Editorial 1/ Issue of quantity
Editorial 2/ Bad blood
Windows to wisdom
This above all/ Lights, camera, slanging action
Push button moment of Tehelka power
Fifth column/ New ways to say good old things
Letters to the editor

The export import policy is both about exports and imports. The long-term exim policy for 1997-2002 continues and what has just been announced is an annual modification to this policy. Especially in this announcement, much interest centred on import liberalization. Quantitative restrictions on imports are illegal under the World Trade Organization stipulations, unless balance of payments weaknesses allow deviations. India’s present BoP no longer warrants deviations and WTO ruled against India. Hence QRs had to be phased out and all items placed on open general licence. Because of earlier liberalization, only 715 remained on QRs and these were to move to OGL in the course of the March 31 announcements. There were threat perceptions because consumer goods imports would be liberalized. As the commerce minister’s speech rightly points out, earlier bouts of liberalization have not led to a surge in consumer goods imports. Nevertheless, consumer goods encompass sensitive items like agro products, items reserved for small-scale industries and high profile items like liquor and automobiles. That is why large chunks of the speech tend to allay such fears. Open general licence imports are not duty free and there is no reason to presume that consumer goods imports will take place at the present peak basic customs duty of 35 per cent. In some cases, India has agreed to bound or maximum duties at WTO. For instance, agro products have 100 per cent duty bindings on raw materials, 150 per cent on processed items and 300 per cent on edible oils.

Manufactured consumer goods do not have WTO bound rates. Duty protection on agro products and secondhand cars was hiked in the course of the budget and Mr Murasoli Maran has promised further hikes in milk products. It is a separate matter that duty or non-tariff protection works against consumer interests. There is also scope for non-tariff protection, such as through insistence on standards and maximum retail price and levying of countervailing duty on MRP. Faced with the Chinese threat, India has already attempted this for manufactured goods and the present exim policy extends this to agro products, apart from making secondhand car imports almost impossible. Three hundred sensitive items have also been identified, to be monitored on a “war room” basis. Necessary legislative changes will also be introduced to temporarily invoke QRs if there is an import surge. But it would be incorrect to presume that all 715 items have moved to the OGL. Defence and health related items continue to be restricted and foodgrains, petroleum products and urea continue to be canalized through state trading organizations.

Other than imports, the exim policy should have policy initiatives on exports and on this, Mr Maran’s attempts need to be taken with a pinch of salt. This is not to argue that one per cent market share in export of goods in 2005 is impossible or that agro exports have potential. But the much-touted special economic zones have not quite taken off and extending them or other export incentives to agriculture does not mean much, until other accompanying reforms happen. Mr Maran has been arguing for foreign direct investment liberalization, labour market flexibility and SSI dereservation. The best solution is to do this across the board. Introducing these in SEZs is not only second best, it is an initiative that is 20 years too late. Nor is a government-driven market access initiative much to crow about. A realistic assessment is that the exim policy should attempt to do nothing. Stated differently, there should be no further exim policy.


There could be a great deal of confused thinking around certain human rights issues. The Indian Red Cross Society has refused to accept blood donated by inmates of Tihar Central Jail for the victims of the Gujarat earthquake. There is a conflict here between the rights of the prisoners and those of the patients. And at both the Tihar and the Red Cross ends, the thinking seems to be unclear and prejudiced.

Red Cross associates “high risk” donors with sodomy, multiple sex partners and drug addiction. On all these counts, prisoners fall in the high risk category. Red Cross is following here the Drug and Cosmetic Act, which stigmatizes prisoners. This lumping together of a range of risky behaviour betrays a moral position. It is perfectly possible to have safe anal and/or multiple-partner sex without necessarily contracting HIV or other infections. The same is true for drug addicts, although their general state of dilapidation might disqualify them from donating blood on more obvious grounds. HIV tests have now become considerably cheaper, and before summarily eliminating entire categories of donors it should be possible to simply test the blood at no great expense before releasing it for use. Also, it is becoming increasingly difficult in India to assume that an individual who appears to be respectable, unpromiscuous and heterosexual is free from the risk of infection. The actuality may be more complicated than the imaginable. Similarly, pushing prisoners to donate blood in exchange of remission of time seems shockingly callous. Indian prison authorities are known for their (not entirely disinterested) denial of unsafe sex and drug abuse happening in sexually segregated wards. Tihar jail, particularly, has often shown ignorant and hypocritical outrage over attempts at distributing condoms to its male inmates. A refusal to accept certain forms of sexual behaviour leads here to far-reaching harm and irresponsibility. Therefore, legally associating prisoners with risk, without going into the question of testing at all, is just as absurd and unfair as saying that prisoners need no screening because sodomy and drug abuse do not exist in Indian prisons.


