Friday, March 21, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi



For secular peace, look within

It is extremely pleasing to see that the quality of letters on the Editor’s Mail page is steadily going up and letters on topical social, economic and political issues are being published. Special mention needs to be made about the feedback from readers about inter- and intra-religious issues where the letters published are written with finesse and restraint and seldom cross the borderline of controversy. The debate on these issues was set into motion by a statement of RSS chief Sudershan that the Sikhs are Hindus and is now on to whether the Sikh religion is casteless. The strong feelings of protagonists and antagonists on these subjects reminded me a refreshingly ingenious statement of an eminent scientist, Prof. Yashpal, during the course of his lecture on the subject of synthesis of science and religion at a local college a few years back. He said that all religions are like a toothpaste which cleanses the soul but the problems start when these are branded and are attempted to be marketed as one as good as the other or even sometimes in a subtle or blatant manner as better than the others.

The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) chief, Mr Ashok Singhal, on his visit to Amritsar a few years back had called a meeting of what was described as of the educated and intellectuals. I had put some questions and posers to him. I asked him that ever since the VHP started its campaign of unifying Hindus under its flag, a sizable number of Hindus have elected to stand apart from you and have started using words like Manuvad and Brahminvad as pejoratives. How does the VHP plan to assuage them and bring them back? The VHP’s dialectical exposition that Sikhs are Hindus is inviting stringent denials from the Sikh clergy and masses. Why is the VHP paying attention to the other religions rather than introspecting about the social evils and ritualistic stigmas in the Hindu society where at the top of list is the painful fact that marriage ceremonies are becoming more and more extravagant and ostentatious? If you collect data of those undergoing imprisonments or prosecutions for bride-burnings, almost all the guilty and accused are Hindus or Sikhs. All Mr Singhal could do was to give polemic or evasive replies with solutions suspended in the timeless zone.


Now coming to my Sikh brethren who say that they are not Hindus, while I respect their views but I would like to bring to their notice a ground reality. Hundreds of thousands of Sikh income-tax payers are claiming the status of Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) which entitles one person to file two tax returns claiming basic exemption, relief, deductions etc twice over. Even Jat Sikhs went up to the full bench of the Punjab & Haryana High Court in Pritam Singh’s case cited at 103 ITR 66 where the ratio laid down by the high court was that Jats are governed by the Mitakshara school of Hindu law. The then high-ups in the SGPC and the Akali Dal were successfully able to persuade Morarji Desai that the department should not file an appeal against this judgement to the Supreme Court. I think it is a matter to be pondered over whether the claim of HUF status is a matter of tax convenience or of conviction.

Looking at the customs and usage prevalent in different religions in India, it is not possible for any one of them to say that it is casteless. You do not have to go farther than the matrimonial ads in different papers to see how each ad specifically mentions religion, caste and even sub-caste or gotra and invites proposals from the similar ones. Even those few who announce that caste or creed is no bar are more often than not widows, widowers or divorcees.

I am sure that many would agree with me that the best way to ensure secular peace, equanimity and harmony is for each person to practise his religious beliefs within the sanctum santorum of his heart where all religions say He resides.

R.C. Khanna, Amritsar

Misconceived loyalty

Newspapers have carried advertisements inserted by various departments, corporations or the Government of Punjab highlighting certain aspects about the wonderful performance since the Congress Government took over the state.

The advertisements proudly display a photograph of Mrs Sonia Gandhi along with a slogan under the inspiring and able guidance of Mrs Sonia Gandhi”.

Whereas it may be absolutely correct to display the photograph of Mrs Sonia Gandhi and the remarks of “inspiring leadership,” but to say with the “able guidance” may be construed as arrogant for the bureaucrats, politicians and the public of Punjab.

I suppose the bureaucracy and politicians of Punjab are mature enough to provide a dynamic and better administration than the one visualised by Mrs Sonia Gandhi by remote control.

Col KARAMINDER SINGH (retd), Patiala

Chandigarh: a jinxed city

Apropos of Mr V.N. Datta’s middle “A visit to Chandigarh” (March 12), having stayed in Chandigarh as a student of Panjab University for four years, I have the following observations to make:

Chandigarh has a good geography but no history. Its famous three Ss are- stony, sleepy and sunny.

Another popular comment about Chandigarh is: it is a city of “safed dahrian, harryan jharian and Shivalik paharian.

