Editorial 1/ Playing at par
Editorial 2/ Lower depth
The law of averages
Fifth Column/ Charting a new academic course
Follow the rule book
Document/ The highway to devastation
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ PLAYING AT PAR 
 
 
 
 
There is nothing unexpected in the Reserve Bank of India’s monetary and credit policy for the first half of 2002-03. Speculation centred around whether there would be a reduction in the savings deposit rate from 4 per cent and whether the cash reserve ratio would be left untouched. Following the Goa meet, the Bharatiya Janata Party has clearly indicated its preference for upholding the interests of “small investors”. Hence, the interest rate on bank savings remains what it was. And CRR has been slashed by 50 basis points to 5 per cent. As Mr Bimal Jalan, the governor of the RBI, recognizes, there was no reason to slash CRR on grounds of liquidity. The system is flush with funds. Market borrowing programmes of Central and state governments have indeed overshot. Nevertheless, there is still enough liquidity thanks to reduced credit demand, symptomatic of a general downturn and lack of investments. The CRR cut is thus linked to the long-term objective of reducing CRR to 3 per cent. While a bank rate cut by 50 basis points has not happened, it is not ruled out and the present governor has always evinced dissatisfaction with the biannual ritual of a credit policy. Therefore, if inflation remains under control, a bank rate cut to 6 per cent later in the year is not precluded. Perhaps with the global, if not domestic, recovery in sight, the RBI would prefer to wait. More general problems cannot be resolved as long as there are high fiscal deficits, high guaranteed returns for small savings, priority sector lending and absence of broad-based reforms. There is little that the RBI’s monetary and credit policy can do.

There are however some measures to improve credit delivery to small-scale industries, exports (interest rate on export credit in foreign currency has been lowered) and housing. Some rationalization and reforms like abolition of minimum lending rates by cooperative banks, freer dissemination of information by banks on maximum and minimum lending rates and deposit rates, penalization of delays in submission of returns by non-bank financial companies, issue of certificates of deposit in demat form, real time gross settlements, use of information technology, regulation of access to the call money market and broadening of the government securities market are also welcome. However, it is difficult to accept the RBI estimate that gross domestic product growth in 2002-03 would be 6 to 6.5 per cent. Even without factoring in Gujarat, real GDP growth in 2002-03 is unlikely to touch 6 per cent.

It is also possible to disagree with Mr Jalan about India’s exchange rate policy. The reform plank was built on encouraging foreign direct investment and discouraging borrowing. Yet the Resurgent India Bond and India Millennium Deposit schemes, both of which represent borrowing, were used to artificially bolster foreign exchange reserves. Had this not happened, the rupee might have depreciated and helped the cause of exports. The credit policy does not commit itself on capital account convertibility. Mr Jalan errs on the side of caution. This may not be undesirable in a RBI governor. After all, the problems with the economy stem from Delhi. Not from the RBI headquarters in Mumbai.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ LOWER DEPTH 
 
 
 
 
Human development reports may not be infallible socio-economic guides, but they help governments and people focus on the basics. There is cause for concern, therefore, in Assam’s fall from the 10th to the 14th place in the first such nationwide report recently published by the planning commission. There is little room for comfort in the report’s finding that 36.9 per cent of the state’s population now lives below the poverty line, compared to 40.47 per cent in 1983 and that the literacy level has improved from 52 per cent to 64 per cent. The poverty line, as drawn by policy planners, is a rather nebulous concept and rising above it is often more a statistical progress than anything more substantive. The improvement of the literacy level is sharply undercut by the fact that Assam’s school dropout rate — 76 per cent between classes I and X — is among the highest in the country. More relevant perhaps are the findings about accessibility to basic facilities such as electricity, safe drinking water, toilets, housing and healthcare. Assam fares miserably on all these scores, resulting in low life expectancy and a high child mortality rate.

A primary reason for this dismal state of affairs is undoubtedly the many insurgencies that have plagued Assam for over two decades. Much of government expenditure, either by the state or by the Centre, had to be channelled into fighting the rebels. More important, the pervading sense of insecurity has stymied economic growth, driving away hundreds of entrepreneurs as well as potential investors. The politics of insurgency also caught in its web successive governments that used the fight against militancy as an excuse for non-performance. But political extremism is a beast that feeds on people’s deprivations. Improving on the basics of human development is therefore intrinsic — and not extraneous — to the fight against insurgents. The Assam government needs to reorient its priorities and get into the act on a war footing. Although perennially starved of funds for development work, it can try and stop a further slide by revitalizing municipalities and panchayat bodies for providing basic amenities at relatively lower costs. This must go hand-in-hand with a mass awareness campaign in which nongovernmental organizations need to be involved.

