Editorial 1/ How’s that
Editorial 2/ Rights and wrongs
A spontaneous consensus
Swimming in the common pool
Document/ Control husbands and civil servants
Letters to the Editor

The glorious uncertainty of cricket is made ridiculous when the umpiring is incompetent. The one day international at the Eden Gardens in Calcutta on January 19 proved this. Out of the four leg before wicket decisions given against England, the losing side, two were doubtful and one was clearly not out. Marcus Trescothick was given lbw to a ball that had pitched about a foot outside the leg stump. It was this disgraceful decision which turned the match in favour of India. Trescothick, at that point, was completely dominating the Indian bowlers. An umpire who gives a lbw decision to a ball that had clearly pitched outside the leg stump has no business umpiring at international level. Standing stump to stump at 22 yards, it should not be very difficult, provided the umpire is paying attention, to note which delivery has pitched outside the leg stump and which has not. The umpires concerned also seemed to have violated the cardinal rule of umpiring which states that the benefit of doubt should always go to the batsman. The English captain, Nasser Hussain, was given out when he had stretched well forward. There was no way of telling at the point of contact that the ball would have carried on to hit the stumps. Decisions like these take away from the enjoyment of the game.

It is nobody’s case that umpiring should be completely error free. That is an ideal. A good umpire is one who makes the least number of errors. It is possible now, with the help of technology, to eliminate error. All that is required are some changes in the laws of cricket to bring the third umpire into play more often than is now permitted. A radical step — one worth pondering given the current state of umpiring — is to give to the batsman the right of appeal to the third umpire when he is dissatisfied with a leg before decision. But even before such a step is implemented, there are other simple measures that can be introduced. There is no reason why for ODIs, umpires cannot be appointed from the international panel. For example, for the present India-England one day series, two international umpires could have been appointed to officiate for all the six matches. Moreover, if cricketers are being penalized for violating the spirit of the game, umpires too should be made accountable for gross errors. Suspensions and fines at the recommendation of the match referee could be contemplated. Good umpiring is crucial for the success of a cricket match. The International Cricket Council needs to pay more attention to the standards of umpiring. Raising the fees of umpires so that more former test cricketers are attracted to the job could be one way to raise the floor level. Umpiring is a thankless task. Incompetent umpires only aggravate the plight of their tribe.


There have always been debates on the definition and scope of human rights, but there cannot be any excuse for the state to take away these rights. By setting the journalist, Mr Shariar Kabir, free on a six-month bail, the Dhaka high court has clearly signalled its disapproval of the Bangladesh government’s decision to imprison him on treason charges. It was an ill-advised move that put the government, rather than Mr Kabir, on the dock in the public mind. The arrest not only tainted the early days of Ms Khaleda Zia’s new government but also gave her political opponents an opportunity to raise a din that prompted human rights watchdogs such as the Amnesty International to cry foul. Worse still, the government’s secular credentials became open to question as Mr Kabir was arrested for trying to highlight the plight of Hindus who had fled to West Bengal in the wake of attacks on them in Bangladesh. It now looks as though some overzealous advisors of Ms Zia were carried away by a desire for vengeance as the media at home and abroad rapped the government for failing to rein in the troublemakers. Since the majority of Hindus in Bangladesh traditionally vote for the Awami League, the victory of Ms Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party in last October’s general elections prompted a political backlash that looked communal as well. Mr Kabir, a well-known name in the country’s liberation war of 1971, is a known League supporter. But the government’s move against him was widely condemned, not just as vendetta against the League, but as an attack on civil and political rights.

The government would do well to withdraw the untenable charges against Mr Kabir. This is necessary to assure not only political opponents but also international organizations and donor countries that the new government is committed to the country’s secular and democratic values. Ms Zia needs to reiterate her commitment to these, particularly because of the composition of the coalition that she now leads. The presence of the Jamat-e-Islami in her government has raised some questions about the future of certain principles on which the country was founded. Sporadic attacks by Jamat activists on some non-governmental organizations, in which women play leading roles, have been seen as portents of a less tolerant political culture. Ms Zia and her party will have to take the blame if personal freedoms and human rights are threatened by any partner of the coalition. Bangladesh’s economic interests will be harmed if international opinion, especially that of the donor countries, turns against it because of a backslide in people’s basic rights. Ms Zia got a mandate last October to improve on the people’s economic and political rights. It would be a pity if she were to lose the trust so early.


