Tuesday, October 2, 2001, Chandigarh, India





THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


EDITORIALS

Madhavrao Scindia
T
O be 56 and close to the pinnacle of political power and yet die a fiery death — it is unthinkably grotesque but shockingly true in the case of Madhavrao Scindia. The Congress will take years to get over the trauma, if at all. He was so very unusual.

Purchased silence
T
HE news that Gen Pervez Musharraf bought several religious leaders over with hefty sums of money to keep a low profile on street demonstrations against the military government's decision to support American action makes interesting reading.

Penalised for good work
T
HERE are striking similarities in the career graph of the displaced Ludhiana Municipal Commissioner, Mr Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, and the controversial former Commissioner of the Pune Municipal Corporation, Mr Arun Bhatia. During his term as Municipal Commissioner of a decaying and congested city of Punjab Mr Sandhu earned the respect of the average citizen by attempting to improve the civic amenities of Ludhiana.


 

EARLIER ARTICLES

UN bans terrorism
October 1
, 2001
Kairon: Punjabi dynamism, American accent, lasting legacy
September 30
, 2001
India on the sidelines
September 29
, 2001
Dominant thinking in USA
September 28
, 2001
Shedding staff flab
September 27
, 2001
Proof muddle
September 26
, 2001
Have pity on civilians
September 25
, 2001
Terrorism in Kashmir
September 24
, 2001
First war of 21st century to combat terrorism
September 23
, 2001
Out goes Jayalalithaa
September 22
, 2001
Musharraf’s confession
September 21
, 2001
Another pious ideal
September 20
, 2001
 
OPINION

Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of India
Alas, untruth has become our credo
Poonam I. Kaushish
“I
T'S a week of ironies. At one end, war clouds gather on the horizon as superpower USA flexes its muscle. At the other, India pays homage to the apostle of peace, Gandhi,” exclaimed a schoolgirl. “Which Gandhi? There are so many”, asked her brother.

REALPOLITIK

Don’t ignore warning signals
P. Raman
W
ITH everyone remaining glued to George Bush’s war against Bin Laden, Delhi’s political establishment finds it convenient to ignore all the unpleasant warning signals on the home front. Politicians are not the kind who easily give in to setbacks. Whether in government or opposition, they have an alibi for every defeat. 

It’s always been a single issue
Kathryn Hughes
T
HE New York Times recently carried a piece that went straight to the heart of the new century’s biggest moral panic, at least after terrorism: single women. According to the report, any man who ventures out after dark is no longer safe from the female gangs who roam Manhattan’s bars and nightclubs, looking for cute men to come on to.

75 YEARS AGO


Next examination in November

Shimla
The Staff Selection Board have decided to hold an examination at Simla and Delhi, beginning on the 29th November, to make a list of candidates qualified for employment in the Imperial Secretariat and its attached officers.


TRENDS & POINTERS

Night shift puts stress on body
S
hift work may lead to an increased risk of heart disease — as well as causing fatigue and disrupting sleep patterns and social life, Dutch scientists have said. They believe working at night puts excess stress on the body, which can cause abnormal heart rhythms and a greater susceptibility to heart attacks and stroke.

  • Britons most miserable in Europe

  • They don’t feel pain

SPIRITUAL NUGGETS

Top





 

Madhavrao Scindia

TO be 56 and close to the pinnacle of political power and yet die a fiery death — it is unthinkably grotesque but shockingly true in the case of Madhavrao Scindia. The Congress will take years to get over the trauma, if at all. He was so very unusual. He had 30 years of unbroken parliamentary experience, rich administrative grasp and an astute mind for political strategy. There was more. Oxford-educated (he was always deeply grateful to his mother for sending him there, even at the height of his troubled relations with her), he brought fresh air to the stuffy provincial politics of Madhya Pradesh. He was an authentic secularist; he could not have been otherwise with his modern mind and liberal values. That is why when he attacked communalism and its votaries he was not fighting a political battle but expressing his disgust at the revival of medieval passions. True, he entered the Lok Sabha in 1971 as a Bhartiya Jana Sangh nominee; it was easy since the Gwalior constituency was but an extension of the rajwada, Indira wave or not. It took him a few years to realise that he was in wrong company and began to gravitate towards the Congress. His mother took an opposite route, which led to a parting of ways. That was the only time he ever rebelled but his was ideology motivated and not because of a personality clash. Scindia’s clean image owed to two fortuitous factors. He had his own funds to fight elections and nurse his constituency. So he never became part of any lobby of the big business or other interests. Two, not being a flamboyant playboy, he could manage his affairs without dipping into tainted money and without provoking gossipy news reports.

