Editorial 1/ At home
Editorial 2/ And the world
Never held to account
How to break free
No need to interfere in other countries
Fifth Column/ At the start of a long journey
Letters to the editor

The address to the nation by the president of Pakistan, Mr Pervez Musharraf, is imbued with deep significance. Arguably, it is the most important speech in the history of Pakistan since Mohammad Ali Jinnah spoke to the Pakistan constituent assembly on August 11, 1947. Jinnah had spelt out what Pakistan stands for, or should stand for. Pakistan has been derailed from his profoundly secular vision: subsequent governments, elected and military, have allowed state policy to be hijacked by religion; mullahs have dictated to heads of state; the voice from the min- aret has prevailed over statesmanship. Mr Musharraf has utilized the crisis produced by the war against terrorism in Afghanistan as an opportunity to essay a project of reform. It is easy to deride his speech as the outcome of pressure from Washington, but what needs to be applauded is the courage that Mr Musharraf has shown by directly confronting the hold that fanatics and militants had come to exercise over Pakistani politics and society. He has rallied to convert a position of weakness into a position of strength. He has condemned the process through which militant fundamentalists have corrupted both the spirit and the letter of Islam. He has said that the sword of jihad must be directed against hunger, poverty, illiteracy and intolerance. He did not deny the Islamic inheritance of Pakistan, but underlined the need to use that inheritance to place Pakistan on the path to modernity.

The modernist thrust of Mr Musharraf’s speech was evident also in his emphasis on the state as the agency of social and political change in Pakistan. This might seem like an anachronism in the age of the minimalist state, but it must be remembered that Mr Musharraf is trying to undo many years of history. The state, in such a situation, must act as a surrogate for a civil society which is at best embryonic. Thus, Mr Musharraf has appealed to religious leaders not to make pronouncements over international affairs, this should be the state’s preserve. Similarly, he has said that mosques should be treated as sacred places where politics and sectarian strife have no place. He has placed the madrassahs under the regulation of the state. Most important, he has come down hard on militant fundamentalists by prohibiting any kind of terrorist activity. This statement of intent has been strengthened by bans and arrests. These might appear to be small steps, but in Pakistan it is a giant stride. In one stroke, Mr Musharraf has set apart religious faith and state policy. Mr Musharraf has evoked the vision of an Islamic welfare state. He has projected himself to be a statesman of promise; it is to be hoped that he does not descend to become a politician of promises.


It is a pity that Mr Pervez Musharraf’s radical plan to reform Pakistan’s state and society is not matched by an equally far-reaching plan to make peace with India. Although the Pakistan president’s speech did address many of the issues that have caused deep concern to India in the recent past, it is unlikely that Mr Musharraf’s words alone will lead to a rapid de-escalation of the tension that has gripped south Asia over the past few weeks. India will need more than just a promise of better behaviour from Pakistan. And Islamabad needs to translate Mr Musharraf’s words into concrete action if it wants to reintroduce a modicum of civility and stability into its relations with India. It is now clear that the top leadership of Pakistan has realized that the real danger to its survival is not as much from external threats as it is from forces of extremism and obscurantism within the country. The danger that Pakistan could become a failed state or a “nuclear Somalia”, with warlords and terrorist groups fighting each other, may still not have been averted, but recognition of a threat is the first step towards recovery. If indeed Mr Musharraf succeeds in converting Pakistan into a liberal modern nation-state, at peace with itself, it will be a force of stability in the region and beyond.

