|Sunday, May 21, 2000,
Interfaith needs sattvik
Religious means and political ends
Microbes prove sex isnt
BJP finds friends in foes
Interfaith needs sattvik
A political leader and a former diplomat, Dr Karan Singh is primarily a scholar who is equally at ease expounding on the Vedanta and the Upanishads, or talking about the luminaries of quantum mechanics. In fact, he sees parallels between the two. For many years, he has been the Global Chairman of The Temple of Understanding, a world-wide interfaith organisation with headquarters in New York. The former Sadr-e-Riyasat of Kashmir was in Chandigarh recently; to launch the local chapter of the organisation.
How long have you been involved with interfaith activities?
I have been involved for over 30 years. The Temple of Understanding was set up in 1960. I have always been interested in interfaith issues because I am a born Hindu, in a Muslim-majority state we were also worshipping at Muslim shrines since childhood. Our family owes its rise to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and our connection with the Sikh Darbar and the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) was also very deep. We were told from childhood that respect which you give to your own temples is the respect that you should give to the ziarats and the Darbar Sahib. I was educated in Christian schools so in a way, interfaith is built into my life and I was always interested in Vedanta. Now, Vedanta is that aspect of Hinduism which is very universal. It fits in very well with the interfaith movement.
I have been attending conferences and meetings the world over for the past 30 years. I have been the chairman of The Temple of Understanding for many years. We have opened an India chapter, which has centres in various cities. The theory behind the interfaith movement is to bring together representatives of various religions in a creative dialogue. We are not seeking a debate on the merits of the religions; we are far from the notion of no religion or syncretic religion. What we are aiming at is that people should look into their own religious traditions and try and find those elements, aspects, and concepts that are conducive to harmony, because in most religions you can find both types of concepts love, harmony and brotherliness and those of opposition, disharmony and hatred. In global society now there is no alternative but to move to an interfaith pattern.
What do you think about the recent controversy over the RSS calling Sikhism part of Hinduism?
We have always looked upon Sikhism as a separate religion. Certainly Hinduism has been the predominant religion, both chronologically and demographically, but the religions that have emerged Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism are independent religions. There may be many factors in common, but it would be wrong to say that one religion is part of another.
What has been the response to the interfaith movement in India?
I must admit that it still has not caught on in a big way. Crores of rupees are spent people build temples, gurdwaras, mosques which is very good. I am all for it, I have built temples myself, but interfaith is nobodys baby. So nobody feels called upon to sponsor the interfaith movement. Nonetheless, the theory of interfaith is in a way built into our Constitution. Although, I feel that secularism has been somewhat misinterpreted as being dismissive of religion, which it certainly is not and cannot be in this nation. India is a deeply religious country and, therefore, secularism can only mean equal respect for all religions and not equal neglect of all religions. Basically the interfaith movement is in line with our Constitution and our tradition. However, as a movement, I am afraid that it is still in its infancy.
Does it have takers only among the intellectual classes or has it been able to involve the masses?
So far, more or less, it has been accepted among the intellectual classes. We do have public meetings, antar dharma sammelans, etc. where religious leaders talk about interfaith. Our meetings can be of intellectuals or the elite, but for the concept to click with the masses, we need to go through religious leaders, because otherwise it becomes an elitist movement and one is keep talking to the converted all the time. Our strategy is to try and get on our side those religious leaders who teach love and brotherhood.
Which religious leaders have been associated with the movement?
Around the world, we have had many, but in India, we have the Dalai Lama and Sant Baba Waryam Singh, Baba Virsa Singh and Swami Agnivesh. I am not a religious leader, but I have become some kind of a ubiquitous presence (laughs). I speak on the Vedanta and the Upanishads.
Where has the interfaith movement been most active?
In the USA. We have held spiritual summits in New York, Oxford, Moscow, the Second World Religious Conference in Chicago, and the Third World Religious Parliament in Cape Town. It is really a worldwide movement. There are five or six major organisations. There is the International Association for Religious Freedom, the World Council for Religions, the United Religions Initiative, the Parliament of World Religions group in Chicago, and The Temple of Understanding.