Once upon a time in the southern land flourished the fair city known as Mahilaropya where Amar Shakti ruled. This great king had three sons who were averse to learning. Feeling miserable about it, he summoned his ministers one day and asked them for their advice on how best to awaken the intelligence of the princes in a short time. One of his ministers took note of the need to extract and grasp the essentials of knowledge for educating the princes and recommended that they be entrusted to the care of Vishnu Sharma. Here was a scholar who lived in the same city and who could, going by his reputation, make their minds blossom in no time. The learned Brahman was called and the king requested him to teach the princes so that they could have mastery over all matters relating to practical wisdom. Vishnu Sharma, who was then eighty years of age, undertook to do this in six months. He took charge of the princes and devised a system of education suitable for them.

He composed five books of tales for the purpose and instructed the princes with the aid of these tales. They did acquire the mastery that their father wished for them. These five books, collectively called the Panchatantra became famous, travelling far and wide. Here is a celebrated work of practical wisdom that is known to be excellent for awakening young minds. So says the anonymous narrator in the “Preamble” to the Panchatantra.

It is also said that Vishnu Sharma studied all the texts pertaining to matters of the polity and worldly wisdom. It is quite clear that he not only studied these texts but also extracted their essence, pondering over “the pith of the matters dealt in them”.

Chandra Rajan has served a useful purpose in providing us with a fresh and very readable English translation of the book. Her translation from Sanskrit is based on the Purnabhadra recension (1199) which, although a relatively late text, is a longer text as it includes stories not found in other recensions. She has also written a masterly introduction to the book from which there is much to learn.

As Vishnu Sharma studied scholarly texts, he also delved into folklore for which this land is famous. He had the imagination needed to combine scholarly texts with “a floating body of tales” and the intellectual rigour needed to give his work a unique structure. He provides us not with a mere “collection” of stories, but in the words of Rajan, with “an artistic whole with a highly organized and complex structure with several narrators functioning at multiple levels of storytelling. It is an intricately designed text interweaving tales with maxims and precepts, discourse and debate”. The different meanings of the Sanskrit word, tantra, (text, part of a text, a loom or a frame) are involved here. The work has a frame story (as given in the “Preamble”) with five books or texts set within it, each of these texts having its own frame story, which, in turn, has nesting within it “emboxed” stories (story within a story). An “emboxed” story carries one or more tales. Rajan has clearly shown how different narrative levels are involved which take the listener or reader through layers of storytelling, each with its own narrator and audience and lessons that can be drawn from it. One is reminded of the Arabian Nights, which shows the influence of the Panchatantra.

These tales are meant to entertain and instruct. With respect to instruction, they do not aim to make scholars but to stimulate princes who are going to be involved in practical activities. They are directed towards buddhi, which signifies the entire intellectual process; their aim is buddhiprabodhanam, awakening of the intellect. The Panchatantra is a work in nitishastra. Niti, a Sanskrit word difficult to translate into English, signifies practical wisdom, the wisdom involved in the conduct of life in the world. Rajan suggests that it means “living wisely and well in the truest sense of these terms”. She rightly points out that, although the Panchatantra was composed for the princes, it goes beyond their education and includes men and women at different levels of society.

Though Vishnu Sharma tells tales from the animal world, he is concerned about the human world. What the Panchatantra does effectively is, as Rajan notes perceptively, hold a mirror up to society. Vishnu Sharma provides us with an opportunity to see ourselves, as if in a mirror. It is the world of fantasy that reveals, for instance, the folly of not being the master of one’s own thinking, as in the frame story of the first book where it is shown how the beautiful friendship of a lion and a bull was hacked by a treacherous jackal consumed by greed.

The five books of the Panchatantra are known as “Estrangement of friends”, “Winning of friends”, “Of crows and owls”, “Loss of gains” and “Rash deeds”.

