Editorial 1/ Courting thought
Editorial 2/ Their own money
Options in a stalemate
Marking the end of innocence
Document/ Extradition treaties and personal liberty
Fifth Column/ Farmers and the power engine
Letters to the Editor

This year has seen one improvement in the justice system that should make a difference. Although it is purely in the sphere of infrastructure, it is aimed at solving one of the major problems the courts have been fighting for years — backlog. Fast track courts have started operating in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and even in West Bengal, with further expansion on the cards. Once the Centre’s plan for fast track courts is implemented in its entirety, some of the greatest evils plaguing the judicial system in India may be eradicated. These range from simple delay to indefinite imprisonment of undertrial prisoners. Occasionally, the delay also aborts the course of justice, in cases such as rape, because possible witnesses are no longer available years later. This is sad because the courts in recent times have shown greater gender sensitivity in their rulings than was evident earlier. This year, too, a batch of rulings, including one from the Calcutta high court, has sought to establish the right of Muslim women to claim maintenance from their husbands after divorce. This is consistent with the judiciary’s efforts to place civil law above personal law.

There were, of course, some rulings that attracted puzzlement. Not everybody was prepared that Ms J. Jayalalithaa would leave the court without a stain on her character. Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav has not had that privilege. His conviction stands rather too firmly for his comfort. What provokes thought is the judiciary’s general response to public interest litigations. The door left open for PILs invites the judiciary into areas not strictly in the law courts’ purview. The Supreme Court’s directives on the distribution of stored foodgrains, for example, however compassionate in spirit, could lead the administration into more of a muddle. It is impossible for the courts to attack the roots of corruption or inefficiency, they can interpret laws, not make them. Asking the medical council to buck up, or calling the health secretaries of different states to task because of their failure to implement a particular law in their respective states is hardly what the judiciary is expected to do. At one level, it denotes a failure of the administration that such PILs should come before the courts at all. But poor administration is to be judged wanting by the people, not to be compensated for by the judiciary. Instead of correcting the imbalance, both judiciary and administration seem to be accepting this kind of overlap as routine. The ban on smoking in public places and the control of noise pollution during festivals have been partially successful. But a more streamlined justice system would mean better definition of the courts’ purview, a trend that is yet to be seen.


The Centre seems to have cleared another education fund. This is the Bharat Shiksha Kosh, the proposal for which was cleared by the Union cabinet at its last meeting. This fund proposes to encourage corporate bodies, non-resident Indians, state governments and individuals to contribute towards primary, secondary or higher education in the country. The human resources development minister had been trying for months to arrange for exemptions from income tax or foreign contibutions regulations, and seems to have succeeded now. The big thing about this fund is that it will make the private funding of education at every level very much easier. But the terms in which the Bharat Shiksha Kosh is being conceived of and the manner in which it proposes to administer the money continue to resist the full implications of privately funded education.

First, the society administering the fund, although notionally “autonomous”, will be headed by the human resources development minister. The government continues to envisage its role as an advisor ensuring the judicious allocation of the funds. Central “representatives” would help “channelize money into areas of study that are cash-strapped”. This, while assuring the contributors a say over how they want the money utilized. The ministry seems to be trying to have it both ways. Mr Murli Manohar Joshi remains at the top of the bureaucratic pyramid, whose base is to be constituted by eminent persons from the corporate sector, private education foundations and voluntary organizations. This sort of structure still reeks of bureaucracy, and one wonders whether it would sufficiently assure NRIs and corporate funders of the absence of redtape and political control. There are two aspects to the mechanics of the private funding of education: marshalling the contributors, and then proper management and utilization of their contributions. Both are perhaps best left to the beneficiary institutions themselves. This not only assures the minimalization of the state’s intervention in education but also invariably proves to be good for the institutions’ own administrative powers. Vast resources remain untapped by Indian educational institutions (particularly at the higher education level) simply because of the lack of efficient and innovative fundraising. Most of these institutions have been crippled in this essential aspect of autonomy by the habit of dependence created by state funding and control. The Centre should make it easier for private funding to reach the relevant institutions and could monitor the proper utilization of this money, according to the funder’s wishes. But the principles of “judicious allocation” should be outside the purview of the government.