Colin Powell visited New Delhi briefly early last week. L.K. Advani and George Fernandes have been in Washington. Indo-American relations are going through a critical phase in the context of the present state of tensions between India and Pakistan. The United States of America’s policies towards the subcontinent would be a major factor influencing the developments in our part of the world. It is, therefore, pertinent to go beyond the policy orientations of the US and understand the collective mindset of basic motivations affecting US policies.

When there is a convergence in broad objectives, and parallelism in attitudes and policy orientations to meet them between nation-states and within their respective civil societies, observation and analysis have to focus on the psyche and the mindset, the under-currents of evolving thought processes and attitudes governing their policies. The world is generally aware of the trauma generated by the terrorist attacks on the US in September, 2001. The international community is equally aware of the anti-terrorist policies generated by the tragedy. The manner in which the policies are being implemented to ensure domestic security in the US and to eradicate international terrorism outside the US, is also a matter of public knowledge.

A matter of deeper interest should be the manner in which public opinion and collective attitudes have changed inside the US, and the impact that these changes would have on US foreign policy and domestic political trends. These phenomena were brought into focus for me as I travelled through the US for a month between mid-December 2001 and mid-January 2002. As most of my travels were in south-central and western US, away from the eastern states of the country, I presume to claim that my perceptions are based on the views and attitudes of the Americans living away from the direct impact of governmental thinking and the influence of the traditional establishment of that country.

First the impact on the domestic front within the US; the foremost element in this impact is the feeling of vulnerability in terms of domestic security. The collective self-confidence in the American people about “Fortress America” stands eroded. Continental US, surrounded by oceans on the east and west and by friendly neighbours to the north and south, coming under direct attack, was not just unexpected, but an unthinkable prospect. The September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington were the first attacks to occur within the continental territory of the US after 1812, when British forces briefly captured Washington. Though the US participated in many wars and faced the surprise bombing of Pearl Harbour in Hawaii in 1941, this was the first direct attack on US territory after a gap of nearly 191 years. There is a collective anxiety about domestic security in the US. “Home and security” has emerged as a major political concept and a policy objective of high priority.

President George W. Bush has created a new department of “homeland security” with a director of cabinet rank. Executive orders and organizational arrangements are being evolved to reactivate the role of the US armed forces and paramilitary forces in safeguarding domestic security in all its dimensions. The second noticeable phenomenon is the appearance of emotional patriotism. There is no “us versus them” jingoism, which is a remarkably redeeming feature in this feeling. US flags were on display on the windscreens of cars, in shop windows; they were flying atop private houses in the smallest towns when one drove across the countryside.

Equally remarkable is a spontaneous consensus reflected in private conversations, in television commentaries, on chat shows, in the print media, that the threat to the US and the policy reactions to it have to be faced as a united national effort, not just transcending, but eschewing, party politics. The attitude finds expression in the fact that practically every decision taken, every policy suggested by President Bush, to counter the terrorist threat, has not encountered any opposition from the US congress, or at the level of the governments of the constituent states of the US.

This groundswell of patriotism has been nurtured and strengthened by political events and religious ceremonies in remembrance of the September attacks. Though there is an absence of excessive jingoism, one can discern a certain amount of paranoia about foreigners, particularly from Asia and the Arab countries, despite conscious and continuous efforts by the US government to control and negate such feelings. There is a discernable anxiety and fear about Islam, though President Bush and the US leadership have tried to educate the public opinion about the distinction between Islam as a religion and the terrorists who perverted its teachings.

