Editorial 1 / Old relations
Editorial 2 / Clear the tracks
Enduring century
Fifth Column / New nuclear Danger in ambush
India will triumph against terrorism
Letters to the editor

The new year may herald optimism and the promise of a fresh beginning in many parts of the world. But, in south Asia, the year begins with predictable gloom and uncertainty even as leaders of the subcontinent prepare for the forthcoming summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation at Kathmandu. The last year revealed definitively that not only is the cold war in south Asia far from over, but that India’s relations with Pakistan are likely to follow a familiar rollercoaster trajectory in the foreseeable future as well. The last twelve months have generated the same old emotions amongst watchers of the subcontinent: cynicism at the bilateral stalemate, relief at the prospect of renewed engagement, hopes of a genuine breakthrough, and, finally, despair at the failure to move ahead.

India-Pakistan ties remained frozen for the first months of 2001. New Delhi was unwilling to begin a dialogue with the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf for what seemed to be sensible reasons. Mr Musharraf had not just subverted democracy in Pakistan, but had been the architect of the Kargil war of 1999, which had buried the process of detente that had been set into motion at Lahore earlier that year. In addition, there had been no let-up in Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, and increasingly most militant groups were led and manned by Pakistanis and Afghans. Instead, the government of India attempted to generate a peace process in Kashmir, by unilaterally announcing a ceasefire by its security forces and agreeing to an unconditional dialogue with Kashmiri separatists. However, by the summer of 2001, it became clear that Pakistani intrusiveness in Kashmir was of such magnitude that it was capable of subverting any peace moves by New Delhi. Moreover, international pressure to resume a dialogue with Islamabad was growing, and there were signals that it would be easier to do business with Mr Musharraf than with any other Pakistani leader.

It was against this background that the summit between the Indian prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the Pakistan president took place in Agra in July. No other summit in Indo-Pak history has received as much media attention, and perhaps no other meeting has ended in such a huge fiasco, especially for New Delhi. Not only was no agreement reached at Agra, but Pakistan — through selective leaks — gave the impression that there were dissensions within the Indian delegation and hardliners from the Indian side were responsible for the summit’s failure. It quickly became clear that the city of the Taj had only contributed to accentuating the rancour and the bitterness. After the terrorist attacks of September 11 in the United States of America, and especially after the attacks on October 1 and December 13 in India, bilateral relations reached such a nadir that New Delhi recalled its high commissioner and went on a diplomatic offensive. By the end of the year, it seemed that New Delhi’s frustration in its relations with Islambad, and its inability to inject a modicum of civility in bilateral relations, had reached a point where it might, for the first time, be considering the use of force. It was more clear that unless Pakistan was able to move beyond the pathological hostility towards India that defines its identity, there was little that could be done to really improve bilateral relations.


Promises always sound good when they come at the beginning of the year. This year the West Bengal government has promised to enforce the laws against road and rail blockades strictly and without exception. This would mean court proceedings against protestors blocking roads or railway tracks, which could lead to imprisonment and fines. For most people in West Bengal, this would come as a huge relief. The arbitrary hold-up of all traffic for indefinite periods means untold misery for people going to work or children trying to reach their schools, examinees, patients and everybody else trying to go about their daily business. The irony here is twofold. One, the laws against road blockade were always there, they were simply not implemented. Two, it is the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which popularized this form of protest. This instrument of protest has outlived its popularity among the electorate, although other political parties have hijacked it with glee. Besides, many among daily passengers on local trains took over barricading tracks to protest against trains running late. Their motives were mixed. A really late train would allow them a substantial excuse at their place of work, whereas a train running ten minutes late would not. This is one example of the way indiscipline introduced by political leaders seeps into the work culture. The chief minister is fighting a hydra-headed monster.

Apparently, the other political parties in the state have agreed to go along with the chief minister on this decision. That is not always the case, however. The pro-Naxalite employees’ union of the University of Calcutta has registered its protest against the state government’s decision to introduce a code of conduct for officers and other employees of the university. Again, this should not surprise the CPI(M) union leaders. Proof of the government’s firmness in these decisions would not only lie in the carrying out of the promises, but in being impartial in the enforcing of penalties for offenders and violators. Else it will be back to square one.


