Editorial 1 / Health check
Editorial 2 / War of words
Rough road to modernity
Fifth Column / Give power to the people
Development’s dilemma
Document / Girls have it bad everywhere
Letters to the editor

Surat has mercifully not repeated itself. Four people have died in Himachal Pradesh of what has been confirmed as pneumonic plague. The name of plague strikes a sort of ancient terror. But the management of the disease in Himachal Pradesh this time shows a reassuring advance in readiness for and attitudes to such an emergency. The diagnosis was quick, the supply of antibiotics prompt and the affected areas quarantined effectively. An epidemic seems to have been successfully averted. More important, there was little panic and less sensation. Plague, like other dangerously contagious diseases, is not just a medical phenomenon. It has a collective social dimension which involves considerably more than the epidemiological. An entire society’s attitudes to disease, death and contagion, to civic space, hygiene and sanitation come to the fore during such crises.

The medical aspects first. Surat in 1994 and Himachal Pradesh in 2002 should shake India, and the third world, out of the assumption that plague has been eradicated. Prevention and management can only be handled through readiness and raising levels of awareness. Equal access to medication will have to be ensured in spite of the inequalities endemic to Indian society. India’s track record with malaria, polio and now most alarmingly HIV/AIDS is not encouraging. There is ignorance at every level and of many kinds — born of poverty and illiteracy, the result of prejudice, superstition, politicking and mismanagement. The pulse polio programme has shown good initiative on the part of the government. But much of it has been marred by backwardness, especially in some poor rural areas. The recent debacles in Assam have not helped either. West Bengal’s battle with malaria has become an annual ritual conducted by the municipality and health department with routine ineffectuality. The outbreak in Surat proved that there is a fundamental problem in the Indian habituation with filth, unhygiene and collective irresponsibility in matters civic and sanitary. From carbon monoxide to arsenic, from defecation to garbage disposal, from untrained paramedics to corrupt bureaucrats, public health could easily become a matter of fatal unconcern to the people and the state. The plague did not come into Himachal Pradesh primarily because of filth. But it did to Surat. However, Surat also showed how the municipal corporation, headed there by Mr S.R. Rao, could make revolutionary changes in the way a city kept itself clean and healthy. Public health, civic consciousness, humane awareness and good governance are inextricable from one another. India should not have to regress into another set of plague deaths in order to remind itself of this vital fact.


Getting the show on the road is something Ms J. Jayalalithaa really knows about. Only this time the thunder sounds a little thin. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader was never one to subscribe to logic or history. The timorous devotion of her partymen and the Tamil Nadu electorate’s propensity to vote her back into power at the earliest possible opportunity after she has been voted out are the two pillars of her confidence. Although it is true that Andipatti has been an AIADMK stronghold for a long time, Ms Jayalalithaa’s logic, that since M.G. Ramachandran won, it is natural she should too, is not merely thin but emaciated. Her promise to change it to a paradise has been ridiculed, naturally, by her rival and pet hate, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader, Mr M. Karunanidhi. According to him, it is not clear what stopped Andipatti from becoming a paradise before this. Besides, Ms Jayalalithaa has not bothered to change her old constituency into paradise either.

Such puerile bickering apart, there is very little meat in the exchange. Mr Karunanidhi has harped on the possibility that his rival would withdraw free power to farmers and raise the price of rice in the public distribution system, and Ms Jayalalithaa has said she will not. Reports suggest that the DMK leader’s reconstruction of the hideous indignity he had to suffer in the hands of the police at Ms Jayalalithaa’s behest drew sympathetic responses from a large audience. Also the fact that the two sons of Mr Karunanidhi, rumoured to be at loggerheads, actually appeared together in the Andipatti campaign has helped the DMK’s image. But these will not matter in the final count. The fact remains that the Andipatti byelection is not being carried out because of genuine need, but because Ms Jayalalithaa needs to be re-elected. This in itself is a telling comment on the loopholes in the system. The present incumbent is stepping down, just as the chief minister, Mr O. Paneerselvam, will do if Ms Jayalalithaa is elected. This is also a comment on the state of the AIADMK’s inner-party democracy, although in this the party is little different from the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party — or the DMK, for that matter. It is not too much to say that things swing quite definitely Ms Jayalalithaa’s way every time she is in power. Although this time she had to step down from chief ministership for a short while even after the AIADMK’s sweeping victory in Tamil Nadu, she found the gods smiling again with the favourable court verdict. Even the Andipatti byelection has gone unquestioned by the Election Commission, while two other constituencies were not so lucky. Only the results will show whether the AIADMK was right in its confidence in Andipatti’s loyalty.