Even die-hard anti-Congress thinkers will grieve over Scindia’s death. If they juxtapose his political behaviour and transparency with those of most of the other netas, it will become apparent that he was perhaps the last link with the titans of the freedom movement and the parliamentarians of the first two decades of independence. Decent, soft-spoken and with a popular base of his own. Not many can boast of these strengths. In a political system so thoroughly dominated by very senior citizens, there are only a few – they can be counted on one’s fingers — who are comparatively young, talented, popular and gifted. The death of one of them is a big loss. But if three of them die within 15 months it is a serious blow. Rajesh Pilot, Rangarajan Kumaramangalam and now Madhavrao Scindia. When a younger leader dies a very old man benefits. It is a deeply disturbing thought.
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Purchased silence

THE news that Gen Pervez Musharraf bought several religious leaders over with hefty sums of money to keep a low profile on street demonstrations against the military government's decision to support American action makes interesting reading. These demonstrations have fizzled out without the authorities having to crack down on them in a telltale manner. But there is nothing new about such underhand deals in Pakistan. The ISI has been using this trick for long while hiring "volunteers" from religious seminaries. Many clerics are reported to act like commission agents while providing brainwashed foot soldiers. Similarly, money collected from the gullible public in the name of "jehad" is flagrantly misused, with no questions asked. In fact, misleading the people in the name of religion has become a multi-million rupee venture. Since the Pakistani governments have been an accomplice in this type of activities, there is no question of any action being taken. It remains to be seen whether the smaller groups who have not been showered with similar largesse will raise a stink or whether they too will fall silent after getting their pound of flesh. Present indications are that the second possibility is likely to prevail. Cash and gifts flowing in from the USA will come in handy in buying silence. To that extent, General Musharraf is right in claiming that there are no terrorists in Pakistan. There are only paid soldiers indulging in terrorism worldwide.

The roles of the government, terrorists and clerics overlap so intricately in Pakistan that it is not possible to distinguish one from the other. That is why the Northern Alliance of Afghanistan has been warning the USA and other western countries not to depend on Pakistani help. The argument is that Islamabad would continue to pretend to be helping the global fight against rabid fundamentalism, but would weaken it from within. This assessment has been buttressed by another source. In an interview to a British paper, a former bodyguard of Taliban supreme commander Mullah Mohammed Omar says that the Taliban is full of Pakistanis. Being an insider Hafiz Sadiqulla Hassani paints a true picture of the situation in Afghanistan. He narrates instances of pillage and rape and says: "We laughed when we heard the Americans asking Mullah Omar to hand over Laden. The Americans are crazy. It's Osama bin Laden who can hand over Mullah Omar — not the other way round.” In a similar fashion, Pakistan has the lead role in this topsy-turvy drama instead of a bit part.Top

 

 

Penalised for good work

THERE are striking similarities in the career graph of the displaced Ludhiana Municipal Commissioner, Mr Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, and the controversial former Commissioner of the Pune Municipal Corporation, Mr Arun Bhatia. During his term as Municipal Commissioner of a decaying and congested city of Punjab Mr Sandhu earned the respect of the average citizen by attempting to improve the civic amenities of Ludhiana. Mr Bhatia had become the most respected officer in Maharashtra for doing much the same for the residents of Pune. However, most upright officers have certain common flaws. They do not make any distinction between politicians and ordinary citizens in the matter of applying the provisions of the law. Mr Bhatia showed rare courage by personally supervising the demolition of most illegal structures in Pune. Most of them belonged to powerful politicians or their henchmen. That is why he earned the wrath of the politicians and respect of the citizens. In a democracy politicians exercise the powers given to them by the people. Unhappily they do not think twice about betraying the trust reposed in them by the electorate. Mr Bhatia was given an innocuous department for daring to be a fair and upright officer who made "Mahmood and Ayaz" stand in the same queue. Mr Sandhu must have known that he too would not last long as Municipal Commissioner of Ludhiana because he was trying to follow in the footsteps of the Khairnars, the Kiran Bedis and the Bhatias.

