|Sunday, May 14, 2000,
came 20 years too late
writers and global market: the great deluge
|Authors establish countrys
by Rahul Singh
The Indian diaspora has never had it so good, as far as the world of letters is concerned. Just the other day, the Pulitzer prize, considered to be only second in rank to the Nobel, was awarded to an ethnic Indian for the first time ever. The writer? Little known Jhumpa Lahiri, a 33-year-old Bengali, based in New York.
House hunt goes on
Reforms came 20 years too late
Delhi-based author Gurcharan Das has reason to celebrate the imminent success of his book India Unbound. The book has fetched a record dollar advance in six figures, the highest ever for an Indian work of non-fiction. Random House has purchased the North American rights for the book for a hardback edition from Knopf and paperback from Anchor books. He calls this the big news and is confident that it would influence all editions worldwide. Random House is probably the most prestigious publisher in the United States. The book has been published in India by Viking.
After spending 30 years in the corporate world, Das left Proctor and Gamble Worldwide as Vice-President and Managing Director for full-time writing. What is noteworthy is that he had started as a trainee in the same company.
His novel A Fine Family (Penguin) is being adapted for television and his three plays, Laren Saheb, Meera and Nine Jakhoo Hill are expected be published as a collection by Oxford University Press. He is presently a consultant to industry and the government.
Here are some excerpts from his interview:
What has been your portrayal of India in the book?
It is a story of how a rich nation became poor and was rich again. In 1750, India had more than 20 per cent of the worlds GDP. Today, it has less than 5 per cent. So, relative to the world, India became poor and it became poor because of the Industrial Revolution. The point I make about the Industrial revolution is that weavers of India were not destroyed by British Imperialism. In other words, weavers all over the world lost out to the more productive textile mills. Indian textile mills, too, would have wiped out our handlooms. Clearly, about 1750, standards of living all over the world were generally the same. Today, you have a gap of at least 20 to 1 between the rich and poor nations. New forces have emerged that are going to make this gap converge in the near future. In other words, India will be rich again and my guess is that by 2030, half of India will be rich again.
What do you attribute this optimism to?
The natural question that comes to mind is why this will happen. This has partially to do with reforms and part with the new confident mindset. For the past 20 years, we have been growing between 5 and 7 per cent and have reached a point where the growth is non-inflationary and we are comfortable in terms of reserves. Our population growth rate has begun to decline for the first time. It was 2.2 per cent per annum and its now down to 1.7. That is a huge change. The fortunate thing is that at least the government is not going back on reforms. We are linked to the global economy and we have this slow, elephant-like pace of reforms. All these are reasons one can feel hopeful and be able to sleep well at night.
This is more or less your portrayal of India in the book?
Yes. Why India did not create an industrial revolution is a very natural question. It did not create an industrial revolution for two reasons. One our bureaucrats killed it at birth. The whole economic model of the license raj ensured that there would be no industrial revolution. Two, we are not tinkerers as people. We have contempt for working with hands. And, you dont get innovation unless you apply knowledge to working with the hands. We are living in a knowledge economy, and, for some reasons, Indians are showing some real spark and capability in the knowledge economy and the evidence of this is in Silicon Valley. There are some 700 companies run by Indians. Think about it that is almost double of what Bangalore has got. All software companies of Bangalore total to 350.
What inspired you to attempt this book?
A true conviction I was concerned about poverty. This concern goes back to my college days. The fact that Indians do so well abroad and so poorly in India hit me and the contrast was appalling.
How do you see the classes in India? Where do you place the middle class in the years to come?
As I said, the tragedy of our country is not that we have poverty but that we deliberately suppress the middle classes because of the economic model that we pursue. In 1980, the middle class was less than 8 per cent of the population. Today, it is close to 18 per cent. That is a big increase. My definition of the middle class is what has been defined as the consuming class and it is not a function of income alone but a function of possessions if you have a wrist watch, bicycle, education, children in school, black and a white TV. In every society, the top 15 per cent will succeed, while the bottom 15 per cent will fail, leaving in between 70 per cent. In successful economies, this becomes the middle class. The reforms are not about wiping out poverty, the reforms are about creating a middle class.
How do you look at consumerism, if at all you do, in the book, vis a vis the middle class?
