Editorial 1/ Free by force
Editorial 2/ Trial and error
Fiscal federalism
Fifth Column/ New bill that strikes terror
The world, the flesh and the sanyasi
Poison is sweet but deadly to chew on
Letters to the editor

Almost every Pakistani coup leader has announced his intention to hold local elections. The present dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, is no exception. Mr Musharraf officially announced a radical political devolution plan this month. He has painted it in idealistic colours. Mr Musharraf wants to build a new political leadership at the grassroots level, one that will be concerned with governance rather than moneymaking. The plan envisages the holding of local elections in phases from December this year onwards. The lengthy time period, Mr Musharraf claims, is needed to cleanse the electoral rolls of fraud. Elections will be held for as many as half a million local, tehsil, city and district councillorships. The key position will be all powerful, district level nazims. Equally radical is that one third of those elected will have to be women and that 18 year olds will be allowed to vote. The biggest catch is the military�s attempts to keep out Pakistan�s present civilian politicians. Mr Musharraf has announced any person tainted by criminality or corruption would be ineligible for office. More sweeping is the diktat that no one will be allowed to run for any offices under a party affiliation. The general wants the polls to be non-partisan.

This would strike a positive chord among many Indians fed up with their present political rulers. However, the record of attempts to rebuild polities by fiat is poor. First, it is impossible to get parties out of politics. Though they may run without symbols, it is obvious the cohorts of Mr Nawaz Sharif and Ms Benazir Bhutto will nonetheless stand for election. Second, Pakistan�s past attempts at non-partisan polls have not led to cleaner politicians. Campaigning in a city or a district requires money and much wheeling and dealing. Lacking even a party organization to back them, independent candidates are often the most eager to take bribes. And because they lack blocks of votes they are often unable to govern. Third, Mr Musharraf�s talk of a clean broom sounds hollow given the record of his anti-corruption drive. He exempted all military officers, the judiciary, religious leaders and friendly pressmen from investigation. Fourth, the military�s insistence on empowering the districts and below automatically leaves power at the provincial and national levels solely in army hands. Local elections will not make the policy decisions Mr Musharraf has to take at the top level any more legitimate or easy than they are now. It will also not buttress his standing with the international community. The Pakistani leader is probably genuine in his desire for a root and branch revamping of his country. But as numerous Latin American, Asian and African dictators can testify, making a polity more democratic and accountable can only arise through a long, evolutionary process. It cannot flow from the barrel of a gun.    

Given the rate of crime in India, the conviction rate in criminal cases is simply appalling. In popular perception, the inefficiency of investigating agencies is one of the main causes behind the accused going free in case after case, for the increasing number of cases going to appeal and for cases piling up uncontrollably. People�s perception springs from the remarks of the various courts, which not only refer to insufficient evidence but also tend to be quite admonitory towards various investigating agencies, suggesting that the cases they have put together are flawed. The Supreme Court�s recent remarks comprise an important effort to redress the balance. In the context of a case of abduction and murder that had come up on appeal from the Calcutta high court, the Supreme Court sentenced the accused to life terms for murder from the available evidence, whereas they had been convicted only of abduction and given far lighter sentences in the trial court.

sOf much greater weight are the Supreme Court�s admonitions to trial courts. It said that castigation of investigation �unfortunately seems to be a regular practice when the trial courts acquit accused in criminal cases�. The Supreme Court�s statement is an important confidence renewing exercise which should have an impact in a number of ways. The perceived incompetence of investigating agencies induces an apathy among people whose evidence the agencies need. This simply aggravates the difficulties of investigating with ill-equipped machinery, a feature that the Supreme Court has asked trial courts to consider. As it is, the court points out, �respectable� people are often unwilling to come forward with evidence. Few police cases are foolproof or �flawless�, but the job of the trial courts, the Supreme Court has rightly pointed out, is not to pick holes in the cases. Trial courts should work with the aim of helping the process of criminal justice to function as best it can within the given limitations. That alone is in the interest of the law and of the people. Moreover, speeding up the process of justice will mean faster disposal of cases, a lower rate of appeal and greater confidence of the people in the justice system. It is not healthy for them to believe that it is useless to go to the law because criminals can go free for a number of reasons, inefficient investigation being one. While the Supreme Court�s observations provide timely encouragement for investigating agencies, there is also another side. In a country where pride in one�s work is a rare quality, a pat on the back should not provide an opportunity for shoddy work. Investigating agencies should also take care that the cases they construct are as complete as possible under the limitations of constrained evidence collection and rigid timeframes. Else the Supreme Court�s support to them will go to waste.    