Is there any coordination among them?
Occasionally, during these big conferences, there is coordination. The work, however, is so massive that it is more important that everyone works in the same direction rather than putting everybody under the same umbrella.
What is your agenda for the 21st century?
In the 20th century, there were two major ideologies that were against religion. One was Marxism, and the other was the liberal dismissal of religion.
Marxism was clearly anti-religious. When my wife and I went to Moscow at Soviet Union General Secretary Nikita Khrushchevs invitation in 1959, he gave a small dinner party for us at the Kremlinabout 12 persons. I asked him: Mr General Secretary, is it possible in the Soviet Union to be a believer as well as a member of the Communist Party? He said: No. For us, atheism is an essential tenet. We respect religious beliefs, but to be a member of the Communist Party, you have got to be an atheist. Marxism-Leninism ruled for 70 years nearly three generations and yet, after it fell, the upsurge of religion in Russia is unbelievable the churches are overflowing ever since.
Describing religion as a sociological freedom saying that when people get economically better, they would forget all about religion was the other approach towards dismissing religion that also failed in our own lifetime.
You see for yourself. Whenever a village gets prosperous, what happens? The first thing that they want is either a temple, a gurdwara, a mosque or a church. This is a natural instinct. When our people go abroad, the first thing they do after they have settled down, weather it is in San Francisco or New York, is to build a temple or a gurdwara.
Religion has turned out to be much more abiding than either Marxist or liberal thought. Now we have to rethink. The Indian inteligentia has either been against religion or dismissed it. It was unfashionable to talk about it. Religion has gone into the hands of people who do not subscribe to the interfaith doctrine, and, therefore, we have to recapture religion for the broader good of humanity. That is broadly our agenda for the 21st century.
How does that agenda fit in with the information technology revolution?
It fits in very well, because through information technology you can put ideas across instantaneously. The Interfaith movement still doesnt have sponsors. I am not sure that the cola manufacturers would be as interested in interfaith as they are in cricket for example, but if we can get sponsors, sattvik (endowed with the quality of purity and goodness, virtuous, righteous) sponsors, not those associated with tobacco, or alcohol or guns, we could build interfaith programmes that could get across the world. In fact, that is one of the things that I am going to explore. There are dharmik serials, there are Hindu, Sikh, Muslim serials, where are the interfaith serials? We wont have them unless somebody sponsors an interfaith serial! This we have still not been able to have as yet, but we can use the tremendous power of the Internet for positive purposes.
For the West, especially, there has often been a dichotomy of scientific temper and religion. How would you react to that?
Originally, science and religion began together, thousands of years ago, whether it is ayurveda or alchemy. Then they seemed to diverge and with the Newtonian, Cartesian, Marxian materialist view of matter, it seemed that they were at two opposite poles. However, after Albert Einsteins revolution, after Werner Heisenberg, with quantum mechanics, with sub-atomic physics, with extra-galactic cosmology, even the great scientists (whether Albert Einstein, Neils Bohrs, Heisenberg, Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawkins) seem to feel that reality is not what they thought it to be. In other words, when you ultimately go into reality, into matter, it vanishes into energy.
Now the basic premise of the Upanishads is ishaavaasyam syam idam sarvam, that everything that exists is pervaded by the same spirit. I am not trying to make an absolute parallelism, but many of the insights of new science and new cosmology are beginning to converge with the insights of the mystics of the great religions; not the theologians but the mystics.
Ultimately, religion has to revolve around consciousness. Whatever you may believe, whatever you may do, unless it transmutes your consciousness it becomes a meaningless action. The concept of our all-pervading consciousness of which we partake as sears is beginning to come. There is a principle that the act of consciousness itself changes the nature of the particle, its either a particle or a wave and so on.
Any interesting books on this subject?