He was given the marching orders by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal because he dared to order the demolition of a part of the Durga Mata Mandir constructed on encroached government land. Of course, Mr Badal is a typical politician who cannot rise above the petty limitations of playing to the gallery. A fair political leader would have praised Mr Sandhu for showing the courage of conviction to have most illegal structures knocked down even if they included a portion of a mandir built on government land. However, narrow political consideration evidently prompted the Chief Minister to send Mr Sandhu out of Ludhiana. The haste with which the decision to transfer him was taken is evident from the fact that the Ludhiana Deputy Commissioner has been given temporary charge of the municipal corporation. It is obvious that the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition would be looking for a more pliable officer for taking over as Municipal Commissioner of Ludhiana!
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Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of India
Alas, untruth has become our credo
Poonam I. Kaushish

“IT'S a week of ironies. At one end, war clouds gather on the horizon as superpower USA flexes its muscle. At the other, India pays homage to the apostle of peace, Gandhi,” exclaimed a schoolgirl. “Which Gandhi? There are so many”, asked her brother. “Silly, I mean the one for whom we get a school holiday every year on October 2.” This is how today’s generation knows and remembers the Mahatma. More or less the same is true of another great leader, Lal Bahadur Shastri. But before one jumps to any conclusion, there is a flip side. Of another Gandhi who is worshipped and is greatly missed. A leader who symbolised ruthlessness and defiant exercise of power. Who else but Indira. Elevated to the status of Durga for her resolve, strength and patriotism. So what if she demolished democratic institutions to achieve her goals? Witness the stark difference. Over 30,000 people throng her memorial at 1 Safdarjung Road every day and a mere 5,000 visit Rajghat, Gandhi Smriti in New Delhi.

How far removed are we today from Bapu’s vision of India, post-independence, his idea of simple living and high thinking, his sense of right and wrong and his value system. Isn’t it a natural reaction from a politically, socially and morally bankrupt nation, even as a debased and pulverised people stand by as mute spectators?

If ahimsa, or call it soul force, cast a Mahatma’s halo around him universally, himsa has become the universal truth for our society. Wherein Gandhi’s teachings have been reduced to mere straws that fly about in the election wind, courtesy our parochial leaders. Pious platitudes and inane speeches to paint a halo round their heads. The fire and zeal across the nation to come out in response to Gandhi’s “do-or-die” slogan died an early death. Replaced by a rent-a-crowd brought by chartered buses to election rallies. Might is right, after all.

Bringing things to such a ludicrous pass that Gandhi seems an alien from a different planet. Pointedly brought home by Dr N. Radhakrishan, Director Gandhi Smriti: “Gandhi was considered a saint, while Indira was a powerful human being. Rajghat is more about spirituality and Indians today are more bothered about survival”. True, one can relate better to Indira than to Gandhi. She represented us with all our weakness, foibles, complex et al, whereas Gandhi was a person too good and saintly to be true, a living God. Perhaps, we see a bit of ourselves in Indira while Gandhi makes us feel small and holds a mirror to our weakness. Naturally, the human mind can relate to one but abhors the other. However, that is not the only logical explanation.

More pertinent is the fact that Indians don’t want to debunk Gandhi. It would be crazy to do so when the whole world is looking to him as a guide for a better world. It’s just that the people are not ready to take on his perpetrators. One, because we have tended to become immoral, unethical and even corrupt ourselves. Two, with abject poverty around, who has time for Gandhi? The struggle for roti, kapada aur makaan is what matters. Besides, it is so easy to be complacent than retaliate. Gripped as we are in the tentacles of ki pharak painda hai (what difference does it make) attitude. Whither our self-esteem, pride and nationalism?