Andhra Pradesh�s chief minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu, is back to doing what his father-in-law did so well: taking on the Union government. No one takes his disclaimer made at the launch of the recent conclave of eight state governments in New Delhi at face value. When he said to presspersons, �The meeting has nothing to do with politics. Its agenda is solely to do with economics�. By knitting together the losers in the most recent carve-up of resources, Naidu is recreating a federalist front that cuts across the present lines of alignment in national politics. Quite clearly, the National Democratic Alliance, even if it continues to rule in the capital, will find it hard to be in control of its agenda.

The eclipse of one-party dominance in Parliament has been paralleled and complemented by the increasing clout of regional players at the pan-Indian level. The Telugu Desam Party itself typifies this transformation: for much of the Eighties it was a state-level alternative to the Congress way of politics. Through most of the last decade, it has made Hyderabad a key pivot of national power. Naidu has managed to be on the winning side in each of the last three Lok Sabha elections and his deft use of the modernist message points to hopes of a step to the centre in the not too distant future.

The 11th finance commission may or may not rest on a sound understanding of the economics of regional disparities. But it certainly drafted its report without a care for the configurations of political power. The four states in the south along with Gujarat and Maharashtra are all clear losers. The grand total of the amount lost by these six states � and they are by and large success stories of one sort or the other � comes to over 220 billion rupees. Even in north India, the two Green Revolution states of Haryana and Punjab have been punished, their portion of the revenue cake slashed. The media may have lost sight of it, but had the 10th finance commission�s yardstick been in place, all the seven states of the Northeast would have gained a lot more too.

The net gainers are a group of states that include the most populous in the country: Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The talk of �encouraging fiscal prudence� does not fit the facts. In the eighth five year plan period, Bihar raised five rupees for every one hundred it was required to under the category of �state�s own resources�. Bengal raised 40, and Tamil Nadu 154. Yet, the commission has accepted the reverse order. Those states whose own house is in order are being punished. Defaulters and laggards are reaping the rewards. Further, the provinces that gain have done so due to the extra points given to geographical spread and poor infrastructure. This is not an indictment of the people living in these states, only a statement of the acts of omission and commission by their governments. It also raises questions about what to expect in the future.

It is indeed the case that it is the task of the Union government to assist those states and regions that lag behind. There is no doubt at all that special category states as in the hill regions of the Northeast require a transfer of resources to meet developmental expenditures. But the case of UP or Bihar is surely different. They include large and productive agrarian regions, well endowed with fertile soil and plentiful perennial water supplies. The problem is not one of economic growth but of resource mobilization in general. Nothing else explains their failure to raise more revenues.

For now, Naidu appears to have over reached himself. The Congress high command stepped in and the chief minister of Karnataka stayed away from the forum. Ditto for Keshubhai Patel from Gujarat whose state is the second biggest loser in this round. Thank the national leadership which scented trouble. Even the Marxist party was more open, with E.K. Nayanar attending, even as West Bengal�s Left Front government was not even invited to attend. States� interests appear to be having an impact even within nominally monolithic political formations.

