The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Letters to Editor

Even days are numbered

Sir — That “Vaastu, wife steer Shotgun”, (Oct 3) is hilarious. Since three is Shatrughan Sinha’s auspicious number — so much so that he wanted his office to be relocated on the third floor of Nirman Bhavan — someone should remind him that it has been three months since he became health minister. And his performance in this period has been abysmal. He has done precious little other than give long interviews to the media and shuttle between conferences and shoots for his television serial. Unless Sinha concentrates on his ministry, he may soon end up without a portfolio, perhaps in another three months’ time.

Yours faithfully,
Shekhar Dutta, Calcutta

An outrage prevented

Sir — The report, “Panchayat orders rape” (Sept 27), which says that a panchayat in Madhya Pradesh has ordained a school teacher be gang-raped for her alleged liaison with a man, comes as a shock. In the light of this incident, it is imperative that state governments monitor the powers of the local political bodies.

Panchayats, which are incidentally elected constitutional bodies, have been known to order women to practice sati after the death of their husbands, declare some to be “witches” or order corporal punishments. Fear often prevents villagers from protesting against the panchayat verdict. In this particular case, the victim, Bhuban-eswari Devi, was lucky to be saved. There are countless others who are not so lucky.

Unless the police in rural areas are willing to play a more pro-active role, such incidents will recur. Given the lack of education and levels of ignorance, non-governmental organizations will have to play a more constructive part in making villagers aware of their rights.

Yours faithfully
Aparajita Dasgupta, Calcutta

Sir — Psychologists have long ascertained that rape is not an act of lust but one of violence that is usually motivated by the desire to subjugate and control women. A recent order in Madhya Pradesh against a lone female school teacher confirms this. This however is a particularly dangerous precedent because the panchayat, like the state, is supposed to look after the welfare of its people. The silence of the state and local authorities, who refused to act, thus forcing the victim to approach the National Human Rights Commission, is an indication of how the system usually closes ranks against women. While this so called “people’s court” punished Bhuban-eswari Devi for standing up against sexual harassment by a male colleague, another colleague of hers, against whom even students have complained, was not tried. This is another indication of the system’s gender bias.

Despite the high incidence of rape in India, there are no quasi-judicial bodies to help victims deal with the trauma or provide adequate counselling. The setting up of “rape crisis centres” would be a step in the right direction. So far, the battle against sexual violence against women has been fought by a handful of non-governmental organizations and bodies like the All India Democratic Women’s Association. It is time politicians, educationists as also people from all walks of life speak out against such atrocities.

Yours faithfully,
Anita De, Calcutta

Sir — The self-defence programme introduced by the SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai may go a long way to help women feel safer (“Train rape push to self-defence”, Sept 4). One hopes similar initiatives are taken by other states so that women in different parts of the country find themselves equipped to protect themselves under any circumstances. Children should also be taught self-defence in schools.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

No calling card

Sir — I am an Airtel customer and use the cash card. The service to my mobile phone was suspended on September 21, 2002, on grounds that I had not furnished proof of my identity. But I have provided the company photocopy of my personal account number card together with the acknowledgement receipt of my income tax returns four times — July 18, September 2, 5,9. I was shocked to hear, however, from the customer care officers of Airtel that the PAN card is no proof of identity. If this is the prevalent attitude, then why is the government of India wasting so much money on issuing the cards'

Yours faithfully,
Balesh Bagree, Calcutta

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