As India struggles to formulate an appropriate response to the attack on Parliament, it is becoming increasingly clear that its options are severely limited. India is caught in the difficult situation of not wanting to endure its present circumstances, yet not possessing the means to change them. Most of these limitations are a consequence of Pakistan’s internal political compulsions, about which India can, at the moment, do very little.

While there is some strong sentiment for military action against Pakistan, many also realize that military action will be too risky and counterproductive. The political pressures on the Bharatiya Janata Party to conduct military strikes are of course enormous. Mulayam Singh Yadav has already signaled, through his tough talk, that the government’s inability to take military action will be made an election issue in Uttar Pradesh. But military action will jeopardize more than it achieves. India is, let us face it, not in a position to launch air strikes.

The strategy that the United States of America and Israel have adopted works, if it does at all, only under two conditions. First, the asymmetries of power between these countries and their targets are enormous. Second, at least on the face of it, their aircraft are more equipped for targeted bombing than ours are. Neither condition hold true in our equation with Pakistan. If public reports on the preparedness of our air force are anything to go by, it is woefully under-prepared for these kinds of missions.

Just imagine for a moment that India decides to launch an air strike against training camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. There is, of course, a great danger that Pakistan will retaliate, escalating the stakes. But suppose even that this scenario does not miraculously come to pass. And in the process of launching air strikes, India loses an aircraft or two. Under those circumstances, the political pressures on India to escalate will also be enormous as well, and I doubt if even our hawks want that.

The other favoured option is hot pursuit of some kind, probably limited to POK. Given the enormous casualties that both sides suffered in Kargil, the political value of this option is also less than clear. The trouble with covert or semi-covert options is that it does not allow any side to openly declare a victory. If there is even a handful of Indian casualties in such an operation, on Pakistani soil, with their bodies subject to the kind of humiliation that is likely in such circumstances, we will have appeared more defeated than victorious, and the pressure to escalate mounts enormously. Given the limited effectiveness of any likely military action, the enormous risk of escalation between two nuclear states, the high political risks involved, the logic of prudence overwhelmingly suggests India will and ought to resist military action.

There are two other considerations to be taken into account when contemplating military action. The first is that international support for India is still more fickle than we would like to admit. The Indo-US rapprochement is still limited by the fact that the US continues to harbour the illusion that friendship with both India and Pakistan is not a zero-sum game. In the event of actual hostilities breaking out, India and Pakistan will once again acquire an equivalent standing within the international community.

In some ways this is the moment of truth for Indo-US ties. Having secured its victory in Afghanistan, will the US now keep its promise to wage a genuinely international war on terrorism? While banning groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba is a good step, will the US have the will to put pressure on the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Pakistani military to set their house in order? How genuine the US support for India is remains to be seen. Of course, our options ought not to be dictated by international opinion, but that will certainly be part of the cost we have to bear. If past history is any guide, India has, with an odd exception or two, been a relatively good citizen of the international community and has every reason to continue to remain so.

The second consideration is this. Will any military intervention only strengthen the hand of the hardliners within the Pakistan establishment, and give aid and succour to anti-Indian sentiment in Pakistan? Again, anti-Indianism should not, by itself, deter us. That is the only glue that holds Pakistan together as a state. But whether that anti-Indianism is murderously pro-active, as it has been in recent times, or more restrained, is a choice Pakistani leaders can exercise. It is more than likely that Indian military intervention will only strengthen the hands of hardliners. Pakistan has the advantage that it can conduct relatively low-cost insurgency and terrorist operations, and it would be foolish for us to think that a few military strikes will help eliminate this recurring temptation.