But more seriously, poorer states such as Bihar and Madhya Pradesh have been quick to strike back. They cite deep-seated socio-political and economic processes as causes for backwardness. Digvijay Singh argues that his state has cut its fiscal deficit, downsized government, initiated far-reaching reforms as in telephony and decentralized key powers to reduce spending. He further outlines how states as a whole ought to demand more in royalties on minerals rather than squabble with one another. Even in defending the allocation of funds between the constituent units of the Union, he is raising afresh the issue of Centre-state finances.

This is the nub of the issue, and is where New Delhi will soon find the ground slipping from under its feet. This refers not to the apportioning of the cake between the states, and the way in which all states as a whole feel cheated by the Union. The fifth pay commission that was implemented swelled expenditures of the states almost three fold. Once it was brought into force, the latter had no option but to follow suit.

India as of now is even more centralized than China. The latter may be a one party state, but the provinces collect and keep over three-fifths of the revenue. Here, the exact reverse picture obtains. This will remain so even as aspirations of people for better health, education and welfare move on ahead. Let alone social services, even in the infrastructure sector, it is states that bear nearly three-fifths of the costs.

Yet, they are not being given a larger share of wealth. A state that attracts software investors cannot hope to make any gains in terms of revenues even if it invests in better roads and power supply. Similarly, a region that brings in foreign exchange through seafood exports cannot even claim a small share as a cess for development and welfare related work.

Naidu has made his point: a federalist agenda can channel disquiet in a way that rattles the powers that preside over the nation. But the deep fissures between losers and winners are likely to prevent more than a little tinkering with the figures in this regard. What is more urgent is that the states as a whole seek and get a larger share of resources, both in terms of their share of the Central tax pool and the gross receipts of revenue.

Having raised the hackles of another set of states, he may find it difficult to be ring-leader in a dust-up with the Union. To go any further down this road, he needs to loosen his ties with the NDA. It is no coincidence that virtually all the hard-boiled regional parties, such as those in Punjab and Assam have rallied to his banner. After all, you cannot forever run with the federalist hares while hunting with New Delhi�s hounds.

The conclave in the capital marks the end of the honeymoon of the regionalists with the saffron party. The end may not be nigh. But there are clear differences in the direction the economy and, at one remove, the polity ought to move in. Naidu with his superb sense of timing has opened up a new front. But if he does not take the baton, there is now no shortage of other able hands to carry the banner of fiscal federalism forward.

The author is an independent researcher on ecology and political affairs and former fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum Library, New Delhi    

The prevention of terrorism bill, 2000 � sent recently by the law commission to the government of India � has created a good amount of controversy. The government had prepared a revised version of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, called the criminal law amendment bill, 1995. Later, certain official amendments were introduced. The law commission took this bill and the official amendments into consideration and prepared the PTB, which does not deal, so much as TADA, with disruptive activities.

Section 3 (1) of the PTB defines terrorist acts as those which are intended to overawe the government or strike terror in the minds of people or alienate or affect the harmony amongst different sections of the society or threaten the unity, integrity, security or sovereignty of India. Holding membership of terrorist organizations is an offence. So is the holding of property, believed to be derived or obtained from terrorist activity. It also provides for punishment for possession of unauthorized arms in notified areas.

Some critics say the new bill penalizes journalists for not disclosing their sources of information. Section 14 empowers an investigating officer to demand information relating to an offence under TADA from any person in possession of it. On failing to divulge information, an individual is liable to be imprisoned for three years, or five years, or both. The section does not provide exemption or immunity for journalists.

More safeguards

Certain new offences have been created. These include acts involving loss or damage to inter-state or foreign commerce and threatening of witnesses. Acts of ommission, for instance, failure to inform the police about acts of terrorism, have also been made liable to penal action. Critics argue that such broad definitions allow such draconian laws to be used arbitrarily.

The law commission has provided several new safeguards: unless first information report is approved within 10 days by the director general of police or within 30 days by the review committee (composed of secretaries to the government), the registration of an offence falls to ground; the accused is entitled to have his legal advisor present during police interrogation; no persecution can be launched without the required sanctions from the state government; the offender can appeal to the high court against conviction; officials abusing powers conferred upon them are liable to penalty; constant monitoring of the progress of cases by the review committees; provision for transfer of trial, at the instance of the accused or the prosecution, if fair trial is not possible in the appropriate special court.