With the death of Queen Victoria early in 1901, the 19th century came to a symbolic end. With the end of the war in Afghanistan, the curtain came down on the last act of the 20th century. Those with a finer historical sensibility and with a more calendrical sense of when centuries end and begin might recall that at the beginning of the 20th century, Western powers who were at conflict in the rest of the world came together in China to suppress the Boxer Rebellion, a chiliastic, anti-Christian and anti-Western uprising. In the beginning of the 21st, a global coalition was formed to defeat a fundamentalist, oppressive and a violent regime in Afghanistan.

It can be argued that between 1901 and 1919 some of the familiar features and delusions of the previous century were shattered. The world of aristocratic privilege that had dominated Europe came under threat with the onset of popular revolutionary upsurges; in England the House of Lords, the bastion of aristocratic power, lost most of its power with the Parliament Act of 1911. The world emerged into a new era with the outbreak of World War I, when violence destroyed the delicate system of alliances that had held the nations of Europe in some sort of balance. Lord Grey, the then British foreign secretary, captured the moment when, standing in his office in Whitehall on the day the war broke, he said, “The lights are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’’ Subsequent to the war, the rise of anti-colonialist movements in Asia and Africa, and the threat posed by Adolf Hitler to the very fabric of European civilization removed the complacency and the confidence of European powers. The world appeared to have become very different from what it had been in the 19th century.

The years between 1989 to 2000 were no less tumultuous and no less significant in terms of their transformative impact. They witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union and following this, the magic that had surrounded the ideology of communism receded across the globe. Iron curtain countries, which had been under the dominance of the Soviet Union and had been exploited by it, embraced freedom and the ideology of the market. A logical rider of this acceptance of market forces was a tendency to look towards a globalized economy. The demise of communism, the end of the Cold War and the triumph of capitalism and the market were announced with some fanfare as the end of history.

The world henceforward, it was argued, would be unipolar with one superpower. Under its aegis, there would be peace, a perpetual and universal peace. The peace would be predicated not only upon the military power of the United States of America, the world’s sole superpower, but also on the obliteration of national boundaries. A globalized world would remove borders and would signal the beginning of the end of the nation-state, the most important legacy of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The apparatus of rule of the new era was seen as being decentred and de-territorialized, as one that would progressively incorporate the globe; it would manage various conflicting identities and hierarchies; and it would arbitrate various networks of command. There would be no distinct national colours in what one analyst called the “global rainbow”. There was the hope, in some quarters, that a new kind of sovereignty was about to be born. In other quarters, there was the fear that the new sovereignty was no more than a mask for the complete domination of the world by the US.

But all these assumptions and prognostications were torn asunder with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11. If World War I had dealt a body blow to European confidence, these attacks dealt a similar strike on the US. The attack came not from a nation-state but from a mobile and de-territorialized enemy. It thus seemed to fortify the conclusion that the era of nation-states was over. But the attack was on a nation-state and its symbols of power. Terrorism, a new and potent force, had struck at the country that seemed to epitomize all that Islamic fundamentalism considered to be evil and oppressive. This new force of terror had an ideological centre but no locational one. Its masterminds did not owe loyalty to a nation-state or to a government but to a religious faith. In this, it was radically different from other groups which in history had carried the label of terrorism.

If this violence and its driving ideology seemed atavistic, the response to it was also similarly a throwback in time. The US response was coloured by patriotism, defence of the homeland and the like — all slogans not of a globalized world but of the nation-states of the 19th and 20th centuries. Terrorism was identified as a global enemy but one country, by and large, deployed forces to destroy it. From the market place where individual interests prevail and are in apparent conflict, there was a sudden and dramatic shift to a sense of bonding and belonging, to, if you like, a sense of community that is the nation. Like all other forms of nationalism, this articulated its own identity against a horrible and terrifying Other.

Ideology, the nation-state and nationalism have all re-emerged from the rubble of the World Trade Center. History, far from being over, was too disconcertingly alive. The idea of a universal and perpetual peace which marked the end of history was mocked not only by the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon but also by the bombs that devastated the hills of Afghanistan.