The first book upholds moral wisdom and statesmanship. A jackal that stands for these values admonishes a greedy jackal for his crooked ways and also the lion for acting without deep deliberation. The opening verse of the second book emphasizes that even when lacking resources, wise men possessed of knowledge and insight are able to accomplish their desired aims. Not trusting a faithless friend or a foe and judging well, a wise man achieves much through friendship. The third book takes this point forward and suggests that one should not make a foe a friend even when he comes professing amity, nor should one make enemies without reason. While the fourth book cautions against parting with one’s gains foolishly, using the famous tale of the ape and the crocodile, the fifth book speaks against undertaking a deed without due consideration. It upholds “manly exertion” which brings joy in this world.

It may well be argued that buddhi, which includes in its meaning common sense and sound judgement, is the faculty that is of utmost importance in the entire Panchatantra. Better common sense than erudition — a point that is made well with the tale of the scholars who brought a dead lion to life. It is buddhi that tells us what is right and what is wrong, when to act and when not to act, and who is a friend and who is a foe.

Even if the Panchatantra is criticized for moral reasons as, for instance, regarding the advice to kill a foe when he is down, it cannot be disputed that this text that was composed before the year, 570, is exemplary with respect to certain issues that are of current concern in education. This old text takes us back to an era when the art of teaching was not forgotten in the market of education and when it was possible to form and convey a big image without losing it in a glut of information. Here is a text that stands out in its conscious blending of aims and means of education. It looks at education as the transmission of cultural heritage as well as the promotion of individual growth.

Above all, it treats students not as passive but as active agents. Their rationality and autonomy are engaged. The purpose of the exercise is not to indoctrinate the students but to awaken their intellect. It is a model for management education that has emphasized the case study method without in any way reaching the sophistication of the Panchatantra, perhaps the first text to use this method. It shows, moreover, that teachers can be systematic and yet imaginative. Framed tales can open windows of the mind.

The author teaches sociology at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta


The Tendulkars are among the most talented families of India. The father, Vijay Tendulkar, is according to V.S. Naipaul, India’s best playwright and novelist. His daughter, Priya, is about the prettiest and the most provocative interviewers on television channels. Her sister, Tanuja, and nephew, Aditya, help give her chat-shows top ratings on the small screen. Since everyone is talking about the taliban and their criminal destruction of Buddhist relics in Afghanistan, Priya was not going to be left out of the debate. She knew that many people find parallels in the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and the demolition of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan. She assembled a panel of four: a Buddhist monk, the president of Mumbai’s Muslim League, a Shiv sainik — and finding no one else — added my name to it. At a very short notice I was flown into Mumbai. Her nephew, Aditya, picked me up at the Chattrapati Shivaji airport, dropped me at the Sea Princess hotel overlooking Juhu beach. I was allowed an hour’s rest. I spent it gazing at the sea through two large windows. I watched crowds frolicking on the sands. At 3.30 pm, Aditya dropped me at the Nanavati Hospital basement studio.

Priya was busy doing another programme: she does three at a time. I was ushered into the waiting room where sat the other three participants and some of their supporters. I could sense the tense atmosphere. A muscular middle-aged man, evidently a Muslim, was denouncing attempts to malign Muslims for what the taliban had done in Afghanistan. His harangue was obviously aimed at Sanjay Nirupam, the Shiv sainik MP, and his supporters. Attempts to contradict him were met by louder ranting: “These BCs think they were they only ones to win India’s freedom. We Muslims did as much as they did to throw the British out.”

When he cooled down a little, I provoked him further: “This country is no one’s baap ki jaidaad — paternal property. Yeh hamaara vatan hai — this is our homeland — of Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs alike.” There was another round of everyone shouting at everyone else. Peace was restored when Vijay Tendulkar came in to tell us they were ready for our programme. A minute later, Priya came in looking more ravishing than ever before. She had shed some weight and regained her schoolgirl complexion and figure. She is as pretty as the prettiest of our filmstars.

We trooped into the studio. I could sense everyone was ready for the battle to begin. The four panelists took their seats on the dais. The audience seemed equally divided between Muslims and Shiv sainiks. One Buddhist monk in brown robe sat quietly in a corner seat in the last row. A lady at the other end in the front row. Priya started off with Rahul Bodhi. As one would have expected, he was gentle and very soft-spoken. He expressed his sorrow over what had been done at Bamiyan. The next to be called was Azam, president of the Mumbai Muslim League. In trying to explain that Indian Muslims should not be maligned for what the taliban had done in Afghanistan, he went out of the way to extol the role of Indian Muslims in the freedom struggle.