While the US government stresses that its anti-terrorist campaign is not animated by motives of revenge, public opinion here feels that the massive violence perpetrated against innocent US citizens should be avenged clearly and decisively. A corollary of this approach is the general view that the other countries and other people, who do not fully support the anti-terrorist campaign of the US and suggest reticence or moderation in this campaign, are not friends of the US and should be treated accordingly.

These feelings of paranoia and of viewing the world at large in black and white, found expression in certain academics and professors of Arab and African origin at the universities of Florida and Harvard being ostracized. Noam Chomsky, despite his unquestioned intellectual eminence, is not a very popular figure in the US public perception at present.

Such paranoia affects even individuals on the presidential staff when a security officer proceeding on duty on the personal security work for President Bush in Texas was offloaded from an American Airlines flight because he was of Arab origin and he carried a gun to which he was legally entitled.

The unity of purpose and approach mentioned earlier, however, does not extend beyond the current phase of the anti-terrorist campaign in Afghan- istan. Public opinion is divided (though government opinion does not show it manifestly) about expanding the anti-terrorist campaign to other countries. Public opinion here is that the campaign should come to an end with the capture or elimination of Mullah Omar, the president of the taliban, and Osama bin Laden, the supreme leader of al Qaida. The remnants of terrorist groups in other countries should primarily be eradicated by the governments of these countries with indirect support from the US without too much military involvement.

There is also the feeling that the other major powers of the world should take on a more active role in dealing with international terrorism without leaving the main burden on the US. That the US government is responsive to this broad undercurrent in domestic public opinion is indicated by the fact that the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has been comparatively ambiguous about expanding the US campaign beyond Afghanistan in his public statements since the beginning of January. He has also indicated that in the short term, the US military campaign will be focussed on eastern and southern Afghanistan and in the border areas of Pakistan. He has taken note of the emerging frustration within his government and the public opinion here about Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar not having been captured or eliminated as yet.

He has stressed that the operations against them remain the objective. The state department echoed his views when the US spokesman for the first time publicly stated that Pervez Musharraf’s credibility and Pakistan’s future will depend on how the government of Pakistan deals with al Qaida and other terrorists and his cooperation with the US government’s ongoing campaign. There is also a shift in political commentaries, where the view is being expressed that Mullah Omar and bin Laden could escape the US net, but the more important objective is to eradicate the terrorist and extremist organizations which they created.

An impact of long-term significance on US public opinion is that of increased interest and the emergence of incrementally knowledgeable sensitivity about the countries of west and south Asia, of the Gulf and Islamic Arab and African countries. It is noteworthy that public debate and media comments on the US over the last three and a half months have started discerning the unavoidable contradictions between the US’s strategic and economic interests which necessitates the US supporting authoritarian regimes of one form or the other in these countries, and the US’s basic ideological commitments to democracy and human rights. Newsweek, in its year-end issue, published a detailed article highlighting this contradiction and describing it as one of the most important challenges to the US foreign and security policies.

Finally, south Asia is in greater focus in the US foreign policy planning. The need to sustain and strengthen the democratic regimes of India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and to encourage the genuine democratization of Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan and Myanmar are described as important US policy objectives by commentators here. The stabilization of Afghanistan with a representative government there is the highest short-term priority here, but with the interesting rider that the US should not get involved in any long-term military involvement in that country. Public perceptions about India are that despite the recurring hiccups, mutual complaints and reticences, a strong Indo-US relationship would be an incrementally important factor for peace and stability in south Asia.

The author is former foreign secretary of India


Geneticists have demonstrated that all human beings are incredibly similar genetically, unlike most other species of large mammals. This reveals the folly of attributing group behavioural differences to biology rather than to culture. The differences in DNA sequences among individuals reflect the cumulative effects of human history. They document the evolution of the African ape that began walking about four million years ago. They chronicle the origin of “races” and “ethnic groups” and show how these groups have blended and separated over time.