Where are the Gandhian leaders? Genuine leaders of the people and genuinely from the people. “Let them not arrogate to themselves greater knowledge than those who have unrivalled experience but do not happen to occupy their chair,” said Gandhi. Today, it is a kissa kursi ka every day. Politicians are only for themselves, good governance be damned. Political survival alone matters. To grab any office they can. To loot government funds. To kill their rivals or get killed. Their hierarchy of status gauged by the gun-toting commandos surrounding them. Funny, isn’t it, that our leaders need strong protection from the very janata they are supposed to represent and serve!

Yet, the show must go on. Today, October 2, at the crack of dawn a smattering of leaders led us to Rajghat — the Samadhi of freedom. With beatific smiles even as they inwardly cursed the time wasted. Respectfully offered flower petals. Folded their hands. Observed two minutes’ silence. Caught the eyes of the TV cameras. Duty performed, they rushed back to their airconditioned cars. Heading to their next destination. To go through the ritual again — this time before the Mahatma’s statue, bust or portrait. The VOPs (Very Ordinary Persons), meanwhile, patiently await their turn — both at Rajghat and elsewhere. Anxious to pay their sincere and respectful homage. Opportunity comes only when the strains of the latest disco tunes from FM Radio have faded and the security barricades removed.

“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be shuttered. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about freely. I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. Mine is not a religion of the prison house. It has room for the least of God’s creations. But it is proof against insolent pride of race, religion or colour,” he said in his autobiography ‘Experiments with Truth’. Gandhi’s whole life was devoted to a search for truth. His life was his message. Like the three monkeys on his desk — each with its own message. Speak no evil, hear no evil, and see no evil. Today apes and parrots have replaced the monkeys. They speak no truth, hear no truth and see no truth.

Take politicians, Gandhi wanted them to be like Caesar’s wife — above suspicion in everything. Ministers, he said, “should not live as ‘sahib log’ or use for private work facilities provided by the government for official duties.” Nothing could be farther from the truth today. Yesterday’s princes have been replaced by Ministers, and MPs, interested solely in the power, pelf and perks of office.

Depressingly, no where does ideology, principles, party interests or policies even rhetorically figure in our netagans’ vocabulary. In the past, the leaders at least used to camouflage their intentions is ideological garbage. Today, even that fig leaf of verbosity has been discarded. There is only one laksh these days: “gaddi rakho, paisa pakro”. Power and money at any cost. The country and its democracy can go to hell.

Turncoats? They see themselves as winners. For there are no rules of the game. You make your own rules. The doctors of all trades. Experts in doctoring facts. At various election rallies, our netagan emphasise a return to Gandhian values. “Our life styles must change. Vulgar, conspicuous consumption must go. Simplicity, efficiency and commitment to national goals hold the key to self reliance!” Welcome brave words which weaken with each passing day.

And what does not make of politicians for whom key to self reliance is efficiency in cover jobs. Who have shed their idealistic cloaks former to become emperors with no clothes. It really doesn’t matter if a former BJP President is caught live on TV accepting a bribe? Or if the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa is forced to resign by the Supreme Court. Or if the UTI Chairman quits over the stock market scam, what to say of the Army Generals indicted by Tehelka’s Operation armsgate. Nor if George Fernandes continues to drool: “I am no crook”. For there has never been an instance in history when a Minister, MP or MLA has been jailed. While ordinary pick-pockets languish in the dungeon.

In our days of slavery, we had come to believe that independent was the panacea for all ills — social, economic and political. For that we paid the supreme price of India’s partition. But we have not yet learnt that the three Cs (crime, corruption and communalism) can be highly damaging for unity even if it gets one the vote banks. If the widening communal divide mirrors the deep crevices in national consensus and our secular image, the depredations of criminals and mafia dons provide proof that our social polity is now gripped by cancerous tentacles. What has been left in its wake are moral degradation and decadence. And the game goes on.

And, what should one say about India’s secular credentials? Which have been dissected, butchered and roasted to suit political convenience and tactics. Unfortunately, the secularism advocated by the founding fathers has got greatly diluted to mere “ism” and slogans. Carrying it to such absurd limits that one even witnesses walkouts over the rendering of Saraswati Vandana. Clearly, a day is not far whan Mahatma Gandhi’s call for Ram Rajya will be dissected and debunked as the outpouring of a rabid Hindu fundamentalist. This is the secular reality of India’s “420 secularism”.

