|Thursday, March 30, 2000,
question of maryada
|Global focus on poverty
by S. Sethuraman
FOR decades, the richer countries and the international financial institutions tightly controlled by them, have tended to downgrade the basic problems of the low-income countries and instead forced inequitous economic terms of them.
on the move
your body to science is not so easy
March 30, 1925
IT is disquieting that two of the most sacred institutions of the Panth have got embroiled in an avoidable controversy at a time when the Sikh community is getting set to celebrate the concluding part of the historic tercentenary of the establishment of the Khalsa. In a way, the series of developments involving Giani Puran Singh and Bibi Jagir Kaur are a clash of personalities, probably fed on egos and certain individualistic calculations. Thought it all started with the Nanakshahi calendar row, that issue itself has taken a back seat. A number of new issues have cropped up in the wake of a few hukamnamas, the sacking and counter-sacking and excommunication of the SGPC President, Sikh high priests and other functionaries. The question here is not one of who is right and who is wrong. In an emotionally surcharged atmosphere, logic becomes the first casualty and reason does not cut much ice. This is a pity. For, what is not being realised by the custodians of the Sikh faith is that the present tussle will have a direct bearing on the unity of the Panth. Actually, the melodrama enacted in Amritsar on Tuesday does not revolve around Panthic matters. Several disputes which have surfaced carry political undertones as well as overtones. And the postures adopted by the main players are mainly prompted by personal political considerations. How and why things drifted could be a matter of opinion, though it must be said that Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal should have played a decisive role in reconciling the growing differences. Perhaps, this is too much to expect from Mr Badal. Ironically, both Giani Puran Singh and Bibi Jagir Kaur have been his choice. They have drifted apart, which, in turn, has virtually divided the Sikh sangat for all practical purposes. What is required now is a healing touch so that the basic values of the community are not jeopardised. The present crisis should also provide Mr Badal a lesson or two. He needs to appreciate the fact that if too much of politics gets into religious matters, the result could be far from edifying.
In the present high
drama, maryada of the various Sikh institutions has
received a big jolt. This has naturally upset large
sections of the Sikh community. The community does not
want the true spirit of the Khalsa to be diluted in any
manner and for any purpose. At stake is the sanctity of
Panthic institutions and their maryada. As it is, the
institutions of Sarbat Khalsa, hukamnama, Akal Takht,
etc. have once again come under stress. If matters
pertaining to them are seen in the true tradition of
Sikhism and in a spirit of reconciliation and
understanding, all controversial issues can be resolved.
What is at stake is maryada of the great Sikh
institutions and the rich tradition of the Panth. In the
current gameplan for power, the Panth is surely not in
danger, but it is the duty of the Sikh sangat to see that
the sanctity of maryada is not polluted or hijacked by
vested interests. We hope that the current controversy
will result in greater clarity of the role being played
by the various Sikh institutions both historically and
traditionally as per the perspective visualised by the
EVERY aspect of Indian life is saturated with politics, often of a low calibre. That is why the innocuous coming together of four retired Prime Ministers has attracted undue importance. Their capacity to influence developments must remain in the moral realm or in mobilising public support, which is highly unlikely. Of the four only one, Mr Chandra Shekhar, is a member of the Lok Sabha, thanks to the undeclared support of the Samajwadi Party. All four have no political party worth talking of and what they say or do is strictly their personal business. Mr V.P.Singh is ailing and has more or less withdrawn from the rough and tumble of electoral politics. Mr Deve Gowda has been crowded out of his native Karnataka and so he is now truly a humble farmer. Mr Inder Gujral is a sophisticated Punjabi and has had a long political innings. What then do they really want? That is the intriguing question and as is the emerging media practice, answers come thick and fast without anyone talking to these men or their hangers-on, if they have any. Nor does their past offer any clear clue. Mr Chandra Shekhar is an unreconstructed liberal, retaining a bit of the fervour of his Young Turk days. He is one of the few surviving 42-ers, meaning one who participated in the Quit India movement in 1942. In Parliament he always speaks out against the establishment, and now finds it compulsive with the BJP heading the alliance. He is too fiercely independent to successfully form a party of his own or merge his identity in another. His political sails have to be cut to suit this limitation. Mr V.P.Singh is a quintessential rajguru but todays rajas are wary of him. They are the four who at one time held the most coveted job but are living on the political margin today. Something another former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao is doing, though he is reluctant to throw his lot with the rest.
