Editorial 1 / Still in pieces
Editorial 2 / Out of bounds
Different images
Fifth Column / New lessons for a new economy
The price of growth
Document / Finding the right pair of shoes in the loot
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / STILL IN PIECES 
 
 
 
 
It is too early to say if the visit of the American secretary of state, Mr Colin Powell, to west Asia will help diffuse the crisis in the region. The secretary of state has met with the Palestinian leader, Mr Yasser Arafat, at his headquarters at Ramallah, which is still under siege by Israeli troops, and held talks with the Israeli prime minister, Mr Ariel Sharon, in Jerusalem. Mr Powell has also held meetings with political leaders in Lebanon and Syria, in an attempt to secure support for a comprehensive peace process. So far, however, Mr Powell has been unable to either get a firm commitment from Mr Arafat that the Palestinians will cease fire or a promise from Mr Sharon that Israel will withdraw from the Palestinian territories. Mr Sharon has not given any timetable for a withdrawal from the West Bank, and has instead demanded assurances that suicide bombings by Palestinians stop before Israel considers pulling out. And while Mr Arafat has condemned several suicide bombings, he has so far not called a ceasefire. Earlier, the United Nations security council, supported by the United States of America, had adopted a resolution demanding Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah. Meanwhile, reports of the excessive use of force by the Israeli army, particularly in the Jenin refugee camp, have outraged international public opinion even beyond west Asia.

Several ideas for reviving the peace process have, nonetheless, been advanced. Israel has demanded that the US should lead a regional conference to resolve the conflict. Mr Sharon has asked the US to host talks between Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco and Palestinian representatives. Mr Arafat has said that he would accept the Israeli proposal if it had the backing of the American president, Mr George W. Bush, and if Israel pulled out of Palestinian territories. European Union ministers are formulating a peace plan proposed by Germany’s foreign minister, Mr Joschka Fischer. This suggests a two-year timeframe for an end to hostilities followed by talks on final status issues such as the future of Jerusalem and the exact borders of Israel and the Palestinian state. Recall also that the recent Arab League summit had backed the Saudi Arabian peace proposal, which offers Israel peace in exchange for lands it occupied in the 1967 six-day war. The present cycle of violence must stop if there has to be any chance of peace. Use of further Israeli force will only exacerbate the situation and provoke further violence from the Palestinians. It is critical for those who have influence over the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships, especially the US, to exercise maximum pressure to ensure a return to the negotiating table. Unless immediate steps are taken to manage the conflict, the whole region could be engulfed in a major international crisis.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / OUT OF BOUNDS 
 
 
 
 
To enemies of promise, closing down comes easier than opening up. Tuesday’s nationwide industrial strike showed for the umpteenth time why West Bengal remains out of bounds for any promising ventures. While the strike remained an industrial action in other parts of the country, the Marxists turned it into a total shutdown of all public activity. Calcutta was the only city where even the airport was almost completely closed by the striking employees. The disruptions in the state forced yet another wasted day on large sections of the people who had little to do with industries or state enterprises, the privatization of which was one of the main issues on which the strike was called. That the bandh in Bengal was calculated to prolong a three-day holiday for government employees by one more day was familiar chicanery. What is more disturbing is the signal that the Marxist rulers are incapable of changing track, no matter what the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, says to attract investors to the state. That the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the trade union affiliated to the Bharatiya Janata Party, made common cause with the leftists on the strike shows how pervasive the old — and rotten — argument in favour of the public sector is. There cannot be any economic logic in running perennially loss-making units only to protect jobs, just as the government cannot justify forcing these burdens on the taxpayer. Before the last assembly elections in the state, the Marxists had conceded as much and promised to close down unviable state-run enterprises or hand them over to private entrepreneurs. Tuesday’s shutdown belies that promise of change.