   

 
 
THE LAW OF AVERAGES 
 
 
BY PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
 
 
In cricket we are familiar with a simple truism: a handful of brilliant stars cannot get you as consistently winning results as a team, all of whose eleven members reliably achieve solid averages. Hence South Africa and Australia do significantly better than India. Although quite simple, this proposition has immense ramifications for the success or failure of public policy. Simply put, the quality of the average matters more in the long run than the quality of the top.

We are often puzzled as to why Indian institutions do not perform better, despite the fact that India produces high quality human capital in the form of brilliant scientists, lawyers, economists, civil servants and so on. Clearly, much of the explanation for institutional performance is structural or political. A combination of vested interests and perverse incentive structures render our institutions ineffective. But we ought to attend seriously to a complementary explanation: despite the fact that we produce high quality professionals, the average quality of skill, education, training of human capital in most institutions is low. Like our cricket team, our peaks are high, but our averages are low.

The average quality of personnel in most associations or organizations matters more than the quality of the top for a number of reasons. Take the government for instance. The implementation of most government policy is carried out, not by the brilliant minds that formulated it, but by the hundreds of lesser civil servants. Even setting aside the issue of corruption, the ways in which the majority of those implementing policy understand its implications can transform it beyond recognition. Second, efficiency and improved performance, in any institution or firm, usually come less from brilliant ideas than from a consistently applied intelligence that produces small innovations at all levels of the institution.

Even studies of industry have shown that increases in productivity are less a consequence of brilliant breakthroughs in research and development. Rather, they result from smaller innovations carried out at all levels of the production process by those participating in it. Third, effective control of most professional organizations is rarely in the hands of the best. Take influential organizations like teachers’ unions or bar associations. Seldom does the real power in these organizations lie with the best and most brilliant teachers or lawyers. Rather, usually those in the profession least suited to it control the levers of power within that organization simply on the strength of numbers. Since these organizations, through their sheer power of numbers, can block reforms, the ideas that emanate from the best and brightest become irrelevant. In places like universities or courts, the various associations have been stumbling blocks to meaningful reform, no matter how much the best teachers scream about standards, or the best lawyers about judicial proprieties. Simply put, the best are only marginally relevant.

Fourth, low average quality drives out and frustrates high quality. Fifth, the public seldom experiences any institution through its best and brightest. Public confidence is created or undermined by encounters with the average official. The top can have as many ideas as they wish. They seldom have the ability to create enduring legitimacy for institutions.

What follows from all this? The most significant thing that follows is that any attempt at the reform of Indian institutions which aim at creating small islands of excellence while ignoring the quality of the vast majority involved in those institutions is likely to produce meagre results. Unfortunately, much of the impulse of institutional reform is headed in this direction. We are creating new and smaller institutions without attending to existing ones. Take higher education for example. Much of the thinking seems to be concentrating on setting up newer institutions while abandoning traditional universities where most of our graduates will continue to be educated. A new research institute here and there, at the expense of Calcutta University or a Delhi University or a Jawaharlal Nehru University will not yield substantial gains. Students from these institutions will, just because of their sheer numbers, continue to have a disproportionate impact on all walks of life. Even our best minds will be ineffectual if the average quality of our graduates does not improve.

Take a case of Indian success: the information technology industry. Arguably, the success of this industry was facilitated not simply by the presence of brilliant graduates from elite institutions, but also because this is the one sector where the average quality of professional training in the middle and lower levels was extremely high. Even Silicon Valley benefited not only from the presence of first rate research universities, but also from the fact that community colleges in California were able to supply large numbers of high quality workers at lower levels of production. The success of these industries rests on the assumption of high average quality workforce rather than small brilliant groups.