Get to the motive

Many argue that bail provisions in the new bill are made stringent so that no bail can be granted unless a notice is given to the public prosecutor. The Supreme Court has expressed a similar view in the Karpar Singh case. In one of the two seminars held by the law commission before preparing the report, J.S. Verma, chairman of the national human rights commission, stressed the desirability of more realistic bail provisions and the importance of a fair trial.

In fact, the new law defines the crime in such a sweeping manner that it encompasses the entire spectrum of crimes under ordinary legal and criminal justice system. It does so by defining the crime on the basis of �motives or intent�.

Here we have the philosophic justification of an extraordinary law. Existing laws can deal with all actual acts � murder, arson, bomb blasts, sedition and even hijacks. What ordinary law does not do is punish �intentions�. In ordinary law, �motives� are important in a legal sense, for instance, to establish a persecution case or in determining the sentence to be awarded.

But the peculiarity of both TADA and this proposed bill is that mere attribution of motive to offences punishable under normal law is sufficient to bring into play a separate judicial machinery and a separate criminal procedure. And this begins from arrest, detention, trial and appeal, attracting in the end a more stringent punishment. Interestingly, these motives do not even have to be proved. Hence the demand for the complete and unconditional withdrawal of the proposed bill does not appear unreasonable.    

In an action reminiscent of an ancient rivalry, certain Hindu groups have protested against the construction of a Jain prayer hall at the holy site of Badrinath. So vehement has been their opposition that they have even threatened to use force to drive the Jains out of the area. In defence of their action, these zealots have argued that the Jains are not Hindus since they venerate their tirthankaras and oppose rituals, which are the lifeline of sanatani Hinduism and the means of livelihood of its priests.

According to press reports, the sadhus are envious of the wealth of the Jain community and the high renunciatory capacity of Jain monks who journey on foot, never touch money, nor store or cook food, all of which make them anathema to their Hindu counterparts.

Critics of Hinduism would regard this as one more instance of the religion�s allegedly growing intolerance of other faiths. In the wake of contests with Muslim and Christian activists, this episode is bound to revive controversy over Hinduism�s supposedly hegemonic agenda. A deeper reading of history, however, presents a distinctly less alarmist explanation of this apparent Hindu-Jain face-off. The rivalry between the Brahmin ritualist and the renouncer has in fact, been inherent in the Indic tradition from the very outset, with the sanyasi consistently scoring over the priest in terms of both social status and prestige.

One of the paradoxes of the Indic situation was that though the sanyasi had renounced the world, in reality it was he who dominated the society, rather than the Brahmin householder-ritualist. As Louis Dumont pointed out several decades ago, the sanyasi was the real agent of change and development in Indian religion and spirituality. He was an innovator, the creator of values, unlike the Brahmin who mainly preserved, aggregated and combined.

The Brahmin householder-ritualist was defined and limited by his social existence and the constraints of the caste system, whereas the sanyasi had freed himself of societal roles and obligations to concentrate instead on universal and personal goals. The value systems he created were so powerful and all-pervading that they influenced and reshaped the brahminical householder tradition.

So overwhelming was the persona of the sanyasi that key features of the world-negation of the renouncer became integral to the world-affirming view of the Brahmin householder as well. So much so that the �good� Brahmin finally became one who was the splitting image of the world-renouncer.

The overlap was so complete that there was little difference left between the ideal Brahmin and the ideal renouncer, except one of degree. Like the renouncer, the Brahmin made it incumbent upon himself to control his senses, cultivate abstinence and detachment, and practice non-violence. Renunciation even became the final, liberating phase in the four-fold stages of the life of a householder.