There is a whole chapter on the rise and rise of the middle class and the consumerism issue is a typical elitist mindset. We tend to judge for the people who are willing to pay the price of Coca Cola. They would rather give up their poverty to have Coca Cola. What are we worried about? The great Indian culture survived the Mughals, we survived the British. We dont think we will be able to survive Coca Cola. I think this is a very elitist idea, an idea actually designed to keep the poor down.
But the possession of goods which you define as a yardstick for the definition of middle class does stem from consumerism?
It stems from wanting your children to go to school, to be able to buy books, to be able to have a pencil, an eraser these are all consumer goods. I dont know how artificial it is a desire to communicate. I think it is very natural. A mother who sits in Jalandhar and has her son working in London, wants to talk to him. Is that unnatural? You may call it consumerism but I call it very human. This whole talk of consumerism is a talk of the mindset of the fifties and the sixties.
What are the highs and lows of independent India that feature in the book?
I think the lowest point, which I call the lost decades, is the period of Mrs Gandhis rule, and not for political reasons but for economic reasons. You cant blame Nehru, although he created the wrong model because all other countries were following the same way of thinking. But by the early 70s, the world had realised that the state could not be entrepreneur. It took us 1991 before we saw sense and rationality. If we had started reforms in 1971, instead of 1991, 50 per cent of the country today would have been middle class. That is the price we have paid. It is a great betrayal. As I have said in the introduction to the book, When individuals fail, it is unfortunate and their families go down. When rulers fail, it is a national tragedy.
What do you have to say about political instability and its repercussions on the economy?
That matters much less.
The trouble is that we are all focused on listening to
the background noise of democracy. We are not listening
to the music. The music is the millions of
entrepreneurial miracles that are taking place. If you
read this (points to a passage in the book about this
little boy called Raju), this is what I call music. (The
author describes his meeting with a 14-year-old boy who
is working in a village cafe to earn Rs 400 to pay for a
computer course. Inspired by Bill Gates, the boy wanted
to run a computer company.) Das writes in the book,
Raju defined a new way of looking at the world.
India was changing.
Indian writers and global market:
the great deluge
In the altered geo-political context, where liberalisation and globalisation have become not just buzzwords but a way of life non-resident Indians (NRIs) have emerged as a new class by themselves. According to a rough estimate, the total population of (NRIs), spread over hundred odd countries is somewhere in the range of 25 million. With such a large presence across the globe, its not surprising that this class is occasionally looked upon as a potential economic saviour that will somehow bail the mother country out of every conceivable economic crisis, be it in terms of investment opportunities or foreign exchange or both. While the economic miracle is yet to happen and may be long in coming, literary sensation is something NRI writers have definitely managed to create all around.
If India-born Salman Rushdie made a splash a few years ago by romping home with the well-deserved, though rare honour of Booker of Bookers, its Jhumpa Lahiri this time, creating waves as the only writer of Asian origin to have received the much coveted Pulitzer. How far literary awards and prizes can actually be taken as barometers for measuring the literary quality/merit of a particular work or its author is difficult to say. Still, one can safely assume that once a prestigious international award or a prize comes along, a writer could be said to have arrived. Not only does it ensure a writer an instant acclaim and a ready audience the world over, but also brings in its wake a sense of authority, power and legitimacy s/he may not have even bargained for.
For well over two decades now, the manner in which the NRI writers have made their presence felt in the international literary circuit, is indeed both amazing and intriguing. This period has witnessed a never-before upsurge of NRI writing, with their works gradually sliding up the best-selling lists or literary chart busters, and their personal stock moving several notches up. Its virtually a whos who, starting from Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Shashi Tharoor, Bharati Mukerjee, Amitava Ghosh, down to Amit Chaudhuri and Shauna S. Baldwin et al. Curiously enough, these writers are often seen and heard much before their works are either read or evaluated. With a halo of literary icons around them, NRI writers do appear to be more media-savvy, more visibly conspicuous and for that reason, occasionally taken more seriously than their own writing, too. In certain cases, it appears as though the NRI writers have managed to snatch the glory away from their own works or writings as well.