The difference in appearance among ethnic groups is incidental but it does have a basis in genetics. While it is true that all of us have inherited the same genetic legacy, the genetic differences among groups have important implications for our understanding of history and for bio-medical research. For now, the National Institute of Health, which has been collecting information about genetic variants from different ethnic groups in the United States of America, has refused to link specific variants with ethnicity. But the strategy may backfire.

One reason for this caution is a largely ignored process that has been going on for the last few years. In 1991, Luiga Cavalli-Sforza, professor of genetics at Stanford University, and a group of genetic researchers had proposed a comprehensive study of genetic differences which they called the human genome diversity project. The study would involve the gathering of cells from several thousand people around the world and then immortalizing them by converting them into cell lines and using the DNA cells to reconstruct human evolution and history. But biological groups in the US, New Guinea and other countries accused the project of stealing their genes. Many alleged that the project would encourage racist thinkin. This attitude baffled Cavalli-Sforza as he had always believed that the project would help end racism. However, although researchers might claim that the genetic differences that they identify among groups have no biological significance, by simply dividing humans into categories — whether sub-Saharan Africans, Jews, Germans or Australian aborigines — they reinforce the distinctions they are seeking to minimize.

More than 10,000 years ago, a genetic accident occured on the windswept plains of northeastern Siberia. The Y chromosone in the sperm cell of a man underwent a copying error as the cells got divided. One of the chemical components of his DNA changed from cysticine to thymine. An elaborate biochemical proof-reading apparatus is supposed to correct such copying errors which geneticists call mutation. The man then met a woman who gave birth to a son, each of whose cells had the mutated Y chromosome that he had got from his father. The son was very different from the other men of his tribe, and a pivotal figure in human genetic history. At some point, the son migrated from Asia to North America, presumably with a band of followers. Over subsequent centuries, his descendants spread across continents from North America to the Panamas and South America. All of them carried the distinctive Y chromosome to which they added their own mutations.

According to geneticist Peter Underhill, genetic reconstructions can always be interpreted in different ways. The mutation could have occurred in Siberia before the migration or in North America. But we know this man existed, and that his mutation was unique. Yet the DNA is a long and complex molecule and every act of human procreation produces at least some variations to it. These mutations spill across generations in the form of an unusually long nose or a particular colour of eyes. The result is an elaborate human genealogy. Most descriptions of evolution emphasize natural selection in which a beneficial mutation becomes more common over time because the bearers of this mutation are more likely to survive and procreate. But if an organism loses its descendants its genetic variants will become even more common whether they are selected or not.

In the Fifties, many geneticists believed that natural selection would almost always squelch genetic drift. Parish records gave Cavalli-Sforza a way to test the idea. They showed that most people in mountain valleys high above Parma married within their own villages. Genetic drift is more obvious in small relatively insular populations, because an individual with a lot of children can flood the population with his or her genetic variants.

Further research also led to the discovery that the distribution of blood types varied more from village to village in the mountains than in the plains. This led Cavalli-Sforza to consider the matter more broadly. If genetics could be linked with mating and migration among the people in Parma, couldn’t the same be done on a larger scale? Given that a group would carry many of the variants of its predecessors, the genetic relationship between any two groups of people could also be determined. Cavalli-Sforza and his colleagues analysed published data on 15 blood types from groups of people spread across the continents — three each from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas, and one each from Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand. Their research revealed that North Americans from Venezuela and Arizona were related to the Eskimos and the Koreans in the sample, pointing towards a migration across the Bering Strait. Africans and Europeans are genetically close to one another, thereby reflecting the proximity of the continents.

After analysing the genetic variations of modern Europeans, Cavalli-Sforza came to the conclusion that they have descended largely from farmers who had started migrating from west Asia almost 9, 000 years ago. As the children of these farmers moved into new territory, interbred genetic changes began occurring. Only in mountainous areas — the Basques would be a good example — did the genes of the indigenous people remain intact.

Other historical events have also influenced the European gene pool. For example, a genetic trail leads from the area north of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea into the rest of Europe. The genetic history of China is dominated by a split between the people living in the north and those in the south.

