleashed the bulldozers and policemen. The latter behaved in the classic manner, tearing apart community kitchens.

What is disturbing here is not the brutality or lack of planning with respect to the city’s dispossessed, but a form of cynicism that has crept into the public mind, thanks to the absence of what Arputham called “productivity-oriented activism”. During this Durga Puja, a few weeks after the hutments around the Tolly’s nullah had been razed to the ground, the pandals in Calcutta simulated idyllic village scenes complete with mud huts and climbing gourd plants. Thirty years ago, when Calcutta was rocking upon the choppy seas of radical politics, the pandals would have promised a different scene. In those days, a hoarding used to adorn the city’s streets. It showed a rickshaw-puller and the caption that read — “Kolkata, tumi kar” (Calcutta, whom d’you belong to)? Thirty years down the line, Calcutta seems to have found the answer.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / A SOBERING SURVEY OF DRINKING HABITS 
 
 
 
 
We use a household survey conducted by India’s National Council of Applied Economic Research in 1993-94. This is a nationally representative survey collecting detailed information on education and health status of 33,000 rural households from 1765 villages covering 16 states of India. Multi-stage sampling design was used where income from agriculture and rural female literacy rates were the variables used to form homogeneous strata. From these strata a certain number of districts were selected with probability of selection proportional to the rural population in the district. The survey collected detailed information on health status of household members. The income survey used 12 questions to arrive at a total income, comprising income from allied agricultural activities, artisan/independent work, petty trade/small business, organized trade/business, salaried employment, qualified profession, cattle tending, rent, interest, dividends, other sources, imputed income from agriculture, annual income of the household from agricultural work and annual income of the household from non-agricultural work.

We aim to measure the child-health effects of access to piped water. The latter is indicated by whether the household reports access to piped water from a tap either inside or outside the house. Applying the household weights in the data, 24.8 per cent of households had piped water... The proportion of households with piped water varies little with income. In the main analysis we do not distinguish whether the tap is inside or outside the house, on the grounds that this difference only matters to health outcomes via parental behavior, so the difference is subsumed in studying the relationship between access to piped water and child health.

However, it is still of interest to test for differences in impact according to whether the piped water is a tap inside the house or a public tap, given the obvious possibilities for stored water contamination. We provide such a test. We examine impact on the prevalence of diarrhoea among children under five years of age and the reported illness duration. And we assess incidence against household income per person and by the highest education level of any female in the household.

The sample includes 9,000 households with piped water and 24,000 without...Unlike standard matching techniques we match "treatment" with "non-treatment" groups from the same household survey. This means that standard requirements of getting better matches are easily met, such as treatment and counterfactual groups have the same questionnaire administered to them...

While we saw little sign of correlation between households with piped water and income, there are a number of significant explanatory variables of piped water placement. The results are generally unsurprising. Households living in larger villages (in terms of population), villages with a high school, a “pucca” ("sealed") road, a bus stop, a telephone, a bank, and a market were more likely to have piped water. The probability of scheduled tribe (but not scheduled caste) households having access to piped water was lower compared to the non-minority population. Christian households were more likely to have access to piped water. Owning a home made it less probable; this is unlikely to be a (perverse) wealth effect, but to be related to the fact that demand forrental housing tends to come from relatively well-off people in rural India, and so this type of housing tends to be better equipped.

Other housing characteristics have the expected effects, such as living in a pucca house and having electricity. Female-headed households are more likely to have piped water. A positive wealth effect controlling for these other characteristics is indicated by the fact that the more land one owns the greater the probability that one has access to piped water. Prior to matching, the estimated propensity scores for those with and without piped water were respectively 0.5495 and 0.1933...

Table 3 reports descriptive statistics for the full sample of households with piped water as well as when the sample is stratified by both income and the highest level of education among female members. (Here and elsewhere we use the sampling weights provided in the data). The overall prevalence of diarrhoea is L1 1 per cent in the sample, with an average of 0.33 days of illness and a mean expenditure of 0.74 rupees per episode of diarrhoea. Disease prevalence and length of illness fall with higher income and education. For example, diarrhoea prevalence amongst infants in families with piped water is twice as high for those in the poorest quintile than the richest.

Concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Untie the knot

Sir — Our ministers always seem to be embroiled in one mess or another. This time it is the turn of the chief minister of Karnataka, S.M. Krishna, who was the chief guest at a mass wedding which included some child couples as well (“CM in child marriage ruckus”, Dec 13). Krishna’s complete lack of knowledge about who would be the participants in the programme shows the disregard with which our ministers carry out their duties. It is also obvious that child marriages are carrying on unchecked in India. Instead of focusing on Krishna’s role in this incident, the opposition should order an inquiry into how children were married off in a ceremony organized by the All India Religion Coordination Committee. Not only Krishna, but also the urban development minister, B.B. Chimanakatti, needs to be questioned on why they were unaware of the age of the couples participating in the ceremony. The opposition should try and make the ruling government rectify the situation where illegal activities carry on under the government’s aegis.

