Time to say goodbye to single-sex colleges
Diversities — Delhi Letter
AMONG the most articulate faces of the Congress, Kapil Sibal, 56, is known for packing his political punch with lot of power. A former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Mr Sibal was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1998. He was a Congress spokesman in the 1999 and 2004 Lok Sabha polls.
Mr Sibal addressed Parliament in the historic impeachment proceedings against Justice V. Ramaswamy, then a sitting judge of the Supreme Court. Elected to the new Lok Sabha from Chandni Chowk, Mr Sibal is part of the first Congress-led coalition ministry at the Centre.
As Union Minister of State for Science and Technology and Ocean Development (Independent charge), Mr Sibal has already drawn up his priorities.
Q: What are your priorities as Minister?
A: I have identified key issues and thrust areas, one of which is bio-technology. This ministry represents the frontiers of science. New technologies should help the common man. My priorities include reconstituting the Scientific Advisory Committee with top scientists. We need to make our laboratories more transparent. The work we do should be on websites and people should have access to it. This will also be a kind of audit of the institutions. Everything should be done professionally in the ministry with least bureaucratisation. We need very high quality scientists and institutions of excellence. We need the scientists to be read and trained in the context of employment opportunities in the industry.
In matters of health, there are new technologies in DNA research. We will have to meet the challenges of malaria and polio which has not been fully eradicated. There is Hepatitis E. We are in collaborative research on a vaccine for AIDS. There is need for a safe injection kit. We should generate enthusiasm among the students about science.
Q: How do you propose to give thrust to bio-technology?
A: We need to formulate a clear bio-technology policy which will be friendly towards investment. We should have regulatory frameworks. The foremost is safety standards in respect of all transgenic varieties. There are MNCs in the bio-tech world who would like to collaborate with us in R & D which is extremely expensive abroad. We can collaborate at government level or with MNCs. We have the human resource and the R&D capacity. We can provide research which is far less expensive. Biotechnology will put the country on the world map like IT. We can get a lot of FDI.
For agriculture, we can develop technologies for heat-resistant and cold-resistant plants, dry farming, farming in saline water, developing varieties through transgenics which are pest resistant and require less fertiliser.
Q: What are the reasons for the Congress’ success in the elections?
A: Bypassing the common man has led to the defeat of the NDA. Don’t preach something for 45 years and do the opposite when you are in power. Do not set high moral standards for yourself which you cannot adhere to when you are in power. Make sure that India is not a divided house. Unity of purpose, amity and peace are essential to a successful administration. The British followed a divide and rule policy and the NDA the policy of rule and divide.
Q: Why didn’t you get the Law and Justice portfolio?
A: I don’t want to comment on something which was in the realm of rumour. The expectations were not on my side. It was much talked about in the newspapers.
Q: Are you happy with the present portfolio?
A: I am delighted with the work that I am doing.
Q: The Samajwadi Party has taken exception to your remarks about Tehelka and Ayodhya. Isn’t it "politics of vendetta"?
A: I have said nothing. On Ayodhya, I said if the process of law was consciously derailed then the process must be put back on the rails. What’s wrong with that? And on Mr George Fernandes, I said something that we have been saying while we were in the Opposition. We had said whatever is in the transcripts must be investigated. I am not saying anything more than that today.
Q: You were quoted in the media as saying that the Tehelka tapes are authentic.
A: I never said that. I said my information is that the tapes are authentic. It is something that the Commission has to clarify. I have no personal information to that effect. The defence personnel are being prosecuted on the basis of Tehelka tapes. The court of inquiry is over and court martials have been launched on the basis of those tapes. I can’t imagine a government which is prosecuting its defence personnel on the basis of tapes which are not genuine. If I say that the law must take its course, is it vendetta?
Q: When do you hope to hear about the tapes?
A: That’s the other strange thing that’s happened. We have an order of the Commission of April 22 saying that the tapes have arrived and that the matter had been posted to May 18 for evidence of the expert witness. For reasons that I do not know, the expert could not come. Now the matter has been posted to June 17. I still don’t know when the tapes arrived in India. These dates themselves tell a story of their own. We have seen the conduct of the previous government in the Venkataswami Commission and how it was investigating Tehelka rather than those who were shown on the tapes. And till date no FIR has been lodged.
Q: Has the Centre lodged FIR?
A: It is not the issue. We are not making up any case. The media saw the Tehelka tapes. If a government vitiates the legal process, makes it impure, then the process of purification is termed as vendetta. We are not saying A or B is guilty. The previous law minister had publicly stated that all these people are not guilty. I am not making any such statement that anybody is guilty. I say let the law take its course. Any impediment that was placed by the previous regime should not stand in the way of the law taking its course. There is no vendetta in this. I don’t say Mr Fernandes or anyone else is guilty. If the law says they are not guilty, then they are not guilty.
Q: The Congress has been criticised for inclusion of "tainted ministers" in the Cabinet. Any comments?