The creation of new law schools, in Bangalore and elsewhere, will undoubtedly create a small class of professional lawyers. But if the majority of lawyers continue to be drawn from sub-standard law schools, legal reform will yield few consequences. Recently, the eminent trade economist, Jagdish Bhagwati, was quoted as saying something like the following after a meeting with government of India economists to advise them on trade reform. He said, “If these are your economists, then I am a Bharatnatyam dancer.” His point, I take it, was that there was relatively little depth amongst government economists, despite the fact that India dominates the economics profession worldwide.

There is much noise made about the fact that India has signed many international agreements that are not in its best interests. Participants in these negotiations will often report that those representing India were simply not up to the mark in their abilities to negotiate. An odd Montek Singh Ahluwalia or Jairam Ramesh cannot carry the whole burden of economic policy-making in any government. If, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details, the quality of those who attend to details matters most.

It is tempting to set up new and smaller institutions because these are less encumbered by the politics of large and established institutions. Yet, these small institutions can at most create pockets of excellence whose impact on wider society is only marginal. This is not an argument against these institutions. But we need to remind ourselves that unless such institutions are locked into mechanisms that have an impact on the average quality of the professions they nurture, the excellence will have been produced in vain. They will be surrounded by mediocrity that will render their best efforts ineffective.

Similarly with economic reform: we will have to create conditions where initiative and enterprise are widely diffused, rather than confined to a few. Our inattention to the average may be a consequence of our continuing elitism. We still think change is only a consequence of the actions of a few, to wit, leaders. And we still associate attention to large numbers with dumbing down of standards rather than raising of averages. But when Aristotle stressed the importance of the golden mean, he was right in more ways than he could have imagined.

The author is professor of philosophy, law and governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ CHARTING A NEW ACADEMIC COURSE 
 
 
BY SAHELI MITRA
 
 
The West Bengal government’s outdated education policies and syllabi, primarily at the graduation and post-graduation levels, have systematically led to a decline of standards in most state-run universities over the years. Once considered the hub of modern education, the state has failed to keep up with the times. Also, government interference has hindered the process of upgrading the education system. Students have been the worst sufferers of this state of affairs.

The lack of modern education policies and excessive bureaucratic interference in implementing decisions of university authorities have once again come to the fore with the recent release of the National Assessment and Accreditation Council’s report.

The “peer team” report of the NAAC points to unnecessary procedures and red tape as the obstacles in modernizing and upgrading the syllabi in nearly 10 state-run universities. The West Bengal council for higher education and the state’s higher education and finance departments have been named as the stumbling blocks which have prevented the introduction of new courses and subjects in universities.

Peer pressure

The team of senior academics from different Indian universities inspected the courses and subjects offered at leading state universities like the Calcutta University, Jadavpur University, North Bengal University, Burdwan University, Rabindra Bharati University and Kalyani University. They found the scene dismal everywhere. The courses were old, the syllabi outdated and the attitude to help students do well in the competitive and demanding job market was missing.

Authorities at the Calcutta and Jadavpur universities claim that despite recommending substantial changes four to six years ago, there has been little progress — the files are still pending with the concerned departments.

The report claims that in recent years, modern subjects like computer science, microbiology, molecular biology, biophysics and so on have not been introduced in most state-run universities. These had been introduced long ago in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. In traditional science and humanities subjects like biology, physics, chemistry, English, economics, history and political science there has been little or no upgradation of the syllabi. In certain cases, the same syllabi is being followed over the past 20 years.

In the few universities where these modern subjects are being taught, there are very few seats on offer. As a result, most students are forced to leave the state for higher studies.

Trapped in file

While the lack of infrastructure and funds is one reason for this poor state of affairs, the root of the problem seems to lie elsewhere. Calcutta University authorities complain that proposals about changes in the curriculum — even those that do not involve additional costs — have to be cleared by the finance department. Unfortunately, education has never been a priority for the finance department. So the files with these proposals have been kept pending for years. University authorities blame the difficulty in getting approvals from the council of higher education and the departments of higher education and finance for the fact that curricula have not changed at all over the years.

For example, Calcutta University’s microbiology department submitted a proposal for changes in the syllabus six years ago. It is yet to be cleared and many of the proposals have become outdated. Now a new set of proposals has to be drawn up, which might meet with the same fate.

The state government has increased both the examination and entrance fees in state-run colleges and universities. It also continues to receive grants from the Centre. So the obvious question is: where do the funds go? Are they only spent to pay the salaries of department heads, beautify university buildings and promote cultural and political activities? Shouldn’t some of the funds be spent to upgrade the syllabi keeping in mind the advancements in different fields? Why can’t proposals be passed by an independent body instead of three different departments who have little to do with education policies?