This was too much for Sanjay Nirupam to stomach. A slanging match began, both accusing the other of trying to break up the country. I found it as amusing to hear a Muslim Leaguer subscribing to the two-nation theory and a Shiv sainik proud of his party’s role in knocking down a mosque waxing eloquent about keeping the country united. What they lacked in logic they made up in lung power. The audience joined in loudly applauding their spokesmen by yelling at each other. Two of them nearly came to blows. Priya had to send for the security guard to bounce one of them off. Peace was restored. Came my turn. I denounced both the idol-breakers and mosque destroyers. Mosque-breaking was still on the agenda of some members of the sangh parivar. Surendra Jain talks of 2000 mosques to be razed to the ground. What kind of Jain he is I don’t know. Ahimsa is the cordial principal of the Jain faith. And as for the bearded Giriraj Kishore of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, he talks the language of Mullah Omar of the taliban in the Hindu dialect. I had my share of tongue-lashing from Nirupam. I ended with my favourite quotation of a Punjabi Sufi poet:

Masjid ddha dey, mandir ddha dey/ Ddha dey jo kucchh dhanda/ Ik kisey da dil naa ddhaanvin/ Rab dilaan vich rahenda. (Break the mosque, break the temple,/ Break whatever you can break;/ But never break anyone’s heart/ Because god dwells therein).

Are you game for it?

My lust for bird and animal blood lasted almost 30 years. With my air gun I shot pigeons, doves and even sparrows. With my 12-bore gun I went to kill partridges, water-fowls and wild pigs. I joined shikar parties which slew hundreds of geese, teal and mallard. I was overcome by remorse. I haven’t taken the life of bird or animal for over 50 years. On the contrary, I became a passionate preserver of wildlife and took a leading role in persuading many states to impose a blanket ban on shikar to honour the memory of Jain Mahavira.

The memory of my shikar days was revived by the visit of Shuja-ul-Islam, who lives in California. Shuja’s father, Badr-ul-Islam, was a close friend of my father. He lived in a double-storeyed house on Curzon Road, now Kasturba Gandhi Marg. He was a great shikari and had been living in with Munia, who was in charge of the bandobast. I often accompanied them on their shoots around Delhi. Badr never missed anything; I never got anything: for me they were enjoyable outings. One summer day he took me out fishing to Okhla. We spent a couple of hours casting our baited hooks into the river. We did not get a bite and decided to call it a day. “Khaali haath jaana theek nahin (to go empty-handed is not right),” exclaimed Munia. He jumped into the Yamuna canal: the sluice gates had been closed; so the water was stagnant. With his feet he felt fish sleeping in the mud and dived down. In a few minutes he brought up three large carps with his bare hands. How can we forget such an adventure?

With the Partition, Badr and his family migrated to Pakistan. His Curzon Road house was allotted to my uncle Ujjal Singh in lieu of the house he had lost in Lahore. Whenever I called on my uncle, I felt Badr’s presence everywhere. He visited India a few times to go tiger-hunting with his friend, the maharaja of Vizianagram. Badr bagged 50 tigers and Vizianagram over 300. Badr also had a Gir or two to his credit.

Shikar ran in his family’s blood. Shuja shot a few tigers and lions (in African slots), bears in India and grizzlies in Canada. He lectures on wildlife hunting all over the world. When he came to see me with his publisher, Bhupinder Chaudhry, I had no difficulty in recognizing him: he could have been the Badr-Ul-Islam I had known half-a-century ago. He gave me Hunting Dangerous Game with the Maharajas. I keep it by my bedside. Although I am now of the view that killing wild animals is uncivilized, I feel it good to be lost in dense jungles; I only wish I had been armed with a camera instead of a gun.

Out through the back door

Kabiruddin Ahmed, a member of the Central legislative assembly, made a laughing stock of himself. The occasion was the acrimonious debate on the Arya marriage validation bill meant to legalize certain types of inter-community marriages. Communal passions were running high with charges and counter-charges of conversion between the two major communities. Kabiruddin Ahmed’s blood pressure was up and he could not contain himself. “And now, sir, I know your tactics, how you (meaning the Hindus) want to multiply the number of your population — not by the front door but by the back door.” The house roared, almost enough to raise the dome by the laughter, but Kabiruddin Ahmed’s face looked the picture of innocence not knowing what the laughter was about.