In 1758, the Swedish botanist, Carlos Linnaeus, gave the human species its formal name, homo sapiens sapiens. He also divided them into sub-categories: red Americans, yellow Asians, black Africans and white Europeans. In spite of the classification made by Linnaeus, genetic research indicates that about 100, 000 years to 200,000 years ago, our ancestors went through a severe genetic bottleneck. It is also likely that a smaller group, which was living in eastern Africa, was isolated for thousands of years and later travelled to Australia about 60,000 years ago.

There is another reason for our biological homogeneity. Modern human beings have never been able to resist what Noel Coward described as “ the urge to merge”. A person travelling east from Madrid to Beijing would pass the Italians, Greeks, Turks, Albanians Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Uighers. Not only do all these groups have the same set of genes, but all groups of people share the genetic variations of those genes. Every group overlaps genetically with the other.

In most cases, the changes are random. For example, as human beings moved from the equatorial regions to the north, dark skin was no longer needed to protect the body from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, and light skin made it possible for the body to produce greater amounts of vitamin D. The resultant lightening of skin colour occurred three times in human history: when the Africans moved north to West Asia and then into Europe; when the dark skinned inhabitants of southeast Asia migrated to China and when people from southern India moved to the north.

Did the Vikings lose their marauding gene to become the laid-back Scandinavians of today? If an individual is susceptible to heart disease, cancer, or some other ailments, it is because of particular variants in his genes. The word “race” cannot capture the commonalities of our shared history and differences. It hardly makes any sense to talk about races when we all are such complex mixtures. Yet societies have built elaborate systems of privilege and control based on these differences. It would, however, be pertinent to point out that if people understood genetics they could not have been racist.


Whoever, — (a) being a police officer commits sexual assault — (i) within the limits of the police station to which he is appointed; or (ii) in the premises of any station house whether or not situated in the police station to which he is appointed; or (iii) on a person in his custody or in the custody of a police officer subordinate to him; or (b) being a public servant, takes advantage of his official position and commits sexual assault on a person in his custody as such public servant or in the custody of a public servant subordinate to him; or (c) being on the management or on the staff of a jail, remand home or other place of custody established by or under any law for the time being in force or of a women’s or children’s institution takes advantage of his official position and commits sexual assault on any inmate of such jail, remand home, place or institution; or (d) being on the management or on the staff of a hospital, takes advantage of his official position and commits sexual assault on a person in that hospital; or (e) commits sexual assault on a woman knowing her to be pregnant; or (f) commits sexual assault on a person when such person is under sixteen years of age; or (g) commits gang sexual assault, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may be for life and shall also be liable to fine: provided that the court may, for adequate and special reasons to be mentioned in the judgment, impose a sentence of imprisonment of either description for a term less than ten years.

Explanation 1. Where a person is subjected to sexual assault by one or more in a group of persons acting in furtherance of their common intention, each of the persons shall be deemed to have committed gang sexual assault within the meaning of this sub-section.

Explanation 2. “Women’s or children’s institution” means an institution, whether called an orphanage or a home for neglected women or children or a widows’ home or an institution called by any other name, which is established and maintained for the reception and care of women or children.

Explanation 3. “Hospital” means the precincts of hospital and includes the precincts of any institution for the reception and treatment of persons during convalescence or of persons requiring medical attention or rehabilitation.

3.3. Amendment of section 376A. Representatives of Sakshi wanted us to recommend the deletion of section 376A (as well as exception to section 375). Their logic was this: when a man who causes hurt or any other physical injury to his own wife is liable to be punished for such offence like any other person causing such hurt or physical injury, why should a husband who sexually assaults his wife, who is living separately under a decree of separation or under any custom or usage, be not punished like any other person. Section 376A, which provides a lesser punishment to a husband who sexually assaults his own wife living separately in the aforesaid circumstances, they argued, is arbitrary and discriminatory. They say that once section 376A is deleted, the husband in such a case would be punished under section 376(1) which carries higher punishment than section 376A. While we appreciate the force of said argument in the context of the wife who is living separately under a decree of separation or under any custom or usage, we cannot at the same time ignore the fact that even in such a case the bond of marriage remains unsevered. In the circumstances, while recommending that this section should be retained on the statute book, we recommend enhancement of punishment under the section.