The vestiges of a globalized world were visible only in the attempt to put together a global coalition against terrorism. But the formation of this coalition was mediated through the agencies of the nation-state. Representatives of one nation spoke to another, to cajole, to persuade, to negotiate, to pressurize. If the Congress of Vienna met to prevent a resurrection of another Napoleon, leaders met across the globe in September this year to prevent a repetition of September 11. The basis of an international alliance against terrorism — like the ones against Napoleon and Hitler — was the nation-state.

With the nation-state, the two other gifts of the two previous centuries have been freedom and democracy. Both are under pressure today. They are under pressure from the forces of religious fundamentalism and from, what for the lack of a better term can be called, political fundamentalism. By the latter term I want to denote attitudes like “the US is always right” or “what holds for the US does not hold good for other nation-states”. Such attitudes go against the liberal ideology that encapsulates both freedom and democracy.

The history of the last three months has only served to underline the fact that the globalized world lies beyond an ever-receding horizon. Politics, international relations and ideology all remain within a discourse whose terms were laid out in the 19th and 20th centuries. The violence and the shrillness may be the swansong of those two centuries. But the aspirations, whatever they may be, of the new century still await another voice.


The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says that the ruthlessness of the September 11 attacks has alerted the world to the potential of nuclear terrorism, making it “far more likely” that terrorists target nuclear facilities, nuclear material and radioactive sources worldwide. Experts from around the world met at the IAEA symposium in Vienna from October 29 to November 2 to focus on the importance of nuclear safeguards, verification, security and the issue of combating nuclear terrorism. What lessons can nuclear states draw from the findings?

“The willingness of terrorists to sacrifice their lives to achieve their evil aims creates a new dimension in the fight against terrorism. An unconventional threat requires an unconventional response, and the whole world needs to join together and take responsibility for the security of nuclear material, because radiation knows no frontiers,” said Mohamed El Baradei, the IAEA director general. His agency sets standards approved by the United Nations for nuclear safety and security, and helps around the world to prevent, intercept and respond to terrorist acts and other nuclear safety and security incidents. In effect, it constitutes the only international response system in place that can help countries in an emergency caused by a nuclear terrorist attack.

Weak links

IAEA experts have evaluated the risks for nuclear terrorism in the following three categories: nuclear facilities; nuclear material and radioactive sources. These experts believe that the primary risk associated with nuclear facilities would invoke the theft or diversion of nuclear material from the facility, or a physical attack or act of sabotage designed to cause an uncontrolled release of radioactivity into the environment.

According to the IAEA, since 1993, there have been 175 cases of trafficking nuclear material and 201 cases of trafficking in other radioactive sources. However only 18 of these cases have actually involved small amounts of highly enriched uranium or plutonium, the material needed to produce a nuclear bomb.

IAEA experts judge the quantities insufficient to construct a nuclear explosive device. “However, any such materials being in illicit commerce and conceivably accessible to terrorist groups is deeply troubling,” says El Baradei.

Although the level of security at nuclear facilities is generally considered to be very high, security of medical and industrial radiation sources is disturbingly weak in some countries.

Other goals

IAEA experts are concerned that terrorists could develop a crude radiological dispersal device using radioactive sources commonly used in everyday life. The number of radioactive sources around the world is vast: those used in radiotherapy alone are in the order of tens of thousands. A weapon, sometimes referred to as a “dirty bomb”, could be made by shrouding conventional explosives around a source containing radioactive material.

Contamination in even small quantities could have major psychological and economic effects. After September 11, there is the added risk that “many industrial facilities...are not properly hardened to withstand natural calamities of acts of war,” or, the intentional crash of a large, fully fuelled jetliner into a nuclear reactor.

In non-nuclear weapon states, the IAEA carries out international safeguards, and the verification tool entrusted to the IAEA in the 1970 treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons plays an important role in reducing the risk that terrorists could acquire nuclear material without detection. But the nuclear programmes in the five “Big Powers” as well as any that may exist in India, Pakistan and Israel, the three non-NPT countries, are not within the purview of IAEA safeguards.

Today we are dealing with a totally new equation: the threat of global terrorism, but without an international body which can enforce its warnings. Recent attacks have demonstrated the terrorists’ determination to achieve their ends. The civilized world must do likewise by adequately protecting its nuclear resources.