The Marxist maladjustment with new economic policies showed itself in the decision to keep the Haldia petrochemicals out of the purview of the strike. The argument was that the unit had to be kept open because once shut down it would take three days to restart the boilers. If the idea was to send out a different message about the only industrial showpiece of the state, it obviously failed to carry conviction. It should have occurred to the organizers of the strike that a strike does the same damage to the economy of the entire state. The damage is much greater for the state because the ripple effect of a shutdown harms not only today’s economy but tomorrow’s prospects as well. Unfortunately for Bengal, the leftists cannot be expected to discard the jaded idea of strikes and bandhs as forms of protest until they perceive the futility of their economic rhetoric. It is a vicious cycle from which Mr Bhattacharjee promised to break free. It seems he still has a long way to go to redeem his pledge.

   

 
 
DIFFERENT IMAGES 
 
 
BY K.P. NAYAR
 
 
For once the prime minister was wrong. Atal Bihari Vajpayee told inmates of the Shah Alam Roza refugee camp during his visit to Ahmedabad on April 4 that with all that was happening in Gujarat, he was troubled about how he would show his face in Singapore, where he was headed during that weekend.

If the sensitive, emotional Vajpayee was moved into making that statement after seeing the plight of 8,000 displaced Muslims in the camp, it was perfectly understandable.

If, on the other hand, the prime minister’s reaction was the result of briefings he received from South Block about what to expect during his visit to southeast Asia, the officials who put Vajpayee on the defensive did both him and India a disservice.

From the distance of Washington, this columnist has been intrigued by recent reports, analyses and editorials in the Indian media about how the ground has suddenly been cut from under India’s feet by the violence — no doubt reprehensible — which engulfed Gujarat. It is clear that the same rationale has been fed to Vajpayee at least by a section of officials in South Block.

It is important to remember in the face of this propaganda that foreign investment has no moral standard. If it did, Africa would not be in its present state of having been looted and plundered for decades by murderous dictators with the active collaboration of conglomerates from rich countries. Nor would South Africa have thrived under the apartheid practised by its former white rulers. It is seldom that heads of state and government the world over are moved beyond lip service by what is right and wrong. The only factor which would prod them into action is self-interest. If the former Yugoslav strongman, Slobodan Milosevic, is now in the Netherlands facing a war crimes tribunal, it is only because western Europe and the United States of America belatedly acted against him when they were haunted by ghosts of World War I. It was, after all, the murder of the Archduke of Austria by a Serbian which triggered the first great war.

The reality is that the world outside India couldn’t care less about what is happening in Gujarat. Even if more attention-grabbing events have not been taking place in west Asia, Pakistan and Venezuela, it is doubtful if any significant body of people abroad would have bothered to pause and think about Gujarat. The only exceptions are the Gulf states like Saudi Arabia where Pakistani diplomats have been working overtime to fan the flames of hatred against Hindus and Indians by tying Gujarat to the coat-tails of the current anti-Israeli, anti-US sentiment. But even there, in the efforts to get their compatriots to flood newspaper offices with anti-Indian mail, Pakistani diplomats are being worsted by the huge influx of genuine letters from newspaper readers on the Palestine issue.

In the US, where television is the most influential medium, images of Gujarat were few and far between even when violence in the state was at its height. There were the inevitable stories when passengers of the Sabarmati Express were burnt to death in Godhra and trouble subsequently erupted in parts of Gujarat. But it was not a story which was beamed into living rooms in America again and again.

In the print media, some American reporters of south Asian descent who were sent to India to report on Gujarat decided that the best way to justify the trust reposed in them, who were relatively junior and inexperienced journalists, by their editors was to resort to India-bashing. After all, the only thing that justified their choice for covering the story was their Indian ethnicity.

Unlike in the aftermath of the post-Ayodhya riots in 1993, none of the big names of American print journalism, who command respect in every corner of the world, went to India to report on Gujarat or to analyse the impact of events in the state. Officials of the administration, when asked on record about the deaths in the western Indian state, expressed condolences and piously hoped that the situation would get better. Except on policy issues, on-the-record briefings, after all, are occasions to produce the least controversial responses and provide sound-bites or a quote for reporters who pose a particular question. No more.