That truth is the first casualty in a war is an old story. The media age has however given it a new twist. News management techniques can now make half-lies more plausible. And the television camera eye can make them more entertaining. The US-led war on terrorism, even as it has created new dilemmas for allies used to nurturing militant outfits for waging proxy wars, also produced new opportunities for cover-ups, doublespeak and double-cross. The suave public persona the war coalition leader presents to a reluctant ally can be quite different in this situation from the stern face he shows in private.

In a loose coalition like the one dominated by the United States of America, there is little room for manoeuvre left to weaker allies. The Arab states are boiling mad at what Israel is doing in Palestine but most of them are too dependent on America to voice their rage. It was extremely painful for Pervez Musharraf to join the war to oust the protégé taliban regime in Kabul which his country had struggled hard to put in power. But earning America’s hostility would have been a bigger calamity and so he opted for the lesser evil.

Similarly, it would have been unthinkable for him to promise to fight terrorism in all its forms, including the one he regarded as legitimate part of a struggle for “freedom” in Kashmir until recently. Yet in the wake of the terrorist attack on Parliament House in New Delhi, and under extreme American pressure, he had to eat his words. He was honest enough to admit that it hurt badly. But he had to lump it. He could go slow on his promise and even cheat on it where possible. What he could not risk was open defiance of the only country able to prevent Pakistan from going over the brink.

Musharraf has some reason to feel sore that the US rewards for his betrayal of the client taliban regime have been niggardly. Yet, this is by no means his main worry now. What spoils his sleep is the quiet way in which the war on terrorism has moved to Pakistan. The US administration has maintained a discreet silence over this sorry business. But this has not prevented the American media from spilling the beans.

This does not mean that America is going to bomb any Pakistan site where it suspects the presence of any al Qaida or taliban leaders. All it signifies is that Pakistan is the most likely place for the most wanted men on the US list to have found refuge and that, with a dozen or so of jihadi groups also at work in the country, it has become a major centre of global terrorism. Musharraf is indeed on trial. The US administration is monitoring meticulously what his government is doing to hunt down the terrorist leaders and rid Pakistan of their organizational networks.

As the pressure to meet American demands increases, Musharraf will not only face a grave policy dilemma but also a potential threat to his own position. It is after all no secret that while his government had readily put two or more of its bases at the disposal of the Americans, it could not prevent a large number of Pakistani troops from fighting on the side of the taliban. Indeed, when defeat stared them in the face some of them had to be rescued by the Inter-Services Intelligence. After the interrogation of Pakistani prisoners at Guantanamo, the Americans have a clearer picture of the extent of the involvement of jihadi elements in the Pakistan army with the taliban and al Qaida.

Seizing power from the palsied hands of an elected government and dissolving the national assembly was easy once Musharraf had made sure of the support of the four corps commanders in the country for his coup. Purging both the higher echelons and lower ranks of the armed forces of jihadi elements will be a more risky affair, particularly at the present time when widespread discontent, new fears, suspicions and feelings of uncertainty are bringing many dormant political and sectarian conflicts in the country to the surface. Musharraf may justify his reversal of old policies as concessions to harsh political necessity. But the part Pakistan played in the ouster of the taliban regime still weighs heavily on the conscience of the radical elements in Musharraf’s main power base. If appeasing them involves one set of risks, getting rid of them carries another which is no less hazardous. That is one of his agonizing dilemmas.