India, like other countries, can only welcome this change. There are three other specific issues that may well contribute to a thawing of India-Pakistan relations. The Pakistan president made it clear that no individual or organisation would be allowed to indulge in acts of terrorism in the name of Kashmir, and that stern action would be taken against any Pakistani found guilty of perpetuating terrorism outside the country. Mr Musharraf also announced a ban on both the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. These are believed to have been responsible for the attacks on the Indian Parliament on December 13, and had — so far — been operating more or less freely within Pakistan. And even on the list of the 20 wanted persons sought by India, Mr Musharraf seemed to show some flexibility. Although he ruled out handing over any Pakistanis on the list, he signalled that action could be taken against Indian nationals on the list. However, despite these noteworthy gestures, given the experience of the past, India will not be easily convinced that there is a fundamental shift in Islamabad’s policy towards New Delhi. Mr Musharraf did not demonstrate the slightest flexibility over Kashmir, nor did he call for a comprehensive ceasefire and an end to all violence in the valley and beyond. The only real test of Mr Musharraf’s intentions, therefore, will be on the ground. If indeed there is an end to infiltration across the border and acts of terrorism, New Delhi must generously respond to Pakistan’s offer of a dialogue.


The finance minister has not learnt from past experience. In the preparation for yet another budget, he is again talking of various reforms. In the past he could not deliver because many of them were not within his powers to bring about, but with other ministries. He was unable to deliver on even those promises that came directly within the purview of his ministry. One of the reforms he is now talking about is the abolition of or major revisions to the Essential Commodities Act. There are strong vested interests that will fight him. These include the bureaucracy. It has financial gains that it will not want to lose, and there are many politicians who derive power from it.

Instead of loosely talking about things that he cannot deliver upon because this government does not function in a coordinated way, he should rather be considering the reforms that he can bring about because they are within his ministry. The reason why 8 or 10 per cent annual growth will not replace the present slowdown in the economy is because of the mess that has been made of the Indian economy over the last fifteen years. Many of these have been within the control of the finance ministry, but have not been dealt with.

The savings rate has been declining or has at best been static over the decade of the Nineties. Instead of helping to stimulate it, successive budgets of the National Democratic Alliance government have eliminated the incentives that stimulated savings among the middle and upper income classes.

At the same time, the culture of hire purchase of consumer goods and services has been given a free rein. This obviously must have been at the expense of the large contributions to financial savings by these classes. Government deficits have been out of control especially in the last five years. The chief cause has been the unbridled increases in government expenditures on revenue account, thus reducing the gross domestic rate of savings.

The big items in these current expenditures have been interest payments, defence expenditures, and subsidies. By pushing hard for interest rate reductions, the government may have succeeded this year in preventing its interest costs from rising. But it may have been at the cost of a further decline in financial savings by households. There is so much secrecy about defence that no one really knows whether the expenditures could have been rationalized without affecting defence preparedness. But the reports of the comptroller and auditor general and other reports do suggest that there is a vast amount of wastage, excessive pricing and corruption in defence expenditures. These of course help to increase the deficit of government.

Subsidies are another area that the government has been unable to control. Admittedly they have to be dealt with by the prime minister and other ministries but the finance ministry has rarely expressed any views on the subject. Even quite unjustifiable subsidies as on liquid petroleum gas have continued. The finance ministry has many bargaining levers with other ministries that could have at least reduced such subsidies.

Another area of weakness is the public enterprise system with an investment of Rs 230,140 crore on which the profit before tax in 1998-99 was Rs 19,734 crore, that is, 8.5 per cent. Dividend income to government from these enterprises was Rs 9,410 crore, that is, 4.08 per cent. Overall interest costs on government debt that year were 11.3 per cent. The public enterprises have drained the national exchequer for many years. Even the apparently profitable ones have been sheltered by government administered price mechanisms. One can understand that the finance ministry has little direct control on disinvestments and improving performance of public enterprises under the control of other ministries. But it can certainly demand better dividends on government investments from all profit-making enterprises. It can certainly act on those enterprises directly under its control, namely the government-owned and controlled banks and financial institutions. It has avoided doing so. Net profits to total assets in 1999-00 were 0.57 per cent for 27 public sector banks, 1.17 per cent for foreign banks, 0.84 per cent for 25 old private sector banks and 0.97 per cent for 9 new private sector banks.