During background and off-the-record briefings, Bush administration officials from various arms of the US government have made it abundantly clear that Gujarat is not a foreign policy issue. In other words, it is intrinsically irrelevant to the current state of play in Indo-US relations.

The overall feedback across the US from circles which matter to New Delhi is a pervasive sense of relief that the violence in Gujarat has been contained and restricted despite grave provocations on both sides of the communal divide. If the violence had spread to other states and engulfed, say, a city of high international visibility like Mumbai, Vajpayee would, indeed, have had difficulty showing his face in Singapore or anywhere else. But that did not happen.

A clearer picture will be available later this week when the finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, arrives in Washington for meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and has his usual interaction with American business interests. At his recent public appearances, the Indian ambassador to the US, Lalit Mansingh, has been making a point which has largely shaped American attitude to Gujarat. “I dare say if this had happened in any other country, there would have been a holocaust,” he told the University Club in the US capital last week. “I think that is the spirit of India...There are sparks now and then, considering our size, our history, our track record. We love to keep faith in India because for us, this is part of our national culture,” Mansingh said.

Many Americans have vivid memories of the riots in Los Angeles just 10 years ago when Rodney King, a black man was beaten to pulp by the city police and the very policemen were then acquitted in court despite a video footage of the beating. And America is now living down the hate crimes which came in the wake of terrorist attacks in New York and Washington last September. As an aside, the Rodney King case has similarities to Gujarat — even in the behaviour of the police establishment. Tapes of radio conversations between one of the officers who beat up King and the police headquarters, made public during the trial of the policemen, are very revealing.

“I haven’t beaten anyone this bad in a long time,” one of the officers gloated as he spoke to the police headquarters from his car radio. The headquarters responded: “Oh well...I’m sure the lizard didn’t deserve it...ha, ha, I’ll let them know, OK.” The lizard in question, of course, is King, the victim of police brutality.

For the moment, however, let us leave the US and go to Singapore, which was a source of worry for Vajpayee when he came face to face with displaced Muslims in Ahmedabad.

During numerous visits by this columnist to Singapore, those in charge of the city state’s security, right upto key ministers, have shared their deep concerns about an Islamic threat to the stability of the prosperous island.

Those concerns have only increased since the events of September 11. Evidence of this has been the recent crackdown on an Islamic ring in Singapore and stepped up cooperation with the US on fighting religious extremism.

Like many people in India, Singaporeans, are aware that they are encircled by Islam and that within that encirclement is a potential threat to the city state’s way of life. Indeed, Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, is already adrift and fundamentalist forces in Malaysia are only reined in because of the firm leadership of Mahathir Mohammed. Under those circumstances, Vajpayee need not have had any worry about how he would show his face in Singapore. It is even safe to assume that the prime minister’s speech in Goa about militant Islam has been influenced by the exchanges he has had with Singapore’s extremely articulate and forceful leaders like Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.

The violence, the killings and the destruction in Gujarat committed by both Hindus and Muslims deserve to be condemned. But to argue that these incidents have brought India to a cul-de-sac is to fall victim to propaganda which is replete with the kind of double standards which Vajpayee referred to while clarifying his speech in Goa.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / NEW LESSONS FOR A NEW ECONOMY 
 
 
BY INDRAJIT RAY
 
 
A recent statement by a minister of the West Bengal government — that the envisaged ban on private tuitions should be extended to college and university teachers — has sparked off a debate on the state of higher education in the country. Private tuitions have come to be an integral part of the education system — students simply cannot think of completing any course or sitting for any examination without private tuitions. The prevailing perception is that one must go to a tutor to get solutions to the questions that might be posed in the examinations.

The minister’s statement has generated much controversy with teachers’ bodies claiming that the government would not be able to implement the ban because students and guardians themselves support the tuitions’ system. No doubt, the minister realizes that the ban on private tuitions might cost him the support of teachers, but he hopes to be compensated by the support of the students who number much more than the teachers.