In the final analysis what should one day of a polity that swears in the name of Mahatma Gandhi but doesn’t heed him. “Today I am your leader but tomorrow you may have to put me behind bars because I will criticise you, if you do not bring about Ram Rajya,” he said. We did not put him behind bars. Instead, we murdered him — and continue to do so daily. Our experiments with untruth!
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Don’t ignore warning signals
P. Raman

WITH everyone remaining glued to George Bush’s war against Bin Laden, Delhi’s political establishment finds it convenient to ignore all the unpleasant warning signals on the home front. Politicians are not the kind who easily give in to setbacks. Whether in government or opposition, they have an alibi for every defeat. And bureaucracy can always provide the right statistics to cover up the worst conditions on the ground.

Right this week, Arun Shourie, himself a former editor, charged the mediapersons with indulging in “allegation mongering”. This happened at Guwahati during his briefing. Now the Prime Minister himself dismisses all elaborate accounts of starvation deaths and famine in various parts of the country as pure misreporting. At a public meeting, he chided the media for such wrong “presentation of facts before the international community”. He quotes the official reports with him to prove that the families of the dead persons had with them as much as 16 kg BPL rice.

Moreover, the Oriya who had sold two kids for Rs 1,100 was the owner of three acres of land and had Rs 16,000 fixed deposit in banks. This is what happens when even the most down-to-earth politicians get entangled in the bureaucratic cobweb. Cut off from the grassroots, alienated from the middle-level workers of one’s own party and a constant fear of political insecurity make them blind to realities. When things go wrong and popular verdicts go against, even the well-meaning friends will be viewed with suspicion. It is sad if Vajpayee is irretrievably moving towards this power syndrome.

Take the case of the dying Oriya’s rice stocks. This is typical of the bureaucratic reports. Every social worker and NGO working in famine areas knows that mortgaging of the ration cards for a specific period in return for a couple of rupees is the most common practice in such areas. The officials will never tell the Chief Minister or the Prime Minister that the 16 kg BPL rice had actually drained into a middleman’s shop. The family owning three acres is a similar cruel joke on the starving villagers. About the FD in bank, the money was recently deposited partly by the government and partly by an NGO as compensation for a family member’s starvation death. The orphans could draw only the interest.

Intolerance of genuine criticism, refusal to take note of the changing public mood and the inability to make the necessary course correction mark a dangerous stage in the life of the ruling establishments in India. As in biological life, the political process too has its own cycle of growth, peak and trough depending on the ability of the respective ruling group. A more comfortable majority in the legislature can make the rulers more arrogant and non-responsive to public feelings. Barring the runaway return of the NDA in 1999, no government at the Centre could break this jinx during the past decade and a half.

In states, the survival has been still rare. Apart from the unparalleled record of the Left Front in West Bengal for about a quarter of a century, only Chief Ministers like Digvijay Singh, Chandrababu Naidu and the artful politician Laloo Prasad Yadav could break this nasty syndrome. Initially, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat could perform the miracle for the BJP. But it was mainly due to his manipulative skills in winning over the elected members. He too finally fell victim to what is often described as incumbency factors. No other BJP chief minister has been able to achieve even this. Each one of them has been either removed by the BJP ‘high command’ due to faction fights or fell to the popular ire.

True, Laloo has his own inimitable political style and game plans. Unlike Bihar TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu and Madhya Pradesh Congress Chief Minister Digvijay Singh have to sustain their constant fight for survival using the conventional political tools against their own conventional opponents. Both the relatively young Chief Ministers have initiated several novel, often controversial, social and administrative programmes. They have been ever alert on keeping their organisational machinery well oiled. But none of these can perhaps explain their survival. Their very success in public opinion management calls for deeper studies.

Our experience has been that as in war, it is rather easier to capture a state than retaining the gains. It seems to have assumed a clear pattern. The first stage — of honeymoon — wherein the voters give considerable leeway to the newly elected rulers to perform, lasts a year or two, depending on factors like the performance and the level of cohesion within the establishment. Byelections held during this first stage always reflect the earlier voting pattern. In 1999 Lok Sabha elections, it was this unfinished honeymoon with the people — rather than the Kargil “victory” — that had facilitated Vajpayee’s triumphant return with an improved majority.