We could try other pressure tactics: suspending diplomatic relations, cutting of travel and economic links. But the simple fact is that we are, at best, a marginal player in the Pakistani economy and do not have any leverage that is likely to yield results. The international community could exercise more financial pressure on Pakistan, but the US and the European Union are keener on distributing bounties to the Musharraf regime on the thought that it might collapse in the event of a financial meltdown in Pakistan, than they are in using economic aid as a means of fighting terrorism.

On the other hand, India is rightly demanding that Pakistan, in some way, should own responsibility for these actions, or at least help to curb them. The BJP government will have to, for political reasons and for the sake of its own cadre, show that it managed to achieve something. And having escalated the rhetoric, the government will have to find a face-saving way out. But it is not clear what that would be. Pakistan, under US pressure, might give all kinds of undertakings to help prevent future terrorist actions of this kind, but most of these are likely to be mere promises.

Even if some of these promises are credible, they are not the sort of things one can parade in public as a victory. The domestic political compulsions within Pakistan are such that Pervez Musharraf, for all his contrite declarations, cannot be seen publicly to have given in much to India. For example, it is not inconceivable that Pakistan be made to hand over particular suspects as a signal of its commitment to fighting terrorism. But handing suspects over to India would be an act of betrayal with far more domestic repercussions than its betrayal of its own fighters in Afghanistan.

Perhaps a compromise will be found under which some Lashkar-e-Toiba members are handed over to the US to be summarily disposed of by their draconian military tribunals. The dilemma is this. Anything that weakens the Musharraf regime is seen to pave the way for an anarchy that the international community does not want to contemplate. But any response by India simply strengthens the hands of those in Pakistan who are responsible for this mess in the first place. Unless the political economy of Pakistan alters fundamentally, our options will remain limited. Patience it seems is our only option.

It is more likely, therefore, that the stalemate will continue. On the one hand, an internally weak Pakistan that cannot be seen to bend; on the other, an internally stronger India that cannot make Pakistan bend. On the one hand, a failed state that cannot be punished further; on the other, a relatively good citizen of the international community with few means of having its cause addressed. Let us hope that our legitimate frustrations and political temptations do not get the better of our prudence.

The author is professor of philosophy, law and governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi


This is a flourishing trade which never goes into recession. The supply of children and women goes on endlessly to meet the demands of a burgeoning flesh trade. As the AIDS scare deepens, young girls are more and more in demand. The trafficking in children and women heeds no state or national boundaries. Cutting through a swathe of state and Central laws, the nexus of small and big time traffickers — police, pimps and big business — is cocking a snook at the non-governmental organizations and government agencies struggling to put an end to the illegal transportation of children and women.

This month the anti-trafficking lobby met in Yokohama, Japan, to assess the impact of the policies it had laid down at a conference against trafficking in Stockholm six years ago. Have they had any impact at all? Sujata Manohar of the National Human Rights Commission says awareness has increased, so says Jyotsna Chatterjee of the Joint Women’s Programme. But the more significant question is, has there been an ebb in the flow of human trafficking? This, however, draws no positive answers.

There are no clear numbers of how many children and women are trafficked in India. south Asia, the cradle of flesh trade and trafficking, has its epicentre in India. “Different NGOs give out varying figures,” says Manohar. It is believed that Thailand, Philippines and India together have around 1.3 million children in their sex trade centres. Almost 40 percent of child prostitution is taking place through abductions. Every year 5,000 to 7,000 Nepalese girls are trafficked into the red light districts in India.

Districts bordering Maharashtra and Karnataka — the devdasi belt — have traffickers operating at various levels. Abandoned girls are forced into prostitution in the name of being “dedicated” to goddess Yellamma. There is a steady inflow of women and children to west Asia — sometimes as camel jockeys — sometimes as domestic labour or as prostitutes.

“The problem of dealing with trafficking is that there is no single cause that alone keeps the trade going ,” says JWP’s Chatterjee. Poverty is one of the root causes. As jobs are thinning out the poor are becoming poorer with little options of survival. Recently, there have been reports of parents in Orissa selling their children out of sheer desperation. The girl child is the first casualty. Often they are not even reported missing. Any natural catastrophe like the Orissa cyclone or the Gujarat earthquake opens up new catchment areas for traffickers. Large scale displacement and migrations break up families, rendering them susceptible to the lure of a job or marriage.