Time to say goodbye to single-sex colleges
WHILE living in a technologically advanced 21st century, that too, in a modern city like Chandigarh, is it not a regressively “backward” feat to continue running single-sex colleges? Isn't it bizarre to think that segregation of sexes in colleges would bring any sex-based behavioural balance or discipline? In the present volatile politico-social structure, which is still mired in social segregations of many a hue, would we ever be able to see the “merger” of exclusive men and women colleges?
Getting all our all-female colleges, contemptuously called “Puttri Pathshalas”, many of which are not even in their fifties, turned into co-educational ones will, certainly, be a formidable task. For, even in England, it took more than a century to turn an all-women’s college, Girton College at Cambridge, into a mixed one. Established in 1869 as the first residential college for women, Girton College became mixed in 1977 with the arrival of the first male fellows. And male undergraduates have been admitted in this college since 1979. Thus, before asking for the moon, we should ask for the conversion of all-male colleges into co-educational ones.
As most all-male colleges have lost their male exclusivity because they do admit a sprinkling of girl students in their post-graduate courses, thanks to the university’s rule in this regard, and the number of lady teachers there is also quite on a higher side, one should seriously question their utility.
Of about a dozen degree colleges in Chandigarh, there are at least three all-male colleges. Statistics might show a rosy picture of class-room attendance of these colleges, but the attendance problem is menacingly mounting by each passing day. The following example would suffice to substantiate this assertion.
“Once upon a time”, a colleague of mine was transferred, on some “administrative ground”, from our all-male college to an exclusive women’s college in the city. Transfers in government jobs, normally speaking, are never taken in good stride. Rather they are considered, and often are meant, as punishments. However, Chandigarh being a small city-state, transfers here are not strictly considered as punishment because of their limited range (in kilometres). Since the transferred teacher got a college that was physically very close to her house, it was thought to be a blessing in disguise.
However, contrary to our belief, she left no stone unturned to return to our college. Owing to her high connections, she “managed” to return within a week, and “lived happily ever after”. The reason? On the very first day, she reportedly went to her class, using our usual ploy, some 10-15 minutes late hoping that by the time she reaches her class it would, like in our all-boys’ college, already be empty. But she got a severe shock of her life to find the whole class waiting for her!
The puzzle of the presence of all-male colleges in Chandigarh looks more perplexing when one finds that even at a place like Patiala, where exclusive colleges for women also exist, the famous Mohindra College has already shed its “single” status some six years ago!
Moreover, the oldest Government College in the city, which often is called a shadow of Government College, Lahore, began 50 years ago, as a co-educational college in the building that presently houses Mount View Hotel. Its two closely placed separate structures that came up in sixties were reportedly not meant to be buildings for boys and girls colleges separately. For, according to the reported Corbusierian design, having no gender bias, the one structure with in-built laboratory blocks (presently an all-male college), was meant to be a science college and the other one where laboratory blocks were constructed at a much later stage (presently an all-women college), as arts college.
It is a sad reflection on the present higher education system that majority of college lecturers, with very limited promotional avenues, retire as lecturers even after 20-30 years of service. Since a college can accommodate only one principal at a time, a very small percentage of lecturers reach to the only available promotional post of a principal. To add injury to insult, a male, vide a dated varsity norm, cannot be appointed as a principal in an all-women college, while a female can head even an all-male institution! Surprisingly, male lecturers, who get into closer contacts with their students than a principal, face no such bar and are frequently posted in all-female colleges. Due to this gender-biased and seemingly meaningless rule, the already small promotional avenues for male lecturers shrink further.
By segregating sexes in colleges, where students are considered mature enough even to vote for electing our MPs and MLAs, we seemingly do not achieve any profitable goal. Through such conservative sexist bias we only reaffirm that our high sounding talk of women’s empowerment, liberation and equality are sheer feminist slogans to be raised, and forgotten soon on every ritualistic Woman’s Day celebration.
Merely by holding debates, quizzes, essay competitions and poster-making competitions on these topics, we cannot change our mindset. We should come out of such retrograde factors so as to prepare our young boys and girls for the real challenges that are full of cut-throat competition. The undeniable Darwinian theory of the “Survival of the fittest” still holds good. But who are the fittest? Not dinosaurs but those who can adapt to change.
The pointless continuation of single-sex colleges, particularly all-male ones, which seem to be serving no plausible purpose at all and whose counter-productivity being well established, must end in the larger interest of both students and educational institutions.
Today, past convictions such as “men and women are fundamentally different in their mental disposition and women, being suited only to the domestic department, have a distinctive role in family life where they are expected to rear and bear children” do not hold any ground. Therefore, there seems to be no ground in support of segregation of sexes particularly in our institutions of higher learning.
All set to become the “eyes and ears” of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Prithviraj Chavan, Union Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, was a chance discovery of Rajiv Gandhi. Known for his penchant for information technology and computerisation, Rajiv came across Prithviraj, a young computer engineer from Maharashtra, working on developing language computer software to enable the machine switch to regional languages. Rajiv was impressed and that proved to be a turning point in Prithviraj’s career.
