Sunday, February 11, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Women in command
By Shyamola Khanna
UDDENLY, women are everywhere. Though they may have worn the uniform for only a few years, but women have certainly earned themselves laurels.

Dressed to kill?
By Satya Mira
T could well be a panic reaction. But there are quite a few people who suspect that wearing brassieres (bras), especially those with underwires, could be increasing the risk of breast cancer. “We have started special educational programmes in the city,” says Dr Mathias of Inlaks Hospital, Pune. 

Tolerance to corruption has been paid for with lives
By Rakshat Puri
HEY may not have found all the bodies lying under the debris of quake-felled buildings in Ahmedabad. But what the horrified rescuers did find are clues to the cruel and criminal approach of the builders who constructed the high-rise and other new structures.


Crisis time for Congress
February 10
, 2001
Police brutality
February 9
, 2001
Privatising the government! 
February 8
, 2001
Invitation to disaster
February 7
, 2001
Fresh signals from Kashmir 
February 6
, 2001
A delayed decision
February 5
, 2001
Lessons from disaster
February 4
, 2001
Timid tremor tax
February 3
, 2001
A budget for disaster
February 2
, 2001
Disaster mismanagement
February 1
, 2001
Earthquake economics
January 31
, 2001
The world responds
January 30
, 2001

Suspect structures of Delhi
By Prem Kumar
OLF, wolf," he used to cry and nobody took him seriously for he had lost credibility. So says a popular tale narrated in children's books. An earthquake is not a matter for children to play games with. 

Getting relief
EVASTATING earthquakes are tragic and horrific. The Gujarat quake on January 26, 2001, has not only killed thousands of people but razed many towns and villages to the ground. Even some viewers on TV are unable to bear the heart-rending scenes of the dead or the injured victims.


Powerplay brings darkness in states
HY should the Centre be so merciful to the states which have run up hundreds of crores of Rupees as dues for consuming power from the national grid and sounding the deathknell of the state electricity boards? Won’t it be worthwhile to adopt a hard approach by cutting off power to the states so that they understand the realities and pull up their socks in reforming the critical power sector expeditiously? 

  • Sikhs in pawn game

  • Women’s year

  • Embarrassed Congress

  • Surcharged minister


By Harihar Swarup
Fighting for freedom of Press
HE fight for truth in the profession of journalism is getting increasingly difficult in many Asian countries. There have been assaults on scribes and, those who dare to carry on the crusade against falsehood, run the risk of being put behind bars or even elimination by the oppressive regimes. 


By Humra Quraishi
Focus on quake and aid packages
HESE spurts of earthquakes have brought about a much needed jolt for even survivors like us. Wherever one goes the topic is that of earthquakes and the related — that is, the definite signs of the decaying times and the brittle system.

  • Don’t know whether it’s good news or not?

  • Finally, more on Kargil!Top


Women in command
By Shyamola Khanna

SUDDENLY, women are everywhere. Though they may have worn the uniform for only a few years, but women have certainly earned themselves laurels. A woman doctor has reached the rank of Major-General and now we have Padma Bandopadhya, the first woman Air Commodore, commanding one of the most prestigious medical establishments of the Air Force, the Central Medical Establishment in Delhi. The Army Medical Corps (AMC) is more than 150 years old. And women have been a part of its team of doctors for more than 65 years.

One can almost hear a snort from some ‘hard core’ (read male chauvinist) soldiers, “Oh yes, they are alright as doctors but keep them out of the fighting arm!”

Fortunately, attitudes towards women’s work have not remained as conservative. It has taken time, and it was only in the last decade that women joining the defence services was considered acceptable. Women were inducted into other arms of the Army, Air Force and Navy in 1992. As of date, there are nearly 850 women enrolled in the officer cadre of the three services, forming a tiny percentage of the total.

But once the gates opened for women, there was no stopping them. There are women flying choppers and huge transport aircraft. There are women (wo)manning the radars and the Air Traffic Control (ATC) and there are women in command of machines and logistics. Quietly and steadily they have stepped into what was formerly a sacrosanct male arena. Only men wore the uniform and were encouraged to develop the ‘macho’ image of heavy drinking and heavy swearing—the ‘ultimate soldier’ as it were.

Needless to say, even the ultimate soldier is prepared to accept the ‘bovine scatology’ (bullshit, for you!) from his seniors. But when it comes to a senior who has curves and fills out the uniform in all the wrong places, he balks! How can he take orders from a woman? By the reaction it generates, it would seem to be against the very essence of malehood itself.