This kind of trend in which a writer often ends up stealing a march over his/her writing and gains a reputation at its cost is relatively a recent phenomenon. There was a time when a writer was just another man-about-town, leading an anonymous existence, content to hide behind his/her own work. In such a situation, often it was the work that spoke for the writer and very rarely, if at all, it was expected to be the other way round. While most of us may dismiss this phenomenon as nothing more than a mere eruption caused by the unprecedented proliferation of mass media in our age, it really isnt quite as simple as it may sound. What is, indeed, remarkable is the way in which the twin concepts of writer and writing have changed radically in our times, just as those of the social compulsions or the contexts, which produce both.
Before we look into the dynamics of this question, its pertinent to ask: Is this phenomenon something peculiar to the NRI writers or is it as valid for writers of Indian nationality, too? On the face of it, at least, it would seem as if this trend is more visibly conspicuous among the NRI writers than it is among others. When Nirmal Verma and Gurdial Singh are declared the joint-winners of the prestigious Jnanpith for 1999 in recognition of their life-long commitment and contribution to literatures in their respective languages, the national press doesnt actually go to town with the news. Icons are not made, brouhaha isnt heard about their celebrity status nor do the literary critics declare it to be the time for a party. Rather, the national press pretends as if nothing much of a literary consequence has happened and simply prefers to look the other way. But a few weeks later, when Amit Chaudhuris Freedom Song receives the Los Angeles Times Award, the national press is ready to shed all its reserves and sing hosannas, and get back to its business of icon-making.
When it comes to the question of creating heroes, the English language media appears to have a decided preference for those who write in English over those who choose to write in any of the Indian languages, regardless of their literary stature or their worth. What might appear to be an extreme case of self-obsession and narcissism on part of the English media in India is perhaps symptomatic of its hopeless dependence upon its Western counterpart, too. For inspiration and stimulus, and worse still, for ordering its sense of emphasis and priorities, the national press continues to set its clock globally, rather than turn inwards and do so locally. If this has sustained a belief in the supremacy of the English language, its the metropolitan location of the national media that has made the matters only a shade worse, not better.
Apart from the considerations of the language, apparently, it s this fact of the location that fosters yet another form of filative kinship between the English media and the NRI writers.
Most of the NRI writers appear to reap the double reward of their metropolitan location and their preference for English as chosen medium of expression. This is clearly evident from the fact that even among the NRIs, only those who choose to write in English get their share of visibility, as others still have to settle for a life of oblivion and anonymity. Despite the fact that England alone could boast of no less than 500 Punjabi writers, one hardly ever gets to read anything either on or about them. Its not because they dont ever receive any awards or prizes, but even when they do, the national press only thinks that its an event beneath its notice, not important enough to be talked about, and much less celebrated.
This kind of hierarchy consciousness often reflected in the way in which the national press either responds or reacts to the local heroes in Indian languages other than English is perhaps not an isolated impulse. This has something to do with a much larger impulse at work, which constantly thwarts all attempts at introducing democratic and equitable norms into everything connected with human situations, including the languages. It would, however, be unfair to say that its merely the attitude of the national press that is responsible for this kind of warped or distorted emphasis. To get the perspective right, one also has to see how the notion of the writer, writing and the context within which s/he operates has changed beyond recognition in the recent times. This, in turn, would help us understand why the NRI writers have come to dominate the literary scene the way they have.
It has to be realised that we are living in a post-industrialised society, which has certainly knocked down all our time-tested notions, including those about literariness and literature. Such are the compulsions of this age that the image of a writer stands transformed from a stay-close-to-the-roots being to that of a fragmented being, someone who is in an eternal state of displacement and dislocation. Set into motion by the growing demands of industrialism and urbanism, this process of dislocation has affected the writers as much as it has other segments of all modern societies. If the early half of the twentieth century saw exile or coerced dislocation emerge as a dominant leitmotif, the second half appears to have shifted its focus upon the critical celebration, if one may say, of a closely allied metaphor of migration or voluntary dislocation.