My dear fellow countrymen, joyous New Year greetings to all of you. To our brave jawans, security forces, and policemen guarding our borders and vital installations; to our hard-working kisans, who have ensured our food security; to our workers and managers who, with their sweat and toil, are making India an economic power; to our talented software professionals who have burnished India’s image abroad; to our children and youth, who are the future of our nation; indeed, to every Indian who in his or her own way is contributing to nation-building, I wish happiness and prosperity in the new year. I also send my felicitations to all non-resident Indians and persons of Indian origin, who, despite the distance in space and time that separates them from us, have maintained unbreakable social, cultural, spiritual, and emotional ties with India.

We leave an eventful year behind us, a year of many trials and tribulations — amongst them the earthquake in Gujarat at the beginning of the year and the terrorist attack on our Parliament at the end of the year. We faced all of them with courage and self-confidence. As we begin our journey in 2002, it is time for all of us together to resolve that we shall grow further in fortitude; that our belief in ourselves shall be further steeled to take on even stiffer challenges that may confront us in the new year. Today, let us pledge that our motherland shall emerge stronger — in national security, which is of supreme importance, and in development that betters the life of those of our brethren who continue to be victims of poverty and neglect. It is said that time’s ways are inscrutable. This may be true in the life of individuals, not in a nation’s life. True, we cannot predict what may happen to our individual destinies. But, in my mind, there is no uncertainty whatsoever about India’s destiny.

India is marching towards a bright future. We have our share of problems. But these cannot hide the brightness on the horizon. It will be a future free of poverty and all other vestiges of underdevelopment. Indeed, the level of poverty is coming down; and the day is not far when every region, every community, and every citizen in our country shall enjoy the fruits of India’s prosperity and progress. If we want, and if we act unitedly to get what we want, then this energizing goal can be achieved within the span of a generation. But the future I see is not only one of a prosperous India, free of fear and free of want. In recent years, the world has come to look at India with renewed respect, recognizing a strong and prosperous global power in the making. I have no doubt that India in the foreseeable future will begin to play a decisive role in global affairs, not to advance any partisan agenda at the expense of others but to protect and promote mankind’s most cherished universal ideals. It is also a future when the fabled richness of India’s culture, arts, intellectual exploration, and spiritual pursuit will begin to show its full radiance, bringing much succour to the troubled spirit of the modern man.

Is this a dream? Yes. Is it an impossible dream? No, it is not. Nations achieve greatness when their people learn to dream lofty dreams and to strive hard — and make sacrifices, when necessary — to realize those dreams, without getting disheartened by the difficulties along the way and without ever letting their faith in their nation’s destiny falter. I am reminded here of the inspiring vision of Maharshi Aurobindo, which he set out in his historic radio broadcast for August 15, 1947. “I have always held and said that India was arising, not to serve her own material interests only, to achieve expansion, greatness, power, and prosperity — though these too she must not neglect, — and certainly not like others to acquire domination of other peoples, but to live also for God and the world as a helper and leader of the whole human race.” This, I believe, is the quintessence of India’s work, now and in the future. Different leaders of modern India have presented the same vision in different words. In the five and a half decades since independence, we have made definite progress in realizing a part of this vision, although there is a need to introspect on why our achievement has not been greater, faster, and more egalitarian. But let us not get bogged down in the issues and debates of yesterday. Now we must hasten our march forward, correcting the mistakes of the past but always keeping our eyes fixed firmly on where we want India to be in the future.

It often happens that the road to the future is rendered difficult by roadblocks placed by the past. One such roadblock for us, indeed the biggest, is Pakistan’s consistent and continuing anti-India policy, beginning with its refusal to accept the constitutionally validated and democratically endorsed accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India. For a long time, the rulers in Islamabad relied on military confrontation, as exemplified by the wars they waged in 1948, 1965, and 1971, to settle this issue in their favour. After failing abjectly in their endeavour, the anti-India forces in Pakistan decided to foment terrorism and religious extremism as the principal means to instigate separatism in our country. I must say that they are nursing a dangerous delusion. What they could not achieve through open military aggression, they never will achieve through cross-border terrorism.

