August 5, 2003, Chandigarh, India
It was waiting to happen
Schools without teachers
Confusion in foreign policy priorities
Punjab, Haryana continue to love sons — not daughters
MPs wary of
a snap poll
It was waiting to happen
FORTYTHREE persons have paid with their lives for the failure of the administration to keep industrial units away from residential areas. The tragedy that struck Surat on Sunday can repeat itself in any part of India because of the criminally lax safety awareness that the country happens to have. There are any number of safety laws but these are rarely implemented to prevent such entirely avoidable accidents. Government officials who are entrusted with the responsibility of enforcing law are ever keen not to do so for indifference and sometimes for consideration. The general impression is that if a violation is committed by a large number of people, it is considered no violation because the government does not have the stomach to face an agitation. Even if it does try to enforce its authority, politicians of various hues are always eager to jump into the fray and brand every strict action as an atrocity. Political support for agitations that took place in Delhi and Agra when an attempt was made to relocate polluting industries out of residential areas is a case in point. Attempts to remove unauthorised slums or illegal power connections are similarly defeated. The story is the same whether in Delhi, Ludhiana, Chandigarh, Ambala or Surat.
The unfortunate consequence is that the country has lurched on from the Dabwali inferno to the Uphaar cinema fire and the Bhopal gas tragedy to the Surat blast. Human life should not be made such a dispensable commodity only to let a few greedy persons earn an extra buck. The time has come for concerned people to raise their voice against such inaction in unison.
While it is customary to remind the government to come down heavily on numerous violations, it is becoming increasingly futile to expect it to deliver the goods because the "chalta hai" attitude runs deep in official veins. One major reason for this laxity is that liability laws are very lax in India. If the families of the Surat victims were to sue the perpetrators and get substantial damages, the punishment will hit the violators where it hurts the most. It will be a lesson to many others that even if they do manage to bend the laws, they cannot escape responsibility. At the same time, if the government comes down heavily on the persons who allow various violations that maim and kill people, the inspectors will be a little less callous or corrupt in future.
Schools without teachers
THE manner in which primary schools are being run in Punjab speaks volumes for the government’s lackadaisical attitude towards the children’s education. The political masters are never tired of calling the children as the citizens of tomorrow. But what have they done for them? And what steps the state government has taken to improve primary education — their fundamental right? If Punjab’s drop-out rate in the primary schools has risen to 34 per cent, as revealed by the Chief Minister, Mr Amarinder Singh, at Ludhiana on Sunday, the responsibility should be shared by his and earlier governments. Now the Captain says that teachers in most schools don’t turn up to teach and that some of them even hire others to take their classes. He can be rightly asked why was responsibility not fixed on the District Education Officers and his army of inspectors for dereliction of duty by the teaching staff? Why were the absentee teachers not shown the door, or those who sub-leased their assignments as they ought to have been?
Surveys such as the one organised by the Education Department during his government’s Jan Sampark Abhiyan III will carry meaning only if timely and effective steps are taken by the government to ensure the smooth functioning of the primary schools. Merely passing the buck to panchayats is not enough. Panchayats may help provide the basic infrastructural facilities like buildings, water supply and sanitation to run the state’s 12,000 schools, but the overall responsibility will continue to be on the government which has to play a leadership role on policy formulation and implementation.
Primary education cannot be allowed to be ignored by simply stating that the teachers are not doing their duty. Unfortunately, there has been a steady decline in the quality of education in the state since the early nineties. Even after 55 years of Independence, 33 per cent of Punjabi people cannot read or write. Not a happy picture of a state that had once played a pioneering role in spreading education. Politicians’ homilies won’t do.