In a manner of speaking, writers have always been regarded as journeymen for they are known to traverse the unknown, uncharted paths of imagination. But the shift that one perceives now is that as an economic being, its nearly impossible for a writer to stay-at-home the way his counterpart often did in an agrarian society. Besides, s/he can no longer live in perfect harmony with his/her language, culture or society, enjoying an unproblematic relationship with each. More than a mere metaphorical twist, dislocation has now become an inescapable physical and geographical reality. Its this kind of dislocation that has brought the notion of a migrant writer along with the related questions of personal identity or cultural differences into the forefront. Not without a reason has Salman Rushdie spoken about the imaginary homeland, which, he strongly contends, is the stuff that NRI writing is often made of. One could say, that to a large extent its this high degree of personal mobility resulting from the post-industrialised phase of development that has turned both the writer and the writing peripatetic.
Most of us live and
operate in two, and sometimes more than two, linguistic
or cultural spaces. For this reason, the appeal or
fascination of the NRI writers or writing doesnt
merely depend upon the hype or mystique media creates
about their language or location. To a large extent,
its also the creation of our times, especially if
we perceive ourselves to be the inhabitants of a
multicultural space, negotiating its complexities,
successfully or otherwise.
Authors establish countrys
The Indian diaspora has never had it so good, as far as the world of letters is concerned. Just the other day, the Pulitzer prize, considered to be only second in rank to the Nobel, was awarded to an ethnic Indian for the first time ever. The writer? Little known Jhumpa Lahiri, a 33-year-old Bengali, based in New York.
Even more remarkably, she won the prestigious prize for her first book, a collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies. In the book she speaks of the Indian-Americans sense of displacement and loneliness and the struggle to come to terms with life and marriage.
As it so happened, Lahiris award coincided with the presence in India of another writer of Indian origin. Who has tackled similar themes of people being outside their milieu. I am referring to Trinidad-born Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (he was knighted by the British Queen for his services to literature), whose forefathers came from eastern Uttar Pradesh to the West Indies as indentured labourers.
Naipaul has written over 20 critically acclaimed novels and travelogues and the only major prize that has eluded him is the Nobel. Perhaps the reason he has not got it is because he has often hurt the susceptibilities of Third World countries. His very early novel An Area of Darkness, written when he was still in his 20s was the outcome of his first trip to India. He wrote about things that embarrass Indians and which they would rather keep hidden, like the everyday sight of people defecating in the open near the rail tracks, a sight that is still common (perhaps in Pakistan, as well).
A decade later, in India, a Wounded Civilisation, he listed in his inimitable searing style, the various failures of modern India. However, his third book on India, India, A Million Mutinies Now, was surprisingly positive about the country. He is currently working on a novel, the first since his Bend in the River on Africa, in 1979, which has an Indian theme.
He has also written two books on Islam, Among the Believers and Beyond Belief. He angered a lot of Pakistanis by calling it A Criminal Enterprise, even though his second wife, Nadira (his first wife, who was English, died of cancer), is a Pakistani.
What had brought him to India? The Maharana of Mewar, Arvind Singh had decided to confer on him the Colonel Tod Award. Tod was an English army officer and a scholar who wrote the definitive book on Rajasthan, The Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, the state in which Mewar occupies an honoured place.
While the other Rajput kingdoms, like Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, allied themselves with the rising and irresistible power of the Moghuls, Mewar breathed defiance and suffered for it. Its main fortress town was sacked by Akbar. But the main city of Mewar, Udaipur, remains the most breathtakingly beautiful city in all of India, with ancient palaces and temples ringing two artificial lakes and the Aravalli hills, providing a perfect backdrop.
This is where Naipaul was given his award, along with other eminent Indian personalities, like journalist Malini Parthasarathi (she carried the first major interview in an Indian paper, The Hindu, with General Pervez Musharraf, after the coup) and policewoman, Kiran Bedi, the first Indian woman to become a police officer. Mark Tully, the famed former correspondent for the BBC who has virtually made India his home, was the master of ceremonies.
The day Naipaul came to Delhi, an even more controversial writer of Indian origin was making the headlines: Salman Rushdie, the enfant terrible of literature and easily the most controversial writer around in the world. He had been in India for a week visiting places like Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur, Solan and Shimla, accompanied by his 20-year-old son, Zafar.
His visit was one of the best kept secrets, with the Indian government and the security authorities keeping a tight cloak over his movements. However, it came out into the open, as it had to, when he attended the Commonwealth Writers Award function in Delhi, for which he had been invited.