As the public opinion polls by the friendly journals revealed later, had the midterm poll taken place even 15 months later, things would have been different. This mid-year, the same pollsters found Sonia Gandhi has already reached the ‘striking distance’. Unfortunately, the ruling parties invariably take the people’s support at the first stage as an endorsement of their overrated self-importance and the inability of the routed opposition to make dent into their popular base. This makes the chief ministers and their cliques more arrogant, more isolated from the ruling party workers and more dependent on the bureaucracy.

This is the ripe moment for the sycophants, coteries and lobbies to assert their sway in the inner circles at the expense of the genuine party workers. At this stage, even the best democrat among the Chief Ministers falls for the power of maya. This is also the time for the ugly show of factionalism and personalised functioning both of which are sure prescription for non-governance. From there begins electoral setbacks and subsequent demands for change of leadership. In the past, late induction of a new Chief Minister after the popular disenchantment with the government has set in, has failed to help change the public mood.

This is the political paradigm on which one has to assess the implications of the latest byelection results. In the normal course, such stray polls do not reveal much. But this time the results fully confirm the grim political trends that had been earlier highlighted by the civic and municipal elections — even university polls. Though the BJP has only retained its stronghold, the Rajasthan results conclusively mark the end of Ashok Gehlot’s honeymoon stage. Unpopular power reform and frustration with the government’s functioning have cost the Congress badly.

For the Congress, the best news comes from Gujarat, where the new results have further confirmed the BJP’s steady decline in its ‘model’ state. The ruling party has suffered humiliating reversals even in L.K. Advani’s safe constituency. With just 16 months left for the Assembly elections, imposition of a new Chief Minister will only ensure a still bitter faction war. The UP experiment has shown the ineffectiveness of a last minute surgery. Everywhere the message is loud and clear. An electoral sweep in contemporary India is essentially a negative expression of the people’s disenchantment with the outgoing regime. It is time for the Vajpayee government, already losing ground in state after state even before it reached its midterm, to draw the right lessons.Top

 

It’s always been a single issue
Kathryn Hughes

THE New York Times recently carried a piece that went straight to the heart of the new century’s biggest moral panic, at least after terrorism: single women. According to the report, any man who ventures out after dark is no longer safe from the female gangs who roam Manhattan’s bars and nightclubs, looking for cute men to come on to.

Thirty-fiveish, done up to the nines and supremely confident about who they are (they even wear those name chains which actress Sarah Jessica Parker has implausibly managed to make stylish), these women pat, pinch and mock their chosen prey in a way that is upsetting the male punters.

So much so that the blocky security guys who patrol these high-spending public spaces are receiving instructions from the management “to get rid of The Sex and the City types” who are making the men-and their credit cards-so uncomfortable.

In the UK, too, there is a matching frenzy about single women rampaging out of control. Many restaurants and nightclubs now specifically ban hen nights, while allowing stag events to continue unabated. Apparently men’s rituals of transgression are quaint and muted, involving nothing more alarming than one pint of Kingfisher too many. Women’s episodes of misrule, by contrast, are said to involve so much noise, bad behaviour and aggressive sexual display that even the male waiting staff have been known to complain.

According to Bridget Hill, author of “Women Alone” (Yale University Press), there is nothing new about these kinds of stories. As early as the seventeenth century there were reports of single women roaming the countryside at night in unruly bands, causing mayhem and terror among all those right-minded people safely tucked up in the security of marriage. And just as now, these tales of scary spinsters were all the more powerful because the empirical evidence on which they were based was actually pretty slight.

Throughout history, anecdotal stories about out-of-control single women have achieved a life of their own, quickly establishing themselves as social myths with roots that dig deep into collective terrors and desire. The Observer
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Next examination in November

Shimla
The Staff Selection Board have decided to hold an examination at Simla and Delhi, beginning on the 29th November, to make a list of candidates qualified for employment in the Imperial Secretariat and its attached officers. The list will be composed of 12 candidates for employment in the first Division, 35 for the second Division and 75 for employment as typists and routine clerks. It may be added that with effect from the next month, the Staff Selection Board will work under the Public Services Commission
Top

 
TRENDS & POINTERS

Night shift puts stress on body

Shift work may lead to an increased risk of heart disease — as well as causing fatigue and disrupting sleep patterns and social life, Dutch scientists have said.