HOW does a village in the most backward district of Kerala grab headlines and that too for all the right reasons? By embracing IT! Chamravattom in Kerala's Muslim-domination Malappuram district is set to be the first village in India that is 100 per cent computer-literate. Shortly, at least one member of the 850 families that constitute Chamravattom will be able to use a personal computer for such tasks as editing pictures, composing text, surfing the Internet and sending e-mail. Many of them cannot read or write English. Hence they would be using a Malayalam software which has become a major empowering tool. Kerala has long boasted of being the most literate state in India and the present achievement is yet another feather in its cap. That only a few motivated persons made the difference is especially noteworthy. All too often we have seen grandiose plans that have not been able to deliver. The micro approach is worthy of emulation
Initiatives by governmental and non-governmental agencies in the North have been lagging behind. Individual efforts, such as the setting up of a computer centre in Hookran village in Hoshiarpur district, have yielded encouraging results with children learning to use computers, and getting jobs as a result. The sponsors put up just two computers to enable the people of 32 nearby villages to become familiar with computers. Though laudable, this is not enough. The state-sponsored initiatives have focussed on government-funded and aided schools in which the Internet has been made available to school children. This programme is under the Vidya Vahini project announced by the Prime Minister last month. It envisages linking 60,000 schools with one another through the Internet and making the Net's vast resources available to students.
There is no doubt that computer education is a primary requirement for school children these days. The empowerment that comes through computer education makes a marked change in the worldview of the less privileged sections of society. In Kerala, autorickshaw drivers are being taught how to use computers. Such efforts do not take long to yield results-the Chamravattom Akshaya centre has housewives, farmers, youngsters, elderly persons, all coming together to gain new skills and master a new machine. The rest of the nation has much to learn from them.
Thought for the day
Confusion in foreign policy priorities
IS the Vajpayee government’s foreign policy losing steam after it has touched all the bases and made the right noises? Bringing about a real change in the relationship with Pakistan is for the long haul, but the Prime Minister set it in a new, more hopeful direction with his “hand of friendship” speech in Srinagar. And Mr Vajpayee went calling on India’s other difficult neighbour, China, to get to know the new leadership.
With the United States, New Delhi is seeking to buttress a relationship that has acquired a new ring after the post-9/11 events, and, appropriately, relations with Iran are not being neglected. Russia remains a major pole for India, despite President Vladimir Putin’s many distractions. And while massaging the Israeli link, India has not forgotten the Arab world, including Syria, and Turkey, the important regional power.
Doubts over the focus and efficacy of India’s foreign policy approaches arise because of an apparent confusion in New Delhi on its order of priorities and stamina. Take the centrality the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has given to its relationship with the United States. It is eminently sensible to build a good relationship with the world’s hyperpower, and post-Cold War trends have thrown up some convergences in Washington’s approach to New Delhi.
However, the problem with the present Indian government has been its almost emotional attachment to Washington, reflected in its tendency to please America at almost any cost. One consequence is a deeply felt disenchantment with US policies which do not take India’s concerns over terrorism into their ken. Equally galling in the Indian view is the US military and economic aid promised to Pakistan for its anti-Taliban and anti-Al-Qaeda services; for New Delhi, the re-run of an old movie.
It is no secret that elements in the Indian establishment were itching to send troops to Iraq to bale America out and to stake a claim to the Iraq pie. Ultimately, India refused to send troops except under a United Nations mandate in view of the overwhelming public opposition to the proposal. It would appear that the BJP was also dissuaded by the unwelcome prospect of receiving body bags just when important state elections would be held. But one wonders whether serious thought was given to the impact on the Arab world of Indians serving the interests of the occupying American power. In one of the most amusing leaks floated to gather support, it was suggested that two countries wholly dependent upon American military protection — Kuwait and Jordan — were in favour of seeing Indian troops in Iraq.
Again, take the Prime Minister’s reasonably successful visit to China. It transpired that during his sojourn there, there was a Chinese incursion in Arunachal Pradesh. This by itself was no major development although Beijing made a point in adding insult to injury by declaring that it did not recognise Arunachal as part of India. The Indian response — rather the silence — was revealing. The nub of the problem was that the Chinese had disarmed an Indian team for allegedly intruding into China when there are elaborate agreed procedures to deal with either side claiming an incursion by the other. It took India several days to make this simple point. Improving relations with China is a laudable goal, but it is not enhanced by displaying pusillanimity.