It was his first visit to India in 13 years. In those years, a long court case had been going on about a piece of property in Solan, close to the hill-station of Shimla, which had belonged to Rushdies family before Partition. The courts eventually decided in his favour and he plans to turn the property into a writers camp.
He was clearly expecting to win the Commonwealth Writers Award. But he was in for a big disappointment. Instead, it went to South Africas Coetzee for his novel, Disgrace Nevertheless, Rushdie was the star of the show, dozens of cameramen jostling to film him, almost as if he was a leading rock star.
Here, I cannot resist a personal anecdote, which goes back to the late 1970s when Rushdies acclaimed Midnights Children was published and won the Booker Prize. I happened to be on holiday in the USA and was in a place called Tucson, in the state of Arizona, when I developed a terrible pain and swelling on my big toe.
My Indian host warned me that doctors were very expensive and booked up for days. But the pain was too much and I looked up the telephone book and spoke to a doctor in a clinic nearby.
From your accent, I can tell that you are not American, said the doctor on the phone.
Yes, I am from India, I clarified.
Come over straight way,said the doctor to my astonishment.
He then proceeded to treat me (this was my first attack of gout), after taking an x-ray and giving me medication. I dreaded the moment when his bill would be presented to me, as I was travelling on shoe-string budget. But when he presented the bill, the amount on it was ludicrously small, $ 25 if I recall right.
I was naturally delighted and told the doctor that I had expected a huge bill, having been told that private medical treatment in the USA was exorbitant.
How come you charged me so little? I asked him. I have just read Midnights Children, was his quiet reply.
By sheer chance, soon afterwards I interviewed Rushdie for All India Radio and related the story. He was visibly moved.
There are other Indian
writers who have made waves internationally in recent
years, such as Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things)
and Vikram Seth (A Suitable Boy). But Naipaul and Rushdie
tower over all of them.
"Though not a party
to the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) India's policies
have been consistent with the key provisions of NPT that
apply to nuclear weapon states".
"We can't accept
America as a mediator".
"Britain has done
more than any other country outside the region to restore
legitimate government in Sierra Leone".
"El Nino, of
course, causes significant weather disturbances in the
climatic pattern all around the globe".
"Don't blame El
Nino. We should blame ourselves for the drought".
"What we really
mean is refugees fleeing poverty".
newspapers are fighting for survival due to this
dangerous trend (practice of underpricing newspapers). It
is unfortunate that the newspaper industry and Audit
Bureau of Circulation (ABC) have both failed to check
this pricing war".
"Both Sarah and I
are determined not to make a nonsense of it again. As
individuals, we are making a better fist of things than
as a couple".
"We will protect
the small sector which is a jewel in our crown".
harvesting cannot replace the existing system of water
supply, it is the best and cheapest alternative...".
"They want talks to be held within the framework of the Constitution. We cannot agree to this condition. No talks can help if the government insists on this condition".
Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front Yasin Malik.
"We do not want to tie the hands of the Centre but we should not forget the past".
Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi, referring to the possibility of "humanitarian assistance" to Sri Lanka.
"Inefficiency, insensitivity and incapacity to understand the "gravity" of a situation had left the cattle wealth and the people at the mercy of nature".
Opposition Leader in the Gujarat Assembly Amarsinh Chaudhary.
countries, which have specific emission level reduction
targets, we are under no obligation".
"We need a certain
transition period...... It is still too early to discuss
the form of government Chechnya will eventually
preparedness is in very high gear and there is no need to
worry about matters of security".
"We have to equip
our personnel at the cutting edge level to be more
responsible and acceptable to the law-abiding
"I am increasingly
concerned about the developments in Pakistan, including
the proliferation of terrorist organisation that threaten
the US, India and our allies in the region".
analysis is almost non-existent in India".
stability is at least as important as global financial
"A recent survey
carried out by a private agency for the government
indicated that 35 per cent of the grain sanctioned as
ration is not reaching the villages. It is either
diverted or stolen".
"Of course, I had
earlier promised the farmers that the INLD (Indian
National Lok Dal) would provide free water and power, but
later changed my stand as this was not feasible".