Intellectuals and educationists too have contributed to the debate, but a question everyone has missed is, why do we need tuitions at all?

Teaching in small groups is one of the most effective methods of disseminating knowledge. The smaller the size of the class, the better the transfer of knowledge. In the ancient gurukul system, one teacher taught a small group of only a few students.

Revision time

Obviously there has been a trade-off between costs and benefits in the modern education system and teaching in small groups is simply not considered economically feasible any longer.

In Indian colleges, private tuitions are used mainly to rehash what is taught in the regular lectures, solve problems pertinent to the syllabus and help students excel in university examinations. Often, a professor conducts private tutorials to supplement his income. Students are obliged to enrol in these tutorials because the professor, sometimes intentionally, does not do an adequate job in his class and the private tutorials provide that little extra before the exams.

But instead of banning tutorials altogether, what is needed perhaps is special small group tutorials to teach skills vital in today’s economic scenario.

In Western universities, a lot of emphasis is placed on testing the student’s ability to participate in group discussions, come up with innovative responses to problems and make presentations. These practical skills are developed in small discussion sessions or tutorials, which are conducted over and above the regular lectures. In some cases, such skills are tested even during regular lectures.

These tutorials help instill persuasion skills, tact, leadership abilities, playing to one’s strength and thinking on one’s feet, attributes that will stand the student in good stead even at the workplace.

Necessary skills

And most important, students are taught these skills irrespective of what subject they are specializing in. Thus an arts graduate is as likely to have these skills as an engineering or management graduate.

Unfortunately, tutorials in India, except in a few premier institutes like the Indian Institutes of Management, are not used for these purposes.

In order to implement this system, attending tutorials should be made compulsory for every student. As the size of the group is small, attendance should not be difficult to monitor. Of course, better administrative efficiency is also needed to implement this. The expenses of conducting such tutorials can be lessened somewhat if post-graduate students are hired to conduct tutorials, much like the American system of teaching-assistantships.

Of course, a concomitant issue here is whether the Indian corporate culture is sophisticated enough to productively utilize these skills. That is, is there a sufficiently large demand for these qualities in the job market to justify a paradigm shift in education? Economic liberalization, the entry of foreign firms and globalization make this a purely rhetorical question.

In fact, maintaining the status quo in education while revolutionizing the economy is an almost certain recipe for disaster.

   

 
 
THE PRICE OF GROWTH 
 
 
BY ALOK RAY
 
 
Despite objections from less developed countries, the World Trade Organization is going to take up trade-related environmental issues in the forthcoming round of talks. The labour standards issue has, however, been successfully shelved for the time being. So, it is important to understand the major environmental issues confronting countries like India at this moment.

The developed countries are putting pressure to raise environmental standards in LDCs. Their argument is two-fold. One, lower standards and lax enforcement are giving an unfair cost advantage to producers in LDCs over their counterparts in developed countries. This enables the former to export more and import less, thereby creating potential job losses in the developed nations. Moreover, lower standards encourage more foreign investments to flow to LDCs, taking along with them jobs in developed countries.

Two, in order to attract direct foreign investment and jobs, countries are deliberately lowering standards, leading to the “race to the bottom” problem. This competition for investment and jobs is causing a further lowering of global standards and greater global pollution. Developed countries want to include a provision in the WTO rules to counter this “social dumping” (as distinct from the traditional economic dumping allegedly used by some countries to sell at an artificially low price in foreign markets). They would like to reserve the right to impose a countervailing import duty to offset this “unfair” cost advantage until LDCs accept the same higher standards prevailing in these nations.

