A welcome decision
Towards a defence pact
100 years of joy
Women are at great risk
Views and interviews
A welcome decision
THE Punjab Government’s decision to introduce English as a compulsory subject from Class III has a lot to commend itself. Introduction of the subject from, say, Class I may put some students off studies as has happened in the state. This occurs mainly because the language is not taught in a way that the young minds can appreciate it. There is a misconception among the teachers that the best way to teach a language is by teaching its grammar and syntax. In fact, there is no better way to dissuade students from learning a language than this method. What is needed is to create the right environment in which students can learn the language like they pick up their mother tongue. In India, only a microscopic section of students have the advantage of a home where English is routinely spoken. A vast majority of the students hear the language only in the classroom. This casts a heavy responsibility on the teachers. They have to make learning English an interesting experience for the students. Once this is done, students will pick up the language as effortlessly as they learn their mother tongue. It is gratifying that the Punjab Government is conscious of the importance of teaching English. Many states have had to pay a price for neglecting English. The Left Front government in West Bengal did a great disservice to the state when it discouraged the teaching of English in the mistaken belief that the Bengalis could do without the alien language. As a result, a whole generation of students grew up without a good command of the English language. Now that realisation about the foolishness of the policy has dawned on the government, efforts are underway to introduce English from the primary classes. But in states like Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, English continues to be a neglected subject, reducing the students’ employment opportunities. It’s a jigsaw puzzle how long they will take to learn the futility of their language policy. Good or bad, English is a legacy of the British. But today it is not seen as a language of the colonial masters but as a medium of international discourse. One of the reasons why Indians were able to get a quick start in information technology was their proficiency in the language. Taking their cue from this, the Chinese have been spending billions of dollars to teach English to their young ones. Their policy has already started yielding results as can be gauged from the growing volume of their software exports. Even countries like Japan, France, Russia and Germany, which have their own well-developed languages, are no longer fighting shy of encouraging English. They know only too well that a good command of English is a prerequisite for success in the global village that we all are in.
It is gratifying that the Punjab Government is conscious of the importance of teaching English. Many states have had to pay a price for neglecting English. The Left Front government in West Bengal did a great disservice to the state when it discouraged the teaching of English in the mistaken belief that the Bengalis could do without the alien language. As a result, a whole generation of students grew up without a good command of the English language. Now that realisation about the foolishness of the policy has dawned on the government, efforts are underway to introduce English from the primary classes. But in states like Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, English continues to be a neglected subject, reducing the students’ employment opportunities. It’s a jigsaw puzzle how long they will take to learn the futility of their language policy.
Good or bad, English is a legacy of the British. But today it is not seen as a language of the colonial masters but as a medium of international discourse. One of the reasons why Indians were able to get a quick start in information technology was their proficiency in the language. Taking their cue from this, the Chinese have been spending billions of dollars to teach English to their young ones. Their policy has already started yielding results as can be gauged from the growing volume of their software exports. Even countries like Japan, France, Russia and Germany, which have their own well-developed languages, are no longer fighting shy of encouraging English. They know only too well that a good command of English is a prerequisite for success in the global village that we all are in.
Towards a defence pact
THE joint statement issued at the end of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to New Delhi shows that India and the island-nation are moving fast towards scaling new heights in their bilateral relations. As part of an agreement on defence cooperation to be signed soon, India has assured its neighbour that it is ready to provide all kinds of assistance for protecting the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. The ongoing programme of training and supply of equipment for Sri Lanka’s defence personnel has been given a new lease of life. The two countries have to prepare themselves for elaborate talks for finalising the proposed defence pact. This is, no doubt, a very crucial area of cooperation so far as Sri Lanka is concerned, where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a terrorist organisation espousing the cause of a particular section of society, has succeeded in extracting substantial concessions from the Chandrika Kumaratunga government by the use of muscle power.
The contours of the proposed defence pact are not known, but one wishes that it will have no commitment to force India to go in for a venture like the Indian Peace-Keeping Force of the past, landing the country in a difficult morass. In any case, India has expressed the hope that the LTTE’s response to the defence cooperation agreement as well as the Kumaratunga government’s proposal for an interim administration in the interest of peace will be within the framework of a “united Sri Lanka”.