In Pakistan’s case, the slow pace of the rapprochement is not in itself undesirable and India’s implicit acceptance of a SAARC summit in Islamabad, implying Mr Vajpayee’s visit there, was the right signal. There has, in the meantime, been the Rahman visit which raised more questions than it has answered and the two-way traffic in unofficial visits seems to be gathering pace. There was also the recent refreshing statement by the Defence Minister refusing to equate the terrorist act in the Army camp with a direct Pakistan government sponsorship. But there is in government ranks too much loose talk and a propensity among politicians to air their often unhelpful views.
Next only to the American relationship, the Israel connection exercises great fascination for the BJP. Israel has emerged as a major source of arms for India and there is no reason why New Delhi should not fully exploit the complementary nature of the trade relationship. But to seek to elevate this relationship to an Israel-India-US concert to fight terrorism, as the Prime Minister’s National Security Adviser has suggested, is gratuitously to snub the Arab world. It remains to be seen how New Delhi will balance the Israeli relationship with its considerable interests in the Arab world during Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit in September.
The BJP-led government has got it right in viewing the New World Order as a setting for expanding relations with as many countries as possible. Old equations do not necessarily count, and with the prospect of Iraq being a virtual American protectorate for a considerable time, the importance of cultivating good relations with Iran and Turkey cannot be overemphasised. Central Asia again offers an inviting field for exploration.
The goal of expanding relationships cannot, however, be merely to spread sweetness and light. Nor will India achieve worthwhile results without a coherent overarching frame of policy. The BJP’s fascination with the United States should not lead to a neglect of the important relationship with the European Union. In trade, cultural and human terms, Europe counts and will count even more in the years to come. It is important not to be misled by the dissensions in the European camp, despite the sharp differences over the Iraq war. By all accounts, Mr Vajpayee’s rather recent visit to Germany was not a success, not merely because he does not indulge in small talk.
BJP leaders might not be an exportable commodity, but the basis of strong and meaningful relationships can be built on purposeful interaction at senior official levels, A prerequisite for such interactions is a well-articulated and focused foreign policy. India cannot do better than to take a leaf out of Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov’s book, articulating his country’s policy for friend and foe
“AS cricket is your passion in India, shopping is ours,” remarked the guide when we introduced ourselves and sat in the tourist coach in Kuala Lumpur. Before visiting the city with the highest twin towers in the world, we had stayed for over two weeks in Singapore, the busiest port in the world. A week later we flew to Bangkok, spent the evenings ambling in the Millenium Square opposite our hotel and spent one day walking in the Temple and looking at the myriad images of Buddha.
Singapore, though once a state of Malaysia, has marched ahead and become a tourist paradise— with its Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and Clarke Quay. Kuala Lumpur has the highest pole on which flies the national flag on Independence Day. Bangkok has the Emerald Buddha and the Reclining Buddha, fifteen meters long with three meter long feet. And, then, Thai food occupies a distinct place in the international cuisine.
What fascinated us was not the distinctness of each place or its defining separateness from the other two places. Each place has its own history and a sizeable population of Indian origin. What struck us was the attitudinal uniformity in the three cities. They are different and yet alike. Weather is almost the same, like our July and August minus the humidity. But weather is the last thing I would like to discuss. I’m neither Welsh nor Irish but a heat-seared and frost-bitten authentic North Indian.
What the tourist guide had pointed out in KL— shopping being the fulcrum of life — was not confined to his city. It is a central passion in the other two places as well. The names of stores are different but the sale stuff is the same — and the shoppers’ anxiety identical. When you look at their number combing the different malls, hopping from store to store, you begin to wonder if there are any workplaces there. When you ask somebody about this mundane pursuit among the natives, you realise that tourists outnumber natives. All the same, whether locals or tourists, the shopping itch is common to Singaporeans, Malaysians and Thais. They love the outdoor life. It is this love for the outdoor life that one can witness in their food courts. It appears our South Asian friends love to be seen eating. We learnt that it is a tiny percentage that runs a regular kitchen at home. Eating out, we were told, was cheaper than a home-meal.