This forms the crux of the problems facing women who have entered the defence services because taking and giving orders is an integral part of the job. Every officer has so many men under him/her, and maintaining discipline is essential.

Some feel that it is better to avoid the problem rather than face the contentious issue of chain of command on a daily basis. According to a senior army officer’s wife, “Women are good at providing support services like logistics, supplies, medicine and handling the telephone systems. But they are best kept out of the combat regions. Culturally our men are not yet ready to accept orders from a woman.”

Yet, women are not deterred by this obstacle, and are forging ahead in various arms of the defence services. Jitender Kaur, currently based at the Army Headquarters, is very happy with her work and is glad she chose to join the Army. Sujata Chandra who is with the ordnance corps, is the daughter of a retired army officer and is proud of carrying on the family tradition.

These young women are a treat to talk to. Their bearing is dignified and they stride tall amongst their peers. Both of them brush away the problems as being very minor and nothing that they cannot handle. “We would have probably faced the same things if we had chosen to work somewhere else other than the services,” they maintain.

In the Air Force, things are a little better for women officers—maybe because it is the youngest and the smallest of the three services. Vandana, who is currently based at HQ Western Air Command, is 25 and has put about five years of service. She is very comfortable in her role, living in the Officers Mess where her neighbour is Tarannum, who is based in the office of the Chief of Air Staff (CAS). Although these two young officers are the only two female residents in the mess, it does not disturb them in any way. They have honed their skills of handling people into a fine art—a talent that holds them in good stead while dealing with the men under their command.

Twenty-three-year old Sujata Tiwari is currently the only lady officer posted at the Air Force Station in Srinagar. She is a dignified young officer who considers it a matter of pride to “work in a male dominated area.” She has an open mind about opting for a permanent commission.

Bhavna Chhikara from the Signals Corps comes from an Air Force family and has completed three years in service. She is justifiably proud of her background and the level she has reached. This 26-year-old is married to another officer in the same corps. She is quite happy now because they are going to be posted together on their next posting — or so they have been promised!

With women managing to fulfil their career aspirations in the defence services, even combining their work with family and other responsibilities, more and more young women are entering this field. Says a senior Air Force officer’s wife, “The enrolment of women in the services has been a great boost to the morale of the women countrywide. Though, in general, there is some protectiveness towards them, it is gratifying to note that the young women manage to go through 90 per cent of their duties without any hitches.”



Dressed to kill?
By Satya Mira

IT could well be a panic reaction. But there are quite a few people who suspect that wearing brassieres (bras), especially those with underwires, could be increasing the risk of breast cancer. “We have started special educational programmes in the city,” says Dr Mathias of Inlaks Hospital, Pune. “Most of the women who come to us in the hospital do so at the last stage so we want to educate them about the disease.”

Much of the research about breast cancer over the past few decades has focussed on controllable factors linked to the disease. These include diet, alcohol consumption, use of the oral contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy, abortion, smoking, exercise and the environment. Much of this research, however, remains inconclusive with different studies producing contradictory results.

Two studies have now concluded that bra-less women have lower rates of breast cancer. The first of these was published in a European medical journal, which said that women who do not wear bras have only half the rate of breast cancer as compared to women who wear bras.

Then came a study done by a husband and wife team of anthropologists (Sydney Singer and Soma Grismaijer), which they published in a book titled Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras (Avery Press, Garden City Park, New York). The couple studied a group of 4,600 women, half of whom had breast cancer. They found that women who did not wear bras at all were 20 times less likely to have breast cancer than those who did wear bras.

In their study, Singer and Grismaijer found that women who wore bras for 24 hours every day, had 125 times the rate of breast cancer as compared to women who never wore bras. They also found that the odds of getting breast cancer dramatically increased with the number of hours per day that the women wore bras. In their study, women who wore their bras more than 12 hours per day had a higher rate of breast cancer than those who wore them less than 12 hours a day.

On the basis of this study, Singer and Grismaijer theorise that bras may be impairing the circulation, specifically lymphatic circulation, in the breasts. Lymph is the fluid that bathes the cells and carries away toxic waste products back to the bloodstream. In Dressed to Kill… they explain that lymphatic vessels are very delicate and sensitive to pressure. It does not take much pressure to decrease lymphatic flow and when this happens, wastes are allowed to build up. It is known that fibro-cystic cysts in the breast are actually just trapped lymph.

Lymphatic circulation in many tissues is highly dependent on movement. For instance, when you sit for a long time on a flight, your feet and ankles swell because the lymphatic circulation decreases and fluid accumulates in the legs.