Besides the beginning towards a defence pact and the
move for a comprehensive economic partnership agreement, two other
significant decisions were taken during Mr Wickremesinghe’s visit:
allowing Sri Lanka the facility of introducing additional daily
flights by its designated airlines between Colombo and India’s
metropolitan cities, and linking Colombo with Kochi in Kerala with a
ferry service. For the first time private airlines will also be
allowed to operate beyond the national skies. This underlines a major
reform in the aviation sector. Colombo will be the first beneficiary
of the limited open skies policy announced by Prime Minister Atal
Bihari Vajpayee recently at Bali, Indonesia. This is bound to boost
tourism and trade in goods and services between the two countries. The
improved India-Sri Lanka relations should serve as an example of how
to start an new era of good neighbourliness.
100 years of joy
THERE may be faster or better modes of transport but a train journey has a romance which none can match. The lure of toy trains is even stronger. The Kalka-Shimla railway, which completes 100 years of its operation on November 9, is the queen of them all. It not only retains its old-world charm but still uses several relics of the past, like the age-old communication system. For thousands of lovers, these twin strips of silver running tirelessly over the sides of precipitous cliffs or passing intrepidly over ravines bridged by multi-arched galleries evoke overpowering nostalgia. And what could be more intriguing than passing through its 100-plus tunnels which plunge the passengers into a mysterious darkness every now and then! A correspondent had written in the Delhi gazette way back in November 1847: “We might see these cooler regions become the permanent seat of a government daily invigorated by a temperature adapted to refresh an European constitution and keep the mental powers in a state of health alike beneficial both to the rulers and the ruled.” The British rulers are gone but the train continues to invigorate Shimla.
Many folklores associated with this track survive, as do the old lanterns. One of them says that the line was built exactly on the track suggested by a common labourer, Bhalku, who would march with a long shaft over the hills, claiming that the track had been revealed to him by his devta. Another tale which refuses to die is that Colonel Barog, who was engaged in the construction of the Barog tunnel, committed suicide when the two ends of the tunnel failed to meet. As one goes up and down this track, which is an extraordinary feat of engineering skill, either in the standard slow-moving train or one of the many luxury railcars which have recently been introduced, one cannot help reliving all such events from the past.
celebrations in the history of Indian Railways have been chalked out
to mark the centenary. Unfortunately, the ground reality is not as
rosy as the authorities proclaim them to be. To assess the extent of
damage to this historic landmark, an NGO, Save Our Shimla (SOS),
recently organised a 96.5-km walk along the tracks. Their conclusion
was that no attention has been paid to developing the rail route or
conserving the environment en route. Their simple suggestions that the
rail line maintenance gangs should be given special incentives and
made responsible for keeping the track free of plastic rubbish and
also involving industrial houses having establishments along the track
or in the vicinity in this task can go a long way in restoring its
Thought for the day
To God I speak Spanish, to women Italian, to men French, and to my horse — German.
Women are at great risk
THE shocking increase in the number of violent crimes against women in Delhi and across India, more generally, should alert us to one of the more profound challenges Indian society is likely to face in the coming years. According to crime statistics, the rate of violent crimes against women in all official categories — rape, dowry, importation of girls, sexual harassment and indecent representation of women — is going up faster than the rate of increase in violent crime more generally. Some of this increase can be attributed to the fact that such crimes, though still under-reported, are probably reported more than in the past. But it would be belying the sociological reality to claim that women are always safe in traditional society. After all, traditional societies rarely even acknowledge that crime against women is a problem.
The generally subordinate position of women in patriarchal structures makes it difficult to believe that women are less vulnerable to violent crime. On the other hand, it is an illusion to suppose that the emancipatory potential of modernity, which acknowledges the moral standing and equal rights of women will be, by itself, sufficient to overcome the violence women routinely face. Indeed, if the recent spate of horrendous crimes in Delhi is anything to go by, the pathologies of modernity are going to produce new sources of vulnerability for women.
Crimes against women have historically had complex causes. But these crimes are also a function of the ideological positioning of women in particular societies. In traditional societies, women are often vulnerable to crime because they are not acknowledged to have equal moral standing as rights-bearing individuals and can, therefore, be treated with impunity. To be sure, there are various social restraints and conventions that were designed to protect women, but these for the most part were within a paradigm that affirmed their subordinate status and confined them to particular roles.