And what a pleasure, indeed, it is to have a soup with the ingredients that you really like. It was here, ordering a soup, that often confused us. My wife and I just wondered why the impressive Indian presence had not enlightened the common food courts that one can live without crabs and lobsters. Once we explained to a Mexican waiter in Los Angeles that we wanted burgers without meat. “No problem,” he said, and got us two burgers with chicken patties. “Since you don’t eat beef,” he explained, “I thought I could provide some protein through chicken.”
Punjab, Haryana continue to love sons — not daughters
THE inherent desire to have sons only has reached an all-time high. With Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttaranchal and Western Uttar Pradesh forming the epicentre of this male-producing industry, the region is in for a major turmoil over the next few decades.
Among the ten worst case scenarios with regard to declining sex ratio in the country, all “top ten” positions are bagged by Punjab and Haryana. Aided by technological advances in the field of medicine, which cater to this industry, the worst sex ratio is bagged by seven districts of Punjab and three districts of Haryana. Demographers say, with the family size decreasing rapidly and the preference for male child remaining the same, the female population is showing a downward trend. The Punjab Development Report, 2002, mentions a steady increase in births of male child as compared to girl child in Punjab between 1972 and 1999, though female foeticide is now a rarity. (See the Table on sex ratio decline).
Amazingly, medicine has come to the aid of thousands of people — cutting across socio-economic barriers — who prefer male child only. With pre-sex selection by medical practices — be it In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), Erricson technique of semen separation or the latest Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PIGD) being the latest craze “to produce sons only”, the child preference transcended from quackery to the gynaecologist next door. Though the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique Regulation and Prevention of Misuse Act (PNDT Act) has been amended in March this year, to include banning of pre-selection of sexes by Erricson technique and PIGD, it has already done the damage during the past two years in Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Amritsar and Chandigarh. Thousands of couples — mostly those going in for second pregnancies and having a daughter as first child — flocked to these clinics to get a male child. Doctors, who had carried on these tests before they were banned, say that never once did they come across a case where the parents asked for a female child.
Other than PIGD, none of the other methods are an effective way of having a baby of the desired sex. Dr. Iqbal Singh Ahuja, a leading gynaecoligist in Ludhiana, says that while IVF (which is mainly used for childless couples by implanting an embryo in the mother's body; child of preferred sex can also be had by this technique) has a success rate of 20 per cent, the success rate of Erricson technique (fractionation of male and female sperm through appropriate solutions to the semen. This way layers of majority of male sperm or female sperm are formed and the preferred sperm can be injected in the uterus of the recipient) is also not more than 30 per cent.
The only effective medical way of having a male child, inform doctors, is the PIGD which is presently being done by doctors in Mumbai. After the embryo is formed clinically, its sex is detected by biopsy and the embryo of the desired sex is implanted in the woman’s body.
During a visit to a Ludhiana clinic, this correspondent came across a middle-aged childless couple from Payal near Khanna. The 36-year-old woman, Gurpal Kaur (name changed), and her landlord husband, had come for an IVF at the clinic. When asked if they preferred child of a particular sex, they had no qualms. They said that since they were spending Rs 70,000 to have a child, it might as well be a boy.
In upmarket Chandigarh, a 32-year-old college lecturer, is also “exploring various options to help her bear a male child”. “I come from a landed family in Rohtak district, and in our families, the worth of a woman is directly proportional to her having borne a son. I have one daughter, while my younger sister-in-law has two sons. So, she is generally considered a better daughter- in-law, who has not failed the family by bearing daughters.”
However, the ban on pre-selection of sexes under the PNDT Act has failed to check the malady. A study by Dr A J Singh and Dr Sutapa Bandyopadhyay, Department of Community Medicine, PGI, Chandigarh on “Traditional Practices for Family Welfare in Rural North India”, shows that (mis)conceptions catering to this preference of male child in rural areas of Punjab and Haryana are rampant.