His second dilemma, no less harrowing, arises from the overbearing presence of a large number of jihadi terrorist outfits trained, armed and funded by the Pakistani establishment. They have grown more aggressive of late, are not content merely to fight the proxy war on behalf of Islamabad in Kashmir and are also keen to radicalize, or rather Islamize, politics in more far-reaching ways in Pakistan itself. All this has been a source of worry to Pakistani leaders, both military and civilian, for some time. Recent events have only made the anxiety on this score far more palpable.

Musharraf is not so daft as to think that the kudos he has received from American leaders for undertaking to create a modern state in Pakistan is one more public relations victory and that token follow-up action will be enough to convince his American interlocutors that he means what he says. In fact, such action, to be meaningful in American eyes, means nothing less than the disbandment of all the terrorist outfits in the country, punitive action against their leaders, and putting an end to cross-border terrorism.

It is not that the US administration is looking for immediate dramatic results. Still, it wants some movement along the road to a modern state in which there is no place for private armies or armed groups committed to political or sectarian ends of their own. It is here that ghosts from Pakistan’s past will come to haunt it and obstruct any policies which spell even a cautious advance towards a secular polity, any drastic reform of the laws, a radical reorganization of the madrasahs which have for long served as a breeding ground for young recruits to the jihadi cause, and a reordering of budgetary priorities which recognizes that the extra money needed for investment in education, healthcare and civic amenities would have to come from cuts in military expenditure.

Musharraf needs no lessons in contemporary thought and practice to realize the logic of putting national domestic policies in reverse gear. The old policy meant a lunge forward towards a theocratic society. The one to which he is committed now involves a cautious advance towards a modern state. This cannot be smooth going. A journey along the road to modernization in a country where the president has to back every major change in policy with some episode from early Islamic history bearing on the prophet’s short-term concessions to expediency in the long-term interests of the faith cannot but be full of potholes, landslides and scary hair-bends. In practical terms, they will all get translated into new policy dilemmas resolving which will require more acumen than needed for hijacking a news conference.

In any case, Pakistan cannot take the US for a ride since Washington has by now a fuller picture of the country’s involvement not only with both al Qaida and the taliban in the past but also with a host of other menacing terrorist outfits with a global reach. If the kidnapping, and by now probably killing, of the Wall Street Journal correspondent, Daniel Pearl, has caused so much embarrassment to the Musharraf regime, it is because he was engaged in investigating how far sections of the Pakistan army and the ISI were involved with al Qaida, and highlighting the fact that, despite Musharraf’s advertized crackdown on Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba, some of their leaders as well as offices had been left untouched.

The suspicion of the ISI’s complicity in the Daniel Pearl affair and its opposition to anyone poking his nose into the extremely sensitive matter of its dealings with terrorist outfits in the country was further confirmed when the six-storey building in Rawalpindi which contained all the dossiers on both jihadi organizations and individual terrorists was gutted. Apparently jihadis in the army felt bold enough to destroy the evidence for any effective anti-terrorist drive. All this is a sufficient warning to Musharraf about the forces arrayed against him, not only in the terrorist outfits but also in the military establishment he heads once he starts trying to turn Pakistani into a modern state.

Above all, such a goal, which will imply transition to a democratic political set-up in the country and putting an end to the army’s stranglehold on national policy, will come in the way of his own personal ambitions. Perhaps his idea of democracy is having a national assembly which is no more than a debating society while the army has the final say as before on every major policy issue. He may succeed in conning the Americans and deceiving himself about what modernization or democratization of the polity implies. But the hijacking of such new institutions as he sets up will not change the dysfunctional character of what corrupt politicians, power-hungry generals and a proliferation of jihadi groups between them have made into a rogue state.


T he prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, recently expressed displeasure over the slow pace of power reforms and said that this defeated the very purpose of the reforms — namely, affordable and assured power for all. His speech revealed how the Centre and states had neglected to take measures to improve the power situation and ensure its adequate availability. As a result of this, India is faced with the prospect of an acute power shortage in the coming years.