The process of modernisation unleashes two contradictory tendencies towards women. These tendencies determine that women will continue to be targets of crime. On the one hand, women are often accorded a legal and moral space of equality as rights-bearing individuals, capable of making choices. Ironically, this very fact itself can produce greater violence against women, as men see their status threatened. It’s a peculiar fact that the most educated and ostensibly liberated Indian diaspora is experiencing alarming rates of spousal abuse. Sociologists have attributed this, in part, to the fact that men feel threatened by women claiming rights and undermining their status.
On the other hand, paradoxically, the dominant cultural representations of women made possible in conditions of modernity, in film, books, advertising and art, for example, objectify women even more. The portrayal of women as objects of desire, open to commodification and exploitation contributes to creating an environment in which mistreating women becomes easier. The use of the female figure in advertising, for example, conveys as much a message about women as objects as it does about the product being advertised. For, in effect, the cumulative impact of these representations of women as objects of desire often hides the fact that women are agents in their own right. Rather, it reinscribes the thought that women are not equal and, therefore, can be subjected to mistreatment.
In India, complex social processes are at work that weave together these sources of vulnerability. Traditional patriarchy and subordination of women is still alive and well, and is now reinforced both by the threat and loss of status that many men experience as a result of the empowerment of women, and by the representations of women that they internalise. In the process of modernisation, it is often the case that traditional restraints are thrown away faster than new moral norms are embraced. We are in this peculiar position that while conceptually much of the traditional morality has been discredited, men have not yet internalised norms that are commensurate with our new freedoms.
Arguably, India is going through a silent cultural revolution. The advent of television into millions of homes, that really happened only in the mid-nineties, means that society has to reckon with issues of gender relations and sexuality and deal with the complex images of women that they encounter more insistently than before. What does it mean for a society when representations of women in “Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi” to Baywatch are now part of the same social imagination? What does it mean for society when it seems to, on the one hand, accord women their due rights and, on the other, constructs them as objects of consumption? What does it mean for society when pornography disseminates faster than the recognition of women’s rights? It is a commonplace observation that we often deal with confusions surrounding our roles and identities, or threats to our status, simply by asserting power over someone else, and often violence against women or minorities is simply a way of masculine self-affirmation. Judging by newspaper reports, it is difficult not to conclude that so many of the crimes being reported are a product of complex psychic economies that our current social conjuncture is producing: Criminals, more often than not, seem to be enacting the images around them.
It is often very difficult to have an informed discussion on these issues. Traditionalists often disingenuously use the pathologies of modernity to reassert traditional hierarchies, deny women their due freedom and to often blame victims of violence themselves. Modernists, on the other hand, are blasé in their assumptions that freedom simply takes care of itself. They think that any discussion on the objectification of women in the media is simply a way of opening the door to censorship, or some kind of puritanical hangover. Somewhere in this clash of absolutisms a reasoned and sober analysis of a central social problem is getting lost.
This discussion urgently needs to take place. If we are to make full use of our freedoms we need to educate ourselves that freedom ought not to be confused with impunity. If we encounter demeaning and subordinating images of women, there ought at least to be a counter ideology that grants them due moral recognition. And if we encounter a complex amalgam of desires and images we at least have the resources to deal with them rather than express them in violence.
While better law enforcement is certainly required, we ought to recognise the fact that crimes against women are a function of deep and embedded ideological constructions within which they are placed. Will we be a society that embraces the emancipatory potential of modernity? Or will we resign ourselves to accepting its pathological dark side, a side whose costs women are most likely to have to bear?
Views and interviews
ONE does not become a civil serpent, sorry, civil servant, unless one has been “interviewed” by half a dozen wise men. Perhaps the idea is to see whether you can bluff your way successfully in this vulture ridden world.
I was asked during my interview how sugar came to be known as “chini”. I was much versed in sugar technology as I was in the emotional life patterns of truffles. Inspired guess is the name of the game in such moments. “Sugar was first crystallised in China, sir, and that’s why we have “chini” for “sugar”, I replied with a poker face.