These five men may
appear like figures from the past but their voice need
not be an echo from a forgotten time. Their predicament
should ideally shift their focus from self-interest to
public cause. It is possible to fault their cause but it
would be wrong to suspect their motive. If they persevere
with what they did on Tuesday releasing a
statement listing the areas causing concern they
may yet rewrite the political script in this country. All
major and minor political parties spend their time
attacking others or answering the attacks by others. They
pay little attention to broader issues or those that
directly affect the voiceless sections of the population.
For they perceive no electoral gain in articulating the
demands and aspirations of the very common man. India,
therefore, needs a few credible leaders who will
undertake this crucial but thankless task and they can be
only those who are in the evening of their political
career. Also this lands culture has a solid place
for them even if electoral politics has none. Wise old
men occupy a venerable place. Indian politics, as it has
evolved over the past four decades, has squeezed the
concept out, respecting an elected upstart rather than a
sane and sober leader who richly deserves to be elected.
The nation lacks a sage voice which will command
universal respect and which calls for calm at times of
social turmoil. At the height of the Mandal report
madness a decade ago, many felt the need for a tall
statesman who stands above party politics, regional
differences or communal divide. The four former Prime
Ministers may not individually fill the bill but as a
loose group should gain some clout to lend a
non-sectarian angle to what remains of the national
movement. The Indian people need a few selfless saviours.
WITH international cricket now being played round the year it has become easier than ever before for individuals and teams to set new records in any aspect of the game. However, this truism is not meant to take away from Courtney Walsh credit for having replaced Kapil Dev as the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket. His achievement should, in fact, logically trigger the process of reviving West Indian cricket which for reasons other than cricket in recent outings set new records in losing Tests and one-day games with sickening regularity. The talented paceman climbed the summit of bowling glory on Tuesday when he had Henry Olonga of Zimbabwe caught to take his tally of wickets to 435. Kapil Dev, who had himself first joined Sir Richard Hadlee of New Zealand as the second bowler to cross the 400-wicket mark and later erased the Kiwis record of 431 wickets, was among the first to congratulate Walsh for the remarkable feat. He had, in fact, dispatched four bottles of champagne to Walsh the moment he took the 434th wicket to draw level with the Haryana Hurricane of yore. What must have made the day doubly memorable for the West Indian fast bowler was the ease with which the team under new captain Jimmy Adams was able to beat Zimbabwe in consecutive Tests to clinch the Test series. Inevitably Walshs record-setting effort would revive the academic debate among cricket pundits whether record-breaking efforts reflect the true worth of a player. Does the fact that Walsh now has the highest number of Test wickets under the belt automatically entitle him to be rated as the best paceman ever in the game of cricket? Sir Richard Hadlee had taken 431 in only 86 Test and had an amazing average of 22.30 runs per wicket. Kapil Dev broke his record after playing in 131 Tests and had given away about eight runs per wicket more than Sir Richard.
The gentle West Indian
giant Walsh is known to be a ferocious competitor
on the field and as gentle as a lamb in the dressing room
has overtaken Kapil Dev by playing in only 114
Tests and his bowling average is better than Kapils
but less impressive when compared to Hadlees
record. It would appear that the New Zealand allrounder
should logically continue to occupy the top slot in the
400 plus-wicket club. But Walsh too should be put in a
superior class for the simple reason that at 38 most fast
bowlers settle down to telling their grandchildren tales
of their exploits on the field. Yes, it is true that both
Walsh and his bowling mate Curtly Ambrose should
logically have retired from International cricket by now.
What has forced them to keep going is the absence of
suitable replacements to keep the West Indian pace
flag high. But could they have survived the
gruelling demands of round-the-year cricket had they not
kept themselves as fit as they were when they started
their careers in the company of Malcolm Marshall. Wasim
Akram, with an unbelievable haul of 400 plus wickets in
one-day games, too has made known his intention to try
and overtake Walsh at the summit. With 383 wickets from
92 Tests he does appear to be in a position to make his
dream come true. He stands a fair chance of at least
entering the 400-wicket club. But it is doubtful that he
would get anywhere near Walsh. He has kept himself
remarkably fit in spite of having to battle the effects
of diabetes. But will his body be able to take the
punishment it must for reaching the top? If he is able to
will his body not to give in, the day Akram conquers the
summit would be yet another occasion to celebrate the
return of the record to the subcontinent.