Often it is a person within the family, an uncle or a close friend who would casually float the proposal of marriage or a job in the city to impoverished parents. Once the girls are out of the familiar surroundings, the parents are no longer in a position to trace them. Marriage could mean a deal that would hand the “bride”over to a pimp and then land her in a brothel.

The NHRC records the story of Mita, a 13 year old Nepalese girl, lured with a domestic job in Mumbai. She was incarcerated in one of the city’s numerous brothels.“When she refused to submit to the sexual demands of her new masters, she was confined in a room without a window, stripped naked and left without food or drink. On the fourth day, she was gangraped. In the end, Mita, her will broken, joined the rest of the sex workers,” states a NHRC report.

Trafficking does not only feed prostitution, it also drives children into begging, peddling drugs, working as domestic help. “But the flesh trade tops the list in trafficking,” says Chatterjee. For the government, the anti-trafficking drive has remained a resolve on paper. If the issue of child labour has somehow managed to find a corner in public debate, trafficking has remained entirely outside its ambit. Seldom does the subject come up as an issue of concern inside Parliament. Politicians hardly ever “waste” any time attacking it outside. The police, without whose help it is impossible to bust the racket, are not sensitized. There have been aberrations when individual officers have helped NGOs rescue minors from red-light areas. But as a rule, the police are thick with the chain of traffickers who keep their pockets lined in order to have free access to the borders.

The JWP report on trafficking of children states, “Under the existing legal arrangement, the responsibility of bringing traffickers to book rests squarely with state governments. The state police are ill-equipped to deal with this. It also requires effective intervention at the Central level.” Since none of this is working, the end result is hitting the trafficked more than the traffickers. There are no penal actions against officers who fail to prosecute traffickers. Instead, if anyone is hauled to court it is the traumatized girl or the woman who is the victim of trafficking.

Rescuing the victims of trafficking is tough. It is still more tough to rehabilitate them in society. A group of Nepalese children who were rescued almost a decade ago spoke about their experiences at a conference against trafficking in Kathmandu last year. None of the five girls were taken back by their parents. After being knocked around by parents and society, the girls finally found shelter with an NGO working with trafficked persons. “It is the stigma which holds back parents from accepting the daughters back into the family. If they return within a couple of days then there is still hope. But as time passes and the word spreads, the families are reluctant to rehabilitate girls who have been rescued from prostitution,” says Manohar.

The whole exercise of rescue is fraught with pitfalls. If the brothel owner or the pimps get a whiff of the raid, the minors are hidden in the recesses of the brothels. “There are chambers built especially for hiding them,” says Chatterjee. Recently, a group of girls were pulled out of the red light area of Delhi. Some of them had children of their own who were held back in the brothels. The girls below 18 years were sent to a juvenile home and those who had completed 18 years of age were put up in the Naari Niketan. These institutions, it is well known, hardly have an environment for healing or treating the rescued with respect.

Faced with this bleak situation, a section of women’s organizations has called for legalization of prostitution on the plea that it will give the sex worker dignity and rights. But a majority of the other NGOs, including the JWP, which has been working in this field are opposed to the demand. They believe that legalizing prostitution will make trafficking an even more intractable problem than it is today.

The Yokohama meet, not unsurprisingly, has ended in a re-run of the Stockholm conference. Strong words have been said, serious resolutions have been passed. But the result may well be the same unless governments wake up to their duties and responsibilities to millions of children who are daily driven outside the pale of a normal, decent life.