These days a strange medicine, referred to as Sau Badalne ki dawai, in common lingo, is being distributed in villages. The woman is required to take this medicine, between one and a half to two months of her pregnancy, at dawn and with an intense desire for having a male child. The medicine is supposed to be taken with milk of a cow known to have a living male calf. The study, based on the experiences of health workers and anganwadi workers in the two states, shows that most ruralites have great faith in the effectiveness of this “medicine”. “Though failure cases are known, people blame it on the wrong time of taking the medicine,” says Dr Sutapa.
The PGI has already collected seven samples of this “medicine” for getting a biochemical analysis, though reports of this drug leading to malformation in foetuses are known. Informs Dr Sumit Sofat, a leading gynaecologist in the region, “There are several cases of couples having malformed babies. No medication is to be given to a pregnant mother in the first three months of pregnancy. Moreover, the sex of a child is determined at the time of ovulation and no medicine can alter the sex.” But this is not the only (mis)conception prevalent in the rural areas. From eating a coconut seed to the time of conception (between the time from full moon night and no moon night) and dietary alterations, the couples will do anything to have a male child.
The latest to join the bandwagon is a US-based company called Genselect, which is selling kits for having a child of your preference. Mr Ashwani Kumar Nanda, Reader at Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), Chandigarh, who has done research on the demographic profiles in the region, says that because there is an inherent desire for having a male child and people have a good paying capacity in the region, they dabble in these sex selection practices. The government health set-up in rural areas is virtually non-existent. There would hardly be a lady doctor available in the interior villages, which have over 70 per cent of the population. Consequently, quacks step in and make money by cheating people.”
MPs wary of a snap poll
MOST MPs are wary of a snap general election and hoping against hope that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will prevail upon his colleagues in the BJP to wait till it actually falls due. This is particularly so as most of them are not confident of getting their party tickets. The non-BJP led NDA parliamentarians are confident that Vajpayee is unlikely to advance the Lok Sabha poll. Their refrain is “why should the Prime Minister needlessly tinker with the election process when he is firmly enconsed in the seat of power on Raisina hill?” Can Sonia Gandhi now be seen as a veteran Congress president? It is not clear how Sonia feels about being called a veteran but overzealous Congressmen, eager for party posts, have started using the coinage in their representations. The credit of being a veteran, if accepted, can be a trifle troublesome for Sonia Gandhi and the Congress, given that the party is subtly trying to play up the difference between her and an “ageing” Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The non-BJP led NDA parliamentarians are confident that Vajpayee is unlikely to advance the Lok Sabha poll. Their refrain is “why should the Prime Minister needlessly tinker with the election process when he is firmly enconsed in the seat of power on Raisina hill?”Veteran Sonia?
Can Sonia Gandhi now be seen as a veteran Congress president? It is not clear how Sonia feels about being called a veteran but overzealous Congressmen, eager for party posts, have started using the coinage in their representations.
The credit of being a veteran, if accepted, can be a trifle troublesome for Sonia Gandhi and the Congress, given that the party is subtly trying to play up the difference between her and an “ageing” Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Panja loses out
to Trivedi As the monsoon session of Parliament enters the third week, speculation about a Cabinet expansion-cum-reshuffle is gaining ground in the corridors of power as also the possible new entrants. While the return of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee to Vajpayee’s council of ministers is almost a certainty, it is yet to be decided as to who would be picked from her party for the slot of a Minister of State. Former Minister of State for External Affairs Ajit Panja appears to have lost out to Dinesh Trivedi who is being favoured by “Didi” Mamata herself. Where Panja and Sudip Bandopadhyay lost, the suave Trivedi gained as he stuck with Mamata while the former two warmed themselves to Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani. But the reschuffle-cum-expansion is definitely not going to be Mamata-centric as a berth in the Cabinet may also go to the Samata Party whose chief Defence Minister George Fernandes has been under lot of fire from his party colleagues.