THE Worldwatch Institute has stressed the need to adopt clean technologies and contain population growth as a two-pronged strategy for securing sustainable economic growth. These are good suggestions. But they will remain incomplete unless the desire for unlimited consumption is itself curbed. Implemented blindly, they can become instruments of perpetuating the transfer of the earths resources from developing to industrial countries. There is a need to tread cautiously in adopting policies based on half-truths. We should not play into the hands of the agents of western NGO-multinational combine and their Indian agents.
In its State of the World, 2000 Worldwatch points out that the global environment is threatened by rising temperatures due to continued use of unclean technologies such as fossil fuels; and increasing pressure of population on groundwater, cropland, oceans and forests. These pressures earlier used to lead to collapse of local ecosystems. Kazakhastan had to abandon half its cropland since 1980 due to soil erosion. But in a global economy such a local collapse can put additional pressure on resources in other countries. The ban on cutting of forests in China, for example, led to greater pressure on the forests elsewhere. Therefore, it says that it is necessary to stabilise climate and population speedily before a global ecological collapse takes place.
In order to attain these ends it suggests that (1) all countries shift speedily to the use of renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind power; (2) developing nations invest more on family planning; and (3) a tax policy be adopted which imposes tax on unclean technologies (carbon energy) and subsidises clean technologies (windpower).
But these efforts will come to naught if consumption continues to grow without limits. Let us say a country shifts entirely from coal to windpower. But the demand for energy for airconditioning, dishwashers and freezers continues to grow unabated. As a result all the farms would soon be studded with windmills. How will economic progress continue then?
The point is that such measures will only postpone the day of reckoning. It may be possible to contain the population to a few billion persons. But it is not possible to fulfil the demands of human beings if their objective continues to be ever-increasing material consumption.
Tagore once said that the western idea of progress was like ever walking without reaching, or that the meaning of burning fuel was in the food that is cooked. Worldwatch endorses this shallow idea of human progress ever growing consumption or economic progress without a purpose. It does not challenge the fact that consumption itself is the fundamental culprit.
Moreover Worldwatch continues to support the transfer of resources of the developing countries to the West through multinational companies. One indicator of this ideology is that it says that unless African countries control AIDS, capital flows are likely to decline because the cost of training new workers becomes prohibitive. In other words, the African countries should control AIDS because it jeopardises the extraction of copper from Zimbabwe and tobacco from Kenya. AIDS is to be controlled because it is an obstruction to consumerism! But it has not a word to say about the fact that Kenya has been converted into a supplier of tobacco for the American people depriving their own people of their own natural resources!
The tragedy is that the western countries are ultimately no better off. Marx once said that the oppressor oppresses himself in the process of oppressing others. So also Worldwatchs western world. The report brings home the fact that there is greater malnutrition in America than in India. Using under and overweight as a proxy for malnutrition it points out that in the mid-nineties 55 per cent adults were overweight in the United States as against 53 per cent children being underweight in India. In other words the malnutrition among developing countries is a mirror reflection of that in the industrial countries.
Worldwatch itself gives some examples of how this consumerism culture has become self-defeating. Breast-feeding is being replaced by more modern alternatives even though it is the best source of nutrition. Consumption of fat and sugar has surged far beyond earlier levels as people eat more livestock products. To maximise their revenues food sellers invest heavily in advertising that makes unhealthy food and its promotion ubiquitous in modern life. Coca-Cola and MacDonalds are among the top 10 ad spenders worldwide. Soda companies in the United States have offered millions of dollars to cash-strapped school districts for exclusive rights to sell their products in schools. The annual cost of health problems due to meat consumption in the United States are estimated to be around $29-61 billion!
It would be obvious that these eating habits and consequent imbalance between over and undernutrition emanates from the underlying philosophy that ever-increasing consumption is the objective of life. This philosophy brooks no limits on consumption. But Worldwatch does not see its correction as central to protecting the earths ecology. Instead the focus is on perpetuating consumption.
It will, therefore, not be sufficient to use more solar and windpower or to control population unless these measures are accompanied with placing limits on consumption and economic progress itself. This Worldwatch resolutely refuses to do. As a result its report becomes an apology for the western multinationals. Their objective is to appropriate the resources of the developing countries. This requires that American people indulge in excessive consumption while those in India do not create social and ecological destability. For this purpose it is important to use clean technologies: and stabilise the population of the developing countries to reduce their claims on their own resources.