The total identification of the Brahmin with the renunciation ideal had other equally significant consequences. Brahmins who functioned as priests and thereby performed their castes� most characteristic professional activity, lost status. They were considered demeaned and degraded by their caste men.

Acceptance of gifts was widely believed to lower the prestige of Brahmins for it meant that the evils (paap) of the king-patron were thereby transferred to the receiver. Brahmins who presided over life-cycle ceremonies, specially funeral rites, were considered so tarnished that they were known as �untouchable� Brahmins. Only those Brahmins inspired respect who were not dependent on the patronage of jajmans and who cultivated the image of learned ascetics.

What bears mention in the present context is that Jainism was among the earliest of the ascetic traditions in the subcontinent. The practice of asceticism in fact reached its acme in the Jain religion, and Jain monks were throughout renowned for the rigours of their asceticism. The acute physical hardships they continually subjected themselves to aroused the deepest awe in the wider society.

However, it may be noted that the contrast was not between them and Brahmins as a caste, since several Jain monks were themselves Brahmins. Rather, it was a debate between the man-in-the-world concept and that of the renouncer.

The seemingly wide divergence between Jain monks and Brahmin householders created an impression in some quarters that Jainism was a movement outside and opposed to the Vedic tradition. This was reinforced by Jainism�s apparent refusal to accept the finality of the Veda s, a trait they shared with the Buddhists, the Carvakas and several other groups categorized as nastikas (non-believers in the Veda s).

In actual fact, however, Jainism was not a rejection of the Vedic path. Jain cosmology saw itself as a movement beyond this path when the Hindu accumulation of merit and demerit had been exhausted. Impartial scholars have conceded that all Indic religions present a socio-religious continuum that defies textual labels and categories.

Other scholars have argued that the concepts of asceticism and renunciation were implicit in classical Hindu thought and did not enter the Brahminical tradition from outside. The Rig Veda Samhita mentions long-haired ascetics (kesins) and silent ones (munis) who either moved around naked (�clothed in wind�) or dressed in red rags.

This, of course, is not to say that the renouncer tradition was a direct follow-up of theRig Vedic ascetic culture. Rather, it is to say that the theory of renunciation as it eventually developed in the Upanishads. Jainism and Buddhism rested on a shared heritage of asceticism as practised by renouncers with varying affiliations, since at least the Rig Vedic times. It is not without significance that the Upanishads, Buddhism and Jainism all arrived almost simultaneously on the Indian scene, and were all associated with forests, the warrior class and the internalization of ritual.

In view of the present rigidity of Hindu monks at Badrinath, it would be in order to point out that Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religious structures have historically always existed side by side, throughout the length and breadth of the land. The Ajanta and Ellora caves are the most famous, but by no means the sole, instance of this Indic truth.

The fact that the news report in question mentions the intense longing of the Jains to visit Badrinath is adequate testimony to the shared sacred geography and unity of spiritual culture. In contemporary times, too, Jains have been intimately linked with Hinduism. They have been in the forefront of the Hindutva movement, providing invaluable intellectual resources and physical support. Those intent upon ousting them from Badrinath are needlessly creating fissures within the wider Hindu family at a time when this family is under severe stress from monotheistic creeds.    

Twenty-eight-year-old Yogesh Mishra got into the habit of eating pan masala five years back. One day he found great difficulty in opening his mouth. Afflicted by the soreness in his mouth and constant burning in the oral cavity, he rushed to see his doctor. A bombshell fell on him when his doctor detected that he had oral submucous fibrosis,the precursor to oral cancer. Today, Mishra is trying hard to kick the habit but to no avail.

There are many like Mishra who are falling victim to the ubiquitous enemy � the pan masala and gutka. The oral submucuous fibrosis epidemic is sweeping the whole country. The spread of the disease can be gauged from the fact that in Gujarat, the incidence of this fibrosis in 1967 was 16 per 10,000. By 1994 this rose to 160 per 5,000. Of these, 40,per cent were below 25 years and 80 per cent below 35 years.