The counter arguments are as follows. All countries need not and should not have the same environmental standards. The trade-off between growth, that is jobs, and pollution is bound to be different at different stages of economic development. There were far worse labour and environment standards prevailing in Britain during the Industrial Revolution. Some countries, LDCs argue, may prefer to pollute now and clean up later. However, there are problems with this logic. First, some of the effects may be irreversible and may be impossible to clean up later. An example could be the permanent waterlogging of some areas as a result of filling up of waterbodies in other areas. Second, the effects may not be known now, as in the case of some genetically engineered crops. So, caution is necessary in carrying forward the argument.

Researchers however find little evidence that would substantiate claims that countries deliberately lower standards to attract multinational companies. In fact, it may be politically difficult for an elected national or municipal government to ask MNCs to come and make profits by polluting the local atmosphere. Lower environmental standards usually play a minor role, relative to factors like the state of infrastructure, size of market, cost of labour, tax regimes, speed of implementation of government policies and so on in deciding where MNCs would set up factories.

Suppose we accept that different countries should have different standards. Does this mean that there is no need for international coordination of standards? The answer is that international regulation is needed when effects spill over national boundaries. If pollution by factories in one country causes acid rain in another, surely international standards and monitoring are called for. The same is true for global warming or discharge of nuclear wastes. We need international agreements like the Kyoto convention to reduce the total global amount of pollutants. National governments can not simply be left to decide the policy in these cases.

Another issue. Should third world countries allow polluting industries like pesticides, paper, foundries to move from the first to the third world? There is no harm so long as these industries obey the national pollution standards of the country which are framed keeping the national priorities in mind. From this perspective there is no logic in having different pollution standards for foreign and domestic firms. However, opinions may differ here. One may argue that foreign firms, because they are new and have deeper pockets, can afford to install superior and more expensive technology for pollution control. Hence they should be subjected to higher standards in comparison with already established and less prosperous firms.

There is some logic in this. For example, newly established tanneries can be more easily forced to adopt better technology and machines than the tanneries set up many years back, without risking closure of factories and the consequent social dislocation. But then the distinction should be between old and new firms, not domestic versus foreign.

Does free trade damage the environment? Many environment activists think so. The truth is, it may or may not. For example, shrimp farming in some parts of India has led to salination and dumping of polluted water in surrounding land and waterways, destroying the quality of irrigation and drinking water and damaging the health and livelihood of others. Now, as a result of a court order, all kinds of coastal shrimp farming have been banned in some parts of India. On the face of it, greater export opportunities for shrimp triggered this mushrooming of shrimp farming. But then remember that all countries do not adopt the same environment-damaging methods for shrimp cultivation. So freer trade is not the principal culprit.

The problem is that there was no disincentive for the adoption of such technology in India. If the polluters were fully aware that they would have to pay for the damage inflicted on others, they would have used other kinds of farming methods. More exports, coupled with the adoption of environment-friendly technologies and appropriate compensation to those adversely affected, would have been a much better solution than banning all shrimp farming.

But counter examples exist. Some argue that agricultural trade liberalization under WTO would shift production from the European Union to LDCs. Given that EU agriculture is more pesticide-intensive than in LDCs, the movement towards free trade in this case may improve global environment. One needs to make a distinction between two types of cases for devising the right policy. In one case, the health or environment damage may be caused despite having prior knowledge of the adverse effects. There has been enough evidence from the unearthing of internal research documents that big tobacco companies were aware of the health damage they were causing, but misled the consumers. This is a clear case where the companies should be made to pay damages.

Now, consider another example. Arsenic poisoning of water has resulted in certain parts of Bangladesh where tubewells were being drilled with the help of aid from the United Nations Clearly, the intention was noble and the tragic effects were unanticipated. Here the correct solution would be relief and adjustment assistance, as in the case of any natural disaster.