Wearing a bra, especially a constricting one with underwires, and especially to bed, may prevent normal lymphatic flow and lead to anoxia (lower than normal oxygen content), which has been related to fibrosis, which in turn has been linked to increased cancer risk.

Scientific literature about lymphatic flow suggests that restriction of movement may be as important as the constriction factor. Every subtle bounce of the breast while moving, walking or running gently massages the breast and increases lymphatic flow. This in turn cleans the breast of toxins and wastes that arise from cellular metabolism.

There may be other explanations for a connection between bras and breast cancer. One such mechanism could be temperature. Breasts are external organs and have a naturally lower temperature. Breast cancer is hormone-dependent and temperature can alter hormone function, and normal breast temperature changes throughout the monthly cycle.

There are many doctors who disagree with this conclusion. According to one doctor, who does not want to be named, the study design followed by Singer and Grismaijer is faulty.

Says he, the researchers chose not to ask the women for information on family history of breast cancer, reproductive history (age at menopause, number of children, age at menarche) or use of hormones (oral contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy) because they “felt no need to repeat other researchers’ work by examining all the known risk factors in our questionnaire.”

“In omitting questions relating to known breast cancer risks, Singer and Grismaijer’s research failed to eliminate possible causes of breast cancer other than bras and is, therefore, inherently biased and lacks a scientifically valid methodological framework.

The results of their study cannot be considered in any way as ‘evidence’ suggesting a link between bras and breast cancer. Although it is possible that the lymphatic system may play a role in the development of breast cancer, further research is needed to establish the link,” he says.There is little doubt that the connection between bras and breast cancer needs to be researched further and it is only when some definite answers emerge that women may be forced to change the way in which they dress.

But this is a connection that cannot be dismissed right away and needs serious thought.

— WFSTop


Tolerance to corruption has been paid for with lives
By Rakshat Puri

THEY may not have found all the bodies lying under the debris of quake-felled buildings in Ahmedabad. But what the horrified rescuers did find are clues to the cruel and criminal approach of the builders who constructed the high-rise and other new structures. The builders, presumably for just a little more profit, either left out vital stays meant for structural strength or used inferior material. The hundreds-of-years-old buildings in the walled city, on the other hand, are almost all standing, hardly affected by the earthquake. Even more ironic, and breathtaking, are the near-by, five-thousand-year old Harrappan structures, from the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation. They have defied the earthquake. How many earthquakes might the Harrappan site have seen in five thousand years?

Common folk looking for bodies and belongings in the rubble are from all accounts aghast at the telltale evidence of new structures having come down primarily because of poor construction quality. At times “cemented” parts of the rubble are said to have not a trace of cement in them. In this connection, newspaper reports observe that considerable astonishment and perplexity have been caused by the apparent reluctance of government leaders in the state to comment on the misdeeds and malpractices of the builders’ lobby.

As telltale as the evidence of malpractice in the new buildings which the earthquake has brought down is the reportedly sudden absence of builders concerned from the devastated Ahmedabad. Newspaper reports have mentioned names of certain builders who are suddenly absent from their bungalows and luxurious offices. These include Manubhai Vyas, Rakesh Shah, Nirav Shah, Satish Shah, Amrish Gandhi and others. Amrish Gandhi is said to have a sent a message through a clerk to angry and demanding residents of the collapsed structure he built — of “dire consequences if . . . .”

It is said that some fifty high-rise buildings collapsed in Ahmedabad. A report says the “bungalows and swanky offices of the builders and their cars are intact but they (the builders) are nowhere to be found. . . . It is the same story everywhere. They have downed the shutters of their luxurious offices, stopped using their cars and are travelling incognito. The phone is not answered and cellphones have been switched off.” The police is said to have registered cases against them.

What is the government doing about regulating the questionable activities and the get-rich-quick approach of builders? An expert team of the National Council for Cement and Building Materials, reporting on the easy collapse of Ahmedabad’s new buildings in the earthquake, has laid the blame on “irregular planning,” partly built important columns on the ground floor, inadequate attention to structural design, deviation from standards set by the Indian Standards Institute, etc.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan has expressed the opinion that the government should bring in legislation to make it compulsory for newly built structures in high seismic zones to get quake-proof certificates. More and more laws. Urban Development Minister Jagmohan had some more relevant observations to make. He was quoted conceding that much depended on enforcement — “laws are not enough. What is required is proper implementation. . . . On August 30 we passed an order asking local bodies (in Delhi) — MCD, DDA, NDMC — to take strong action against all illegal construction and encroachment. Since then a lot of demolitions have been carried out. We have also sent some cases to the CBI.”