Vajpayee recalled that, at a meeting held in March 2000, several important decisions were taken to expedite the implementation of reforms in the power sector. It was decided at the meeting to ensure energy audits, eliminate power thefts, install meters of all consumers, and create conditions for power distribution to become commercially viable in the next two or three years. But he regretted that 10 months later, 12 out of 28 states had not even taken the primary step of setting up regulatory commissions. In many states, political and bureaucratic interference had hampered reforms.

Thus, there is little prospect of the power situation improving much during the tenth five year plan period. India will require an additional one lakh megawatts of power in the next 10 years, as also a transmission and distribution system — all of which will need an investment of about Rs 800,000 crore. But given the consistently poor performance of the state electricity boards, there is little prospect of this massive investment coming forth.

Impossible targets

According to a recent survey in The Economist, the losses of the SEBs in 2000-01 totalled Rs 240 billion, which is equivalent to about one per cent of the gross domestic product. Although the targets for capacity addition in the eighth and ninth plans were 30,538 mw and 40,245 mw respectively, the actual achievement was 16,422 mw. The likely capacity at the end of the ninth plan will be about 19,000 mw. Yet, the tenth plan has fixed the capacity addition target at 46,939 mw.

In 2000-01, the average cost of supply was Rs 3.04 per unit but the average revenue earned for every unit was only Rs 2.12, which meant a loss of 92 paise for every unit of power distributed. As a result, the states cannot make full payments to Central power sector utilities for the purchase of power and coal, resulting in outstanding debts of more than Rs 40,000 crore, as of January 2001.

Even if adequate investment were available, there is little pros- pect of the funds being utilized in such a manner as to ensure sufficient availability of power. This is because of the tardy implementation of power projects, due to a number of reasons.

Project report

At the beginning of 2000-01, there were 29 power projects in the pipeline, at an anticipated cost of Rs 45,800 crore. Before a project is undertaken, it is essential to ensure clearly the demand pattern, the linkage of coal mines to the projects, the availability of transport for the movement of coal or pipelines for gas, acquisition of land and the sources of funding. Progress on the power projects under construction has been slow because of poor mobilization of resources by contractors, slow pace of work and delay in delivery of equipment.

The power situation in the eastern and northeastern regions continues to be unsatisfactory. Plant load factor is an important indicator of operational efficiency in thermal power plants. In 2000-01, PLF in the eastern region was only 47 per cent, while in the Northeast, it was 18 per cent. Compare this with the 75 per cent and more PLF in the northern, southern and western regions.

All this indicates the likelihood of a power shortfall in the near future. On January 17, the Union minister for power, Suresh Prabhu, exhorted the SEBs to restructure themselves and make their operations commercially viable. He also said that the power sector had become a “drag on the economy”, with the total losses of all the SEBs and other utilities amounting to about 1.5 per cent of India’s GDP.

Given all this, one wonders what the planning commission was doing all these years when the power sector was being mismanaged by the Centre and the states.


Usually, the triennial conferences of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are routine affairs where predictable rhetoric is mouthed about “self-criticism” and “ideological renewal”. The 20th conference of the West Bengal unit of the party, which opens in Calcutta this week, can be an important departure insofar as it focuses on the new approaches to the state’s economic development. That the party conference is to be used for the development debate is significant for two fundamental reasons. It suggests that the party is struggling to formulate an economic agenda which can counter the ideology of economic liberalization. And it is anxious to wrap the new-fangled development debate in the language of orthodox political discourse.

As a conventional Leninist party, the CPI(M) would consider it blasphemous to abandon the idea of class struggle even if it has to co-exist with the dark, evil forces of privatization and liberalization. If the party has to run a state government, as in West Bengal and in Kerala, its development agenda has to strike a balance between the economic compulsions and the political-ideological rhetoric. Anil Biswas, the party’s West Bengal unit secretary, has a unique solution for the policy dilemma.