There are many interesting, fascinating books now, like the Tao of Physics (by Fritjof Capra, who has done research in theoretical high-energy physics at the University of Paris; the University of California; Stanford University; and Imperial College, London. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Vienna and explores his own field and the ancient tenets of religions, discovering parallels in their paths towards truth. In non-technical language, he presents the concepts and theories of modern physics in a humanistic view of the universe.) and God and the New Physics (by Paul Davies, who held academic appointments at Cambridge and London Universities, the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. and The University of Adelaide, Australia). In the book, he says that science may now be on the verge of answering age-old questions of how the world began and how will it end. Davies contends that far-reaching discoveries of new physics are revolutionising our view of the world and, in particular, throwing light on many of the questions formerly posed by religion. Science, Davies believes, has come of age, and offers an alternative path to God).
So, is there a convergence between science and religion?
These books are trying to show that there is a convergence between science and religion. You have the Internet and an increasing realisation, even amongst the great scientists that ultimately reality is something which is involved in consciousness and that our own participation in the act of cognition is in itself a creative act, that we are all windows, as it were, to the divine. This sort of ideas can be furthered.
We have to look at
comparative philosophies, and in fact we should make the
Indian Institute of Advanced Studies into a Radhakrishnan
Institute of Comparative Philosophy and Religion, instead
of having a general higher studies institute. I had made
this suggestion earlier, but it fell on deaf ears. I
would like to reiterate that suggestion. Even in old
days, it was the Himalayas that produced the most
creative thinking and you should have all the
philosophical traditions represented in the institute at
Religious means and political ends
Religion has been variously defined and interpreted since time immemorial. It is as much "man's expression of his acknowledgement of the divine" as it is "a system of beliefs and practices relating to the sacred and uniting its adherents in a community", as the Longman Modern English dictionary defines it.
There have been wars between religion struggles seeking the right to worship. Often these have developed heavy political overtones. And in Sikhism there always was a symbiotic relationship between religion and politics. Should the two be accepted as a whole and practised as such or be compartmentalised? The great debate goes on.
In Punjab, a sound knowledge of the Sikh religion (and also history) is imperative if one is to follow Akali politics .The roots of Sikhism are traced to Guru Nanak who in the 15th century founded a scientific and logical religion for the benefit of the humanity .It is readily acknowledged that Sikhism has a "universal" appeal and relevance. And only last year the tercentenary of the establishment of the Khalsa was observed.
Yet, the Sikhs have failed to evolve a consensus on a variety of issues, concepts, practices, rituals, scriptures and even the manner of living (rehat-maryada). Difference of opinion persists even on the definition of Sikh. Should only those with "unshorn" hair be called Sikhs or even those who have "cut" their hair be covered by the definition? These people assert they very much remain within the fold of Sikhism arguing that symbolism, rather than substance, seems to weigh more with some scholars and theologians.
In fact even Sikh intellectuals have failed their community by not presenting Sikhism the way it should by giving its meaning and substance in the manner the Sikh Gurus conceived and conveyed their message. For want of a clear, simple and reasonable explanation and interpretation of the "Gurbani", many myths and misconceptions have crept into the religion, which is not being followed and practised strictly according to the holy Guru Granth.
The sad part is that the intelligentsia has developed its own political roots and offshoots. Moreover, the SGPC (Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee) which is "accepted" as the final arbiter of religious affairs has often faltered. It has failed to fully perform its assigned duties. It is struck in the administrative matters (with a strong political bias) of gurdwaras. It has miserably failed to end the cult of idol worship and ritualism widely prevalent among Sikhs, thanks to the existence of babas, sants, mahants deras and sects.
Over a period of time many organisations have therefore mushroomed within and outside the country. In the same way, "educated" Sikhs, retired or serving, representing diverse interests and coming from different professions, have also joined hands to emerge as self-appointed "conscience-keepers" of the Sikhs' religio-political affairs. On any given occasion, these people express their views and render advise to the Sikh clergy as well as the political leadership. A few lucky ones even manage to become "advisers" to either a political party or the government.