They failed miserably in their evil designs in Punjab. Terrorism bled Punjab; but, in the end, it fled Punjab. It could not dent Hindu-Sikh unity. Similarly, the terrorists and their mentors are doomed to fail in Jammu and Kashmir, too.

However, the very certainty of failure is driving them, in desperation, to embrace a more dangerous agenda. The terrorist attack on our Parliament on December 13 has shown beyond a shadow of doubt that the anti-India forces in Pakistan are prepared to wreak any havoc on our soil. It was an attack on our sovereignty, on our national self-respect, and it was a challenge to our democratic system. Although India has been a victim of cross-border terrorism for the past nearly two decades and has lost tens of thousands of innocent men and women and security forces, the outrage of December 13 has breached the limit of the nation’s endurance.

That the terrorists who stormed the precincts of Parliament failed in their core objective, thanks to the exemplary alertness and bravery of our security forces, some of whom laid down their lives in the call of their duty, cannot diminish the diabolical nature of the conspiracy hatched by their mentors across the border. It is useful to presume that more such terrorist strikes can take place. The only way to defend ourselves against such attacks is by forcing Pakistan to stop cross-border terrorism. And this precisely is the objective we have set ourselves in our current multi-pronged strategy. The many political and diplomatic steps we have taken after December 13 are a part of this strategy. As I have said earlier, India does not want war. India has never been an aggressor in her long history. But we have a sovereign right to defend ourselves against cross-border terrorism, which is a proxy war that is already thrust on us. Pakistan will be solely responsible for the consequences of encouraging terrorism against India and, when expedient, turning a blind eye to terrorist groups with trans-national linkages operating from its soil.

Today I also wish to share a thought with the people of Pakistan and, indeed, with all the right-thinking persons in its ruling establishment. It is unfortunate that anti-India forces in Pakistan have been allowed to play with fire, apparently with no thought given to what this fire can do to Pakistan itself. I have heard and read many perceptive Pakistanis express serious concern over their government’s appeasement of terrorism fuelled by religious extremism. They have voiced alarm over how Pakistan’s social fabric and its institutions have been grievously affected by its government’s policy of creating and systematically promoting the taliban, ostensibly to gain “strategic depth” in Afghanistan and a “force multiplier” for its anti-India campaign in Jammu and Kashmir. The fate of the first game plan has already been sealed. The fate of the second will be no different. Taliban and al-Qaida are not merely the names of organizations. They stand for an aberrant mental outlook and a highly regressive socio-political agenda which rejects the ideals of pluralism, secularism, freedom and democracy, and has no respect even for national boundaries. For the pursuit of its goal to establish global hegemony, it considers the use of terrorism domestically as well as its aggressive export to countries near and far entirely legitimate.

Like you, I too often wonder: why do some people choose the path of terrorism? Why do they kill, and are ready to be killed? How are they able to create a religious frenzy in support of terrorism when no religion sanctions terrorism? One can understand if some persons, dissatisfied with the prevailing state of affairs or angered by a sense of injustice or deprivation, want to establish a different social order that they consider is more just and would benefit more people. There is nothing wrong with such striving. Indeed, humanity has progressed through the struggles of such idealists. But where the path of the terrorist diverges sharply from that of the idealist and the revolutionary is in the choice of the means he employs. Because of his murderous ways, his intolerance, and his extremism, he expels himself from the pale of humanity and descends to barbarism. To allow such barbarians to succeed even partially, even in a single corner of the world, is to invite danger for the whole of civilized humanity.

Which is why India stood firmly behind the international coalition’s support to the United States’ war on terror in Afghanistan following the horrendous terrorist attacks of September 11 in New York and Washington. The leadership of Pakistan took a commendable decision to join the international coalition against terrorism in Afghanistan, although it meant a drastic U-turn in their policy of support to the taliban regime. But what was their real intention? If it was the same as that of the international community — namely, to root out terrorism and extremism — then I extend my hand of alliance to them. I wish to tell them: “Shed your anti-India mentality and take effective steps to stop cross-border terrorism, and you will find India willing to walk more than half the distance to work closely with Pakistan to resolve, through dialogue, any issue, including the contentious issue of Jammu and Kashmir.”