Jagmohan added: “People don’t care, they compromise on building norms to cut costs, as the Ahmedabad experience shows.”

There are two factors that Jagmohan might very appropriately have dwelt upon — two aspects which afflict society here in relation not only to buildings but in a general, more wide way. Both are in some ways related, because both aim at getting things such as sanctions obtained in the shortest and most time-saving way possible. The first is bribery, among other corrupt practices. Without this the necessary papers don’t move from the office babu’s table. It is unlikely that Jagmohan is not aware of this. In many cases demolition of unauthorised and risky construction has been prevented in part or whole by recourse to bribery. Sometimes, for the right kind of bribe, token demolition takes place, which is quietly undone subsequently.

To get sanction from agencies such as the MCD, DDA or the NDMC for the various sectors of new structures or for adding to old ones, bribes appear actually to be fixed according to requirement —they seem, indeed, to be almost institutionalised. Water connections, electricity connections, and the rest. Authorities’ reaction is typified by, say, the Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB). About half the electricity generated in the Capital of India is estimated to go in power-theft — and the DVB is reportedly considering a rise in the cost of power for consumers to counter the loss. There is a curious reluctance to counter the theft itself — the word going around is that many DVB officials are themselves involved in the theft.

This is one side of the story. The other is the easy acceptance by the public of this situation. It is not only that a kind of permissiveness characterises the Indian mind, which looks with astonishingly casual disregard on small violations of law, norm and regulation — whether it be in relation to traffic discipline on the road, or repair of telephone lines, or having to do with unwarranted kind of water consumption, or, indeed, whatever. No thought seems to have been given to eventual consequences — such as in Ahmedabad. And this kind of permissiveness is, of course, well represented in the government.

Take this example. The eviction order for “polluting cottage industries” in the city is an old law-court direction, time-bound. At the last moment the authorities are rushing to enforce it, and all is confusion. Some of those who own the factories did install, at some loss, anti-pollution devices. They, and the authorities, were, of course, not unaware of the court directive. But in the present permissive culture time takes care of everything.

Consider another example — of the more than required relief material that has collected in Bhuj. It is, up to this writing, waiting to be distributed. If there is public concern over this, it is not audible, except from enraged victims in Bhuj itself. Or, move to another general example. Such permissiveness and casual disregard allows manufacture of inferior-quality goods for home consumption and international-quality goods for export. There is no sign of corrective protest against this. Or, for yet another example, look at any Indian city — garbage can keep lying where it is thrown, until some disease erupts and panic takes over. But court directive or not, no one seems bothered.

As long as this kind of permissive attitude lasts, as long as the ordinary educated middle-class Indian keeps tolerating and accepting corruption, incompetence, crime — in and outside politics — deviations from norm and easy divergence from law, no disaster management bodies will serve any purpose. How much can be cured when there is no prevention? Generally, in the climate of casual and permissive tolerance that prevails there will be no real progress, and no stopping the growth of a mafia-like builders’ lobby. Also, in general, there will be no check on the growth of a thriving, socio-politically directing mafia that waxes with each passing day, month and year. Sociologists believe it is the middle-class in every society that gives to that society its sense of active responsibility for social, moral and civic norms. Where, in this, does India’s middle-class rate?

— AFTop


Suspect structures of Delhi
By Prem Kumar

"WOLF, wolf," he used to cry and nobody took him seriously for he had lost credibility. So says a popular tale narrated in children's books. An earthquake is not a matter for children to play games with. Yet, the adult authorities of Delhi have been playing games over this subject for years. An earthquake that can turn the National Capital into ruins is not merely an academic subject for holding scholarly seminars, panel discussions and committee meetings. Yet, it has been so.

The game got in full swing after the Gujarat earthquake. It has the same players — Central and State ministries, departments, panels and cells, inter-ministerial and non-ministerial committees join in the game and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academic institutions and the media act as umpires.

And so, there are cries of "wolf" in Delhi, which is in seismic zone IV and can experience havoc if there is a quake of Bhuj intensity. There is a reason to worry also because it has multi-storeyed structures, much taller than those in Ahmedabad and Bhuj, much more irregular and much worse examples of hazardous buildings in disaster situations. All these were built over the past few decades with "approval" of the authorities concerned. How those approvals were got can be a guessing game. What people can see is the most haphazard urban settlement. And yet, to gauge the haphazard nature, old committees are being recalled and new ones being formed. Drafts of plans and Bills are being dug out from files which have been piling up in the basements of government offices. Senior bureaucrats are activising the juniors while the latter are busy giving alibis or excuses.