Let me end by noting one basic difference between the way the typical environment activist (and sometimes activist judges) and an economist looks at the pollution problem. To the activist no one has the right to pollute and the goal is zero pollution. An economist would say that zero pollution is neither feasible nor desirable. The goal should be the “optimum” level of pollution where the additional benefit of reducing pollution by one unit is equal to the additional cost of such reduction. In other words, reducing pollution also has costs in terms of the resources used up which need to be balanced against the benefits. To the activist it is essentially a moral question whereas to the hard-nosed economist it is a question of social cost-benefit analysis.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / FINDING THE RIGHT PAIR OF SHOES IN THE LOOT 
 
 
 
 
The delegation spoke to several eyewitnesses of the looting of big shops. A well-known artist in Ahmedabad described... how a neighbour had returned with a car full of looted goods... All the reports of looting in the posh areas of the city indicated that it was not the poor but the well-dressed middle class, including women, who participated. However, we could not visit any of the colonies where these looters reside so we were unable to actually get an idea of the numbers ... involved. In one reported incident a woman went into a shoe shop while her husband waited in the car. The shoes she brought out did not fit him so she went in again to change them! Whether this particular story is true or not, it captures the amoral greed of supposedly educated people which was on full display for at least two days in Ahmedabad. The political platform of Hindutva directly encourages criminal acts directed against “the other” and converts looted goods from Muslim properties into trophies to be displayed as “politically correct status symbols”...

In Gujarat there are more affluent sections of the minority community than in any other state. The attacks have broken the economic spine of the community... For example, Ahmedabad is dotted with the burnt remains of...over 700 small and big hotels owned by the Muslim Cheliyar community. Lists of these hotels ... were reportedly in the possession of the arsonists. That explains how they could so easily identify Muslim properties. In many rural areas, sections of particular sects of Muslims are money lenders or traders and ration shop owners giving loans to tribal and other poorer sections. Survivors testified to the delegation that VHP groups trucked in tribals to loot and burn. These are clearly a cynical manipulation of feelings generated not by communal but by economic concerns. The RSS and its “Vanvasi” organizations have been extremely active in promoting communal divisions among the tribal communities which was earlier witnessed during the violence against Christian tribals. This base is now being used against Muslims...

The testimonies of the victims ... reflect a level of savagery that is truly shocking. Ahmedabad has seen many communal incidents and rioting. But everyone said they had never known of so many cases when children and women were burnt. The delegation spoke to many women who had been injured and attacked while trying to save their children and husbands... The number of dead and the property burnt is far greater than estimated by the state government. There are serious doubts about the compensation since even 10 days after the mass burnings, killings and looting there is little effort to record FIRs. Worse still, the terrible insecurity felt by the minority community makes a mockery of the concept of rehabilitation. Where would the homeless and the violated be rehabilitated? Today the displaced families believe they can never go back to the areas or the villages where they lived. It would require a fundamentally different political situation and government which would guarantee that Muslims could live in peace and security.

According to government estimates, there are at present almost one lakh people in relief camps...The condition of the camps continues to be horrible. Trauma and grief pervades the camps. Yet students of class X and XII are expected to start giving their board exams on March 18. When the earthquake hit Gujarat in January last year, the government correctly made allowances for students in affected areas and postponed the examinations for another two months. Yet there is no such sympathy today. This means that students...who live in affected areas along with those in the camps will be forced to miss at least one academic year or risk failure.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Shedding the mask

Limited success Sir — The report, “Seaside tilt from T-shirt to trident” (April 14), exposes the hypocrisy of the prime minister of India. Atal Bihari Vajpayee has more often than not personified the liberal face of the Bharatiya Janata Party. People took him to be the elderly and experienced politician, given to occasional musings, who had the heart to show his tears at the relief camps in Ahmedabad. Yet, if his recent remarks at the BJP’s national executive are any indication, Vajpayee does not seem to have thought twice before shedding his liberal outlook in a desperate attempt to woo his parivar. Instead of trying to win back the trust of the minority community, Vajpayee has added insult to injury by accusing Muslims of giving in to the lure of jihadi Islam. How can a democratically elected leader of a civilized country who justifies the butchering of its citizens still continue in office? Perhaps this is an indication of the malaise that has beset Indian politics.