3.3.1. Accordingly, section 376A shall read as follows: “376A. Sexual assault by the husband upon his wife during separation — whoever commits sexual assault upon his wife, who is living separately from him under a decree of separation or under any custom or usage, without her consent, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than two years and which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.”

To be concluded



Look before you crash

Crash course Sir — Ashok Mitra’s article, “Out of ashes” (Jan 18), should act as an eye-opener for all Indians. For more than 10 years now, people have been listening to and reading all about the various benefits that market reform and liberalization are supposed to usher into the Indian economy. This is despite the Mexican crash of the Nineties, which proved that despite market reforms, a country’s economy can remain stagnant, if not crash. This has also been true of the Indian experience with reforms. Even after market reforms were introduced close to a decade ago, little has changed in terms of social indices or in quality of life. One cannot turn a blind eye to the lessons that the Argentinian economic crash has to offer, as well. The courage and wisdom that the Argentinians are displaying by refusing to tolerate any more impositions from international trade organizations should act as a lesson to Indians. It is high time India realized that mortgaging its economic freedom will only lead to the country losing whatever is left of its political freedom.
Yours faithfully,
Milind Wani, Calcutta

My enemy’s friend

Sir — Pakistan’s closest ally, China, has stated that the Kashmir issue should be solved without involving a third party (“China snubs Musharraf”, Jan 15). The prime minister of China, Zhu Rongji, informed Atal Bihari Vajpayee of this decision during his visit to India. If this development is a sign of a new cordial phase in Sino-Indian relations, then it is indeed welcome. For, continued hostile relations with China, whom the intrepid George Fernandes had labelled India’s “potential enemy number one” and the supposed reason for the May 1998 nuclear tests, could be a serious threat to India’s security. It is obvious that even China realizes the dangers of unfriendly relations with a neighbour having nuclear weapons capability. Countries with nuclear weapons like India, Pakistan and China need to ensure that relations between them do not sour. It is now the turn of Pakistan and India to better relations if they are to avoid war.
Yours faithfully,
Rita Bhowmick, Ranchi

Sir — According to the report, “China hails Pak pledge on militants” (Jan 14), China seems to be much concerned about the political and diplomatic stand-off between Pakistan and India. In a statement issued on the day of Zhu Rongji’s arrival in India, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Sun Yuxi, said that the televised address by the Pakistan president, Pervez Musharraf, was “conducive to easing the tensions in the region”. But the support for Pakistan seems coloured by anxiety at the volatility within that country — at its unstable government, its rampaging Islamic fundamentalists and armoury of nuclear weapons. Rongji’s remark that Pakistan needs to show “maximum restraint” in the present conflict is ample proof of this wariness.

China has been supplying Pakistan with nuclear bombs, missiles and other support. Its interest in the present crisis is apparent — it hopes to retain the territory it had captured from India in 1962. The Chinese should use this opportunity to rethink its policies regarding nuclear weapons and armaments to Pakistan.

Yours faithfully,
Biswanath Ghosh, Durgapur

Sir — The report, “Beijing business basics” (Jan 17), showed the pitiable state of the Indian market. According to Zhu Rongji, the price of electronic goods in India is six to 10 times higher than that in China. Why should Indians pay more for the same product? Rongji’s proposal that India should import Chinese spare parts and assemble them here could be a big boost for our economy. The delegates at the meeting in which Rongji spoke must think about the offer and act swiftly. Judging by the current state of the Indian economy, any boost to it would be welcome.

Yours faithfully,
Saprovo Goswami, Haldia

Doctor in the house

Sir — Lately there has been a great deal of talk regarding medical malpractices in the media. Unfortunately, it is always the story of the aggrieved that is highlighted — the doctor’s version is scarcely ever taken into consideration. The issue needs to be considered afresh.