In my musings from Kumarakom last year, I had affirmed: “In our search for a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem, both in its external and internal dimensions, we shall not traverse solely on the beaten track of the past. Rather, we shall be bold and innovative designers of a future architecture of peace and prosperity for the entire south Asian region.” I continue to remain wedded to this commitment. My bus journey to Lahore earlier in February 1999, my invitation to President Pervez Musharraf to come to Agra in July for summit talks, and our oft-extended “ceasefire” in Jammu and Kashmir are a testimony to India’s sincere, bold, and innovative search for peace. This search continued even after the betrayal in Kargil. Our efforts will be further intensified, if Pakistan demonstrates its matching sincerity to have peace with India.

Together, let us leave the past of futile hostilities behind us and embrace a future free of tension and full of mutually beneficial possibilities. The common enemy that both our countries face is poverty, illiteracy, disease, and unemployment. Terrorism and extremism cannot solve any of these problems. They can only further delay their solution. Therefore, let us join hands to fight this enemy and, along with other countries in south Asia, make our region a land of peace, plenty, and all-round progress. This is the challenge of the new year and of the new century. Let us accept it in a spirit of cooperation. However, if the intention of Pakistan’s leadership is to continue to promote, or condone, cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir as a matter of state policy, while maintaining that they are one with the world in rooting out terrorism in Afghanistan, then the international community will judge this position to be opportunistic. It will conclude that Pakistan, far from being a part of the solution, will remain a part of the problem itself.

It is for Pakistan to make the right choice. After what happened on December 13, we have made certain legitimate demands of the government of Pakistan. Its sincerity to fight terrorism will be determined by its positive response to these demands. We also hope that our friends in the international community will bring requisite pressure on Pakistan to give up its double standards on terrorism.

Dear fellow countrymen, the situation we are facing is unprecedented. I would like you to be prepared for any eventuality. I would also like you to realize that the battle against terrorism will necessarily be a long one. One should neither expect a quick and painless victory nor despair if more terrorist strikes take place. Today my heart goes out to our jawans, security forces, and police personnel who are doing their duty in difficult conditions, so that all of us can sleep soundly and go about our normal lives. But let us also recognize that, in some ways, every citizen is a soldier in this war against terrorism. Like them, let us be disciplined and ever-vigilant. Like them, let us also be prepared to make sacrifices — sacrifice of our leisure, sacrifice of our comforts, sacrifice of our riches, and, if necessary, sacrifice of our lives.

I am sure that all of us will work harder than before to keep our economy and our civic services fighting fit. I know that, as during the previous wars, our citizens will gladly bear hardships if the government has to take certain temporary measures to support our effort. Our people have shown the fist of unity at the time of every crisis in the past. I am confident that you will do it again, and not allow any other issue to come between us and our goal. And that goal is India’s victory — a decisive victory — in our supremely just struggle. We shall triumph against terrorism — to defend India, to defend humanity. Let this be every Indian’s New Year resolve. May the Almighty give us strength to redeem this resolve.



Almost the person

Sir — The article, “Person of the year” (Dec 29), was amusing in its attempted eulogy of the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. That Bhattacharjee has endeared himself to the people of the state by displaying an openness of mind and a willingness to address issues like healthcare, infrastructure and education is a fact that cannot be ignored by even his staunchest critics. However, a closer look at Bhattacharjee’s year in office and what the article describes as his “second coming” would reveal very few actual breakthroughs. Bhattacharjee’s dream of ushering in an industrial rejuvenation in West Bengal has been compromised by other harsh realities, namely, the lack of infrastructure, a non-existent work culture and a paucity of innovative ideas among his colleagues in Alimuddin Street. Bhattacharjee has also been forced to backtrack on issues like the prevention of crime ordinance. The real challenge for Bhattacharjee would be to reform his own party.

Yours faithfully,
Aruna Mukherjee, via email

Sex, lies and the court

Sir — It is indeed ironic that even though India prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy, homosexuality is still considered an offence according to the provisions of the Indian penal code (“High court hope for homosexuals”, Dec 9). The Delhi high court’s positive response to a petition filed by a non-governmental organization, therefore, assumes special significance in this context. However, there is very little that the courts can do in the prevailing environment of ignorance, prejudice and a refusal to recognize the rights of sexual minorities like gays and lesbians.