(Contributed by Judson K. Cornelius, Hyderabad)


Of the many aftershocks following the Tehelka quake, one that stands out is the arrest of Jaspal Bhatti, the screen comedian, for setting up a mock arms shop in Mumbai’s Juhu beach. Something is rotten in the state of the nation when the jester is put to the stocks. For we need him now, more than ever, as a thick miasma of venality is rising from the top echelons of our state. We need jesters and satirists to laugh the shock out of our system, to set our sense of proportion right, just as, in the worst of times, the old beleaguered king in King Lear, needed a fool.

But big boys know best: laughter is not the best medicine when the object is to put the public in a dull daze, where the border between the fair and the foul is blurred. In all regimes of history, whenever comic artists had held up the satiric mirror of their art, the arm of the law had descended on them.

This provides interesting insights into the fall of empires. The decline of the art of clowning in Soviet circus, for example, holds a few vital clues to the disintegration of the socialist republic.

But then, what the Tehelka videotapes have unfolded is not a tragedy in the Shakespearean sense. Rather, the murky pictures of greed and betrayal, the muffled conspiring voices, the jerky purblind eye of the camera have the flavour of a Jacobean drama. For four days, as the nation sat glued to prime time television watching Operation Westend, a new chapter in the history of Indian journalism was written. Whether Tehelka broke codes of journalistic conduct or whether Bangaru Laxman broke no codes of political conduct, one significant thing has come out: corruption has never had such fascinating plumage.

For the last two decades, India has been smothered by whiffs of corruption in high places. When Rajiv Gandhi came to power as Mr Clean and left power five years later under the shadow of the Bofors scandal, his political fate underwent the reversal so characteristic in Greek tragedy. Since then, the dramaturgy of corruption in high places has developed along the lines of the burlesque. From Sukh Ram to Laloo Yadav, from Kalpanath Rai to Shibu Soren, there has never been any dearth of players.

When Harshad Mehta accused P.V. Narasimha Rao of accepting a bribe of one crore rupees stuffed in a briefcase, the whole political establishment fell into a frenzied speculation over the size of that briefcase. What escaped them was the precarious state of the body politic where a swindler can so easily put the prime minister of the country in the dock.

According to the journalist, Mark Tully, corruption in India is like a boil on the skin: it is a symptom, not the actual disease. If corruption is a boil, then studies on corruption are surely an industry. From the prime minister’s Independence Day address to books written by bureaucrats, corruption as a subject has dominated most discourses on power and politics. With the University Grants Commission urging the universities to keep pace with the times, we may soon have departments of corruption studies at the postgraduate level.

But more disturbing than the actual extent of corruption is its perception in the public mind. Corruption has never had such captivating charm. For four consecutive evenings, as the lurid images tumbled out of the television screen with almost pornographic rawness, the viewers tasted a new kind of power — the power of the uninhibited surveillant. In a way, the Tehelka expose ushers in a postmodern phase in investigative journalism that operates from the centre of the society as panopticon.

But there is a paradox here. From the structural point of view, the gawky movement of the camera and its unusual angles challenge the orthodox modes of narration and seeks to author a quest for truth. But the presentation of the exposé negates that quest. The way the work has been serialized in private TV channels, accompanied by voiceovers and punctuated with commercials, gives it the character of a soap. Fact thus submits to the pulls of fiction and the power we seem to experience turns out to be illusory.

With jaded nerves, we surf channels and learn about protests and inquiry commissions, hear old politicians talk about possible alliances and alternative formations. “All thieves!”, we sigh and flick the remote control button. In a 21st century democracy, the power to change TV channels is a subsitute for the power to change the system that governs us.


Corrupt, frivolous, decadent, saccharine, and hopelessly subservient to commercial interests: the great and good of the world wrote Hollywood off before we were born. Indeed, one of the ways that the true intellectual elite of this planet recognize one another is by their unanimous contempt for Hollywood and all of its works. It was the Oscars that started me down this track, because this year, for once, I had actually seen most of the movies that won. And while they are definitely mass-market, and generally made oodles of money, they are also evidence of a grown-up culture using its enormously sophisticated technologies and huge wealth to do interesting and even valuable things.