Changing views and loyalties (to religio-political masters) is now all too common. This is one reason why nothing worthwhile and meaningful gets done. The only saving grace is that the codified holy book Guru Granth Sahib has not been tampered with or wrongly interpreted. Some research scholars, who did come up with "radical" views, were summoned to Akal Takht. The rest is history.
It is, therefore, time that well - meaning Sikh and non-Sikh scholars who have dedicated themselves to understanding and propagating Sikhism in its universalist perspective, came forward and gave the much needed direction to Sikhism. Unfortunately, while accepting and practising religion and politics as one "entity", the Sikh political leadership has politicised the religion rather than drawing strength and sustenance from it. For it religion is only a "means" to achieve political "ends". This interplay of the two and the emotions of the common Sikhs are responsible for the undoing of both. Consequently there is much media coverage and comment on Sikh religio-political affairs thanks to the controversies the leadership generates every now and then.
This is one reason why the Sikh institutions, notably, Akal Takht and its Jathedars, and the SGPC and its political wing, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), in its many manifestations, have messed up issues. It is a collective failure of the Sikh religio-political leadership and quiet acquiescence of the "alloyed" Sikh scholars and intelligentsia, which has played havoc with the Sikh religion and politics.
The fear of being summoned to Akal Takht and being awarded "tankha" (punishment for religious misconduct, which is usually in the form of the "accused" being asked to recite Gurbani, clean shoes and utensils in a gurdwara and later seek forgiveness) is an inhibiting factor why the Sikh religion has remained confined to the Sikhs, who, by and large, lack knowledge of the finer points of the scriptures. This is one reason why parents are concerned about Sikh youths going astray as apostasy is surfacing surreptitiously.
Whenever there has been a ray of hope of something worthwhile taking place, a
chorus of voices, mostly discordant, is heard. The issue fades away but bitterness lingers on.
There have been several occasions when the religio-political leadership could have sat together and sorted out controversies and issues in proper perspective. This was, however, not to be. For too long the Sikh leadership (read the Akalis) has survived and sustained themselves on "panthic" sentiments and "emotional" issues.
A typical example is of framing of the All-India Sikh Gurdwara Act. This issue is as old as the SGPC itself. No serious attempt has been made to have this Act passed by Parliament. Punjab has a Gurdwara Commission which had prepared a draft but it has been lost in the political labyrinthine.
Of recent concern and at the centre of a controversy is the role and functions of the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and its mode of propagating the Sikh religion. This threatens to create serious problems for the State. Then there is the controversy over the "authenticity" of the Dasam Granth and that about the Nanakshahi calendar.
Even as the issue of resolving the "crisis of Sikh identity" persists, the task of distinctly redefining the role and functions of Sikh institutions and other mundane matters remain untouched. There is no common meeting ground even in respect of following certain rituals and practices in the Golden Temple and at Akal Takht. At the other end of the spectrum are the purely political matters pertaining to inter-state differences on sharing water and territory, the status of Punjabi language in educational institutions besides disputes with New Delhi, regarding redefining Centre-State relations and devolution of funds or having a second look at the Constitution.
In such a scenario The Tribune has received the first three issues of yet another magazine, titled "Understanding Sikhism The Research Journal". It has been brought out by the Institute of Understanding Sikhism. It is based in Canada, Quebec, to be precise. Its editor-in-chief is Dr Devinder Singh Chahal, who retired as Professor of Applied Microbiology from the University of Quebec. The editorial board has a global spread with members from Canada, Malaysia, India, the United Kingdom and the USA.
In India, on a short visit last week, Dr Chahal said the idea behind the journal was simple: To bring on one platform scientists, philosophers, theologians and administrators to correctly interpret the Gurbani and represent Sikhism as envisaged by Guru Nanak. Unlike other publications, the Journal has been designed and produced as any "science" journal, where a team of experts drawn from the streams of theology, physical sciences, natural sciences, political and social sciences, medicine, philosophy, history, languages and law examines each article which is submitted for publication.