“The struggle for development is part of the class struggle”, he says in a note that sets the guidelines and the tone for the debates at the party conference. Debating development — and hitting the right road — thus becomes an object lesson for both the Left Front’s economic agenda and the Marxists’ political strategy. Biswas, too, says as much, “Our party wants to make development work the face of a massive mass campaign... The party and its mass organizations have to adopt relevant programmes and initiatives (to make this happen). We must do this to win over the largest sections of the people to our side”.

The campaign for development has to be carried on simultaneously with the campaign against “globalization, centralization, market-driven liberalization and unbridled privatization.” Partymen should have no problem over this. But the problem is that the West Bengal government has to increasingly compromise on this party recipe — for the sake of development.

Biswas’s note on the party conference does not elaborate on the dilemma. But a party “letter” does, thereby issuing a thinly-veiled warning to the cadre on the double dilemma they may have to face and on possible public perceptions. The letter, unlike Biswas’s note, is not for public consumption and is circulated among party members only. It talks of the coming dangers that the party and its government would be forced to face soon. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to bear routine expenses to run the government,” the letter warns. “In these circumstances, while the Centre is continuing with disinvestment of profitable public sector units, it would be illogical to expect the state government to spend crores of rupees for its own loss-making units. Some of these will have to be closed down as all efforts to revive them have failed”.

So, partymen will go on the offensive against the Centre for selling Jessop but will be forced into self-defence if the state-owned Krishna Glass Factory is closed or sold out. The cadre will take to the streets against the Centre’s decision to abolish 10 per cent of jobs in Central government establishments. But they will have to explain to the people the “correctness” of the state government’s decision to hire only contractual workers on certain categories of vacancies. “It would be unreasonable to oppose such decisions by some government departments,” the letter says. Obviously, many partymen are not convinced and are opposing the new hiring policy that was so far considered the prerogative of the private sector.

The cadre will have to take to the streets to oppose the Centre’s pressure on state governments to accept “conditionalities” of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other agencies for project loans. But the same cadre will have to justify “increases in electricity rates, toll tax, irrigation tax, water tax and hospital fees because of the loan repayment burdens”. No doubt the Marxists will need much more than their conventional pedagogy and anti-Centre rhetoric to explain the state’s own reforms to the people.

Too much explaining can also look defensive and may eventually turn out to be self-defeating for a party that must constantly find a cause for struggle. Already, sections of partymen are anxious that the development slogan has blunted the edge of struggles. They feel that calls to old agitprops ring hollow because of the party’s inability to rouse workers in the face of inevitable decline of old industries and loss of work. The government and the party have a double-edged problem — trade unionism of old must be abjured for development’s sake but the deunionizing of workers that might follow would be disastrous for the party. In other words, despite Biswas’s prescription, development will suffer if the party’s work for it looks too much like class struggle.

If Biswas’s guideline looks paradoxical, that is because the CPI(M) has yet to come to grips with the reality of the market as the driving force of the economy. It is because the party’s faith in socialism, state planning and the Nehruvian emphasis on the public sector remains largely unshaken. It may pay lip service to Deng Xiaoping’s formula of marrying the market to socialism. The party harps on the limitations of a state government, but the real problem seems to be not of the power to change things, but of a clear idea of the ideological tools of change.

In West Bengal, nowhere is the party’s confusion of ideas about development priorities better seen than in the debate over agro-based industries. There is general agreement in the party that agro-based industries are the natural step to carry forward the gains of land reforms as well as to break the impasse of diminishing returns from land and growing rural unemployment. Interestingly, party leaders refer more and more to Japan’s — and not China’s — experience of building an industrial base on the solid foundation of land reforms. But rural industries too need land and the party’s peasant wing, Kishan Sabha, is still struggling to explain to the farmer that the loss of his land is a price he must pay for bigger economic gains. The party leadership may have convinced itself of the argument, but many local satraps continue to raise the old development-versus-displacement debate and stall agro-industrial projects.