Not only are the provisions of Section 377 of the IPC totally irrelevant and out of tune with the present times, but they also encroach upon some of the freedoms that have been guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. What is even more disturbing about this constitutional and legal inconsistency is the fact that Section 377 nullifies the freedoms that have been conferred on all Indian citizens by Articles 14 and 15.

While our legislators are only too willing to discuss the rights of the backward classes and other linguistic and racial minorities, they have been completely noncommittal about the discrimination faced by these communities who are practically invisible in society. Further, the efforts made by NGOs, who have been trying to change the bias against homosexuals, are unlikely to succeed unless policymakers in educational institutions are willing to include homosexuality as a topic in sex education. It is time for us to accept our responsibility in ushering in social change.

Yours faithfully,
Debanjan Dutta Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “Law against nature” (Dec 10), deserves praise for discussing the controversial issue of homosexuality vis a vis the rights of the individual in society. It is disturbing to think that Section 377 of the IPC which describes homosexuality as an offence punishable by law is a legacy of British rule in India. The law was enacted in the mid-19th century and should have been scrapped a long time back. That India is not the only third world country where homosexuality is an offence under the law, should not be a reason for complacency. As is usually the case in most closed societies, lawmakers and intellectuals in India prefer to ignore the changes that have been visible in Indian society over the last few years, thus forcing the courts to intervene.

In a society where homosexuals are considered to be “freaks” or deviants, the task of controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS becomes enormously difficult. Since “coming out” usually results in further humiliation and social boycott, most homosexuals prefer to lead dual lives. One would recall that in the early Eighties, when the first cases of AIDS were reported in the United States of America, the disease was described as the “gay man’s disease”. While your editorial has rightly emphasized the fact that “the affirmation of sexual identity should be a fearless and pleasurable thing”, it is also true that intervention of the Delhi high court is unlikely to change the status quo.

Yours faithfully,
Debalina Majumdar, via email

Free for all

Sir — The editorial, “Ringing for better rates” (Dec 22), is rightly based on the premise that competition is good for consumers. The offer made by Bharati Telesonic’s IndiaOne was in fact instrumental in forcing the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited to reduce STD rates by over 60 per cent. Given that 5.2 million mobile subscribers have already decided to shift to Bharati, it is interesting to speculate on the impact of the entry of Reliance and Tata into the fray. Moreover, reforms in the telecommunications sector are inevitable and will help the government reap the benefits of privatization.

Yours faithfully,
Mitul Sengupta, Calcutta

Sir — The launching of the country’s first private sector national long distance telephony service is a step in the right direction. Not only has this forced the BSNL to offer further incentives like distance slab rates which are expected to benefit subscribers making a large number of calls, but it is also likely to speed up reforms in this sector. However, while it is not unusual for mobile service providers to come up with all kinds of incentives to lure the consumer, the income tax department is only too happy to bring more consumers within its tax net. Since the number of mobile phone users have been on the rise, the government could make provisions for tax exemptions that would benefit the users of cellular phones.

Yours faithfully,
Arta Mishra, Cuttack

Sir — The internet revolution has transformed Indian society. The government could further boost this trend by making all calls made while using the internet free.

Yours faithfully,
Mahesh Kumar, New Delhi

Parting shot

Sir — The roads in Jodhpur Park, as well as the small lake in the middle of the area seem to be the favoured walking grounds for dog owners. I find it disgusting that these owners fondly coax their pets to defecate in the middle of the road. The least these owners could do is to take their dogs to the side of the road.

Apart from this, residents of Jodhpur Park do not hesitate to throw all kinds of rubbish both in the park and into the lake. I have put up a large notice, at my cost, at the north-eastern entrance of the lake area, stating that throwing rubbish in the area is forbidden. The notice has, of course, been ignored. It is a pity that the Calcutta Municipal Corporation or the local councillor has not taken appropriate action to ensure that the area remains clean.

Yours faithfully,
Jyoti Maitra, Calcutta

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