"Anyone who has
money can become a Member of the Rajya Sabha".
"We must know our
history, know it as it really is, draw lessons from it
and always remember those who created the Russian state,
championed its dignity and made it a great, powerful and
"I appeal to
teachers and students to adopt certain villages and
utilise their holidays in going to those villages to
teach the young and old alike and make them
"A person who
mockingly adopts another religion where plurality of
marriage is permitted so as to renounce the previous
marriage and desert the wife, he cannot be permitted to
take advantage of his exploitation as religion is not a
commodity to be exploited".
received no patents and were spread around the entire
world like bastards".
"The irony is that
French, Italian and German tourists have experienced what
this secluded town (Zanskar) has to offer, while very few
Indians even know about the place".
"I am neither a
politician nor a public figure. I have jumped in only to
fight for my husband and get him justice".
"We have to
introduce new curricula according to challenging times.
Can we enter the new millennium without introducing
emerging new disciplines like information technology,
patent laws and computer courses, etc".
prevails in Afghanistan between Taliban and the Northern
Alliance. We are aware who is backing whom. Arms are
being supplied and there is external interference".
another unacceptable face of imperialism and
"It will be
scandalous to go ahead with the project (Sankhya
dialogue would lead us nowhere. It would be like landing
ourselves at the dead end of the tunnel".
"The moment I open
my mouth, there is a problem".
"Women of both the
countries can stop the mindless bloodshed".
"There is no
question of sending or selling arms to Sri Lanka. Both
are ruled out".
"To me whole thing
is a cruel joke, and I consider it below my dignity to
even to take note of such an insinuation".
"But my resignation
created a history of sorts as my critics backtracked on
their charges unprecedented in the Vidhan
"In Asia, the USA
can neither compel Chinese restraint nor press Taiwan to
pursue unification talks seriously".
"The right to
privacy is fundamental in all societies. It is as
important as the right to free speech and assembly".
"I am not the FM
for Bombay stock market".
Bill Clinton did in India was to change the terms of
reference of our relationship with India. We are natural
"I will commit
suicide rather than take a bribe. Who wants money. Take
all my money. I came from a family where pride is more
important than anything else".
"Unlike the other
regional problems that India faces, the Kashmir problem
has a human dimension".
have become death traps, any leniency shown to drivers
who are found guilty of rash driving would be at the risk
of further escalation of road accidents".
will be to safeguard our security without military
intervention in Sri Lanka".
"If the Congress
does not join (Mahajot), the Trinamool and the BJP have
decided to fight the Assembly elections together next
year in West Bengal".
"I think and act
would lead to large exodus of population from these
states to others... we would have to tackle the problem
both at the social and economic levels".
"Democracy is only
possible when there is a free Press. More stable the
Press, more stable the democracy. The two are closely
"Our thoughts are
always doing the alap, which is a continuous process of
thought in the mind".
"No sanction of
whatever nature can make us desist from our quest for
"If the code of
conduct had continued, may be things would have been a
little different now".
IT was the last day of Asma Jahangirs week-long visit to Delhi. The occasion was a dinner thrown by the youthful Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, and his graceful wife, Asha Singh. The venue was Rock Garden of Delhis renowned Indian International Centre. Why should the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh host a dinner in honour of a visiting delegation of enlightened women from Pakistan, drawn from various walks of life, and led by Asma, Chairperson of Pakistans Human Rights Commission? The answer is little known but simple; Sonia Gandhi had so desired. She would have attended the dinner but for seasonal indisposition.
The 60-member womens delegation from the neighbouring country turned up in full strength at the gathering comprising literary persons, writers and journalists and that included Khushwant Singh and Kamleshwar. The most sought after person was, of course, the leader, Asma Jahangir, a rather diminutive figure; the glint in her eyes manifesting determination. She is a strong willed person and represents the restlessness of Pakistani women, struggling to come out of the stranglehold of obscurantism and Islamic fundamentalists.
Asma does not mince words in what she believes to be right, calls a spade a spade and is not afraid of the consequences. The first thing she will like to do on return to Pakistan is to address a press conference whether the present military rulers like it or not and tell the people how emancipated Indian women are and at people-to-people level there is a pervading desire for peace. She reacts sharply to a suggestion if she is in India at the behest of Gen Musharraf or acting as his emissary but stresses that a dialogue is in your interest and our interest.