It is no coincidence that Biswas has put the development agenda at the centre of the party conference this time. He knows better than any other partyman that this indeed is going to be the focal point for the future, at least in West Bengal. The party’s responses to the transitional economic situation today will largely determine its political future. The all-India party congress, to be held in Hyderabad next month, can afford to sound simply agitational. The party in West Bengal has to sing a different tune. It would be simplistic to dismiss this as duplicity; it is a challenge that has farreaching consequences for both the CPI(M) and West Bengal. It also is the Marxists’ real challenge for ideological renewal.


The percentage of disabled girls receiving education (38.34 per cent) was found to be much lower than the percentage of disabled boys (61.66 per cent) receiving education. In Asia, 66 per cent of all women are illiterate. With such a high rate of illiteracy among women in general, the chances of disabled girls getting education are extremely poor. Due to the lack of educational opportunities, many disabled women spend tedious hours employed in cottage industries, in work for which little education is necessary, whereas, with proper education they could be lawyers, administrators, etc. It is known that disabled girls have less access to education than their male counterparts and non-disabled girls. Such a situation perpetuates a traditionally narrow role for women. Since the trends are similar in nongovernmental organizations ...special focus should now be given to the female disabled child and her education.

About 66.39 per cent of the respondent organizations provide vocational training services. While only about 47.44 per cent provide training in other relevant skills. About 65.55 per cent provide placement services and about 84.62 per cent have follow-up services after placements. While these organizations are able to train approximately 6,000 disabled people in one year, the number of disabled people placed in the last two years was only 4,812. What happens to all those who are trained but are left without jobs? Are they not the responsibility of these NGOs? Is the lacunae because of the irrelevance of the vocational training being offered in terms of jobs available in the labour market? Or is it because of the absence of training in other relevant skills, like purchase of raw materials, marketing, functional literacy and numeracy, work ethics, and so on, which are crucial to sustain a job?

It is apparent from the data that the type of vocational training being provided is more apt for working in sheltered workshops and groups, and for self-employment. As mentioned earlier, 51.85 per cent of those placed in the last two years were under self-employment. The general trend is towards training in arts and crafts, block and screen printing, making stationary items, photocopying, and so on. Only a handful of NGOs provide technical training in industry-related work areas or in computer operations. Therefore, even if the corporate sector and the government provide greater job opportunities for disabled people, there will be very few professionally qualified disabled individuals to take up those posts. The type of vocational training being provided restricts the options for disabled people. It seems to be preparing them only for self-employment, and then too they are dependent on others for purchase and marketing. Do NGOs believe that these are the only activities disabled people are capable of? Is it not time to review the type of vocational, technical and professional training that is available at present to disabled people? A policy for the future, based on the requirements of the labour market should be evolved.

The gender disparity is apparent again in the vocational training services reaching disabled women. Out of the 5,618 disabled people enrolled in vocational training in the last one year in the respondent NGOs, only 35.85 per cent were women.

At an International Labour Organization meeting in Harare, some of the reasons for the low participation of women in vocational training units were discussed. According to a paper from Tanzania, “Efforts to involve women with disabilities in vocational training programmes have failed, as the place and role of women in general, and of disabled women in particular, are supposed to be in the home.” Women with disabilities are multiply handicapped in that they are female, illiterate, disabled and mostly live in rural areas. To shake away this vulnerability and the stereotype, NGOs need to ensure that maximum number of disabled women is able to get technical training, to be able to find appropriate, permanent and satisfying jobs.

To be concluded



Enter the foreigner

Sir — It is surprising that the Congress has raised such a hue and cry over Atal Bihari Vajpayee calling Sonia Gandhi a “videshi mahila”, or foreign woman (“Cong demands Atal apology”, Feb 3). Although she is now an Indian citizen, and her loyalty towards India genuine, she is also undoubtedly a foreigner. There is nothing wrong with speaking this truth, so long as it is recognized how her “foreignness” is used cheaply to play with people’s xenophobia. Far more humiliating and derogatory were the remarks made by George Fernandes during the last election campaign, when he pondered on whether Sonia Gandhi had served any use other than giving birth to two children. That, one may quip, is far better performance than that of the defence minister. The Congress should maintain its poise, and keep faith in the electorate. Remember that in the Bellary constituency, where Fernandes made his comments, the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate was soundly beaten.