The government, in all seriousness, has ordered a survey and check of all buildings to see if they would withstand an earthquake. The authorities that are supposed to do this have thrown up their hands in helplessness. They say they have neither the equipment nor manpower to undertake the job. They would want to "check" only "suspect" structures. What that means is not easy to comprehend. Everybody knows buildings are not "suspect". The men behind them — builders, architects, engineers and sanctioning authorities — might be, but who will check them?

Once in a while, a zealous person gets in position to do so. A person like Jagmohan for instance. And he literally stirs up a hornet's nest. The Delhi leaders, champions of people's cause, ruling partymen and Opposition wallas alike, gang up against him just because he wants to make Delhi safer. After all, Delhi is a city of daily disasters and people and their leaders know it. But both like to play the pigeon that closes its eyes on seeing a cat.

An NGO engaged in disaster awareness is keen to organise a campaign while the "iron is hot." It has a point — it had organised a seminar on the subject three months ago and the Chief Minister of Delhi was to open it, but she did not get the time to come. A Central Minister concerned was to conclude it. He, too, could not find time to attend. Several others, who could contribute to the cause, would not spare time for it. The attendance was naturally thin. After all, we are a nation of very busy people! No wonder this NGO would like to strike while the iron is hot, i.e. when everybody is crying "wolf."

People who know better say that a lot is wrong with Delhi's buildings. The foundations are weak — the soil beneath is loose. The amount of cement and steel could be much less than the required. The structural design could be faulty. The supervision of construction might be casual — I know of a complex where a firm "looked after" quality control in return for lakhs of rupees and even a layman can see hundreds of defects in construction and quality of building material.

And today they are keen to know how many buildings can collapse in the event of a major earthquake, how many will show cracks and how many will remain in tact. It is nice to compile such information. But cracks appear in Delhi buildings without earthquakes. Some of them, even flyovers and road stretches, can collapse without a quake. Some experts say that a Gujarat-type quake can result in several lakhs of deaths — say 20 to 25 lakhs — in Delhi. Of course, they describe the figures as rough, but that is not a problem, all our estimates even after an earthquake are rough.

Alright, you know the number of buildings that can collapse in an earthquake. What will you do then? Demolish them? In Delhi, they never demolish tall and posh buildings. They demolish only jhuggis, which are absolutely safe in the case of a quake. Improve them? Perhaps there is no way you can change the proportion of sand and cement or concrete and steel or even cement and bricks. Vastu experts can help you change the direction of doors and windows or interchange bedrooms and studies or convert kitchens into bathrooms, nothing more than that.

In any case, the people who will be asked to check and demolish or improve buildings are the same who constructed them the wrong way in the first instance and approved them being well aware of those defects. A newspaper listed the kinds of defects in Delhi's skyscrapers, and the number and variety both were mind-boggling. I hate to use harsh words. So I confine myself to quote Late Ram Manohar Lohia's description of Delhi as being a city for prostitutes and pimps. What he must have meant was that many here prostitute their position and profession and many others act as facilitators. Such is the greed for money and favours in the National Capital.


Getting relief

DEVASTATING earthquakes are tragic and horrific. The Gujarat quake on January 26, 2001, has not only killed thousands of people but razed many towns and villages to the ground. Even some viewers on TV are unable to bear the heart-rending scenes of the dead or the injured victims. Thousands are battling for their lives under the care of orthopaedic surgeons. The few who could escape are also affected in one way or the other. The following lines are meant for such victims and their care-takers.

Category of victim

Helpful aid

For aged and weak viewers of TV or listeners of radio broadcasts sitting far away from Gujarat. A cup of coffee before viewing or listening, lest they collapse.
For those struck with the fear of earthquakes whether in Gujarat or due to rumour-mongers elsewhere or in places where mild tremors have already been felt. Biochemistry medicine SILICEA, potency 6x two tablets per dose and thrice a day till relief.
For those whom earthquakes bother even in dreams. (The dreaming person may or may not be frightened.) As above
For those who have lost one (and only one) family member, near and dear relative or friend. The body may not be traceable. Homoeopathic remedy NATRUM MUR, potency 1000, without any repetition till the slow but sure effect is noticed.
For those who have seen many deaths in the family due to the fury of nature. If lone survivor, he (or she) sits for days weeping and crying, cannot look upon the happening philosophically (as per scriptures); asks whether this life is worth living; runs into nervous state with hands/feet quivering, trembling; loathes life and wants to die. Homoeopathic remedy AMBRA GRISEA potency 6 or 30, four times a day till relief.
For those whom God has saved but fear epidemic. Surgeons have played their part effectively and creditably; so must the men of medicines of all systems. One such pointer is given in the next column; hopefully, it would prove its merit. Homeopathic medicine PYROGEN, potency 200, a dose per week. For weak persons a dose may be needed after 4/5 days. it can co-exist with medicines of other systems. 