Of the total loan assets in 1999-00, the non-performing assets (sub-standard, doubtful and loss assets) were 14 per cent for public sector banks, 8.5 per cent for private banks and 6.9 per cent for foreign banks. The performance of those under finance ministry control has been abysmal. Yet, the ministry continues to leave many of them headless for long periods, appoints people on seniority than on merit, gives ridiculously short tenures to top management, pays them poorly, keeps them under the control of bureaucrats, and interferes constantly and to poor purpose in their working.

It is spineless in demanding better performance, and will not take the exit route for those beyond redemption. While taking credit in the budget for disinvestments in enterprises under the control of other ministries, the finance ministry torpedoes any suggestion that this could be done for financial enterprises under its control. Politicians and bureaucrats share the same vested interests to retain control over these huge enterprises, irrespective of ministry.

Then there is the mess that the finance ministry and its bureaucrat-regulators have made of the largest mutual fund, the Unit Trust of India. The ministry steadfastly refused for many years to treat UTI like other mutual funds for purposes of disclosure and regulation. It used UTI to prop up stock markets, and possibly to help its “friends”. As it interfered in the day-to-day workings of UTI and the other banks and financial institutions under its control, some managements of these enterprises saw no reason why they could not also help their own “friends” at the expense of the enterprises.

The ministry did not bother to monitor the implementation of corrective measures in UTI after a huge bailout three years ago. This failure led to yet another crisis. Its reaction was to publicly arrest and humiliate the chairman, leading yet again to a collapse of confidence in the market. And yet, the finance minister will surely mouth platitudes in his budget speech of what the government proposes to do for improving savings and confidence.

Sadly, we have to suffer an irresponsible political system that does not enforce accountability. Parliament has the powers to do so, but does not engage in informed debate, only in polemics. It could have ensured better coordination between ministries in government, and periodically reviewed the performance against the promises in budget speeches. Industry associations could have played this role, but would rather get into the good books of government and continue as they have since independence to ask for special concessions to cover the inefficiencies of their members. One would have hoped that the finance ministry at least would have cleaned up its own act. Perhaps it is naïve to expect it to do so. After all, people administer it with the same mindsets as other ministries.

We must not accept platitudinous promises in budget speeches. Rather we should demand that the speech first reports on the execution of promises made last time and on the performance of the finance ministry itself on matters directly under its control. Unless it is held accountable, there is little chance that it can use its powers to make other ministries be so. Good governance in India, whether of companies or governments, has been more in good language, not in reality. This must change.

The author is former director-general, National Council for Applied Economic Research [email protected]


In a recent report released by the Madhya Pradesh state human rights commission, jails and lock-ups across several towns in the state were seen to openly flout the 1997 Supreme Court guidelines that had called for respectable living conditions and humane treatment of prisoners. The report also established that in several other jails and lock-ups in Ujjain, Jabalpur and Indore, the guidelines had not been circulated at all. Food, water and toilet facilities were far below the prescribed standards, and the unhealthy surroundings had become a breeding ground for all kinds of diseases.

Police sources ascribed all such shortcomings to lack of funds. Only Rs 25 per prisoner was allocated under the qaidi khurakh fund. Expenditure on prisoners’ meals too had not been reimbursed for over a year in most police stations. Meanwhile, prisoners desisted from speaking out as fear of torture, both mental and physical, discouraged anyone from complaining. Some of these jails, which date back to the 19th and early 20th century, like the ones at Gwalior, Jabalpur, Ujjain, Rewa, Indore, Sagar and Satna, look badly in need of a facelift.

This story could be true for most jails across India. Overcrowded, and unhygienic, prisons in India, far from being correctional centres, often produce hardened criminals. Reforms in jails have been constrained by the adherence to outdated manuals and legislation, most of which date back to the colonial period and which has left little scope for innovation. Periodically, however, voices have been raised to reform jail conditions and attempts have been made at that by amending rules, issuing new regulations, or appointing committees.

Despite this, no significant change has taken place in the general conditions within jails or in the attitude of the jail authorities. There is also a wide divergence in the situation in jails because matters relating to prisoners, reformatories, borstal institutions, detainees and so on are all state subjects. Prison administration is governed by state governments under the provisions of the Indian Prisons Act, 1894, and jail manuals framed by different state governments. Within a state too, the situation may be different in each jail.