Forgive Hollywood for the fact that 90 per cent of its output is crud. We judge every other field of endeavour by its best output, not its worst, and we owe the movie industry the same courtesy. Now look at the films that won Oscars this year. All of these films were, in their various ways, enterprises that any culture in any age could feel modestly proud of. Probably none of them will be known 400 years from now, or even 40, but that is not the only criterion for success.

They were produced for a culture — not just an American culture, but a global movie-going culture — that turned out in its tens of millions to watch a film whose story is set almost 2,000 years ago. It’s a pretty mature culture, too, in the sense that Gladiator, for example, has no Christian triumphalism of the sort that would have been inevitable in an American film 40 years ago, nor even a happy ending.

A touch of the past

The Oscar for best film went to a movie that told a good story, taught people something about history (something pretty superficial, admittedly) and let it end darkly without actually losing the basically positive spin that has always been the hallmark of Hollywood’s best remembered productions. That’s it. With a single sentence, I’ve lost both the unsophisticated who are outraged by Hollywood’s loose morals, and the sophisticates who despise its simplistic morality. Well, they’re welcome to each other. There’s something more profound going on here. Look at the other film that did best, Traffic.

Pseudo-documentary style rather than historical drama, hand-held rather than big set-pieces, and a great big, thinly disguised MESSAGE that the “war on drugs” is crazy. The disguise is necessary because nobody would be allowed to make an open argument for legalizing drugs and ending the war in a popular mass media vehicle in the current United States political climate, but nobody can watch the film without getting the message.

The other feature films whose participants won awards of one kind or another were Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a Mandarin-language martial arts fantasy set in 19th century China, Erin Brockovich, a classic plucky-underdog-defeats-giant-corporation flick, and Pollock, the biography of a painter. So what do we have here?

The hidden dragon

We have the first intelligent and sophisticated MASS culture the world has ever seen. It’s not exclusively American, though most of its movies are made in Hollywood. It knows how to follow a morally complex argument, and it even understands the uses of irony. And Hollywood’s role in it, beyond mere entertainment, is still the same as it was in the Thirties: to show a world where good people and the right causes sometimes win.

Hollywood’s basic style was shaped by a generation of Eastern European Jews who knew all about the way the real world works, and understood that it would help to have a mythology where the good people win instead. They were in it for the money, of course, and they also knew that this would be a popular message, however distant from the reality. But they also understood (or some of them did) that it would be a USEFUL mythology. If you show the underdog winning often enough, you encourage people to believe that it is possible to defy power and privilege, you break down the fatalistic lethargy that paralyzes them — and then they do try, and sometimes they even win.

For all the changes in technology and technique, Hollywood is still purveying the same moral messages today that it sold in the Thirties, and they are not bad messages. Would you rather have a movie industry that only celebrated power, privilege, and the status quo?



Goodwill has gone for a toss

Sir — The allegation made by Steve Waugh — that the Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly, had tried to cheat during the toss before the third one day international in Indore — only shows that the Australian captain has run short of ideas to defeat the Indians on the field (“Skippers’ face-off turns nasty”, April 1). Waugh’s last resort seems to be his off-the-field tactics. He has also complained about the absence of an additional camera, which, according to him, would have clearly shown that the Indian captain had been cheating. Was the absence of an additional camera also the cause of Australia’s loss in the test series and in the two one dayers? The Australians are a supremely professional team and because of this, they often get away with unsporting conduct on the field. The spectacular fightback that the Indians have staged was the last thing that Waugh and his teammates had expected to encounter on this tour. They can only be offered sympathies for having their dream of whitewashing India so rudely shattered, and so soon.
Yours faithfully,
Abhishek Kishore, via email

No takers for research

Sir — Being a recipient of the national science talent search scholarship from the National Council for Educational Research and Training and an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, I was interested to note that the second half of Asokendu Sengupta’s “Decline and fall of Indian research” (March 27) dealt as much with the higher education infrastructure in India as with the research proclivities of today’s young people.

It is amazing that less than a quarter of the NSTS scholarships could be awarded in 2000. But this datum need not imply a lack of merit. After all, every year the IITs are still taking in about 2,000 students of the first grade. It may be that students these days have enough on their plate without adding the pursuit of a national scholarship, which has more of a prestige value than any significant monetary reward. It is far more useful to spend an additional hour studying for entrance examinations than to spend it on taking the multiple levels of the NSTS exam.