Powerplay brings darkness in states

WHY should the Centre be so merciful to the states which have run up hundreds of crores of Rupees as dues for consuming power from the national grid and sounding the deathknell of the state electricity boards? Won’t it be worthwhile to adopt a hard approach by cutting off power to the states so that they understand the realities and pull up their socks in reforming the critical power sector expeditiously? That poser to the youthful and energetic Union Power Minister Suresh Prabhu by Editor- ranking scribes on Wednesday evening proved to be somewhat unnerving though his bureaucrats found it amusing.

An agitated columnist insisted that the axe must fall on influential politicians, their cohorts and bureaucrats who are the biggest defaulters and refuse to settle their burgeoning electricity bills. Why should those generating power and the law abiding tax payer have to bail out these so-called high and mighty subserving themselves. Mr Prabhu, who has no doubt that the country is in for a catastrophic situation on the power front, sees no panacea for the ills if the states do not accord top priority to power sector reforms. At the end of it all, Mr Prabhu who had serious reservations about cutting off power to defaulting states was not averse to a public debate on this controversial issue. “And if there is an overwhelming opinion that defaulting states should indeed be hauled up by cutting off power, well so be it,” the minister observed. It is time the states take due note of what former Power Minister N K P Salve had observed during the first phase of liberalising the economy that “there can be no free lunch.” The underlying message was that power cannot be made available free for all time to come.

Sikhs in pawn game

The Sikh community in the Valley in Jammu and Kashmir is getting increasingly restless that the politics of Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference and the local BJP is harming their interests in the sensitive border state. With the Hindus having fled the Valley because of the militancy and extremely unsettled conditions, the Sikh community is now having serious reservations about remaining there because they feel completely let down in the face of tremendous odds. With the demography of the Valley having undergone a radical change in the last decade, the Sikh community is seriously contemplating migrating to safer pastures even though it means uprooting themselves and starting life afresh all over again.

While the National Conference is blaming the Centre for the brutal attacks against the Sikhs to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s peace initiative in Jammu and Kashmir, the Centre feels Dr Abdullah and other political parties in the state are indulging in their own one-upmanship with an eye on the Assembly elections scheduled to be held in 2002. Inexorably the Sikh community is enraged that they are unnecessarily being made scapegoats in the games being pursued by the various political formations in J and K.

Women’s year

In the year of women’s empowerment, Congress President Sonia Gandhi finds herself in a dilemma over shaking hands with two political colleagues of her own gender. Her predicament in Tamil Nadu over joining hands with Jayalalitha has been compounded ever since the PMK announced its tie-up with the AIADMK. The State Congress has come out openly against any alignment with the AIADMK with party supporters saying Sonia Gandhi had more charisma than Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu.

The problem for Sonia Gandhi doesn’t end here. The West Bengal Congress has been pressurising her to strike an alliance with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. For the Congress high command which wants to avoid any common platform with the BJP at any level, the question has proved tricky. It remains to be seen how Mrs Gandhi handles her relations with the two strong women of the South and the East. Observers recall the tact with which she convinced Mayawati to vote against the Vajpayee Government in the no confidence motion during the last term. Will she succeed this time?

Embarrassed Congress

More on the dilemma. Congressmen these days are avoiding the media. Reason? The inconvenient questions regarding Congress alliance with PMK-AIADMK and the threat of secession from its West Bengal MLAs. The Congress, it seems, was taken by surprise by the developments in Tamil Nadu and its closed-door meetings started after the PMK-AIADMK alliance was firmed up. The PCC presidents and senior leaders were urgently summoned by the Congress president to finalise its response. For the apparent brazenness shown by AIADMK chief Jayalalitha who did not consult the party before deciding to join hands with the PMK, the Congress remained unusually quiet. It did not express its unhappiness.