It’s a jinked city. Ever since it has come into being, it has remained wrapped in some controversy or conflict. Not only the city, even citizens are stone-hearted.

Looking at Chandigarh, you feel India is still under foreign rule.The city is open, but the inhabitants are not.It would not be improper to say:

“Ek foreign architect ne banakar haseen Chandigarh

Bhartiya sabhyata ka udaaya hai mazak”

Finally, it’s a city without soul but a project with a hole.

K.J.S. AHLUWALIA, Amritsar

Pathron ka shehar ?

This refers to V.N. Datta’s piece “A visit to Chandigarh” (March 12). Professor Datta’s observations on Chandigarh as a casual visitor are highly insightful. He rightly feels uneasy in the city on account of its timeless symmetry, monotony, and its oppressive silence, despite its openness and idyllic setting. Only one who has lived long enough there can comment on its “real character, its spirit”, as rightly observed by Professor Datta.

I have lived for about six years at a stretch in Chandigarh. It has no character, no spirit. In fact, it is a city without a soul. As compared to the tumult, noise and fast pace of a city like Delhi, I found the peace of Chandigarh quite serene in the beginning. However, to my great horror, it turned out to be a peace of the graveyard. It is a city where nothing happens except the crippling routine of its babus and the intrigues of politicians and bureaucrats.

Chandigarh is the least suitable as a capital either for Punjab or Haryana. Punjab has several towns suitable for its capital and Haryana should develop a new town for the purpose. Chandigarh should continue as a Union Territory and should be developed as a centre for education, seminars, conferences etc for the country as a whole. However, this is not going to happen. The ruling elites of both states have a vested interest in the status quo. It is a safe haven for them where they lead their esoteric existence safely away from the prying eyes of the populace.


Flame of forest

This refers to “Flame of forest” (March 10). The writer , Mr K.L. Noatay, has named Gulmohar as the “flame of the forest” whereas, in fact, it is the “Dhak” (technical name: Butea-monosperma) which is known as the “flame of the forest”.

The writer further states that “the tree is named Gulmohar because its flowers look like “gul” (rose) and the leaf spread appears like the feathers of a “mor” (peacock). Actually, “gul” means a flower, not rose.

I may add that under North Indian conditions Gulmohar is highly susceptible to frost and in case of a new plant, the survival rate is quite low. Moreover, a fully grown-up tree starts declining after after 8-10 years of the plantation. So it is no more a top class ornamental tree and its plantation should be discouraged.

S.P.S. DOSANJH, ex-landscapist, PAU, Jalandhar

Cut in interest rates

It was refreshing to hear the Union Finance Minister saying that his conscience-searching exercise convinced him that he was not rigid about his views. Hence the rollback of the urea price hike (March 12).

I would like the FM to do some similar soul-searching on reduction of interest rates by one per cent. He has used his knife so callously that the reduction was made effective from 1st March rather than the customary 1st April, thus depriving the small investors an opportunity to reshuffle their saving portfolios. Pray, how is this cut going to benefit the country? Already, the interest rate at 9 per cent was too low as compared to 12 per cent only two years back.

The small savers, who eke out their sustenance from interest income alone, will now have no option but to divert their hard-earned money to private money lenders/financiers etc who no doubt offer better interest rates but the security and liquidity of capital in their hands is always doubtful. Numerous investors fall victim to their evil machinations every year. The government having withdrawn from the job market, most jobs today are non-pensionable and a vast majority depends on interest income after retirement.

Before reducing the rates on small savings, the Finance Minister should introduce social security measures for the people as is prevalent in all welfare states of the world. Introduction of a new pension scheme for Senior Citizens is a cruel joke as they do not have money to first invest and then get pension. Who cares for interest rates if social security is available in the country?

Instead of implementing the Kelkar Committee recommendations like an increase in the minimum taxable income, the FM has been very unkind to millions of small investors like widows, handicapped and unemployed persons, not to talk of old and hapless people surviving solely on the mercy of their children. So long as the government is unable to check the price rise, it has no right to take away the morsel from a poor man’s mouth.

Let us hope the FM’s soul-searching shows him the right direction, lest his party should lose heavily in the coming Lok Sabha poll due to adverse voting of all these silent sections who constitute a very large chunk of the voters. The BJP has shown that it is no different from other parties when it comes to hollow sloganeering about welfare of the common man. Those who have lauded the Budget as “progressive” and “trend-setting” should also spare a thought for this helpless section of society.

M.K. Bhatnagar, Panchkula

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