Who knows women may succeed where men have failed? She has her own prescription for reducing tension and restoring peace between the two neighbours which were one country half a century ago and the formula includes encourage free movement on both sides, relax visa restrictions and finally scrap them, exchange of newspapers and crying halt to offensive statements so often made by leaders of both countries. Also the current restrictions on periodicals, books and newspapers should go so that the people know as to what has been happening in their respective countries.
Asma has to struggle for years, harassed in her bid to rescue Pakistani women from tyranny and oppression. So much so that her two daughters were threatened and she had to send them abroad. In her own words: They have done everything to intimidate me....They have even turned on my two young daughters.....I have to send them out of the country. Sometimes you have to pay such an unbearable price for what you believe in.
A human rights lawyer, Asma is a relentless crusader and she virtually fought her way to the position of the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and is a known activist of the womens Action Forum. She came sometime back under intense attack of mullas for her criticism of the blasphemy law and her defence of womens rights. The blasphemy law carries a mandatory death sentence in Pakistan. It is vaguely worded and can be used to limit the rights to freedom of belief and expression.
Asma hit the headlines in 1995 when she defended Salamat Masih, who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy for allegedly scribbling blasphemous words on the walls of a mosque. At the time of the alleged offence Masih was only 14 years old and illiterate. During the hearing, Islamists shouted slogans and interfered with the proceedings. Death threats were made against the accused, defence lawyers and the judge. Masih was acquitted on appeal within a month of being sentenced as there were no witnesses and no material evidence was found against him.
Shortly after the acquittal, a gang of armed men forced their way in the house of Asmas brother looking for her but she managed to escape. Within months the human right activist was faced with another challenge as she defended a 22-year old woman, Saima Wahid, whose father sought to have her marriage declared illegal by the courts because she had married without his consent.
Saima spent eleven months in a womens shelter for fear that her father might kill her. Asmas prolonged battle yielded result in 1997 the Lahore High Court reversed its ruling delivered a year back that a Muslim woman cannot marry without the consent of her male guardian and that any marriage contracted without this consent is not valid. The case proved to be a landmark in defending a womans right to choose her husband and now consent of a male guardian is not required for a marriage to be valid.
An important plank of Asmas struggle for emancipation of women in Pakistan is to make them aware of their rights. Her precept is men and women...have the right to marry and to found a family. All adults have the right to marry, regardless of their race, country or religion. Both partners have equal rights in the marriage and their free and full agreement is needed for the marriage to take place. The family is entitled to protection by the state.
It is not just the ordinary people who find it difficult to find accommodation in the National Capital, even the Members of Parliament have to face a tough time in securing one.
In some cases, the type of accommodation a member is eligible is not available or sometimes, even though an MP gets an allotment the person occupying it takes time to vacate it.
If in the 11th Lok Sabha the former Punjab Chief Minister, Mr Surjit Singh Barnala, spent his entire term staying in a Punjab Bhavan suite as the occupant of the bungalow allotted to him did not vacate. This time around another Punjab MP, Mr Gurcharan Singh Galib, of the Congress finds himself in a similar situation.
Mr Galib has been allotted a bungalow on Canning Lane, just a street away from Punjab Bhavan but he cannot move in because a senior leader of his party continues to occupy the same. Now this senior leader was hoping the party would nominate him for the Rajya Sabha but that did not materialise. While the present occupant cannot retain the house the new allottee is hoping he would be saved of the embarrassment of asking a senior leader of his party to vacate.
Meanwhile, the AICC General Secretary, Mrs Ambika Soni, who got elected to the Rajya Sabha earlier this year is also on the look-out for an accommodation which she is entitled to as a second-time MP. Mrs Soni who stays in a distant South Delhi locality spends a lot of time shuttling between home, AICC headquarters and of course Parlia-ment. Having got into the House Committee, she can now hope to secure a suitable accommodation in Delhi where it is a luxury to find a house with open space surrounding it.
Congress and minorities
There is certainly greater democracy in the Congress, at least so claim the party members. What with some office-bearers making statements about the leadership, the claims seem genuine. The latest incident being the statements of AICC Secretary Jairam Ramesh who is purported to have predicted about the downswing in the partys electoral fortunes under the current leadership.