The Worldwatch ideology can, therefore, be summed up as: The consumerism lifestyles of the western people are fine. The transfer of resources of the developing nations by western private capital is fine too. What is important is that it be perpetuated by stabilising climate and population of the developing countries. If there is less population in Kenya then more Kenyan land can be diverted to the production of tobacco for the American people!
We should beware of
these NGOs and their Indian agents. There will be no
solution to ecological problems unless we replace
consumption with social harmony and accept
self-realisation as the objective of life. While
protecting ourselves from such machinations we must
nevertheless proceed towards the use of clean
technologies and stabilising our population.
focus on poverty
FOR decades, the richer countries and the international financial institutions tightly controlled by them, have tended to downgrade the basic problems of the low-income countries and instead forced inequitous economic terms of them.
The efforts of the developing countries since the 70s for securing a new world economic order, supportive of development and eradication of poverty and unemployment, were frustrated by the developed nations with the United States playing the lead role.
Despite the adoption of a declaration by the UN Assembly on a New World Economic Order and the goals set by the United Nations for international development, developed nations, with few exceptions, have maintained their strong reservations on a global round of negotiations covering key issues of trade and finance. Nor did they commit themselves to the UN target of 0.70 per cent of GNP as development assistance.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) attempted with little success in the 70s and 80s to provide a forum for meaningful dialogue between the North (rich) and the South (poor) in critical areas of growth and development.
While European countries like France had favoured a North-South dialogue, the dismal failure of UNCTAD VI at Belgrade (1983), due to US resistance to negotiated formulations on key issues such as money, finance and trade, effectively stalled the dialogue.
The World Bank, under the dynamic leadership of Mr Robert Mcnamara, in the early 70s did bring to the fore the issues of poverty and illiteracy, and was able to channel resources increasingly for social development including education, health, urban and rural water supply and sanitation besides agriculture and irrigation.
But the abrupt end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union was viewed as a triumph of capitalism and it strengthened countries wedded to the free play of market forces. The development dialogue between institutions like IMF and the World Bank and developing countries seeking assistance again shifted the emphasis away from the basic priorities of developing countries to macro-economic stability, structural reforms and opening of the economy for free trade and investment flows. Liberalisation and globalisation symbolised the winds of change.
Dynamic economies of East Asia were held up as models for the rest of the developing world until the 1997 financial crisis which engulfed them, turned the spotlight on the vulnerabilities of the financial systems, both at the national and international levels, given the volatile flows of capital across the world.
The tough conditionality of IMFs assistance to beleaguered economies resulted in a severe setback to growth and triggered social unrest with millions of people getting impoverished and becoming jobless. Strong criticism of the role of IMF in crisis management both in the developed and developing world has forced IMF to reorient its aid programmes laying greater emphasis on concerns for the poor in their growth strategies.
There has now emerged a growing global consensus that the issue of poverty alleviation can no longer be relegated to the periphery but should be brought into the centre of development financing policies. Firstly, the four-year old initiative of IMF and the World Bank for Highly Indebted Poorer Countries (HIPC) has been reactivated to provide deeper and faster debt relief and to establish a strong link between such relief and human development expenditure designed to reduce poverty.
Secondly, the IMFs Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (EASF), which was extending concessional assistance to the poorest countries, has been turned into the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility. It is now recognised that poverty reduction should become a key element in the growth strategy of low-income countries and would be the basis for lending operations of the World Banks soft-lending affiliate, IDA as well as the IMFs facility.
Nearly five years after the UN Social Summit at Copenhagen, the human development goals set then for 2015, such as reduction of poverty at the global level by one-half, spread of universal primary education in all countries, and drastic lowering of infant and child mortality are being gradually incorporated in development aid policies of industrial countries.
It remains to be seen how far the new poverty reduction initiatives are reflected in the development aid allocations of the richer nations and the lending operations of IMF and the World Bank through the reorganised facilities.
Concern for social priorities had found expression in the context of the income disparities and the marginalisation of the poor in the wake of globalisation. But industrial nations have yet to respond adequately to the needs of developing countries, whether in terms of concessional assistance or enlarging access to their markets of products from low-income countries.