Unless the State Party from which a person is to be transferred in accordance with this article so agrees, that person, whatever his or her nationality, shall not be prosecuted or detained or subjected to any other restriction of his or her personal liberty in the territory of the State to which that person is transferred in respect of acts or convictions anterior to his or her departure form the territory of the State from which such person was transferred. The offences referred to in article 2 shall be deemed to be included as extraditable offences in any extradition treaty existing between any of the States Parties before the entry into force of this Convention. States Parties undertake to include such offences as extraditable offences in every extradition treaty to be subsequently concluded between them When a State Party which makes extradition conditional or the existence of a treaty receives a request from another State Party with which it has no extradition treaty, the requested State may... consider this Convention as a legal basis for extradition in respect of the offences set forth in article 2....

State Parties which do not make extradition conditional on the existence of a treaty shall recognize the offences referred to in article 2 as extraditable offences... subject to the conditions provided for by the law of the requested State. If necessary, the offences set forth in article 2 shall be treated, for the purposes of extradition between State Parties, as if they had been committed not only in the place in which they occurred but also in the territory of the States that have established jurisdiction in accordance with article 6, paragraphs 1 and 2.

The provisions of all extradition treaties and arrangements between States Parties with regard to offences set forth in article 2 shall be deemed to be modified as between States Parties to the extent that they are incomparable with this Convention.

State Parties which, pursuant to paragraph 2 of this article, have agreed to consider this Convention as a legal basis for extradition in respect of the offences set forth in article 2 may consider utilizing the procedures set out in Annex III.

Nothing in this Convention shall affect other rights, obligations and responsibilities of States and individuals under international laws, in particular the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international humanitarian law.

The activities of armed forces during an armed conflict, as those terms are understood under international law, which are governed by that law, are not governed by this Convention, and the activities undertaken by the military forces of a State in the exercise of their official duties, in as much as they are governed by other rules of international law, are not governed by this Convention.

The State Party where the alleged offender is prosecuted shall, in accordance with its domestic law or applicable procedures, communicate the final outcome of the proceedings to the Secretary-General of United Nations, who shall transmit the information to the other State Parties. The States shall carry out their obligations under the Convention in a manner consistent with the principles of sovereign equality and territorial integrity of States and that of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other States.

Nothing in this Convention shall affect other rights, obligations and responsibilities of States and individuals under international law, in particular the purposes of the Charter of United Nations, international humanitarian law and other relevant conventions. Nothing in this Convention entitles a State party to undertake in the territory of another State Party the exercise of jurisdiction or performance of function which are exclusively reserved for the authorities of that other State Party by the domestic law.

Any dispute between two or more State Parties concerning the interpretations or application of his Convention which cannot be settled through negotiation within a reasonable time shall, at the request of one of them, be submitted to arbitration. If, within six months from the date of the request for arbitration, the Parties are unable to agree on the organization of the arbitration, any one of those parties may refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice, by application, in conformity with the Statute of the Court.

Each State may at the time of signature, ratification, acceptance or approval of this Convention or accession thereto declare that it does not consider itself bound by paragraph 1....

Any State which made a reservation in accordance with paragraph 2 may at any time withdraw that reservation by notification of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. This Convention is subject to ratification, acceptance or approval. The instruments of ratification, acceptance or approval shall be deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

To Be Concluded


The finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, would like us to be part of his make-believe world. After the magical reduction in the poverty ratio from 37 per cent to 26 per cent by the planning commision — which means salvaging more than 110 million people from destitution — he now targets a 7 per cent growth in agriculture to fight poverty. “I am convinced that agriculture drives the Indian economy. Much of the purchasing power comes from agriculture and allied activities. Seventy per cent of the people form the backbone of that power engine,” he recently told Outlook magazine.

Any college student could have told him that agriculture forms the backbone of the Indian economy, and that agriculture and poverty are closely related. Why is it that the finance minister, previously silent on the issue of the farm sector, has suddenly been “convinced” that this sector holds the key to economic growth?