Surcharged minister

Finance Minister, Yashwant Sinha’s obsession with surcharge never seems to go away. Unlike his predecessors he choses the easy way out when it comes to raising resources. The contry paid a surcharge when the Kargil war broke out and now again when an earthquake has shattered Gujarat, causing losses worth more than 20,000 crore. Incidentally, imposing surcharge is nothing new for Mr Sinha. During his brief stint in North Block during Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar’s regime, citing the Gulf war, Sinha had imposed a 12.5 per cent surcharge on Income Tax. Financial observers wonder why this obsession with direct tax payers. He has been avoiding levying any imposts on indirect taxes. Is the BJP’s reputation as a traders’ party got to do anything with the surcharge FM?

— Contributed by TRR, T.V. Lakshminarayan, Gaurav Choudhury and P.N. Andley.


Fighting for freedom of Press
By Harihar Swarup

THE fight for truth in the profession of journalism is getting increasingly difficult in many Asian countries. There have been assaults on scribes and, those who dare to carry on the crusade against falsehood, run the risk of being put behind bars or even elimination by the oppressive regimes. Stephen Gan is one such Malaysian journalist who was honoured with this year’s “Press Freedom Award” instituted by the International Press Institute (IPI). The award is given for courage and independence in reporting news by a panel known as the “Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)”.

For years, as a print journalist, Stephen protested against Malaysia’s tough press restrictions with investigative report detailing alleged government abuse of power. As a reporter for Malaysian newspaper The Sun, he wrote a series of reports in 1995 on the deaths of 59 inmates in a migrant workers’ detention camp. When The Sun editor refused to print his stories for fear of arousing the government’s anger, Gan turned his articles over to a human rights group for publication.

In 1996, Amnesty International declared him as “a prisoner of conscience”. Earlier, he was arrested for reporting on the situation in East Timor. There was a conference on East Timor which he covered. Stephen says: “The conclave was broken up by a mob of government youth groups, and they tried to stop the deliberations. A lot of people were arrested and I was one of them”. Recalling his prison experience, he says: “I found it a rather pleasant experience; pleasant because at night when I climbed up the wall and looked outside the tiny window of my cell, I could see a sea of flickering lights. Hundreds of supporters ( of press freedom) were outside holding a candlelight vigil”. He wrote a piece about his days in jail but it was spiked. He resigned in protest.

Stephen was moved by the honour bestowed upon him by the IPI. His words were: “With this award, Malaysian journalist can now climb up the wall to see that there are people..standing outside (the prison wall) and.. together we shall keep the flame of the press freedom burning”. Few in India and, for that matter in Asia, know that the freedom of the press is stifled in such abashed manner in Malaysia. Sometime, one wonders if the account given by Stephen is true ?

Gan says: “In many cases the mainstream media would not report on anything that’s critical of the government simply because it is either directly or indirectly controlled by the governing political parties in Malaysia. Some of the newspapers are actually owned by the political parties, so, you know, that you won’t expect them to be critical of their own political parties”. Having worked for about three years in the mainstream media, he faced quite a number of problems fighting from within, especially against self-censorship. “It is a problem... that we have to face practically every day whether to run a certain story or not, and that’s a situation in the mainstream media”, he says.

Stephen was jobless after quitting The Sun for some time and then decided to try his luck in a new area; he set up his daily news website and named it “Malaysiakini”, meaning “Malaysia now”. This made a lot of difference because there is no censorship of websites and no licence is needed for setting up a web. He has not to worry about evoking the government’s wrath and he can be critical of the establishment. The site is now one-year old and it has expanded rapidly. Gan says : “We have started from zero to 1,20,000 visitors a day”. The website has now eight reporters on its staff.

“The Committee to Protect Journalists” feels that Gan’s website is a model for press freedom in authoritarian countries and authoritarian regimes but he says when he and like-minded scribes started the project, they never thought it could be a model. The idea was that journalists should be allowed to do their job honestly and report the truth. Stephen runs the risk of his website being shut down anytime. The police can come to his office anytime, take away the computers and arrest him but he asserts in a website interview: “We are taking risk, and we are prepared for any eventuality. When it happens, we will go underground... We can still easily set up another website. So it is not easy for the government to shut us down in that sense. As long as we are free to report, we will continue to do that”.

Stephen Gan graduated in economics in Australia in 1989, spent four years in Hong Kong as a freelance journalist, travelling extensively around Asia. He covered the Gulf war from Baghdad. He was appointed special issues Editor for The Sun in 1994 and also wrote a column “Thursday with Stephen Gan”. He had to practically battle every day with the paper’s internal censors.