There can be two possible causes behind the decline of research in India. First, as Sengupta points out, is the massive imbalance in the research infrastructure and the number of people who wish to get such training. Second, a point not taken by the author, relates to the ultimate consumer of such research and training. There is hardly a private institution which utilizes the kind of research and training produced by these premier institutes. One of the reasons for the continued existence of the IITs is national pride, not industrial need. In such a situation, it is hardly surprising that graduates from these institutions, even those who are the most serious, will eventually land up for higher studies in institutions which have worldwide reputations. There are no such institutions in India.

So we have the paradox of a huge scientific and research skill-pool, but essentially no demand for it within the country. An examination of the demand and supply economics of this continues to prompt half the IIT-ans to go abroad (or change disciplines and enter institutes of management), and the other half to stay where they are, with their world-class skills rusting for lack of application.

Whatever research there is, is mainly generated by middle-class values about the worth of the pursuit, and the personal love of the dedicated few. But research can be sustained only when there is the need for it, or when the economy has enough surplus to sustain a community of dedicated researchers.

Sengupta is not right in saying that private educational institutions “are doing a great disservice to our youngsters and the nation”. If such an institution does have a “second-rate faculty which is not really interested in research or experimentation”, it is because a first-rate faculty is rare and expensive and it is not its purpose to engage in research or experimentation, but teach. These institutions provide excellent examples of expensive higher education. The IITs used to spend the equivalent of Rs 1 lakh per student per year. The point is that if private institutions are set up to deliver similar education, the students must be willing to pay such amounts. If indeed a world class education costs about Rs 5 lakh, we must ensure that either society gets the same return from it as from any other investment (that is about Rs 75,000 per year), or that society has enough surplus to forgo the return that Rs 5 lakh would have earned. This, sadly, is a calculation we do not perform.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to sustain a world-class research environment in any country without having a world-class education to build upon, and without a need for such research skills. Research is only the top of the pyramid — it will crash to the ground if it is asked to stand on its own.

Yours faithfully,
Pranab Majumder, Rochester, US

Sir — Asokendu Sengupta’s article fails to address one of the main reasons for the poor quality of research in India. The government spends very little on scientific research and of whatever it spends, more than 65 per cent goes in defence and space research and only 12 per cent for industrial research and the rest for food security, health, environment and other “low priority” areas. We are proud of the nuclear bombs and missiles that the Indian scientists build, while millions of people die of malnourishment or by droughts and floods. We have no shortage of young and bright scientists but what we lack is proper vision and the correct orientation.

Yours faithfully
Somnath Bhattacharyya, via email

Home and the world

Sir — Sexual harassment remains one of the greatest threats to women at the workplace. Most working women face some sort of harassment, either sexual, mental or emotional.

What most women are unaware of is that sexual harassment need not constitute a demand or exchange of sexual favours. Sometimes a disgruntled employer may punish a female employee by making her work extra hours or by making her stay late at the office. While some women quit their jobs, others are forced to put up with such harassment for economic reasons. Organizations like the national human rights commission must take steps aimed at addressing the grievances of working women.

Yours faithfully,
Christine Wallace, Calcutta

Sir — For the last few years India has joined the rest of the world in celebrating International Women’s Day. However, this day holds little significance for the innumerable rural and urban women who continue to combat abuse, violence and prejudice on a regular basis. Violence against women has escalated over the last few years. Even now, women in India do not have access to equal opportunities when it comes to education, work, healthcare and so on. The man is still the decisionmaker in the household.

Both film and television continue to portray women as vulnerable. Most of the roles played by women are hackneyed — she is usually the self-sacrificing mother, faithful wife or scheming mistress. While men’s cricket is given proper coverage, women’s cricket is almost ignored. The condition of physically handicapped women continues to be pathetic as they find themselves victims of an indifferent society.

Yours faithfully,
Reena Mukherjee, Calcutta

Tea time

Sir — The article, “Saharias sell tea business to Assam co” (March 28), is misleading. Most of the Saharias are in the tea business and the headline makes it seem that all the Saharias have sold their tea business to Assam Company. A more appropriate headline would have been “A long holding Saharia tea garden sold to Assam Co.”
Yours faithfully,
Gunjan Saharia, Dibrugarh

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