Britain and USA have so
far announced their intention to forgive debt owed to
their countries by the heavily indebted poor countries,
mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, if such relief is linked to
financing basic human needs. Welcome as these gestures
are, what matters is the level of official development
flows, which has been declining over the 90s, and a
positive approach to the demands of developing countries
for greater access to the developed markets. (IPA)
PACKING the boriya bistera every three years or so to move to a new place of posting is, indeed, a part and parcel of a faujis life.
As an army daughter, I always welcomed the time when daddy would announce, I have been posted to.... Hearing this, mummy would immediately roll up the carpets, pack the crockery and objects dart in cotton wool and then wrap them in newspapers, keep the books and all the paraphernelia in boxes to be fitted in wooden crates with the name and new station painted on them. All the utensils were just thrown in the big drum used for keeping atta. Things we couldnt carry with us, were given away.
Regretfully, we had to part with our Moti the Murgha, as we simply couldnt take the rooster all the way from Yol in Himachal to Cuttack in Orissa. Tearfully, we gave him to our orderly with the promise never to butcher him for an evening meal.
Prized dahlias, long-trailing creepers and dry flower arrangements were left behind as they couldnt stand the strain and care (less) of the Indian Railways.
Transfers meant sadly leaving behind ones friends, the exchange of photos, addresses, recipes, farewells and oh! the meant-to-be-broken promises. But the world and the faujis have to move on... to new postings.
Transfers resulted in travelling from one end of India to another, a kind of a three-year Bharat darshan. From Yol we were posted to Cuttack and from there to Indo-China. From Meerut we had moved to Imphal and from Jalandhar to Trivandrum and there were many such criss-crossings across the country.
Once daddy had requested for a posting near Delhi (as he had to build a house there). But instead, he was transferred to Trivandrum (as it was then spelt). This was considered a posting near Delhi! The posting near Delhi had become a joke amongst friends.
One of the longest journeys was from Delhi to Imphal. An overnight train took us to Lucknow, from where we changed for another one till Amingaon. Here we crossed the mighty Brahmaputra in a steamer (as no bridge had been built on the river then). Across the river lay Pandu from where we boarded yet another train to alight at Dimapur (Manipur Road). Finally, a jeep drove us to Imphal.
Another memorable journey was the 10-day drive in our car from Cuttack to Merrut via Ranchi, Gaya Patna, Benaras, Allahabad, Kanpur, Lucknow and Delhi.
Travelling to such distant places was an education in itself better than all the geography books of India could offer put together. In fact, it was a first hand experience of seeing the countrys physical features like mountains, valleys, rivers, plains, etc visiting places of interest like forts, tombs, temples, etc and studying the different cultures as well. I do remember a cultural contrast in the North, tea vendors at railway stations sang monotonously cha-cha-cha (tea) whereas in the southern ones, the words changed to kaafi-kaafi-kaafi (coffee). Understandably, even the schools in various states had different curricula e.g. I had to stop studying Sanskrit to learn French to prepare for the Senior Cambridge exam, but ultimately landed studying another subject but thats another story.
Having changed houses 28
times to live in houseboats, bashas,
barracks, forts, bungalows, houses-on-stilts and palatial
mansions amongst different communities of various
cultures, postings taught us adaptability apart from
broadening our outlook on life, transcending narrow
your body to science is not so easy
THERE are many different ways of dealing with the prospect of death a belief in karma, angels with harps, or a painless nothingness but the thought that ones corpse might end up being picked over by medical students for educational purposes has never been a particularly comforting one.
Recent events have rendered it even less so: last September, the University of California at Irvine fired Christopher Brown, director of its medical schools willed-body programme amid allegations that he had sold the spines of six donated bodies to a private research firm for $5,000. (He denies the accusations.) And a lawsuit filed in 1996 accused the authorities at the University of California at Los Angeles of having cremated 18,000 donated bodies along side dead laboratory animals and dumping them in rubbish skips from 1950 to 1993.
But the unease is justified in the UK, too. In 1998, the artist Anthony Noel-Kelly was jailed for nine months for paying a trainee lab technician to steal body parts from a mortuary at Londons Royal College of Surgeons to use as moulds for his sculptures. And urban folklore teems with macabre tales of limbs going missing from anatomy departments and turning up at drunken student parties.
You might have thought scare stories like these would have deterred potential donors from signing over their corpses, but nothing could be further from the truth: theres a nationwide surplus.