Focus on quake and aid packages
By Humra Quraishi

THESE spurts of earthquakes have brought about a much needed jolt for even survivors like us. Wherever one goes the topic is that of earthquakes and the related — that is, the definite signs of the decaying times and the brittle system. And pray where is the accountability? Planeloads of donations have already arrived from Libya, UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Iraq, Israel and several other countries. Together with the fact that UNICEF has already delivered $100,000 in medical supplies and another batch worth $ 600,000 is headed for the region, together with World Food Programme releasing $ 200,000 in emergency funds to provide 300 metric tonnes of high protein biscuits to feed 100,000 people in the affected area, yet there is apprehension whether they have reached those affected. Reporters coming back from Bhuj recount stories which are complete with facts highlighting the “no-reach” apprehensions. Cynics even point out that if Ahmedabad hadn’t been Home Minister L.K. Advani’s home constituency there might even have been a delay in the aid packages to that particular city. Such is the callousness of the system and our lack of faith in those who are a crucial part of it. That we are going through abnormal times can be gauged from the fact that in spite of this national calamity, a whole line of Valentine’s Day parties are in the offing! Does the unromantic Indian male want to make up and camouflage his true colours with this ‘grab-all’ scenario, on February 14? And pray what holds him back during the rest of the year?

I write this because at the release of Kaifi Azmi’s book of poems (published by Penguin and translated by our writer-diplomat Pavan K. Varma) when Shabana Azmi read out a particular poem she also recounted an incident that when Kaifi was courting wife Shaukat he wrote to her a letter in blood (not sure whether it was drawn from his own self or that from a goat’s!) The audience went heady appreciating the spirit of romance inherent in this gesture. But do we presume that such emotions lie faded with the likes of Kaifi Azmi ? Or if they were indeed alive, our youth and the real men would have headed for Kutch and held out a promise for the affected. Before moving ahead the Kaifi Azmi poetry evening held out another little hope — a faint hope that maybe Urdu gets revived. For, as Shabana read out one poem after another (matched by Varma reading out the translated lines) the beauty of the language with all its poignancy so apparent. A pity it lies under the rubble of the communal dirt of Indian politics. After all, a language, like a race cannot be confined to one particular community and as Suhail Hashmi had pointed out last year (just before the Indo -Pakistan mushaira had commenced here) that Urdu was indeed a language developed from the other languages of the day (Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic etc) so that the then rulers could communicate with the masses. Maybe today’s rulers don’t really want to communicate with us !

Don’t know whether it’s good news or not?

With longevity on the rise there are old -age related health problems bound to be coming up. And of course not to miss, another set of medical experts who would invariably cash in on this need. No fantasy but last weekend a team of medical experts launched here in New Delhi, the so called Geriatric programme for India . “Life-expectancy has shot up from 38 to 68 years. Now there are over 100 million people in India over the age of 60 years and this number will continue to grow. Since birth rates have dropped, the percentage of older people in the population is also rapidly increasing and will soon be 10% of the total population ...the infrastructure to take care of the medical needs of this vast number of people is not adequate. So far there is only one university in India , which is awarding postgraduate degree in Geriatrics — the science of old age medicines — and Dr O.P. Sharma the General Secretary of Geriatric Society of India has brought out the first book on geriatrics in this country..” Needless to add that once again it will be the affluent who will be able to take care of their old age related diseases. Amen ! is all that I can very spontaneously chant for all those already included in the old age bracket and the middle-aged us , advancing towards it. For in India, unlike most European countries the old are left to fend for themselves with no state support and hardly any family support — afterall don’t we ape the West in all that’s pathetic! This brings me to write that last week I was left rather impressed by actress Tanuja’s one liner — “learn to be in love with yourself, the rest follows ... learn to give time to yourself , think about your priorities nothing else matters , for believe me if you are not happy then what’s the point..” Yes, she looked good , carefree and, mind you, this when she stays alone and has quit acting “I have other interests and I love myself, I love life..” I liked her attitude, her philosophy, her bluntness. Though I met her for the very first time she smiled and opened up as though we’d known each other for years. I strongly suggest that on this Valentine’s Day fall in love with yourself and the rest will fall in place —including those useless patriarchs who have embedded into us, the idea that to make time for oneself is sinful.

Finally, more on Kargil!

Believe me there’s another book coming on Kargil warfare or whatever it was termed (Yes now, after a year , on February 22!) and after Brajesh Mishra gets over with giving a talk and releasing the book he would get busy with the release of a set of three books on his father — the late D.P. Mishra. This set of three will be released by the Prime Minister on February 24 evening, at his residence. 

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