   

 
 
FOLLOW THE RULE BOOK 
 
 
BY K. GAJENDRA SINGH
 
 
Under relentless pressure from the United States of America since September 11, 2001, with enemy troops massed along its borders following the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, General Pervez Musharraf’s January 12 policy turnaround was not unexpected. But what surprised many was his shaky command (in later broadcasts too) of Urdu, Pakistan’s official language, while he had replied in fluent Turkish to questions by the Turkish media at his first press conference in 1999. He had also said, “As a model, Kemal Ataturk did a great deal for Turkey. I have his biography. We will see what I can do for Pakistan.”

Not only is Musharraf more at home with Turkish, but he also admires Turkey’s generals and political model. The general spent his most impressionable school-years in the early Fifties in Ankara, where his father was posted as a diplomat. Ataturk’s attempt to forge a new, vibrant, modern and secular Turkey out of the ashes of a decaying and obscurantist Ottoman Empire left an indelible mark on the young mind. But Musharraf now also highlights M.A. Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan to buttress his position.

The Pakistan army’s fascination for the Turkish military’s institutionalized role in politics stems from the days of Zia ul-Haq, when there was close interaction between the military brass of the countries which were Cold War allies. The then Pakistan president, Farooq Leghari, under military prodding had even decreed a national security council in 1997, although Nawaz Sharif later let it lapse.

In short, Musharraf is following the rule book of the Turkish general, Kenan Evren, who took over in 1980. Musharraf rules through the national security council created on the Turkish pattern, heavily weighed in favour of the military. He has kept Benazir Bhutto out and exiled the former prime minister, Sharif. Evren had similarly banished leading political leaders after the coup. When Musharraf visited Turkey in November 1999, the Turkish president, Suleyman Demirel, and prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, jailed by Evren, were back in power. They ensured that Musharraf did not get to meet his mentor, Evren.

Musharraf has talked of checks and balances to be practised by the three power centres, that is the prime minister, president and chief of army staff, just as in Turkey, to avoid army takeover or misuse of power by the elected leaders. Post-September 11, Musharraf has introduced joint electorates, a secular decision supported by many parties. Meanwhile, the requisite of a graduate degree for candidates to elected posts will eliminate many religious leaders from office.

From the beginning, Musharraf has made no secret of using referendums or constitutional amendments to institutionalize the military’s role or to prolong and strengthen his hold over power. In the final analysis, he represents the most powerful and best organized entity in Pakistan, the Pakistan armed forces. To succeed he would have to legalize the military’s role and prolong his tenure by five years. President General Evren had stayed put for nine years in Turkey.

In the 1983 elections, the Turkish electorate instead of voting for the parties approved by General Evren, voted for Turgut Ozal for his excellent economic stewardship under Evren. The return of most of the earlier group of politicians by 1987 proved that the Turkish army’s attempts to create ideal politicians for itself did not work. But unlike in Turkey’s armed forces, the cancer of fundamentalism has perhaps gone too deep in the Pakistan military and establishment.

Apart from the media, jihadis, religious parties, associations of lawyers and students oppose Musharraf. But the Pakistan president is likely to create favourable political dispensations from factions in existing political parties, as was done by Ayub Khan and Zia ul-Haq. Ample help in this will be provided by the Inter-Services Intelligence, the National Accountability Bureau and the former supreme court chief justice as the chief election commissioner. For success in the referendum, his considerable achievements in foreign policy, healthy foreign exchange reserves, “power devolution” to 2 lakh local mayors, stern anti-sectarian and anti-terrorist measures would help him. Musharraf could then amend the constitution to retain an upper hand over the next parliament and prime minister

Throughout the Cold War, the so called democracy in Pakistan was a myth which the Western media conjured to put the West’s ally on par with India . The two Bhuttos’ utterances against India made good stories for the press. Except under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (1972-77), the Pakistan armed forces have been de facto rulers most of the time . Perhaps there is some merit in legalizing this position through the national security council by acknowledging the army’s views and by making it more accountable. After the 1971 coup in Turkey, with its top military command channelized through the NSC, putsches disappeared. Like the Turkish, Pakistanis will have to slowly work out a modus vivendi with their military leaders together with a gradual assertion of civilian supremacy.