Sinha’s new-found love for agriculture has nothing to do with easing the plight of the poor. He is aware that the self-congratulatory claims that India has remained insulated from the global recession, are part of an illusion created by fudged figures and statistics. The Economic Times recently reported that only 3 per cent of the manufacturing industry is actually contributing to the overall growth rate during April-September 2001. The remaining 97 per cent of the manufacturing industry records a negative growth rate of 0.4 per cent.

Staggering slump

Estimates also point to a staggering 30 to 40 per cent slump in the job market: Indian Railways, for example, is to cut down its staff strength by 300,000, the National Institute of Information Technology by 18 per cent. With joblessness picking up, the small part of the manufacturing industry which is actually growing cannot continue to support the high growth rate that Sinha has been predicting. He is therefore talking of reforming agriculture, not to alleviate poverty but to ensure that the industrial sector will benefit from improved economic figures and any resulting trickle down. Once again, farmers and the rural poor will have to pay a heavy price for keeping the country’s industrial and business sector afloat.

Even more alarmingly, the trickle down seems to be envisaged as a flood by Sinha. With land-ceiling laws relaxed, and with the new agricultural policy encouraging corporatization of farming, the government’s reforms are aimed at helping industry and business help themselves to any profits that could be made in the agriculture sector.

Recipe for disaster

The government has already announced a series of measures by way of tax concessions and excise relief to the corporate sector for “boosting” agriculture. No wonder the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry are no longer opposed to the priority being given to agricultural reform.

For a country, where more than 70 percent of its 1,000 million plus population is directly or indirectly involved in agriculture, and where the average landholding size has shrunk to 1.47 hectares, the shifting of agriculture to an industrial scale, dominated by large corporations, is a recipe for disaster. Measures which include the gradual disbanding of the assured prices mechanism and the procurement system, and the removal of state support for farming, will displace millions of small, marginal farmers, who make up 70 per cent of the total farming population.

What happens to the small farmers forced to abandon their livelihoods by the corporate takeover of agriculture is not Sinha’s concern. Given the limited time for which a political party can manage to remain in power in the days of coalition politics, Sinha knows well that he won’t have to face the consequences of what he and his government decide today. If the high priests of economic reforms, Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram, have got away with economic policies to alleviate poverty that ended up accentuating the great economic divide, Sinha has no reason to be worried.



Preaching to the people

Sir — The recent statements of the home minister, L.K Advani, before the Liberhan commission seem to be a strange “amelioration” of earlier sentiments (“Ayodhya for culture not votes: Advani” Dec 28). The veiled threats were still there: the “Ayodhya movement” was to bring about the “awakening and awareness of Indian cultural nationalism among all communities”. In the light of the Babri Masjid demolition, it would be impossible for anyone not to be aware of what “Indian cultural nationalism” means. When denying the existence of a “Hindu votebank”, he said that those which might exist are either Brahmin, Yadav or Dalit, that is, stratifications of a Hindu society. It is also not reassuring to hear that Advani in conducting his rathyatra was concerned with more than bringing the Bharatiya Janata Party to power. He revealed the depth of his ambitions in declaring that “people looked at me with reverence as if they had [sic], for say, Swami Vivekananda or any other religious leader.”
Yours faithfully,
Rahul Ghosh, Calcutta

Tact at the right time

Sir — After the attack on Parliament cries have been heard for a war between Pakistan and India. But the recent moves by the India government recalling the high commissioner and snapping the rail and the bus ties between the two countries are quite right in mounting a diplomatic offensive against Pakistan (“Delhi drops diplomatic bombshell” Dec 22). India did not take this drastic step during the previous crisis of the Kargil war or in 1971, which shows that the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has dismissed the usual rhetoric without resorting to the threat of war. This should not be seen as bowing under pressure from the United States of America. Vajpayee is rightly trying to protect civilians and securitymen— the real victims of war — from further aggression.
Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Calcutta

Sir — We are baying for the blood of the terrorists and their political masters across the border since our “seat of democracy” has been attacked. Fair enough — thankfully our government is responding with diplomatic measures (“Delhi drops diplomatic bombshell”). But the fact is that Parliament is just the visible, cosmetic and physical face of our democracy whereas the unsung, ordinary Indian is the true beholder of democracy in this country. Democratic power and authority does not flow from Parliament House to the citizen. It is the other way round and rightly so.