If anything, were declining offers rather than encountering a shortage, says Roger Searle, head of Englands Newcastle University medical schools anatomical and clinical skills centre. The citizens of the north-east are very generous, very public-spirited. The same seems true across Britain many universities receive hundreds of approaches each year even if generosity isnt necessarily the only motive: the University of Californias website encourages potential donors with the hint that some individuals leave their bodies to a (medical) school they always dreamed of attending.
The exploding popularity of body donation is all the more surprising considering the administrative complexities involved in actually assigning ones cadaver to an anatomy department.
Write to the university of your choice and youll first receive an extensive information pack detailing the legal documentation that must be completed for your decision to be officially valid. Then youll need to persuade your next of kin of the merits of your decision, since, when you die, it will be they who have the ultimate power to decide what happens to your corpse. (If you have signed a donor card for organ transplants as well, this will normally take precedence if the circumstances are appropriate.) Finally, once youre gone, your immediate family will need to sign still more documentation allowing the university to arrange for you to be transported and refrigerated until your remains are required.
Even if you fill out all the right forms, though, the chances are that your corpse wont be accepted. ``Id say I send out up to 10 letters a week in response to requests for information, but probably I only accept around one in three bodies, says Roger Soames, deputy head of the school of biomedical sciences at Leeds University, England. Infectious diseases HIV, say, or tuberculosis will rule you out, because you may endanger staff and students. If you die of a cancer that has spread throughout your body, you will not display normal anatomical structures, and consequently wont be much use for general teaching. Obesity can be a problem, too, and if you die in suspicious circumstances, necessitating a postmortem examination, donation wont be possible. Even timing your death badly might pose difficulties: outside term time, universities may often be unable to collect and refrigerate you within the five-day time limit imposed by law.
However, says Soames, the popular belief that you need to die relatively young is incorrect: ``We get a lot of enquiries asking `Am I too old?, but the answer is no.
There is, of course, no opportunity for a conventional burial or cremation, so Searle encourages relatives to pay their last respects before a body is admitted to the university. Cremated ashes can eventually be returned to the next of kin, but it may be a long wait: the law entitles universities to retain bodies for up to three years, and they are often stored for a year before theyre required. Instead, most medical schools - following Home Office recommendations - now hold regular collective memorial services attended by relatives of donors, medical students and faculty staff.
Strenuous efforts are being made to produce simulation technology that could render the use of real bodies in teaching obsolete, but it hasnt succeeded yet. ``There are other methods, CD-roms and all that, but they just dont give you the same 3D image that you can touch and see that this runs here, that connects there, Searle says. ``When former students come here as demonstrators in anatomy, theres a tremendous difference between those who did dissection at medical school and those who used plastic models.
Happily, there is little evidence to suggest that British medical students will behave improperly with your cadaver, and the entire system is tightly regulated in the UK by Her Majestys inspector of anatomy, operating under the provisions of the Anatomy Act of 1984 - the present-day successor to the law hastily introduced after the notorious body-snatchers Burke and Hare murdered at least 15 people in 19th-century Edinburgh in order to supply bodies for dissection to the anatomist Dr Robert Knox. (These days, no payments can be made.)
Much of the archetypal medical students black humour is probably more reasonably seen as a coping mechanism for the somewhat grim task of dissection. And, for the record, there is no established source for the urban myth about the medical student who spends a year dissecting various parts of her assigned cadaver before, towards the end of her course, rolling back the cover to study the head only to discover that the body is her uncles.
Nuisance telephone calls
THE first call got me out of bed. It was midnight, I was reading and my female housemate was out. There was silence at the other end and I hung up. The phone rang again, and again. Until, by the tenth call, I no longer said hello but just lifted the receiver and listened to the silence.
I dialled the code which tells me the number of the incoming phone call and was told the caller had withheld their number. I phoned BT (the telephone company). They told me it was probably a fax left on redial and to turn off the ringer.
The next night it started again but this time I waited on the line. Hanging up meant they had won. After a couple of minutes, a mans voice whispered: Ive got your number. I phoned BT again and was told there was nothing they could do until the morning. And until then? The male operator asked if females lived in the house, then suggested we get a man to leave a message on our answering machine. Next morning, I rang BT again, had a trace put on the line and installed on our machine the standard BT answering message.
More than 97,000 requests were made for traces last year. Since 1992, when BT set up its Nuisance Calls Bureau, half of all calls reported have been silent, 15 per cent are obscene and sexual, and most are made to women. Research shows two- thirds of nuisance calls are aimed at us.