Yours faithfully,
Urmila Guha, Burnpur

Living by the sword

Sir — Bhaskar Ghose resents the punishment presently being meted out to Afghanistan by the United States of America (“Headboy in the class”, Jan 29). Rather naively, he seems to be wondering if the US has any right to punish another country barring that which is given it by its military and economic might? My answer is a counter question. Does not the government of a country owe its citizens complete protection from terrorist acts perpetrated by residents of another country?

That duty cannot be discharged by a government which is inherently weak, either politically, economically, or militarily. Only weak governments suffer at the hands of rogue states. The repeated pleas of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani about India “suffering” from cross-border terrorism should be seen in this light.

Terrorism in India is not new. I recall the late Fifties and the early Sixties when citizens of India found it difficult to enter the Northeast. Now this anti-outsider movement has grown so strong that even local inhabitants live under constant threat of each other. The Inter-Services Intelligence over the past two decades has been able to spread its network throughout the country.

None of the steps which the US has taken during the war on terrorism, nor the actions initiated by Pervez Musharraf could have been taken by the government of India because they require a determined effort. Why should then India blame the US for punishing terrorism?

The countries that harbour terrorism cannot be spared punishment because they are poor and weak or non-white. That such countries would some day be in a position to “do their own punishing” is wishful thinking. Look at India for instance. That “some day” will not come even in the remote future.

Yours faithfully,
H.C. Johari, Calcutta

Sir — Bhaskar Ghose in “Headboy in the class” suggests that the US today does not need to create any myths to sustain and justify its war on terrorism. I would like to disagree. “September 11” are words which have taken on a resonance that makes it more than the mere date of a historical event. The collapse of the World Trade Center towers made instant iconography. And then there were the endless speeches of George W. Bush and Tony Blair about the evil of terrorism and the sanctity of the state. This is pure myth-making, complete with arch-protagonists, Bush and Osama bin Laden. I find there is little difference between this and the myth-making carried out during the Vietnam war, except that in Afghanistan the US has been successful and its rhetoric left unexposed.

Yours faithfully,
Nataraj Gopal, Cuttack

Sex in the city

Sir — Sreyashi Dastidar’s delightfully written piece exposes just how sad the situation is for young Calcuttans (“The curfew tolls the knell of parting day”, Feb 14). The worst thing is not having the option to disappear from public gaze when we feel like it. We all need, as young adults, space to grow. Without a private space to search, explore, grow, and yes, flounder, our transition to adulthood is precarious at best. Precarious adults raise precarious children, by default if not by choice. Wait a minute! I can hear someone in the background. “This is the problem of affluence. Calcutta has much bigger problems: poverty, the search for justice, and eighteen others ahead of it.” I am not so sure. Poverty we can crawl out of — at least we can hope to, someday. But the fight against a wobbly sense of the self is not so forgiving. We all have our stories to tell.

Yours faithfully,
Amitava Sarkar, New Jersey, US

Sir — Is promiscuous sex good? Is the breakdown of a shared sense of family space and identity to be welcomed? Is modernity, and liberalization, in all its forms to be embraced? If, like me, your answer to these questions is no, then you will have been deeply disturbed by Sreyashi Dastidar’s recent article on the need for private space.

I am a member of one these urban middle class families in Calcutta, families which are apparently run by “curfew, censure, unease, anxiety”. Excuse me if I find in this list the greatest virtue of the Indian family, especially when compared with the broken families one finds in the West. These virtues are: returning home in the evening to share with the family your experiences, as they have given you the energy and strength to leave home every morning; and a sense of honour and propriety in dealing with other family members. If these values are kept in mind and the duties to one’s family fulfilled, where is there space for unease and anxiety?

Yours faithfully,
Sunita Dasgupta, Calcutta

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