As the monsoon session of Parliament enters the third week, speculation about a Cabinet expansion-cum-reshuffle is gaining ground in the corridors of power as also the possible new entrants.
While the return of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee to Vajpayee’s council of ministers is almost a certainty, it is yet to be decided as to who would be picked from her party for the slot of a Minister of State. Former Minister of State for External Affairs Ajit Panja appears to have lost out to Dinesh Trivedi who is being favoured by “Didi” Mamata herself.
Where Panja and Sudip Bandopadhyay lost, the suave Trivedi gained as he stuck with Mamata while the former two warmed themselves to Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.
But the reschuffle-cum-expansion is definitely not going to be Mamata-centric as a berth in the Cabinet may also go to the Samata Party whose chief Defence Minister George Fernandes has been under lot of fire from his party colleagues.
All for a
school seat The ordeal of getting their wards admitted to schools sometimes compels parents to pull strings at various levels. Among those they call on for help are the influential Members of Parliament who none would dare refuse a favour. The magnitude of the problem can be gauged by the concern expressed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. At a function recently, Vajpayee pointed out that Ministers and MPs are flooded with requests from parents for admission of their wards to good schools and Kendriya Vidyalayas at the onset of the academic session each year. Stressing the need for quality education, the Prime Minister advised academic bodies to bridge the chasm between a small number of good schools and the large number of average ones and make education more enjoyable for the children. Vajpayee used the opportunity to express gratitude to his father, who was a school teacher and his educators for shaping his destiny. The PM acknowledged that it is primarily because of his education both at home and in school that he is what he is today. Contributed by Prashant Sood, Smriti Kak, Gaurav Choudhury and Satish Misra
The ordeal of getting their wards admitted to schools sometimes compels parents to pull strings at various levels. Among those they call on for help are the influential Members of Parliament who none would dare refuse a favour. The magnitude of the problem can be gauged by the concern expressed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
At a function recently, Vajpayee pointed out that Ministers and MPs are flooded with requests from parents for admission of their wards to good schools and Kendriya Vidyalayas at the onset of the academic session each year.
Stressing the need for quality education, the Prime Minister advised academic bodies to bridge the chasm between a small number of good schools and the large number of average ones and make education more enjoyable for the children.
Vajpayee used the opportunity to express gratitude to his father, who was a school teacher and his educators for shaping his destiny. The PM acknowledged that it is primarily because of his education both at home and in school that he is what he is today.
Contributed by Prashant Sood, Smriti Kak, Gaurav Choudhury and Satish Misra
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it. Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. — The Bible All that is in heaven and earth gives glory to Allah. He is the Mighty, the Wise One. His is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth. He ordains life and death and has power over all things. He is the first and the last, the visible and the unseen. He has knowledge of all things. He created the heavens and the earth in six days and then mounted His throne. He knows all that goes into the earth and all that emerges from it, all that comes down from heaven and all that ascends to it. He is with you wherever you are. He is cognisant of all your actions. — The Koran Bhakti is the one essential thing. To be sure, God exists in all beings. Who, then is a devotee? He whose mind dwells on God. But this is not possible as long as one has egotism and vanity. The water of God's grace cannot collect on the high mound of egotism. It runs down. — Sri Ramakrishna Paramhans on Vedas
— The Bible
All that is in heaven and earth gives glory to Allah. He is the Mighty, the Wise One. His is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth. He ordains life and death and has power over all things. He is the first and the last, the visible and the unseen. He has knowledge of all things. He created the heavens and the earth in six days and then mounted His throne. He knows all that goes into the earth and all that emerges from it, all that comes down from heaven and all that ascends to it. He is with you wherever you are. He is cognisant of all your actions.
— The Koran
Bhakti is the one essential thing.
To be sure, God exists in all beings.
Who, then is a devotee? He whose mind dwells on God.
But this is not possible as long as one has egotism and vanity.
The water of God's grace cannot collect
on the high mound of egotism. It runs down.
— Sri Ramakrishna Paramhans on Vedas
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