Cavity of danger

Actually, it is kattha which makes this mixture of supari or areca nut, chuna, cardamom and mint the genuine pan masala. But nowadays, manufacturers have started using a substance composed of titanium oxide, which poses several health hazards, in place of kattha. The manufacturers use it because it is very cheap compared to kattha.

Not just this, gutka also contains betel nuts, tobacco, lime and catechu. These substances damage the sensitive mucosa, causing constant irritation and microtrauma to the mucosa. Chemicals present act as toxin. The phenol in the betel nut with its caustic burning effect destroys the mucosa causing oral ulcers. The betel nut also has tannins, which act as astringents, precipitating protein and damaging the mucosa.

It is little wonder that about nine million people in India are suffering from cancer and more than 40 per cent of all sorts of cancers are related to the buccal cavity (mouth) and adjacent organs. The majority of patients are between 20-30 years of age, although some are as young as 13. Males are more affected than females. Interestingly, of the 56,000 new cases discovered annually, 34,000 are avoidable.

Choice death

The National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad says that pan masala with chewing tobacco, if consumed for five to seven years, leads to oral fibrosis. Another study by the Regional Cancer Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University, showed mutagenic activities which could cause genetic deformities among users of pan masala, with or without tobacco.

Considering the hazardous nature of pan masala and gutka, a highpowered Central committee on food standards some time back had demanded a nationwide ban on gutka and pan masala. The Goa government had put curbs on sale of gutka and now it is the Madhya Pradesh government which is following suit. Manufacturers of gutka and pan masala are protesting against the ban with persuasive arguments about freedom of the consumer�s choice. However, they should not forget that when the pouch of gutka or pan masala does not bear any warning about cancer, are they really leaving the consumer with any choice?    


Soaps with harmful suds

Sir � The Indian television serials centring around the family haven�t left any stone unturned in exploring the possibilities of a conflict, be it between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law (Kyonki Saans Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi), between the brother-in-law and the sister-in-law (Kora Kaagaz), man and wife (Saans). Most popular soap operas have in common the dilemma of relationships emerging out of extramarital affairs. These serials can be said to have made the concept of extramarital affairs fashionable. The silver lining is that because of an overdose their novel charm seems to be wearing off. The article, �Family secrets bubble forth in soap therapy� (Aug 21) quite correctly points out that the Indian audience largely identifies with the characters on screen. These soap operas, instead of being the reflection of real life, are getting negatively reflected in the viewers� lives. Considering their immense popularity, it is essential that the directors stop playing to the galleries and help build happy homes instead.
Yours faithfully,
Sarita Kejriwal, Calcutta

Welcome move

Sir � The Kols, Bhils, Mundas, Santhals, the Kurmis and other tribals that make up the Jharkhandi population are happy that the president, K.R. Narayanan, has okayed the formation of the new states (�President nod�, Aug 29). These people, who were never Biharis, Bengalis or Oriyas now have their own identity. The prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, too needs to be thanked for taking such a bold decision.

Jharkhandis are aware that the politicking, which had so long stalled state formation, has not ceased completely. Various upper caste leaders are vying with each other for a full control of the political machinery of the new state. If this is allowed, the backward classes and tribals, for whom the new state comes as a boon, will be left in the lurch again. Power in the new state must be held by Jharkhandis. Leaders like Shibu Soren, who have waged the long battle for Jharkhand, must be given the main portfolios.

Yours faithfully,
Tutul Mahata, Durgapur

Sir � The main criterion for the creation of a new state is its ability to be economically self-reliant. Jharkhand has no worry in this respect. No region in the country is as rich as Jharkhand in mineral wealth. It produces the largest quantities of copper, pyrite, mica, bauxite and coal. It also produces iron ore, uranium and limestone.