The total number of prisoners in India is quite low, with just 25 people in jail for every 100,000 citizens. This compares favourably with the European average of between 90 and 120, and the United States of America’s average of 700. But the number of Indian prisoners awaiting trial, almost 60 to 80 per cent of those behind bars, is extremely. In Delhi’s main jail, the figure is 90 per cent. For some the time spent in jail waiting for the case to be heard is longer than the sentence which is eventually handed down. Human rights observers have documented several cases where prisoners are shackled to the walls because of shortage of staff and security.

Attempts at reform have been stymied by the apathy of the government and the bureaucracy. The Prisons Act, 1894, as well as the Police Act of 1861 still remain important pieces of legislation that regulates custody regulations as well as treatment of jail inmates. The all-India committee on jail reforms (1980-83) had recommended updating, revision and consolidation of prison laws so as to meet requirements of changing times. Yet, colonial acts like the Prisons Act and the Police Act are still being followed without their being reviewed and revised.

The ministry of home affairs had requested state governments to pass resolutions under Article 252 of the Constitution for enactment of a new prisons’ act to replace the act of 1894. Not having received the requisite response from state governments, the ministry in 1999 circulated a draft of the model prisons’ management bill among state governments. The views of the state governments are still to be received.

The government has also long been in the process of preparing a new jail manual to be distributed in the country’s prisons. The new manual is to largely follow the guidelines established by the United Nations standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, 1957.

The ministry of home affairs has also advised the states to set up special lok adalats to deal with offences which are not very serious in nature. The 11th finance commission has provided a sum of Rs 502.90 crores for establishing 1,734 additional courts to ensure speedy trial of under-trial prisoners. Of this only 459 courts had been set up by July 1, 2001. The largest number of additional courts had been earmarked for Uttar Pradesh (242), Bihar (183), Maharashtra (187) Gujarat (166), and West Bengal (152). Yet, by July 1, no courts had been set up in Bihar or Gujarat, while 13 had been set up in West Bengal, 64 in Uttar Pradesh and 93 in Maharashtra. Madhya Pradesh was the only state that complied — 85 courts had been set up against the earmarked 85.

There are only 16 prisons for women against the total number of 1,133 prisons in the country. Most states do not have exclusive prisons for women, although there are exceptions like Delhi. Most jails have only separate enclosuresmeant for women. Antiquated manuals and insensitive approach of the jail authorities compound the woes of women prisoners who constitute around three per cent of the total prisoners.

There have been individual attempts at reform, but the report of the Justice K.V. Krishna Iyer commission on women in detention, 1987, is yet to receive the serious attention of the government. It was only in 1983 that the court stated in the case of Sheela Barse vs State of Maharashtra that it was absolutely essential to make legal assistance available to all women prisoners. Since then, the Supreme Court too has laid out guidelines to assist women in custody.

While a comprehensive review of all three statutes, the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Evidence Act is required, it is time that the government heeds the recommendations of the Krishna Iyer commission which suggested not merely a overhaul of outdated laws but also included suggestions for reforms in the judiciary and the police.

Among others, its recommendations included a suggestion to bring prisons under the concurrent list to standardize reforms of custodial conditions. Apart from a comprehensive prisons and prisoners act to bring together different together several acts and many other administrative measures directed towards women prisoners, the commission had suggested the creation of a special cadre of prison service, permanent wardens and matrons and bandi sabhas for women inmates.

At the same time, another unique experiment also promises to spread beyond the country’s borders. This was initiated by Kiran Bedi, the former inspector general of prisons in New Delhi, who strove to transform the notorious Tihar prison and turn it into an oasis of peace with the use of the ancient meditation technique of vipasana. This attempted to help prisoners take control of their lives and work towards their own good. Prison inmates were reported to have undergone profound change, realizing that incarceration is not the end but possibly a fresh start toward an improved and more positive life. Recently, the government decided to apply vipasana in all the country’s prisons. More interestingly, other countries are also being drawn towards it.