Similarly, some Congress workers wonder as to how can the partys secular credentials be strengthened when a member of the majority community heads its Minority Cell. Now that appears to be an uncharitable remark since the cell is headed by none other than Mr Arjun Singh who has been consistent in championing the cause of minorities and even resigned from the Rao government on the issue.
Meanwhile, after becoming a Rajya Sabha MP, Mr Arjun Singh has been nominated to serve on the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs.
Dressed to change
More on Jairam Ramesh. The reported uncharitable remarks made by him against the party President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, not-withstanding, the change in his attire has also raised some questions. It is being pointed out that Mr Ramesh had switched over to the politician-friendly kurta pyjama when he was shunted in the early nineties to the Planning Commi-ssion as an Officer on Special Duty by the then Prime Minister, Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao. His attire was indication enough of his desire to hobnob with politicians. And, he did that sooner than later when he joined the United Front Government as Adviser to the Finance Ministry under the then Finance Minister, Mr P.Chidambaram. With the fall of the United Front Government, he switched loyalties and joined the Congress. Of late, Mr Jairam Ramesh has been seen moving around in shirt and trousers, which observers say could be an indication of his desire to return to a white collar job. Being a respected economist, a good job should be no problem for Mr Ramesh.
The Panskura battle
With the Congress deciding to field a candidate in the Panskura Lok Sabha byelection in West Bengal, the party fund managers are working overtime to find resources for its candidate.
In the Left Front-ruled state, the ruling alliance has fielded senior CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta. The constituency was represented by CPIs Geeta Mukherjee who died earlier this year. Since the contest is going to be triangular with the Trinamool Congress testing waters ahead of next years assembly, it is the Congress which seems to be on a weak wicket.
During the last elections, the Congress candidate secured over 35,000 votes as against Trinamools over three lakh and CPIs four lakh plus votes. No wonder that the party finds it difficult to raise resources and it is understood that the fund managers have sought the help of an industrialist who has business interest in the state, although he hails from another state.
Union Urban Development Minister Jagmohans no-nonsense style of functioning has created a lot of resentment among the people who matter in the Capital. His latest directive to the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to cancel the allotment of all those flat owners who are found to have carried out unauthorised constructions has created panic among the flat owners.
Mr Jagmohan, by his directive, is bound to annoy lot of influential people as anybody who matters owns a DDA flat in the Capital. Bureaucrats, local politicians anybody having the slightest clout in Delhi has a DDA flat. It is not surprising that a majority of them have carried out modifications in their flats. Some modifications have been made to rectify the poor quality of construction by the DDA, while others have have undertaken it to suit their lifestyle. There is bound to be strong opposition to Mr Jagmohans directive.
The uproar in Parliament by Opposition parties on Thursday leading to both Houses being adjourned for the day evoked strong reaction from bureaucrats.
At a gathering where senior bureaucrats were present, the view was that what the MPs were demanding rollback of prices of essential commodities was not correct.
A senior bureaucrat commented how can this rollback be done? How many folds the salaries have gone up?. For example, he pointed out, that bureaucrats get as much as Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 every month while those in the PSUs get even more. Besides, the government expenditure has gone up in other sectors also. So where would the Government get the money to pay these hike in salaries? The demand is unjustified, he said. Would the MPs comment?
MR RANGA Iyer, M.L.C., has done a service to the cause of female education by bringing out the salient features of the Kanya Mahavidyalaya, Jullundur. This institution, he regards, as an oasis, as it were, in this vast Sahara of feminine ignorance, combining religious simplicity with all that is good in national education befitting a girl to become a true mother.
At this time when the question of educating our girls on appropriate lines is engaging the attention of educationists, it is well that others should emulate the example of the Vidyalaya, and while avoiding its defects, if there are any, they should start more institutions having all the essentials of true national education which may make our girls fit not only to be useful members of their own family but also of the Indian nation.
As regards the
Vidyalaya, we hope persons interested in the cause of
womens education will encourage the promoters of
the institution by showing their interest in it, and by
making useful suggestions calculated to benefit the cause
of female education in the Province.
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