Yours faithfully,
Upasana Dua, New Delhi

Breaking in

Sir — It is not really surprising that the Union home minister should equate the Ayodhya movement with cultural nationalism (“Sorrow and power”, Dec 5). After all, it was L.K. Advani who initiated the marauding rath yatra that ultimately led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The demand of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for the division of Bangladesh in order to create a separate “homeland” for the country’s Hindus is yet another ploy to create disharmony between communities.

If the VHP is indeed concerned with the security of Hindus, it should concentrate its efforts closer home. After independence, displaced Punjabis from west Pakistan were offered sops liberally, enabling them to emerge as a prosperous community and merge with the rest of India. Their counterparts from east Bengal did not receive similar treatment. They were instead relegated to the arid regions of the Kumaon hills, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and other areas in the name of rehabilitation. Although these Bengali refugees have managed to integrate with the people of India, they are still being threatened and tortured in Orissa and Uttaranchal. Many of those residing in north Bihar are yet to receive Indian citizenship. The majority of the refugees who have settled in West Bengal still find it difficult to find employment and, therefore, quite naturally, strain the state’s economy. Instead of shedding crocodile tears for Bangladeshi Hindus, the VHP could try to improve the lot of those Hindus from across the border who are settled here.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Sir — Although the VHP is playing the devil’s advocate with regard to the Bangladesh question, its demand seems to be based on sound humanitarian principles (“VHP seeks slice of Bangladesh”, December 4). First, the Chittagong hill tracts region, which is larger than many northeastern states, was predominantly non-Muslim at the time of independence. Therefore, there was no reason for the region to be integrated with Bangladesh. The indigenous tribal inhabitants of the region are neither Muslims nor Bengalis. As such, they do not fit into the concept of the Muslim Bengali nation that is Bangladesh. History has shown how successive regimes in Bangladesh have been unfair to this non-Muslim indigenous tribal population. There are also other regions in Bangladesh where the non-Muslim population is alleged to be similarly persecuted. The influx of Bangladeshi Hindus is a corollary to this. The movable and immovable properties of the fleeing minority communities often go into the hands of the majority community.

Second, a large number of Bangladeshis living in various parts of India have not come to India seeking asylum for any legitimate reason or purpose. Their immigration is akin to demographic invasion, and large-scale immigrations have already led to serious insurgency problems in various parts of the country. India has every right to demand territory from Bangladesh to accommodate the immigrants. Moreover, the Bangladesh government does not seem to be taking any strict measures to check illegal immigration into India. In fact, intellectuals in Bangladesh are said to be supportive of this migration. There has even been opposition from Bangladesh to India’s efforts at fencing the Indo-Bangladesh border.

The immigration has direct security implications for India, not to count the humanitarian problems created by it. One, however, hopes that the VHP is thinking of these very specific reasons while demanding a scrap from Bangladesh and that it is thinking less about this as a new avenue to spread communal disharmony.

Yours faithfully,
Sunita Gupta, Calcutta

Different tune

Sir — It is the duty of every citizen to respect the national anthem and no citizen should be excluded from learning and singing it. The verdict of the Supreme Court which says that singing the national anthem is not mandatory does not take into account other constitutional directives (“Anthem versus belief in school”, Nov 26). Although the verdict has followed Article 25, which guarantees the “freedom of conscience”, it remains silent regarding Article 51-A (part IV-A), which directs Indians to “abide by the Constitution and respect the National Anthem and the National Flag and all that is of national interest.” Which means that while the apex court verdict honours the right to freedom of the individual, it does not put equal weight on the observance of some fundamental duties.

Yours faithfully,
Sumita Kundu, Calcutta

Sir — The report, “Anthem versus belief in school”, discusses a very sensitive issue. Fundamentalists will not miss this opportunity to create more chaos. However, since the Supreme Court has already laid specific instructions with regard to the national anthem and the national flag, the Madikeri school authorities are in the wrong. By suspending three students who refused to sing the national anthem, the authorities have gone against the court ruling. All that their stand will achieve is the strengthening of the case of fundamentalists.

Both the Union minister of state for textiles, Dhananjay Kumar, and the excise minister, M.M. Nanaiah, who represents the district, need to look into the matter immediately. By taking the side of the school principal, the ministers have shown that they do not believe in upholding the law. The ruling of the court has to be followed by ordinary citizens as well as the legislators, the latter should, in fact set an example for the rest of the population.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

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