Jharkhand needs an uncorrupt minister. As Madhushree C. Bhowmik pointed out in, �Race for the head of a new state� (Aug 30), the names of Shibu Soren, Babulal Marandi and Karia Munda are doing the rounds. But whoever assumes office has to improve the irrigation, literacy, infrastructure, healthcare and employment opportunities. Succeeding state governments have neglected south Bihar despite the region producing almost 70 per cent of the state�s revenues. One of the top priorities of the new chief minister will be to attract investors to the region and to improve law and order. Mafia and extortionists have to be driven out of Jharkhand.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Sir � The Bharatiya Janata Party, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Samata Party-Janata Dal (United) have 32, 14, 11, nine and eight members of the legislative assemly respectively in the 81 member Jharkhand assembly. The remaining seven come from smaller parties and independents. Any alliance of 41 or more MLAs will help form the government.

The BJP-Samata Party-Janata Dal(U) will have 40 MLAs. The JMM is with the BJP led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. It is expected that Soren�s JMM will stay with the NDA in Jharkhand. Which means, with 54 MLAs, there will be no problem installing an NDA government in Ranchi, the capital of the new state.

The question is whether the chief minister will be from the BJP or the JMM. The choice therefore is strictly between Babulal Marandi and Soren.Even if a new political axis is created involving the RJD, the Congress and the JMM, Soren stands a good chance of making it to the chief minister�s chair. As Madhushree C. Bhowmik says, Laloo Prasad Yadav, who till recently found himself sidelined, will find a place in the sun. But it is doubtful if he will have the �last laugh�.

Yours faithfully,
Mili Das, Sindri

In all unfairness

Sir � The news report, �Sarpanch paraded nude� (Aug 9), reveals the humiliation that the BJP sarpanch, Lata Sahu, of the newly formed Chhattisgarh state was subjected to. There is a saying: �If you want to kill a dog, give it a bad name.� In this case as well, it was alleged that Ramesh Yadav, in order to avenge his wife�s electoral defeat at the hands of Sahu, masterminded the event. He circulated a rumour that Sahu was possessed by a witch and had to be exorcised. This resulted in her being stripped and paraded and thus publicly embarrassed. It is unfortunate that politics, which is an agency for the betterment of society, has and can vitiate the social atmosphere to such an extent that the victims can only be protected by law.
Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Calcutta

Sir � The advertising industry is turning out to be a sphere of male domination. In a certain commercial, women are being projected as mannequins whose very physical movements are directed by their virile owners. Sometimes the bodies of women are compared to the products, as in the case of Close-up �curved� toothbrushes.

Vulgar insinuations are ceaselessly made in most of these advertisements. The cheap gimmicks of the media are responsible for the way men regard women. If such advertisements are broadcast repeatedly, the mindsets of men will never change. They will continue to regard women as �sex objects�.

Yours faithfully,
Saima Afreen, Calcutta

Watery mess

Sir � It is now well known that arsenic exists in the groundwater in Salt Lake, and North and South 24 Parganas. The municipal water supply system of Salt Lake still relies heavily on deep tubewells. Recently, a study was conducted to inspect the content of arsenic in the water. Samples were collected from two centrally located tubewells of Salt Lake. The analysis was conducted in the chemical laboratory of the Centre for the Study of Man and Environment, an organization engaged in a number of environment related research projects.

The results showed that the level of arsenic in these samples was negligible. But lead was present. This has dangerous implications for public health. According to the World Health Organization and the United States public health service standards, drinking water should be completely free of lead.

The samples revealed the presence of 0.4. mg/litre of lead in one and 0.35 mg/litre in the other sample. Regular intake of such water is dangerous. The same analysis revealed the presence of iron many times in excess of the limits prescribed by the WHO and the USPHS which are accepted as global standards.

Yours faithfully,
P.K. Guha Roy, Calcutta

Sir � It is essential that the water supplied by the corporation should be completely pure. Otherwise living in the city can become extremely dangerous. If necessary, water supply should be taxed but the water should be free of impurities. This tax should be progressive: those living in bungalows and large houses should pay higher taxes.

Yours faithfully,
Reshma Agarwal, Calcutta

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