So why is our protest the loudest when the face is desecrated, but only the occasional whimper is heard for the continuously suffering ordinary Indian over the past twenty years? Why does everything remain so normal and businesslike when unsung securitymen or ordinary citizens are killed everyday by terrorists?

The fact is that democracy is dying everyday in this country but we, mostly the urban educated lot, are more worried about the gyrations of the sensitive index, and want to brush all uncomfortable incidents under the carpet to create an illusion of normalcy. Under such circumstances repetitions of the Parliament incident are begging to happen. Maybe in this country, revenge and retribution are also part of the social hierarchy. Thus, the killing of innocent civilians and securitymen does not invite war cries, but a close shave for parliamentarians nudges us towards protecting our democracy. In the meantime, let us hope the government continues to pursue diplomacy to protect innocents from war.

Yours faithfully,
Anand Kumar Jhunjhunwala, Calcutta

Biographical angles

Sir — Khushwant Singh, known for his lofty scorn of Rabindranath Tagore was obviously happy with the purport, if not the content, of Terrorism and Tagore, reviewed in his article “Man and superman” (Dec 15). I must first clarify some of the terms used by Singh. The group of poets associated with the periodical, Kallol, did desire to come out of the all-pervading influence of Tagore in Bengali prose and poetry. But their “criticism” did not succeed entirely, and they remained silent adorers of the poet.

In the days of Tagore, the term used to designate an armed nationalist was “revolutionary” rather than terrorist. Tagore declared himself a pacifist, and, like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, abhorred the killing of individuals, however noble the cause. But his sympathy for the biplabi grew with the years. Chinmohan Sehanobis produced after years of research at the National Archives a volume on the history of biplabis in India. In it, he mentions that at some point of time Tagore’s house at Jorasanko came under police surveillance because of suspected contacts of the poet with the revolutionaries. One also recalls in this context, the stout opposition of Lord Curzon to the decision of British government to confer knighthood on Tagore. The poet returned the knighthood when the news of the massacre at Jallianwallahbagh reached him through the gagged press, and before any one of the nationalist leaders protested.

There are other incidents. The Bakha fortress near the Bhutan border was one of the prisons where revolutionaries were lodged. The inmates of the prison observed the 70th birthday of the poet by reciting his poems and singing his songs. This news moved the poet emotionally, and he composed a remarkable poem in Darjeeling on June 2, 1931. The same year, on September 26, nearly a lakh of people gathered at the foot of the Octerloney Monument to proclaim their anguish at the atrocities on the prisoners of Hijli jail and the people of Chittagong. The meeting was presided over by Tagore. His address there was published in the local dailies. An English version entitled “Call of the victims” appeared in Amrita Bazar Patrika on September 26, 1931, and again in November of that year, as “Crimes are Crimes: Poet Tagore wants Justice for Hijli wrongs”. The poet also wrote a letter to The Statesman on this subject. The editor, Alfred H Watson, returned the letter to Amal Home, the editor of the Calcutta Municipal Gazette, saying it was too incendiary.

The preface to Terrorism and Tagore refers to adoration of Tagore with contempt. Any attempt to refute ill-informed debunking ought not to be termed blind adoration. I suggest Khushwant Singh and the author of this book would find more to praise Tagore about if they investigated fully the terms they use to label him.

Yours faithfully,
Manojendu Majumdar, Calcutta

Sir — Khushwant Singh’s biographical article, “The man who would be famous” (Dec 22) is another feather in his cap. With perfect timing Singh has described the most talked about man in the world at present: Osama bin Laden. But he hasn’t sketched a hero, rather the pathetically human figure behind the mask. One welcomes the article for its an educational value, and for rudely insisting that bin Laden is a man and not a messiah.

Yours faithfully,
Dhaneswar Banoja, Bolpur

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