When the gun speaks
Sir — The phenomenon of casteism has a peculiar tenacity in the badlands of Bihar which remain locked in a feudal set up. But what is shocking is the acceptance and tacit legitmization of the violence associated with it (“Dalit dares puja ban, shot dead in temple”, Oct 8). One of the constitutional rights bestowed on every citizen is the right to profess the religion of his choice. Denying such a right to an individual on account of his caste identity and using force to implement such discrimination is a gross violation of the Constitution itself. Unfortunately such violations have become commonplace in Bihar. And the blame rests squarely with politicians like Laloo Prasad Yadav. Instead of striving to root out this social evil, they have mobilized the electorate in the state along caste lines. In fact, by allowing special privileges to some communities and not to others, they have exacerbated the divide. It is events like these that show how very hollow these promises remain.
Palash Banerjee, Calcutta
No love lost for labour
Sir — The suicide attempts of Anand Dalvi and Akhtar Khan bring to light a cruel reality (“Jobless burn in business hub”, Oct 4). If this is the situation in the industrial capital of India, one wonders what it is like in other parts of the country where industries are closing down in West Bengal. Since both Dalvi and Khan had served Tata Power diligently for over 10 years, they should have been given alternative employment in some other project in appreciation of their good work. Although contractual labour is common in the West, India, new to global trends, needs more time to get used to the idea. Economic reforms have hit the poor hard. Incidents such as this will further discourage reforms and its supporters. Meanwhile, can the Tatas please do something for the families of Dalvi and Khan, in keeping with its image'
T.R. Anand, Calcutta
Sir — The “agreement ceremony” of Tata Power, in which the management was supposed to sign a deal with workers to raise their wages and increase the gratuity, was akin to rubbing salt on an open wound. No wonder, the two jobless workers chose that day, October 3, to attempt self-immolation. While some workers of the company were being given gifts for the festive season, those who had worked for it in the past were left to die. As the report, “Jobless burn in business hub”, pointed out, the case for the dismissed contract labourers has been pending in the labour court since 1996. Although the company may insist that all the workers’ dues have been met, this seems unlikely to have happened. A company as big as Tata should provide some security cover for contract labourers or offer help on humanitarian grounds so that while some employees get to enjoy Dussehra, others are not forced to attempt suicide.
Shiv Shanker Almal, Calcutta
Sir — The self-immolation bid by two jobless contract workers in Mumbai shows the desperation unemployment is leading middle-aged people to. The tragedy in this case is that unlike the government, the Tatas will probably not give any compensation to the families of the dead and dying. One hopes the incident will drive some sense into the government, which is trying to push through disinvestment of public sector units, and create greater awareness about the need for social security, especially for the poor who are in a majority in India.
C.V.K. Moorthy, Calcutta
Sir — In the eyes of the employer, workers are a necessary evil. They have to be borne with until the work is done. Which is why most of the jobs in the government sector are now outsourced or done through contractors. Even otherwise, employers hardly pay workers either the government-prescribed wages or the compulsory gratuity, leave travel or medical allowances. The recent suicide attempts by two jobless workers were an indicator of the dismal situation workers find themselves in. What is worse, the government, under pressure from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, is not at all sympathetic to their plight. It insists that the economic reforms programme is irreversible, although the primary feature of liberalization is job insecurity. Does the government realize that there might be a severe backlash from the growing community of jobless workers'
Jang Bahadur Singh, Jamshedpur
Sir — That the labour market is in a pretty bad shape has been made evident not only by the recent suicide attempts by two jobless workers in Mumbai. It was also fairly obvious from the growing restiveness among labourers elsewhere in the country. For example, there was much tension among tea garden employees in the Khobang tea estate in Assam over the payment of bonus recently (“Bloodshed after bonus backlash”, Sept 30). Unaware of the recession that has hit the tea industry, workers were unhappy about the amount of bonus paid, which prompted them to manhandle the management staff. It is not difficult to understand that the tea garden owners are helpless. Yet the fact that the police had to resort to firing, killing seven workers, shows that the situation is steadily going out of control in a state which has already been severely hit by militancy for many years.
Bijoy Ranjan Dey, Tinsukia
Sir — The International Plan of Action on Ageing adopted at the first World Assembly on Ageing in Vienna considers people above 60 years to be old. In India, the age criterion remains vague. While banks and airlines take 60 years as the cut-off age for people to be treated as senior citizens, railways and the income tax department insist one has to be 65 years old to avail the concessions. Family expenses of older people are on the rise owing to ever-growing unemployment among the dependent younger generation. The reduction in bank interest rates has made things worse. All government departments should reduce the age criterion to 60 years and do away with the “sub-senior” category for those between 60 and 65 years of age.
Asit Kumar Mitra, Calcutta