Monday, October 23, 2000,
 Chandigarh, India



Nobel Prize for dissent

BY conferring the Nobel Prize for literature this year on the Chinese dissident writer, Gao Xingjian, the Nobel Committee has hailed the new voices of dissent.

This is for the first time that a Chinese writer has won this coveted and prestigious prize. Ever since the French writer, Rene F.A. Sully Prudhomme, won it in 1901, the Nobel Prize has gone to the European writers for as many as 66 times.

It was won by writers from other lands for only 28 times (the USA 11, the USSR 4, Latin and South American countries 5, Mexico and Chile twice each and Guatemala 1). As for India, Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa, West Indies and Israel, they have won it once each, while Japan won it twice in 1968 and 1994.

The Russian poet and novelist, Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (1890-1960), who is best known outside Russia for his novel, “Dr Zhivago”, was awarded the Nobel Prize for this novel in 1958. Pasternak was a champion of the whole movement for liberation and a new life. “Dr Zhivago” was hailed as “the first work of genius to come out of Russia since the Revolution”. The Times applauded it as “one of the great books, courageous, tender, tragic, humble”. It was extolled for “the astonishing power and vitality of its prose, subtlety and range”. And yet Pasternak declined to accept the Nobel Prize.

Again, the French philosopher, essayist, dramatist and novelist Jean Paul Sartre, the founder and leader of Existentialism, did not accept the Nobel Prize in 1964, although the doctrine of existentialism finds contemporary expression in his works, as also in those of Heidegger, Marcel Proust, Camus and Jaspers.

Coming back to Gao Xingjian, he has been awarded the Nobel Prize for his voice of dissent against totalitarian dictatorship. In the past, dissenting voices were raised by Nobel Laureates such as Boris Pasternak, Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn (he won the Nobel Prize in 1970). His widely known work is “The Gulag Archipelago”.




Law and religion

MR Anupam Gupta’s write-up, “Keep academics out of Courts”, (Oct. 9) rightly highlights the nonchalant public attitude towards the conflict developing between the provisions contained in Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution relating to the freedom of religion and their interpretation by the judiciary.

The Supreme Court of India, in the case of Dr Ismail Faruqui and others versus the Union of India held that the protections under Articles 25 and 26 were confined to religious practices which form an essential and integral part of that religion.

In that sense the beliefs in historical events relating to the founders of religious faiths becomes an integral part of that religion and to uphold the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution, the judiciary acquires power to determine those facts.

As admitted by the Division Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in the case referred to by Mr Anupam Gupta, “the court does not possess the requisite expertise to judge the correctness of those facts”.

This lack of expertise on many sensitive matters has caused heart burning among the devotees of various religions. The judgement under discussion should prompt those who are responsible for administering constitutional justice to actively involve academic experts in the judicial process.

Mr Gupta in his brilliant write-up ignores the fact that the book whose contents were under judicial review is prescribed as a text-book for school students who have impressionable minds and do not possess the maturity for scholastic study of sensitive historical facts to sift the truth.


Taint of corruption

THIS refers to Ms Tavleen Singh’s article titled “Can anyone curb corruption?” (Oct. 14). After every election the governments that are installed in the states or at the Centre do not miss the opportunity to bravely promise to root out corruption from public life. No government at the Centre or in the states has been able to combat and root out the menace so far.

Every sector and every system in this country is so tainted with corruption that young officers like Mr Abhinav Kumar (the police officer of Dehradun mentioned in the article) and his tribe (may his tribe increase!) experience great difficulty in the present set-up. Daring and forthright officials and officers like him only receive opposition and brickbats.

Bijhari, Hamirput

Festivals & leprosy patients

THE nation is all geared to celebrate Diwali. This is the time when lights sparkle from small hamlets in far off villages and modern dwellings in metro cities. Sharing odd chores, sweets or meals, the joy of togetherness and of course pranks associated with lighting crackers form an endless list of pleasant activities. The young and the old just forget their age barriers in this pursuit of joy.

Diwali, the festival of lights, has now turned itself into a festival of noise. Crores of rupees go up in smoke as crackers are burst throughout the country. While we may give ourselves to this gay abandon, just think of the plight of a large number of leprosy patients socially boycotted and leading lonely lives in poverty and despair. They too are fellow countrymen but their plight is pitiable.

Leprosy is like any other disease and is completely curable today with modern medicines and that too with a maximum of six to 12 months of treatment. The total of 40 lakh cases a few years back has come down to nearly five lakh patients now. We can eradicate leprosy if we all act together. Helping the deserved is our tradition and culture, isn’t?

We must celebrate Diwali as best as we can. However, as a people, we must change our old attitude and prejudice towards leprosy patients. Diwali offers us a wonderful opportunity to share our resources for a good cause.

President, Indian Leprosy Foundation



Diwali gifts

DIWALI, the festival of lights, should ideally lit up people’s lives, especially of those who are in the lowest strata of society.

But what one sees in towns and cities around the country are extravagant spending and pompous show of wealth that sully the mind and the senses. Witness the spectacle of people buying gifts which range from sweet packets to expensive consumer articles.

The gifts are mostly meant to carry favours with people in positions of power and influence. These men and women do not seem to spare a thought for the people who live on the edge. Even human tragedies fail to refine their sensitivity. Thus one saw the spectacle of gifts in 1999 when the Diwali fell close to the super cyclone in Orissa that devastated a vast population.

There is no dearth of people in the country needing a little attention at least during festivals like Diwali. Let those who carry expensive gifts also carry some thought for these unfortunate men, women and children who live in the open. Even a fraction of what they spend to buy gifts would go a long way in lighting up the lives of the poorest of the poor, at least on Diwali day.


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