Islamic polities, as they have evolved, do not lend themselves to liberal democracy. Most can be classified as traditional or modernizing autocracies, fascist-style dictatorships, radical Islamic regimes or hybrid Central Asian republics. Pakistan resembles Egypt and Indonesia, and not Turkey. A country can be called a democracy if it has made two consecutive peaceful changes of government through free elections. Between Zia ul-Haq’s death and Musharraf’s taking over, Benazir Bhutto and Sharif were replaced many times by the army.

This vice-regal political economy of Jinnah has stagnated in a feudal time warp. Under Ayub Khan, the West used Pakistan’s strategic position to strengthen the evolving Cold War confrontation with Russia. Zia ul-Haq’s use of Islamization for his political ambitions rolled back liberal values in Pakistan. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan made the hold of Pakistan’s army and the ISI pervasive.

After September 11, the US needed Pakistan even more to protect itself from the boomerang effect of its earlier Afghan policies, to stop nuclear bombs from falling into jihadi hands and to eliminate further damages against it. But will the US succeed, even in Afghanistan?

Pakistan is now infected with the virus of Islamic fundamentalism. Its sympathizers cannot sweep in democracy with a magic wand after it has pursued the path of religious intolerance and authoritarianism. A constitution does not a democracy make. Even Turkey, perhaps the only Muslim democracy which has been following modernization and reforms, gets wobbly from time to time. Its moderate Islamic parties have to be banned regularly. Its armed forces, bastion of secularism, have to be ever watchful.

The US and other powers will make noises in favour of democracy in Pakistan, but there appears to be no alternative to the Musharraf regime. The Pakistani media and their friends in north India could go on talking about “restoring democracy” in Pakistan. Even last July, the Indian media and policy-makers thought that an emperor-like treatment would soften Musharraf on Kashmir. But from his offensive at Agra, it should have been clear that the first priority for Musharraf was to establish his credibility and consolidate his position with Pakistan’s armed forces, its people and the Kashmiri secessionists.

Focus on the centrality of Kashmir sent Musharraf’s popularity back home soaring. And now after the two-decades long Pakistan policy in Afghanistan has been unravelled, there is no way Pakistan can let go of Kashmir.

But the real challenge for Musharraf is the Turkish rule book. Musharraf might have got rid off or relocated unreliable and Islamist generals, some before his Indian visit, others after September 11. But he realizes that in spite of his belief in his destiny, his good luck, his position remains precarious, internally and externally. Joining the coalition against terror has helped prop up the external sector, but fundamental weaknesses in the economy have been aggravated. September 11 could really have proved a blessing had Musharraf been in command. But quite clearly he is not and this was made evident by the events of December 13, assassination of the Pakistan interior minister’s brother, confusion over the murder of the American journalist, Daniel Pearl, church attack in the heart of Islamabad and release of jihadis.

Will Musharraf’s childhood dream, inspired by Ataturk, then come true? Perhaps Musharraf is not ruthless enough like Ataturk. Or there are too many cards stacked against him.

The author is former ambassador to Turkey

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ THE HIGHWAY TO DEVASTATION 
 
 
 
 
The extent of damage all over the state can only be imagined. Our delegation visited Godhra by road from Ahmedabad and, on the way back, tried to count the number of Muslim properties that had been damaged on either side of the highway. A rough estimate of what we saw:

Between Godhra and Timba Road Station — 11 shops, 3 houses, 2 trucks; Timba Road — a mosque, 23 establishments in the main market, a large building, 4 railway quarters; between Shivalaya and Ambava — 2 trucks, some kiosks; Ambava — 11 stores/galas, 1 house; Thasra — 2 houses and 1 timber godown; Dakor — 16 galas, 2 large houses, several cars; Alina — 10 houses; Mirz- apur — 1 house; Mehmuda- bad — 8 galas, Bhagyodaya Hotel, 1 mazar, 1 petrol pump, 1 hotel, 4 handcarts, 4 houses; near Ramod Police Station — Sarvottam Hotel; Ramol — innumerable shops and houses razed to the ground, several large factories, garages, petrol pumps, Satkar Restaurant, Sarvod- aya Hotel and Supreme Hotel.