The person, who asked the question, obviously did not have a clue. The question had occurred to him as he stirred sugar in his cup of tea. But he acted well and gave the further information that it was Fa Hsien who had brought the first crystals to India! The other members of the interview board were impressed. Thanks to Fa Hsien, I got on the sugar train of the civil service!
A friend was not so lucky. He was a student of statistics — The discipline which maintains that each second a man dies and one and one tenth is born. An inquisitor showed him the ceiling fan and asked him the statistical probability of the fan falling on his head! My friend, not a keen student of diplomacy, answered, “The same sir, as the other fan crashing on your head”. Statistically he was correct, discounting, of course, the fact that the Plunder Without Danger department had constructed the building. However, the interview board did not relish a fan following and failed him! He now runs an institute which coaches students how to be interview savvy. He does a roaring business.
Well, I saw a wall collapse at an interview! As this officer was pointing out at a huge chart hanging on a wall and striking at it with his baton, with a little more force than was strictly necessary to demonstrate the role of responding credit in departmental proforma accounts, the wall could not take it any more. It lost its shirt at this questioning by the baton, and the whole plaster and the chart came down. All of us were covered knee deep in rubble along with responding credit and proforma debit!
It was proved beyond doubt that even walls have conscience and would not stand being interviewed. Ask the Great Wall of China — how did “chini” originate!
TUCKED away from public glare on a vast expanse of SAS Nagar (Mohali), the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPER), is quietly engrossed in devising new panacea for various diseases afflicting human beings.
Besides researching for more potent generic drugs, the institution is also nurturing young talent to serve the growing pharma industry in the country, as distinguished alumni of the NIPER. Within nine years of its inception, it has emerged as the premier centre for education and research in pharmaceutical sciences.
NIPER has earned the distinction of being one of the two institutes in the world to have been granted World Health Organisation (WHO) accreditation to undertake human trails in bio-availability studies for fixed dose combination of anti-tubercular drugs. The only other institute in the world, assigned with this important task is located in South Africa.
Being the first national level institute in pharmaceutical sciences with an objective of becoming a centre of excellence in advanced studies and research in the filed, it has been able to win international laurels. Having been declared an “Institute of National Importance” in June 1998, it is an autonomous body under the aegis of the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers. What sets NIPER apart from other institutes is the revision of the curriculum every year by the Academic Committee to keep the faculty and students updated with the latest trends, faculty assessment by the students and regular courses and training for the teachers to overcome obsolescence, something which sets in fast in the field of generic sciences.
“The NIPER, which was conceived as early as 1953, when AIIMS and other national institutes of learning were established, took more than four decades to come up, but today it has taken the lead in providing the right kind of scientists for the pharma industry,” says Dr C.L. Kaul, Director NIPER. Unfortunately, more than 50 per cent of the positions in the pharmaceutical sector in India are lying vacant for want of trained people with calibre, he remarks.
The thrust area projects being undertaken at NIPER include major research in diabetes and tropical diseases including leishmania, tuberculosis and malaria. The latest addition to the list of achievements and awards won by the NIPER faculty is conferring of the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award for the year 2003 in medical sciences on Prof Chimoy Shanker Dey for his contribution in the area of diabetes. Dr Dey initiated a strong research programme in the area of diabetes in understanding the disease progression and thereby developing novel targets for new drug discovery. It is estimated that by 2025 there will be approximately 300 million people affected by diabetes worldwide, with India being the diabetic capital of the world.
“Though the primary objective with which NIPER was set up remains toning up the level of pharmaceutical education and research by training future teachers, research scientists and managers for the industry and profession, organising continuing education programmes has also been taken care of,” says Dr Kaul. Pharmaceuticals is a fast growing sector, second only to information technology, having a 15 per cent annual growth rate, with exports worth Rs 12,000 crore, he adds.
In August, a workshop and personal contact programme on cultivation of medicinal plants was organised for 500 farmers from the entire region, so as to enable transfer of research from laboratory to the field through effective extension services. Apart from having a database for 250 traditional medicinal plants at the institute, more than 10 such plants are available for Re 1 each to those keen on taking to its cultivation. The medicinal plant garden here, with a wide variety of exotic herbs, is spread over an area of 30 acres.
“The programme primarily aims at providing technological know-how and planting material for four plants, brahmi, shatavar, antamool, shatavari bhed and few species of Tulsi to the farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, as they can get very good return from cultivation of these medicinal plants, much in demand,” informed Dr K.K. Bhutani, Dean and Head of Natural Products Department.