The whole concept is to create interest and impart knowledge about Sikhism to the present generation, particularly, in the West, which is alien to Sikhism and which requires to be educated on this sensitive issue with reason and logic rather than by creating fear of the "unknown" and the "divine". There is a vacuum, which has to be filled, globally, by networking and keeping intact the umbilical cord the Sikhs have with the holy Guru Granth back home in Amritsar Golden Temple, he added.
Dr Chahal, who was invited to present a paper on "Sikhism scientific and logical religion for the third millennium and beyond" at Punjabi University, Patiala, told The Tribune that there were a variety of journals being published by various Sikh institutions and societies. These are in English as well as in Punjabi. Mostly such journals dealt with the traditional or conventional methods, dominated by mythology and rituals, for interpreting the Gurbani and Sikhism In this respect "Understanding Sikhism" will be different.
Browsing through the articles in the three issues published so far one finds a wide range of topics by scholars.
Nearer home, there is the "Institute of Sikh Studies". Another one calls itself the "Sikh Core Group". Among the members are those who fight for human rights groups and civil liberties. There is then the "Akhand Kirtani Jatha International (Prabandhi Panhchain)" which also brings out a magazine "Atam Rang".
All these and several other organisations have openly come out in "revolt" against the activities of the RSS, which recently held a convention of its national executive in Chandigarh, and warning against its designs. They fear that it would damage communal harmony.
On the Dasam Granth the feeling is that deliberations on it should be initiated by the SGPC and held in camera. The Akal Takht Jathedar has also said no provocative statements, which will complicate matters, should be issued. Religious sensitivities and sensibilities must be respected and the political executive and clergy along with scholars should sort out all contentious and controversial issues.
If the Sikhs can achieve a consensus on issues which have time and again caused pain, created a fear-psychosis among the principle communities, threatened peace, led to divisions within the Sikh community and ridiculed their institutions, the objective of tercentenary celebrations and the essence of Guru's message of "universal brotherhood, peace and well-being of all" would be achieved.
For all this to happen,
there has to be sincerity of purpose at the level of the
political leadership, which alone can check a further
erosion of religious values and stop the
"misuse" of religion for improving one's
personal career graph.
"The government must wake up to the distress of the people. Unless the government reverses these anti-people decisions, the Congress will continue to agitate through democratic means at its disposal."
Congress President Sonia Gandhi, in a memorandum submitted to Vajpayee.
* * * *
"Cyberwar is "the third largest threat" to developed states, after chemical and bacteriological attacks and nuclear weapons".
Colin Rose of Buchanan International, a Scottish-based company that specialises in tracking down Internet offenders.
* * * *
"Nobody can reverse the old age process"
Dr Inder Suresh Rattan, who figures in International Who's Who in Medicine and Healthcare.
* * * *
"Had we really wanted to remove him (Chief Minister Ram Prakash Gupta), why should we get him elected to the legislature council?"
BJP President Kushabhau Thakre.
* * * *
"Instead of trying the legislation route, it would be preferable to have a political culture which denies tickets to persons with known criminal background".
Union Law Minister Ram Jethmalani.
* * * *
"Even those who are ideologically opposed to us or do not share our economic policies are welcome to join the platform".
West Bengal CM Jyoti Basu.
* * * *
"Prolonged involvement of the Army in civil affairs runs a grave risk of politicising it, which would not be in national interest, therefore, civilian rule in the country must be restored within the shortest possible time after achieving the declared objectives which necessitated the military takeover".
The Pakistani Supreme Court.
* * * *
"Centre has no clear cut policy on Sri Lanka".
Janata Party President, Dr Subramanian Swamy.
* * * *
"I plead with you. Let us not fail Sierra Leone. Let us not fail Africa. This time, in this crisis, let us back words with deeds and mandates with the resources that work".
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
* * * *
"The only satisfaction I have is that even Shiv sainiks have privately spoken in favour of me. But, they are scared to support me in public".
Deputy Municipal Commission G.R. Khairnar
* * * *
"If you are going to hold talks with Pakistan terrorists in Kashmir then also show the magnanimity of initiating a dialogue with naxals belonging to our nation and redress their problems".
Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.
* * * *
"Yamuna today is worse than a drain with no dissolved oxygen in it. When the city government releases water at Okhla, there is zero level of oxygen.... even fish cannot survive in it.
A Supreme Court bench comprising Justices B.N. Kirpal and Ruma Pal.
* * * *
"Parliament is a place for discussing public issues. But here the Opposition is determined to paralyse the functioning of the House, instead of debating the matter.
BJP general secretary Venkaiah Naidu.
VELUPILLAI PRABHAKARAN is an enigma having either fanatical followers or bitter critics. So stupendous is the dedication of his cadres that he is able to inculcate in them what has come to be known as the cyanide cult and each regular member of the LTTE carries a cyanide pill and is pledged to committing suicide rather than being captured by the enemy. In sharp contrast, he has acquired in the West the image of a ruthless killer and a despot. The New York Times had described him as the new Pol Pot of Asia.
Former Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit, one-time Indias High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, in his much reviewed book Assignment Colombo, has described Prabhakaran as disciplined, austere and passionately committed to the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils liberation. Whatever he may be criticised for, says Dixit, it cannot be denied that the man has an inner fire and dedication and he is endowed with natural military abilities, both strategic and tactical.
Prabhakarans approach is totally deceitful and mercilessly cruel in dealing with those the LTTE considers as foes. He has successfully collected around him senior advisers with diverse political, administrative and technological capacities which contributed to effective training of his cadres, optimum utilisation of military equipment and the structuring of an efficient command and control system.
The New York Times held him responsible for the murder of Rajiv Gandhi, Alfred Duraiappah, the Mayor of Jaffna, A Amritalingam, leader of TULF and for murdering of other democratic Tamil politicians and his rivals.He is also accused of leading the terrorised Tamil people to humiliation, defeat, destitution and death. There is also word of caution to those who deal with him: considered armed and extremely dangerous; take no action to apprehend this person yourself.
Considered more dangerous than the kingpin of terrorism, Osama bin-Laden, 45-year-old Prabhakaran was born in a fishermans hut at Velvettiturai in Sri Lanka, is educated only up to the 8th grade, cannot converse fluently in English and is known to have extorted funds from Tamil civilians and abducted children.
He began his life as a fisherman and then took to smuggling goods and arms and also sneaked out illegal immigrants to the West. His dossier with the intelligence agencies describe him as a mass murderer, swindler and arsonist. Fluent in Tamil, the LTTE supremo thinks he is a super star and, at one stage, tried to model himself on the matinee idol and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M.G. Ramachandra (MGR). Heavily built, five feet six inches tall and brown-eyed Prabhakaran also carries cyanide pills and is known to be suffering from an acute mental illness.
His followers worship him as a great leader, saviour of the Tamil people and the main representative of the Dravidian lineage. Some of his cadres feel he has divine or some sort of supernatural powers. Former Minister S. Thondaman was quoted as saying: I think Prabhakaran has some sort of divine guidance and some sort of divine power to continue for so long despite the army offensive.
Excerpts from various Indian and international magazines in the late eighties are worth reproducing to bring out the personality of the man. He told The Week as far back as March, 1986: It is the plight of the Tamil people that compelled me to take up arms. I felt outraged at the inhuman atrocities perpetrated against an innocent people. His comment to The Newsweek was: We have imposed a strict moral code on ourselves, not to use even liquor. How can one suspect us of drug trafficking which we condemn.
Prabhakaran had met Rajiv Gandhi more than once as the late Prime Minister made sincere attempt to resolve Sri Lankas ethnic problem. Both Rajiv and Indira Gandhi extended political, monetary and material support to the LTTE as Tamils in the island were suppressed and discriminated and drew widespread sympathy in Tamil Nadu. The island nation had established substantive and intelligence contracts with the USA, Pakistan and Israel and this was not to the liking of Mrs Gandhi and in Indias interest.