Yours faithfully,
Indranil Gupta, Calcutta

Success story with a twist

Sir — Before moaning about Lagaan getting undue attention, intellectuals like Ashok Mitra should realize that film-making is an industry and earns foreign exchange for the country (“All play and no work”, April 12). It does not take a great degree of intelligence to figure out why the awards given away by the Academy of Motion Pictures provide one of the best platforms to showcase Indian talent in film-making. Also, in a nation where political leaders inspire nothing but cynicism and despair, Lagaan was actually a breath of fresh air. I fail to understand why every time the nation finds reason to exult about something, Mitra and his kind find nothing else to do but criticize “the fool multitude”.

Yours faithfully,
Ratul Chakraborty, Calcutta

Sir — Ashok Mitra’s article, “All play and no work”, would inspire patriotism in even the most unpatriotic of Indians. His theory of re-colonization is sound. It is true that India’s modernity has been characterized by an alienation from the country’s rich heritage, and an affinity towards all things Western. As a result, international awards like the Booker Prize and the Academy awards have created a bigger flutter in the media than national film awards or even the Bharat Ratna. But what could be the reason behind such irrational discrimination?

If Lagaan must be congratulated, it should not be for being nominated for the Oscars, but for winning over millions of hearts all over the world.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — The frenzy whipped up over the Oscar nomination of Lagaan was something to be ashamed of. But such craving for recognition by the West is nothing new. The same phenomenon was in evidence in the cases of Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray and Amartya Sen. Even now, it is customary to refer to Tagore as “the Nobel laureate” rather than as the greatest Indian poet. The government of India too considered conferring the Bharat Ratna on Ray and Sen only after they won the Oscar and the Nobel Prize respectively.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

In all unfairness

Sir — Sex workers are suddenly the Indian media’s most favoured people. It is good in a way that both newspapers and television are highlighting the problems faced by sex workers and the organizations working with them. For example, the Durbar Mahila Samanvaya Committee, which works with sex workers in Sonagachi and other parts of the state, and has been in the news for its crusade for the legalization of the profession. This is a difficult proposition in the case of India. It should be kept in mind that although prostitution has been legalized in the Netherlands and Germany, the literacy rate in these countries is higher than India’s and so are the living standards and amenities available to women.

It would therefore be erroneous to demand legalization of sex work in India because it is legal in other countries. Instead, nongovernmental organizations working with sex workers should try to address the social discrimination and oppression that draw women to this trade. As Jack Fairweather’s article, “Women across a gap” (March 4), pointed out, most sex workers of Sonagachi did not come into the profession by choice, but owing to socio-economic compulsions. Fairweather also brought out middle class reservations about sex workers, despite the awareness campaigns. Perhaps organizations like the DMSC should, side by side with its HIV/AIDS intervention programmes, look at certain other factors — domestic violence for instance — before launching its legalization campaign.

Yours faithfully,
Diptimoy Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — The article, “Groomed to perfection” (April 6), had some shocking statistics to offer. The independent and successful women interviewed admitted that the culinary skills of men are more valuable than their paternal qualities. “To be marvellous with children” got a poor score of 65 per cent, while “can cook, will cook” fetched 100 per cent. When women begin choosing husbands who are lousy fathers and amenable to “remote control”, it cannot possibly signal a great triumph for women’s lib.

Yours faithfully,
Sujit De, Sodepur

Sir — The bill on domestic violence holds that “occasional” beating of wife by husband is not unpardonable, the holy intention being the preservation of the marriage. In its study, Sakshi, an NGO, found a similar opinion being voiced by the majority interviewed. The majority even thought that the preservation of the family ought to be the primary concern of women. I beg to differ. Women are not alone responsible for saving marriages. Marital bonding rests on mutual love and respect. Violence against women, even when occasional, reaffirms the male’s sense of physical and economic power. Would the bill turn the same blind eye to husbands being beaten up by their wives, although occasionally?

Yours faithfully,
B. Nirmalendu, Calcutta

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