Tihar jail has also led the way by implementing a whole host of reforms. Its inmates attend classes and can also study typing, painting, pottery or yoga, while advanced students can avail of a computer class or university correspondence courses. The jail also has its own website, something few prisons worldwide can boast of.


Pakistani Brothers and Sisters, as you would remember, ever since I assumed office, I launched a campaign to rid the society of extremism, violence and terrorism and strived to project Islam in its true perspective.... the campaign against extremism undertaken by us from the very beginning is in our own national interest. We are not doing this under advice or pressure from anyone. Rather, we are conscious that it is in our national interest. We are conscious that we need to rid society of extremism and this is being done right from the beginning.

This domestic reforms process was underway when a terrorist attack took place against the United States on the 11th of September. This terrorist act led to momentous changes all over the world. We decided to join the international coalition aga- inst terrorism and in this regard I have already spoken to you on a number of occasions. We took this decision on principles and in our national interest.... I am proud of the realistic decision of our nation. What really pains me is that some religious extremist parties and groups opposed this decision.

What hurt more was that their opposition was not based on principles. At a critical juncture in our history, they preferred their personal and party interests over national interests. They tried their utmost to mislead the nation, took out processions and resorted to agitation. But their entire efforts failed.

The people of Pakistan frustrated their designs.... Some extremists, who were engaged in protests, are people who try to monopolise and attempt to propagate their own brand of religion. They think as if others are not Muslims. These are the people who considered the taliban to be a symbol of Islam and that the taliban were bringing Islamic renaissance or were practising the purest form of Islam.

They behaved as if the Northern Alliance, against whom the Taliban were fighting, were non-Muslims! Whereas, in fact, both were Muslims and believers.... They do not talk of these obligations because practising them demands self-sacrifice. How will they justify their Pajeros and expensive vehicles? .... All of us should learn a lesson from this. We must remember that we are Pakistanis. Pakistan is our identity, our motherland. We will be aliens outside Pakistan and be treated as aliens. Pakistan is our land. It is our soil. If we forsake it, we will face difficulties....

The second thing I want to talk about is the concept of Jihad in its totality.... In Islam, Jihad is not confined to armed struggles only. Have we ever thought of waging Jihad against illiteracy, poverty, backwardness and hunger? This is the larger Jihad. Pakistan, in my opinion, needs to wage Jihad against these evils. After the battle of Khyber the Prophet (“peace be upon him”) stated that Jihad-e-Asghar (“smaller Jihad”) is over but Jihad-e-Akbar (“greater Jihad”) has begun. This meant that armed Jihad i.e. the smaller Jihad was now over and the greater Jihad against backwardness and illiteracy had started. Pakistan needs Jihad -e-Akbar at this juncture.

...we must remember that only the government of the day and not every individual can proclaim armed Jehad. The extremist minority must realise that Pakistan is not responsible for waging armed Jihad in the world....

After this analysis, now, I come to some conclusions and decisions: first, we have to establish the writ of the government. All organizations in Pakistan will function in a regulated manner. No individual, organization or party will be allowed to break law of the land. The internal environment has to be improved. Maturity and equilibrium have to be established in the society. We have to promote an environment of tolerance, maturity, responsibility, patience and understanding.

We have to check extremism, militancy, violence and fundamentalism. We will have to forsake the atmosphere of hatred and anger.

We have to stop exploitation of simple poor people of the country and not to incite them to feuds and violence. We must concern ourselves with our own country.

Pakistan comes first. We do not need to interfere and concern ourselves with others. There is no need to interfere in other countries.


“Towards the end of the year, for reasons that are difficult to find, our national currency depreciated rapidly and substantially,” said South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki, on January 6. “This had nothing whatsoever to do with our national economy, globally one of the best performing economies during this period of economic slowdown th-at is affecting the world economy.”

This is the sort of half-truth that gives politicians a bad name. South Africa’s economy has just been plodding along on its usual low-growth path of one and a half per cent or so, as it has almost every year since well before the end of apartheid eight years ago. Along comes a global recession. Everybody else’s economy briefly slows down before resuming its usual three or five or seven per cent growth — and Mbeki declares that South Africa is now out-performing them.

