The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sir — Shatrughan Sinha’s vastu puja may have failed to usher in better times for the rest of the country but it seems to have served his purpose very well. No matter what he does — stay away from office and Parliament for days on end or fail to come up with any meaningful policy — Sinha seems to have escaped reprimand from his party bosses until now (“Struggle to diagnose Shotgun ‘flaws’”, Dec 1). He has even got away with an insensitive comment like — “AIDS is not bad, it is very sad.” Sinha is lucky that his cabinet seniors have given him a long rope and his subordinates are too impressed with their chief's rhetoric to criticize him. But how long can the minister’s luck hold out and his gaffes be dismissed as inexperience and worse, “nice”' Sinha may have got away with strutting around importantly in dark glasses and flashy clothes as a Bollywood star, but he can hardly hope to do the same in New Delhi.

Yours faithfully,
Anindya S. Ghosh, Calcutta

A helping hand

Sir — Many motives have been attributed to Bill Gates’s magnanimous donation of $ 100 million to India. Few Indian businessmen, however, have thought of emulating Gates’s commendable gesture. There are some honourable exceptions like the Tatas, who have always done their bit but without much publicity. Unfortunately, most corporates today cannot be bothered about charity and even when they do make a few donations here and there, it is, what can best be described as “photoflash philanthropy”. This is anything but selfless charity, being driven largely by a mix of personal glorification, and a desire for awards and seats in important government committees. Often, these corporates refuse to donate to charities which do not promise them the requisite publicity.

It is sad that we, who have always prided ourselves on the concepts of unconditional compassion and charity embedded in our culture, should now have to learn them from a foreigner.

Yours faithfully,
M.R. Pai, Mumbai

Sir — The report, “AIDS bomb ticks on India'” (Nov 30), gives a bird’s eye view of the AIDS scenario in India. But it contains a glaring error. It states that nearly 4 million Indians have AIDS. Actually, about 4 million Indians are HIV-positive, but they may not necessarily have AIDS. Being HIV-positive is not the same as having AIDS. The latter is the result of HIV infection, and is usually manifested by a spectrum of clinical symptoms, including super-infection with micro-organisms and low immunity. HIV-positive individuals may survive between five to 15 years and sometimes even longer in an apparently healthy state and often without any medication. Such patients are “asymptomatic” HIV-positive. However, such patients eventually develop AIDS and death follows. Most HIV-infected in India are “asymptomatic” — they carry the virus without any overt clinical symptoms. These people are primarily responsible for spreading the virus to other uninfected individuals either through direct (such as sexual intercourse) or indirect (such as blood donation) means.

No one knows why the body’s immunity against HIV eventually fails to prevent the progress of AIDS. But the scientific community is unanimous that the best way to stop the HIV epidemic is through intense preventive programmes.

Instead of squabbling over the number of HIV-positive patients, the Indian health minister, Shatrughan Sinha, would better serve the nation by focusing on the immediate implementation of preventive measures and by educating the media, which seems largely ignorant of the disease.

Yours faithfully,
Kunal Saha, Columbus, US

Sir — The Indian government seems to be concentrating too much attention on AIDS. It seems to have forgotten that millions of people continue to die of other deadly diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid and cholera in the country. These diseases should be given equal importance. We have a tendency to follow opinion in the United States of America in such matters. Should not the government be a little suspicious about the West’s attempts to “educate” us about the seriousness of the AIDS epidemic' After all, that may well be a clever ploy to find a market to dump their drugs.

Yours faithfully,
Vandana Rathi, Calcutta

Deterrence theory

Sir — L.K. Advani’s proposal to make rape a crime punishable with death is no more than a gimmick (“Govt favours rape death penalty, women don’t”, Nov 27). A study of Indian conviction rates will reveal that the tougher the punishment, the more the judges tend to acquit the accused. Even with the liberal punishment that is awarded in rape cases now, the conviction rate hovers around a meagre 1.5-2.5 per cent. If the punishment were death, then the conviction rate would fall further.

What we need is liberal laws, which do not stress on “proof beyond all reasonable doubt” but the most believable proof which can be provided, and a co-mpassionate judiciary.

Yours faithfully,
Samarpita Deb, Calcutta

Sir — Is the Indian legal system being “talibanized”' While the world is doing its best to distance itself from capital punishment, why is India bent on making its rape laws so ridiculous' To start with, there is no reason to believe that the threat of death will restrain upper class landlords from raping female Dalit labourers. Besides, who will convey this stringent law to these men' The police, who so quietly hushed up the rape and the burning to death of an 18-year-old girl in Samastipur village' The fate of this girl, in fact, confronts us with the horrifying image of what the death threat can turn rapists into — killers. Those who rape will henceforth also try to remove traces of their crime by killing so that there is no chance of conviction. Instead of stringent rape laws, the government should promote a system of justice which is more sensitive to the victim. Which means a more effective and faster disbursal of justice.

Also with the death penalty, there is little chance of rapists in the family being convicted. And this is dangerous in a country where child abuse in the family runs very high.

Yours faithfully,
Srikumar Chatterjee, Calcutta

Sir — The Indian electronic media showed a welcome and rare self-restraint by not highlighting the victim’s identity in the recent rape case in the capital. Even so, television channels gave more publicity than necessary to the lawyers of the accused. Such irresponsible media-behaviour prompts advocates to take up cases of the accused merely to get publicity, a factor that helps their business. Bar associations should consider boycotting advocates who defend known criminals in crimes like rape.

Yours faithfully,
Subhash Chandra Agrawal, Delhi

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