These are only those visible from the main road. We may have missed many more. All the hotels mentioned belong to members of a Muslim community known as Chelliyas who are hoteliers/ restauranteurs. In the last few years they have built hotels and restaurants with seemingly “Hindu” names, many of which have prominent signboards proclaiming them to be “Pure Vegetarian”. A year ago a Gujarati newspaper, Sandesh, published a list of all hotels and restaurants owned by them, giving all the names as if to say whatever you do, you cannot disguise the fact that the establishments are owned by Muslims. Others say that the arsonists used this list. This is probably close to the truth, for otherwise identification would not have been possible. Eyewitnesses we spoke to said that vehicles with tins of petrol and trucks were moving on the main highway without any hindrance. Many of these structures look as though they have been demolished by bulldozers. Clearly it would have required time to break these buildings into the rubble now visible. Where was the police during this time?

But what about compensation? In a situation where FIRs are not being filed in the camps and where affected and bereaved people cannot go to the police station either because they are terror-struck or because it is physically not possible to do so, the question of payment of compensation is reduced to a farce. Since in many areas all traces of the property are being removed, there is fear that the empty spaces will be occupied by criminals and looters. As for those who have died, since FIRs regarding their killings are not being registered, not only will their dependants be denied any compensation but also their killers, whether the rioters or police personnel, will never be brought to book...

In the rural areas an even more horrible situation is being created. We were told by survivors that Muslim peasants and shop-keepers are being driven out in droves and their homes, shops, fields, livestock, implements are being torched. They are apprehensive that their land is being occupied.

...Ahmedabad looks like a city ravaged by war. For the first time, even areas dominated by the Muslim community were targets of attack because of the connivance of the police. One such area was Bapunagar and its surroundings. Ansar Nagar, Sone ki Chali, Rahat Nagar, Medina Nagar, Akbar Nagar, Urban Nagar, along Highway 8...are all areas totally inhabited by Muslims. There are shops in front and rows of houses at the back. Nearby are high-rise buildings like Gayatri Nagar which are inhabited by the majority community. Until now, people living here felt quite secure. This time was different. Most of the people who live here are originally from Uttar Pradesh but have been in Ahmedabad for at least three generations since their ancestors had all come to work in the textile mills. After the mills closed down, many of them work in small factories as daily wager, petty vendors, drivers, shopkeepers, tradesmen or own small businesses. The houses are pucca and built in rows on single or double-storied tenements. There is a large madrasah, Qasimul uloom, and a large mosque, Medina Masjid.

Our delegation went around much of the area. We were accompanied by Shahabuddin, a CPI(M) and CITU leader who lives in the area and has been actively involved in the relief work, and many others of the area including Firoze, Rajabhai, Wali Mohammed and a few women. We saw that some of the families whose homes, although damaged, had not been destroyed completely were living in them and cooking their own food. Even they had lost most of their possession. Many others had to live in the camps because their homes had been completely burnt down.

Akbar Nagar was a hutment colony just behind the office of the assistant commissioner of police, “H” division. It had been completely destroyed: burnt and then razed down and almost all traces of its existence had been obliterated. More than 300 families from here were in the Bapunagar Aman Chowk camp.

to be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Ladies off the court

Sir — The blown-up picture of Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova with Cindy Crawford on the front page of The Telegraph’s sports pullout (April 27) is far from a visual delight. The tennis stars look poor cousins of the model who is past her prime. But most important, the picture is a sad commentary on the state of modern women’s tennis. Chris Evert, who was any day more beautiful than Hingis and Kournikova put together, was seldom seen to hog the limelight for things which had little to do with her game. It would have been somewhat understandable if the preoccupation of the current breed of women tennis stars with fashion was matched by an equal interest in the game. Hingis may have won a Grand Slam or two, but only because she has rivals like Kournikova, who would rather walk the ramp than spend that extra hour in the practice court. Should we still be blaming the men for ogling at those legs under the shortest of short skirts?
Yours faithfully,
Suman Krishnan, Chennai

Mother’s law

Sir — The importance of the proposed law to establish a mother’s right over her child, as the editorial, “Lullabies and dotted lines” (April 21), emphasizes, can never be overstated. Such a law has been long overdue. While feminists have raised various issues pertaining to the emancipation of women in India, it is surprising that the need for such a law has not been stressed enough. The editorial cites the case of Geetha Hariharan, who secured from the courts the right to use her signature while opening a bank account for her minor son. This proves that whatever laws have been passed on the legal rights of women have primarily been at the initiative of individuals rather than women’s rights organizations.