The other areas where pioneering work has been done at NIPER is research in molecular biology, traditional medicine standardisation, stability studies of anti-tubercular drugs, impurity profiling of important pharmaceutical drugs, traditional medicines in modern doses form for diabetes and natural remedies for tuberculosis apart from the synthetic drugs.
Attention is also being paid towards the study of sociological aspects of drug “use and abuse” and rural pharmacy and conducting programmes on drug surveillance, community pharmacy and pharmaceutical management. “We will shortly have a good laboratory practices (GLP) centre, so that we can audit the various protocols before they are taken to human beings,” revealed Dr Kaul. He said in India, the cost of medicines was almost one-tenth of the prices in most of the countries as the cost of production was very low, making them very affordable to the masses.
Given the quality research capabilities NIPER has, consultancy services are being offered not just to national pharmaceutical agencies but also some international companies, bringing revenue, which is expected to touch Rs 5 crore, this year. The officials point out that thrust is towards self-sufficiency, so that dependence on government for financial help can be reduced. At present a total of Rs 23 crore is being received by NIPER, annually.
The masters as well as doctorate pass outs from the institute, for which an all-India entrance examination is held, are occupying very good positions as industry scientists. “Though we have cent-percent campus placements by the best names in the pharmaceutical industry, to ensure even better packages for our pass outs, we are in the process of setting up a placement cell in the campus,” said Dr Bhutani.
At present 45 students are enrolled here for the doctorate degree, while 100 others are pursuing their masters course. A large number of pass outs from NIPER, are occupying senior positions in the corporate sector in the US and are being picked up by the top 30 pharmaceuticals like Novaritis, Ranbaxy, Dr Reddy's and others.
Not merely restricting itself to academic and research programmes, another important thrust area is the interaction with the pharmaceutical companies. “Being a nodal agency, we are frequently approached by both small scale and medium scale companies and international pharmaceutical giants to solve their problems," informed some faculty members.
Not willing to compromise in any sphere, surprisingly, as against 75 sanctioned faculty posts, only 28 have been filled up. “It is but natural that manpower in a specialised field like this is scarce, so this puts additional responsibility on us to fill this gap of trained professionals for the pharmaceutical industry,” opined Dr Bhutani.
The institute has a total of 10 teaching and research departments of medicinal chemistry, natural products, pharmacology and toxicology, pharmaceutics, bio-technology, pharmaceutical analysis, pharmaceutical technology, pharmaceutical management (MBA), pharmacy practice and pharmacology informatics. A new addition to be made next year is a masters course in traditional medicines.
Every department has a separate specialised instrument laboratory to fulfill individual needs, based on the research programmes, equipped with hi-tech gadgetry and equipment. The institute has a Central Animal Facility, built with state-of-art technology where different species of small laboratory animals like mice, rat, gerbils, hamster, guinea pig and rabbits. The building is designed as a two-way corridor system to minimise cross contamination. Separate building for holding of infective and non-infective experimental animals is available.
For the last five years NIPER has been hosting a course for the Ministry of External Affairs, which is attended by participants from almost 30 countries. The three-week course this year was organised on “Modern Analytical Techniques in Quality Control of Drugs and Pharmaceuticals” last month. The institute has successfully completed and is pursuing several sponsored projects from various international agencies like WHO, CONRAD, CSIR, ICMR and Department of Science and Technology.
Beginning from a
scratch in 1994, when a group of committed professionals, including
the first Director along with three faculty members, took upon
themselves the responsibility of setting up the institute, NIPER has
come a long way. More than 30 patents have emanated from NIPER in
various research areas and almost 300 publications appeared in
God’s Light is contained in all orders of beings and all orders are contained in God’s Light.
— Guru Nanak
He who moves among the objects of senses with a mind disjoined from love and hatred, with self under control, with a governed self, attains peace (of mind).
— Sri Bhagavad Gita
Why you need pen and ink? Write upon your heart.
— Guru Amar Das
He who has a stomach, maya does lord,
One is released from maya when one realises God.
O Son of Man!
Be thou content with Me and seek no other helper. For none but Me can ever suffice thee.