There has been widespread dismay among the (still mostly white) middle class as the rand lost almost half its value in less than two years, but South Africa is not yet a disaster area. On the contrary, it is a remarkable success that is drifting into dangerous waters. The South African currency has been deeply discounted by large investors because they can see three big problems on the horizon, and no serious attempts by the government to address any of them.

Reasons yet unclear

The biggest problem by far is AIDS. For reasons as yet unclear, infection rates in southern Africa are far higher than elsewhere, but the South African government is in deep denial about it. Very large numbers of South Africans are going to die of the disease over the next generation — in neighbouring Botswana, where the government is more honest about AIDS and more effective in tackling it, they are predicting a 20 per cent fall in population by 2015 — and still Mbeki refuses to treat the problem as a national emergency.

The second unaddressed problem is the border. There is huge illegal immigration into South Africa from all over the continent, but for ideological reasons the African National Congress government refuses to impose strict immigration controls. This alre-ady causes deep resentment among black South Africans who are competing with the foreigners for jobs, and contributes heavily to the appalling crime rate (though it is politically incorrect to say so).

Finally, there is the sheer difficulty of doing business in South Africa. The mountain of bureaucratic regulations built by the apartheid state has shrunk only a little in the past seven years, and the restrictive labour laws originally created to protect white Afrikaaner jobs have actually grown even more restrictive.

A general easing

This is no surprise politically, given a 40 per cent unemployment rate amongst the black majority who were supposed to be the maj-or beneficiaries of the overthrow of apartheid, but it does send a lot of investment elsewhere.

But it is much too early to despair. The problems that frighten the investors — AIDS prevention, immigration controls, employment rules and the like — are all policy issues that could be transformed by a change of leader, or even a change of the leader’s mind. On the far more intractable problem of changing people’s attitudes, South Africa is finally making real progress.

The country’s most difficult task after centuries of race-based repression — even harder than raising the standard of living of the poor — was to achieve the level of comfort in ordinary human relations that is taken for granted in most other multi-racial societies. Even three years ago, there was precious little evidence of that, but now the first green shoots of normalcy are starting to appear, at least among the young in the big cities.

There are no statistics to bear this out, but you can feel it and see it: there are more multi-racial groups in restaurants and entertainment venues, more multi-racial couples and families, a general easing of the racial tension that always used to crackle in the air. The country is still only at the start of a long journey, but at the human level one begins to see signs of the “better Brazil” that a successful South Africa could become.



A misfit as always

Trying to fit in Sir — With the winding up of Kaun Banega Crorepati, the “don” of Indian cinema, Amitabh Bachchan, has decided to slip into a new role, perhaps to save himself from going out of the public eye again (“Amitabh apolitical on political stage”, Jan 11). The Indian political scenario has witnessed the roping in of filmstars and cricketers before. But the Samajwadi Party had been clever in not lending political colour to the Rampur meet in which the Bachchan couple had participated. Not surprisingly, in the garb of a “social” function, Big B succeeded in getting across his political message to his audience. The megastar had been at his subtle best, although it was not enough to mislead the media about his intentions. The approaching Uttar Pradesh polls is an important battle and no party is willing to fall short in their efforts to fare well. However, Mulayam Singh Yadav must remember that Bachchan has been a failure in his political ventures and expecting a more committed role in it would therefore be foolish.
Yours faithfully,
Kavita Rao, Cochin

Textually unsound

Sir — It is extremely tragic that vested interests are working overtime to give Indians a monolithic identity, shorn of their rich diversities (“The many faces of an Indian”, Jan 10). The most bizarre part of the purpose of rewriting school textbooks is that instead of inculcating in children the tenets of respecting and acknowledging various cultures, the texts intend to confine them to a rigid notion of Indian nationalism devoid of any pluralism.