The proposed law also points to the loopholes in our judicial system, which unfortunately has still not been able to think outside the prevalent social attitudes. The good thing is that once the law is passed, it would effectively empower single mothers to overcome the numerous hurdles they face once they step outside the boundaries of their private world.

Yours faithfully,
Rahul Sinha, Berhampore

Sir — The government of West Bengal’s proposed legislation, which will make a mother’s identity sufficient for the legal recognition of her child, is a step in the right direction (“Law to recognize mother’s primacy”, April 20). First, it safeguards the mother’s rights over her child, a right which has always been known to be greater than the father’s but was never legally recognized as such. Second, it will give a fillip to the process of empowering women in the country. It will be of particular help to surrogate mothers and to divorced and widowed women.

West Bengal, after languishing in the backseat as far as development programmes are concerned, can at least boast of being a pioneer in enacting such a progressive and historic piece of legislation.

Yours faithfully,
Phani Bhushan Saha, Balurghat

Sir — Under normal circumstances, the proposed law under discussion will not be required to bail out the mother of a test-tube baby. However, in cases of marital discord, when the paternity of the child might come into question, leading to the demand for DNA tests, the law will save the mother from unnecessary harassment and also guarantee a secure future for the child. It is likely that the mother will be able to demand maintenance for her child from the husband in the court in such cases and gain custody of her child if a divorce takes place.

Yours faithfully,
Swati Surana, Calcutta

By the colour of one’s skin

Sir — It was distressing to read about the humiliating treatment meted out to Amit Chaudhuri at the Hong Kong airport although he had been officially invited to the country (“‘Racist’ welcome for author”, April 20). Having lived in Hong Kong for five years I feel that I need to mention certain facts about the city and its Chinese inhabitants for Indians to get a proper perspective. Hong Kong certainly has a vibrant business environment with a high civic standard. At the same time, it still remains very much a white man’s playground. Owing to decades of British rule, the native Chinese have developed a slavish reverence for the white-skinned man, and will go to any length to please him. They also hold people from the Indian subcontinent with contempt.

In 1982, when the Asian Games were held in New Delhi, Hong Kong instead of sending sportspersons to represent the immigrant Indian community, allegedly sent some night-watchmen from the community as its contingent in a brazen display of contempt for India and Indians. The fact that Chaudhuri had been warned by his well-wishers about the possibility of receiving unfair treatment only bears this out. From experience, I can say that assurances by the Indian consulate in Hong Kong to take the matter up with the authorities are not going to yield much result.

Yours faithfully,
Amitava Bagchi, Calcutta

Sir — If a renowned author like Amit Chaudhuri becomes the victim of racial prejudice at Hong Kong, one can well imagine the kind of discrimination faced by the Indian community in Hong Kong. Hong Kong may be one of the richest countries in the world, but it evidently does not have an equally rich culture. If security reasons were behind Chaudhuri’s harassment, why were only south Asian passengers picked out? Earlier, Shubha Mudgal, the noted singer, had experienced similar treatment. The Indian high commission should take up the matter with the authorities in Hong Kong. Indian artistes and intelligentsia should boycott cultural events in Hong Kong as a mark of protest. The least that the Hong Kong government can do is apologize to India.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Crunch the numbers

Sir — The new population policy is a mixture of both fantasy and reality (“Centre rules out baby boom strictures”, April 26). The ministry of health wants to stabilize population growth through overall development. Fair enough. But the ground reality is quite different. Target-oriented family planning was one of the reasons that led to the fall of Indira Gandhi’s government in1977. After that, no political party wants to be stringent in its effort to stabilize population. After 25 years of development, India’s total fertility rate is still high at 3.2. In Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan it is above 4. Nearly 55 per cent couples have no awareness of family planning or use of contraceptives.

But there is hope yet in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which have already achieved the desired TFR. But if the Union health ministry tries to apply the Kerala model throughout the country, it will end in a failure. India now needs a state-sensitive population policy, with particular emphasis on the Bimaru states.

Yours faithfully,
Saikat Pandit, Uttarpara

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G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007

All letters (including those via email) should have the full name and postal address of the sender

   
 

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