Rajiv Gandhi had asked the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi, as far back as 1989 to send DMK emissaries to Jaffna to convince Prabhakaran to go in for a compromise and settle for autonomy under the Indo-Sri Lanka accord. The chasm between Rajiv Gandhi and Prabhakaran widened after India sent the IPKF to Sri Lanka to ensure the tiny countrys sovereignty forcing the LTTE dictator to retreat to the jungle and hide there for two years.
Prabhakaran became fanatically hostile to Rajiv Gandhi after the IPKF handed over 17 key LTTE militants apprehended during the operations to the Sri Lankan forces. Twelve of them ended their lives by consuming cyanide and shaking with rage the LTTE chief vowed to fight the IPKF and oppose the Indo-Sri Lanka accord with all the might at his command.
Prabhakaran appears to
be now fighting the last battle of his life. Initially
his forces had gained the upper hand in Jaffna region but
activation of Sri Lankan airforce, ostensibly with the
help of Israel, resulted in a few setback to the LTTE. If
Prabhakaran succeeds, he might achieve his lifetime
ambition and Tamil Eelam may be formed but if he fails,
he may meet his doom.
Microbes prove sex isnt everything
Tiny animals that gave up reproducing through sexual relations 40 million years ago prove that sex isnt everything and may also offer insights into how to save endangered species, scientists have said.
The animals, called bdelloid rotifers, defy traditional wisdom that the gene-swapping made possible by sexual reproduction is the only way to make it in a treacherous and ever-changing world.
Matthew Meselson and Mark Welch at Harvard University on Friday said they used genetic analysis to confirm that an entire class of the translucent, waterborne creatures, which range in size from 0.004 inch to 0.04 inch long (0.1 mm to 1 mm), have led sexless lives for aeons.
These are all females, Meselson said in a telephone interview. They lay eggs, out hatch more females, they lay eggs and out hatch even more females. Long, long ago there must have been one original bdelloid rotifer that radiated to give 350 different species. All are female. No males are known.
Many animals give up sex in certain circumstances such as aphids. A sexual forms are constantly appearing, Meselson said. Snakes, lizards, insects, fish but they dont last for more than a few hundred years. The abandonment of sex is quite common if something goes wrong.
Scientists have also found species that appear to have given up sex, but closer checks show they in fact have not. Reporting in the journal science, Meselson said he put the bdelloids to the ultimate test by looking at their DNA.
Every species of plant and animal that reproduces sexually has pairs of genes that are nearly identical to each other, he said. One of each pair comes from the mother and one from the father, and these are mixed and remixed with each generation.
As sexual reproduction stops, those pairs remain together, but evolve separately so that over many millions of years the two copies of every gene become more and more different, Meselson said. How different they are tells you approximately how long it has been since sex was abandoned.
The differences arise because of mutations and create a pattern distinct from the one created by sexually driven evolution.
No one really knows why nearly everything in the world uses sex to reproduce, but the predominant theory is that sex mixes the genes up to cope with unexpected changes.
One idea is, give some offspring the capability to cope with a changing environment, Meselson said. The other idea is that sexual reproduction purges the genome of deleterious variations. They could both be correct.
Can we somehow, by further studies, find out why they havent gone extinct? they have found a way to protect their genes against the most deleterious mutations, so they dont need sex to purge them.
Understanding this could have implications for medicine. Mutations, which are a regular part of daily life, underlie cancer, heart disease and genetic diseases from cystic fibrosis to Alzheimers.
His next study, which is
confidential until it is published, will look at how the
rotifers avoided extinction. But, he joked, it would not
offer human beings a formula for doing away with males.
We dont want to prove that we are totally
unnecessary, he laughed. Reuters
ECONOMISTS in the Congress party have been the cause of revelry in the BJP camp for some time now. First it was the former Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, causing embarrassment to his party with his truthful comments on what transpired between the US President, Mr Bill Clinton, and the party President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, on Indias nuclear stand.
After Mukherjee, it was the turn of another economist, Mr Jairam Ramesh, to cause embarrassment to the party leadership. Though Mr Ramesh has denied that he ever criticised Mrs Gandhi, the damage was done and the BJP leadership was happy over the developments.