They believe working at night puts excess stress on the body, which can cause abnormal heart rhythms and a greater susceptibility to heart attacks and stroke.

A comparative study of 400 shift workers and 400 day-time employees showed that people who worked irregular hours had more abnormal heart beats or premature ventricular complexes (PVC).

“Everybody has them now and then but in the shift workers they were more common,” said Evert Schouten, an epidemiologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

“It may indicate that something is going on in the regulation of the heart by the autonomic nervous system in people who are working shifts,” he added in a telephone interview. The autonomic nervous system regulates bodily functions other than voluntary movement and conscious sensation.

Schouten and Ludovic van Amelsvoort of Maastricht University compared the heart rhythms of employees who had worked a year on night shifts with those who stayed on the day shift. “The incidence of PVC increased significantly in shift workers over the one-year follow-up,” the researchers said in the journal Occupational and Environmental Health.

Schouten and his colleagues suspect that although the workers altered their sleep pattern, their hearts continued to work on a 24-hour clock and did not recognise the change.

Smoking, drinking coffee and body mass can affect the number of irregular heartbeats, but the scientists said the changes they noticed could not be explained by these factors and were due to the change in work patterns. “It might be that working at night acts as a chronic stressor,” they said in the journal.

Shift work also disturbs circadian rhythms, the body’s internal clock which influences functions ranging from sleep to hormone response to jet lag. Other research has shown that airline pilots, truck drivers and rail workers are more likely to suffer from heart disease because of the stress, tension and shift work their jobs involve. Shift workers are also more tired and make more mistakes at night.

The Dutch scientists said the unfavourable changes should be regarded as a potentially important factor in the relation between shift work and the increased risk of heart disease. Reuters

Britons most miserable in Europe

Britons are the most miserable people in Europe, and the Spanish the least depressed, according to a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. Cities in Britain and Ireland top a European league table for rates of depression.

The report — the first from a major European study of depression — found women are more likely to be depressed than men, particularly those living in towns and cities. DPA

They don’t feel pain

Two brothers in Taiwan are the first persons on the island to be diagnosed with a rare condition that prevents them from feeling physical pain and unable to sweat.

The 19-year-old brothers were diagnosed as having congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis (CIPA), the United Daily News has said.

The nervous system of people with CIPA is unable to register pain and those afflicted with it often do not notice if they sustain injuries.

The brothers grew up unaware of their condition, despite frequent bone fractures their lack of sweat during the island’s hot summer months. During operations they also surprised doctors by not needing any anaesthetics.

Scientists believe a mutation in the TrkA (Tyrosine kinase receptor A) gene causes the disorder, for which currently there is no known cure. DPA
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Charity

If ye disclose (acts of) charity,

Even so

It is well,

But if ye conceal them,

And make them reach

Those (really) in need,

That is bet for you.

***

Those who (in charity)

Spend of their goods

By night and by day,

In secret and in public,

Have their reward

With their Lord

***

Kind words

And covering of faults

Are better then charity

Followed by injury.

— The Quran, 2:271; 2:274; 2:263.

***

Have charity towards all beings.

Pity those who are in distress.

Love all creatures.

Do not be jealous of anyone.

Look not to the faults of others.

— The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda,

***

Abu Zar Ghifari, the companion of Prophet Mohammed reported that the Prophet, while he was sitting under the shade of the wall of the Kabah said, “They are the losers”.

Abu Zar enquired, “Who are they, O Messenger of God?”

The Prophet replied: “Those who pile up heaps of wealth and (pointing in all directions with his hands) do not spend like this...”

— Farida Khanam, “The Concept of Charity in Islam”

***

Service is the pathway to truth, to God, as every virtuous deed of the sadhaka (devotee) turns out to be an act of archana (worship); it is like offering an oblation to humanity in the karamakshetra or the world... Let service flow from our being as fragrance comes out of a flower. Let love be the overriding principle of our lives, as all existence is just “our own self mignified.

— “Substratum of Service: The Hindu Perspective”. Paper read at Assembly of the World’s Religions
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