One aspect of the matter few know about concerns the liabilities and laws applicable to a doctor. Treatment of a patient is an implied contract between the patient and doctor. That is, a doctor cannot be forced to treat any patient asking for his services except in case of emergencies and that too, out of humanity and in keeping with the noble traditions of the profession. The patient should know that a doctor is under no legal obligation to treat him, no matter how bad his condition, unless an implied contract has been established.

Besides, an implied contract is not established if a doctor renders first aid in emergency; if he examines prospective employees before employment; during the examination for life insurance; during the examination of the criminally accused; during the examination for lawsuit purposes. There can be no question of redressal in these cases.

Only if a doctor-patient relationship exists does the possibility of filing a malpractice suit arise. Medical malpractice is defined as “want or lack of reasonable care and skill or wilful negligence on part of the medical practitioner in course of professional attendance on his patient, leading to bodily injury, sufferance and even loss of life”.

Doctors are further enjoined to administer “such reasonable care and attention for the safety of the patient as their mental and physical condition may require”. A breach in this standard may occur when a doctor either deviates from accepted practices or employs accepted practices unskilfully.

A misconception many laymen harbour is that while a doctor has liabilities, a patient has none. That is far from the truth. The duties of a patient constitute furnishing the doctor with complete information about past illness, family history of diseases and the facts and circumstances of the illness. He should follow the instructions of the doctor as regards diet, medicine, and so on, as also pay a reasonable fee to the doctor he has chosen.

Doctors, in India at least, work under tremendous pressure, with limited resources and indifferent staff. The heavy workload imposed on them takes its toll on skill. Under the circumstances, errors are inevitable and only human. Of course, wilful negligence can not be condoned. But filing suits at the drop of a hat can only lead to souring of relations between doctors and patients. A day could well come when doctors, for fear of prospective lawsuits, will turn away critical patients.

Yours faithfully,
Saurav Chatterjee, Calcutta

Sir — Government hospitals in West Bengal are completely indifferent to the plight of patients. Doctors have no fixed hour for reporting to work. Hygiene levels are low and discipline is negligent. Since the patients are normally too poor to sue the doctors for malpractice, the doctors who are at fault tend to go free. To avoid such ill-treatment of patients, doctors must be made accountable and deprived of government protection.

Yours faithfully,
Shayon Mundhra, Calcutta

Sir — Wonder why the University of Utah hit upon such an insignificant subject of research when there are so many more serious illnesses (“Secret of teenage grooming is out”, Jan 3)? That obsessive-compulsive disorder is genetic in nature has been widely reported. Is any more research needed on this subject? This shows that no thought is applied in choosing a subject for research.

Nowadays most diseases are being linked to genes. But patients have not been benefited at all because the cost of such treatment is prohibitive. Besides, doesn’t playing about with genes mean tinkering with nature. And how is it different from cloning?

Yours faithfully,
Arta Mishra, Cuttack

Post waste

Sir — Our postal department obviously does not realize the importance of the postal seal which is used during the dispatch and delivery of mail. This postal seal helps to document the date and time of both dispatch and delivery, as well as the name of the post office from where the item has been mailed. This seal is often used as documentary evidence in judicial matters. It also helps document the amount of time that has lapsed between the item’s being mailed to its being received. The postal seal should therefore be clear and bold, which is often not the case. Only the pre-paid red postal seals tend to be clear and legible.

Instead of clinging on to the old and faded seal, the postal department needs to move with the times and get some new seals which will make it easier for people who use the postal system to be able to trace their mail.

Yours faithfully,
Jyoti Baksi, Calcutta

Sir — The condition of the building in which the Elgin Road post office is located is deplorable. If it is not renovated soon it will meet with the same fate as many other dilapidated buildings in Calcutta. Till the post office is shifted to a new location, the authorities should undertake extensive repairs since the building is dangerous for both the employees as well as the people using it.

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Gupta, Calcutta

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