The last straw in the camels back, if it can be said so, has been Dr Manmohan Singhs views on the economic policies pursued by the NDA Government, which is at variance with what is being talked about by the Congress party leadership. Dr Singh, as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, supported the Constitution (89th Amendment Bill) to devolve to the states 26 per cent of Central taxes in line with the recommendation of the 10th Finance Commission and talked about the need to do away with unwanted subsidies.
IT Bill and Mahajan
The Information Technology Minister, Mr Pramod Mahajan, was in his elements when he rose to reply to the new IT Bill which before it was passed by the Lok Sabha.
Mr Mahajan piloted the Bill well and ensured its passage and said he fielded the Information and Broadcasting Minister, Mr Arun Jaitley, to intervene since the government wanted to utilise the services of a top class lawyer who would not charge any fee.
Then responding to members who cautioned the government not to rush through the legislation, Mr Mahajan said the timing of the new law could be compared to what Einstein told his students when he found the Theory of Relativity, that it was comparable to what a lover experiences while waiting for the beloved or spending time with, that mattered. Time spent in waiting appeared long and spent together, short.
Old guards start stirring
For the past few months, it is the old guards in the Congress party who have started stirring the cauldron within the 115-year political outfit.
While the party has found it difficult to keep denying any resentment, the fact remains that several senior leaders are upset the manner in which the Congress is being run.
Even before the dust had settled after the last general election, senior leaders from the South like Mr K. Vijayabhaskar Reddy and Mr K. Karunakaran started sulking. The list has now grown with many others like Mr Sitaram Kesri, Mr Madhavsinh Solanki and Mr Vithal Gadgil joining the club.
Unlike the past during Mr Narasimha Rao and Mr Kesris time when comparatively younger members in the party started dissidence campaign, this time around the move it seems has begun with the senior leaders.
When Delhi University got an economist, Prof Deepak Nayyar, as its new Vice Chancellor, educationists felt he would be able to evolve ingenious methods to raise funds for the cash-starved university. However, not many knew that Prof Nayyar comes from the old school of thought which believes that the state has a role to play in education.
The former Economic Adviser to the V.P.Singh Government, at his first interaction with mediapersons made it clear that the state should continue to play its role as a major funding body for the university. He felt the state must remain as the most important source of funds and other innovative ways of funding could only supplement them to some extent.
An alumni of Delhi University himself, Prof Nayyar said he would tap the alumni to create a University of Delhi fund.
Trouble brewing in Delhi Youth Congress
It is perhaps a classic case of clash between two warring chieftains and battle for possesion of office space. Soon after his installation as the Indian Youth Congress Chief, Mr Randeep Surjewala, removed the Delhi Pradesh Youth Congress chief, Mr Jaiveer Singh Nagar. Party circles attributed the move to a clash between the new IYC chief and the Delhi Youth Congress chief one evening over the party programme. Later, the IYC chief asked the DPCC to ensure that the room allotted to Mr Nagar in his capacity as President of the Delhi Youth Congress be got vacated. Since that day, the DPCC has been unable to do so as Mr Nagars supporters continue to occupy it day and night while Mr Surjewalas supporters keep vigil outside the premises.
THE extent to which the policy of the Government in encouraging legal proceedings on the part of its servants against newspapers has emboldened, if not demoralised, a class of officials in this country is shown by a strange case of defamation against two leading newspapers in Calcutta by a European member of the Calcutta Police Force, which the Chief Presidency Magistrate has just disposed of.
The alleged offence of the two journals consisted only in their publishing the particulars of a complaint, charging the petitioner with abuse and trespass, which had been actually filed in a court of law.
In dismissing the application, the Magistrate remarked that the paragraph complained of appeared to be a fair report of the complaint lodged and there was nothing criminal in such publication.
This was, of course, the
only right, the only commonsense view of the matter. But
why was not this pointed out to the complainant by the
law officers of the Crown, whose consent was presumably
obtained before the case was started?
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