Bidyut Chakrabarty has rightly pointed out that apart from the projection of a homogenous national culture, a rabid form of nationalism is also being injected into the masses, represented by the blind attachment to a flag. Far from taking a cue from multi-lingual Switzerland, where all the main languages are placed on the same footing, India seems to be closer to its immediate neighbour, which tends to throttle fringe languages like Sindhi and Pushtu. The language of about 40 per cent of the population is being imposed in the guise of nationalism.

The Centre’s desire to equate Hindi with nationalism is best exemplified by the latest initiative of pasting Iqbal’s “Hindi hain hum Hindustan hamara” on the local trains from Sealdah and Howrah. Pokhran tests and space programmes may “modernize” the nation but are not enough to sustain the integrity and unity of India. It is time to eradicate the primitive mindset that prompts the desire to dominate over other groups with the aid of religion or language.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Sir — The article by Bidyut Chakrabarty is thought-provoking and has successfully dealt with an important issue which is threatening not only for the present Indian generation but also for the future. In its pursuit of nation-building, what the present Indian government is doing is rather alarming for the marginal section of the Indian population. It has started from the basic levels, targeting schoolchildren, who are the most vulnerable. The textbooks are propagating a form of nationalism and Indian identity which go against what India is all about. Although there has been a rise in awareness among a section of Indians ranging from academics, intellectuals and politicians about the danger of such a design, much damage has already been done. The notion of Indianness, which is being projected by the self-appointed cultural police comprising the sangh parivar is a threat to the multi-lingual and multi-cultural identity of our country. It is time now to stop this domination and fundamentalism before things go out of hand.

Yours faithfully,
Suparna Chattopadhyay, Siliguri

Home fired up

Sir — As the article, “To douse the home fires” (Jan 9), says, domestic violence against women is increasing everyday, despite the rhetoric of the print media and legislations on it. A planning commission study reveals that between 1990 and 1998, the number of dowry deaths rose from 48.36 lakh to 69.17 lakh. And cases of cruelty towards women by their husbands and relatives rose from 1.34 crore to 4.13 crore. Violence against women is deeply embedded in the patriarchal norms and attitudes about gender relations in India.

There are no dearth of laws, but they seem to be an inadequate deterrent. Inquiry reports get manipulated, gathered evidence is often insufficient for prosecution. As a result, justice gets lost in the circuitous legal byways. No individual is likely to abuse his partner if the latter is aware of her rights and more important, is capable of fighting for them. A combination of building of awareness and empowerment of women will aid in reducing atrocities on women considerably.

Yours faithfully,
Jaydev Jana, Calcutta

Sir — It is unfortunate that Kamalika Mukherjee has highlighted the issue of domestic violence directed against women alone. The notion that men do not suffer any form of abuse from their partners is not entirely correct. Maybe the percentage of male victims of domestic violence is low, but to give a picture of men as the main aggressors in case of marital violence is unfair.

Rather than trying to prove that women usually are the victims of domestic violence or that men are also abused mentally and physically by their partners, it would make sense to come up with strong legal sanctions against a violent individual, irrespective of the person’s gender. It would be heartening to see the Indian judiciary come up with appropriate measures to counter domestic violence inflicted on any individual, be it man or woman.

Yours faithfully,
Sonia Singh, New Delhi

Fast track

Sir — There is a rising sports star in India by the name of Narain Karthikeyan. He has made a mark in motor sports which is “not so” important in our country, even managed to get sponsorships from Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher and JK Tyre. Karthikeyan is on course to fulfil his goal of being the first Indian racer to compete in a Formula One racing meet.

He has already bagged prestigious awards like the British Formula Ford Winter Series Champion in 1994, Formula Opel in 1997, British Formula Three Championship in 1998, Formula 3. Given proper support, this young man will do India proud.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Correct identity

Sir — I deeply regret that in the review, “Beyond black and white” (Jan 11), of the book, Colonial India and the Making of Empire Cinema: Images, Ideology and Identity, the author, Prem Chowdhry, has been referred to as a man.
Yours faithfully,
Moinak Biswas, Calcutta

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