The image of the lonely pervert heavy-breathing down the line took a more serious turn last week when a man from Bristol in the west of England was convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering a woman on the same day that he made threatening calls to 80 other women.
In the six months preceding Jenny Kings murder, Paul Hunt made 4,000 calls to women, but local police say these came to light only after he was arrested and his phone bills examined. He was a random caller: each time he dialled, he altered the last digit. If a man answered, he hung up. The police say that, to their knowledge, none of the women reported the calls.
Why? Was it that they werent frightened by the threats? That they thought nothing could be done? Or, worse, that the threat didnt feel out of the ordinary? It is significant that only when Hunt was convicted was his prolific phoning revealed. Until then, the calls barely featured in the hierarchy of harassment. Sexual harassment by telephone is in fact so ordinary that, according to Home Office research, one in 10 women receives obscene calls every year. Single, separated and divorced young women are the most likely targets and four out of five calls come at home, usually in the afternoon or evening.
Equally, there is little obviously out of the ordinary about the callers. Research by UK sex offences consultant Ray Wyre found that, in a sample of offenders, 40 per cent were aged 26-30 and 41 per cent single. Of the 43 per cent who made random calls, many got numbers from local classified and dating ads. The majority of calls, however, are made to women known to the caller. And the telephone may be the first step in an escalation of stalking.
Claire Finchs first few encounters with a man who stalked her for four months began on the phone. The man was from the same town and got her number from the phone book. Though she reported his calls to the police and was able to get the numbers of the phone boxes from which he called, BT did not change her number immediately and after yet another midnight call, she began to panic.
Was he close to home? In my area? Known to me? His silence became violence, says Finch, 29. I was shaking then and convinced the person at the end knew I was on my own.
When her number was changed, the harassment intensified. The police have now arrested the man but Finch says she refuses to give her number to anyone she doesnt know well and is ex-directory. In the wrong hands, she says,
the phone is a weapon.
BT advises not to enter into conversation with a caller. Put the receiver down for 10 minutes, then replace it. Dont leave your name or number on the answering machine. Under the Telecommunications Act 1984, a malicious caller may be fined up to $ 8,000 and/or face a maximum of six months in prison. The fact that obscene calls receive low rating as a serious form of harassment is perhaps due to the fact that the violence is psychological rather than physical. Wyre cites research that shows women who have experienced phone harassment judge the effect on them as worse than women who have not experienced it. Significantly, in all other forms of harassment, the opposite is the case, suggesting women underestimate the effect of psychological harassment until it happens to them.
Most people have no idea how phone calls can create a feeling of threat, Wyre says. He believes advising women to change their number is unhelpful: Most men who sexually harass are into the thrill of the chase and will want to find out the new number. Instead, Wyre says BT should give women the choice of putting another line in free of charge thus wrong-footing the harasser.
Betsy Stanco, professor of criminology at Royal Holloway, University of London, says obscene calls are part of the continuum of sexual harassment. Making some forms more relevant than others creates a hierarchy of what is considered dangerous, she says. What is important is the way the phone fits into a wider web of sexual intimidation. The receiver understands that call within a wider experience of harassment: that any woman on the end of a phone is accessible, available. She understands that, at random or in particular, a man can target a woman because he wants to and that it would work. The calls tap into social relations between men and women that have used power.
In the case of my caller, I didnt want a male voice on my answering machine, or to wonder if it was him every time I picked up my phone, or to waste precious time alone wondering if I were being watched, or have to record every silent call on a time sheet. After a few weeks, BT told us that 80 per cent of the calls we had recorded came from the same number. At the same time, the calls became less frequent and then stopped. Our house had a new resident who appeared to have put our caller off: a man.
THE Right Hon. Srinivasa Sastri accurately voiced the sense of the country when he said in the course of a recent interview that within a few days India has seen the repudiation of the promise of a Sandhurst, the persistence in the Qudinance policy, the barrenness of the Reforms Committees report, and on the top of all these, the passing over of the claims of Sir Abdur Rahim in the appointment of a successor of Lord Lytton, and urged that the time was most opportune for the fusion of progressive parties.
What a pity that not
only is no attempt of any kind visible in any quarter for
bringing about this fusion among those who have for some
years been separated, but there is, as we have seen, a
tendency on the part of even those who until only the
other day were united to drift apart!
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