Prithviraj belongs to a family of Congress leaders from Maharashtra. His father, D.R. Chavan, was a Union Minister and an MP from 1957 to 1973 and mother, Premlatai Chavan, too was an MP, who later became President of the Maharashtra unit of the Congress. She was a confidant of Indira Gandhi. Premalatai was later elected unopposed from Karad constituency in Satara district, represented by her husband. Prithviraj was elected thrice — in 1991, 1996 and 1998. He lost the election in 1999 and was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2002.
Though Prithviraj is a technocrat, he knows well the intricate equations in politics. He had seen politics at home, leaders being made and unmade, since his childhood. He was educated at the prestigious BITS, Pilani. After obtaining BE (Hons), he went to the University of California, Berkeley, for his Master’s degree. He later joined America’s Aerospace industry as a design engineer and gained wide experience during his three-year stint there.
On his return to India, Prithviraj did not join politics and instead devoted to research in unknown fields of computer and information technology. However, his meeting with Rajiv Gandhi and the then Prime Minister’s interest in computers turned the course of his life.
Soft-spoken, amiable and knowledgeable, Prithviraj, was the personal choice of Dr Manmohan Singh to look after the affairs of the PMO. He is, among other things, expected to co-ordinate with Chief Ministers and monitor the effective implementation of the Common Minimum Programme at the Centre and in the states. Prithviraj says that his first priority is to ensure the Congress’ victory in the coming elections to the Maharashtra Assembly and “this will be the first political test of his party”.
He also feels that the Congress’ strength of 145 in the Lok Sabha is not enough. “We have to work hard in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to revamp the party”. Articulate and frank, Prithviraj says: “this government has the right to stay in power if he Congress too grows simultaneously”.
The Manmohan Singh government is determined to give a clean administration, undo the wrongs done in the past and ensure a people-friendly governance, he says. According to him, the Prime Minister has chosen his team and “is extremely keen to maintain the integrity of the high office and the government he heads”. Prithviraj says “political power is higher than executive power” and that Mrs Sonia Gandhi has got the mandate to rule. “It is on her name that we are running the government”, he avers.
Among the immediate achievements of Prithviraj was his successful organisation of the Congress campaign in Gujarat in the Lok Sabha elections. The party, having performed badly in the State Assembly elections, saw the rise of Mr Narendra Modi. The Congress was in bad shape and the partymen a demoralised lot. In these trying circumstances, Prithviraj was given the charge of steering the party through in the Lok Sabha poll.
In a performance that surprised Congress leaders themselves, the party wrested seven seats from the BJP and the credit rightly went to Prithviraj. As MOS of the PMO, he is the most sought -after man today.
For the last many weeks (in the US), we have had an onslaught of prison news as never before in the recent past. We as viewers entered and walked into the prisons, through ‘Larry King Lives’ and all other ways of reporting directly from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The case in point is of the outrageous and criminal acts committed inside the prisons by the Americans. There has been one long expose of acts of omission and commission, which brought America global humiliation and almost cost the United States Defence Secretary his position. In fact, he saved it by the skin of his teeth. The US President apologised repeatedly albeit belatedly, through the Arab TV channels to reach out in desperation to the Arab world: All to somehow throw cold water on the raging flames of hatred, which were spreading wild in the Arab world.
Having run the Tihar Central Prison in Delhi, the largest in the world in numbers in any liberal democracy, I could not resist the temptation of trying to understand of what probably could have gone wrong. The information which was being circulated was, that the prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan were more of detention centres, which were treating all prisoners as terrorists for purposes of brutal interrogations. And to extract actionable intelligence by any obnoxious means by anyone, privates or the untrained reservists, was enforce or endorsed. They admittedly were not oriented to run correctional facilities as renamed! And induction in Geneva Conventions that concern prisons was out of the question. There appeared to be only one objective, being, “sadistic, sexual and blatant humiliation” of the detainees. But as nature would have it, all this stood exposed by an insider waiting to lighten his conscience. His “power of the pictures” blasted America and shook the world.
But what I have found not addressed through the debates yet, is the whole issue of the “purpose of prisons”. Why are prisons being called correctional facilities when, in fact, they are not? Isn’t being imprisoned or detained, by itself a humiliation and a punishment enough? For does it not deprive a person (even though justifiably in cases) of all his basic rights of choices? And how is a combination of the limitation of choices with additional and continuing assaults appropriate?
Can we not think of also making the incarceration time, as a time for reflection, for those being guarded (sic)? Can it not be an enabling environment for self-audit, to help inmates recover and reform: As a choice? The experiment in this regard in Delhi and other Indian prisons and even the US worked. For more on this visit www.dhamma.org and see two documentaries, “Doing Time Doing Vipassana” and “Changing from Inside”.
I thought this could well have been an opportunity to address and debate this basic philosophy of imprisonment at least in democracies where people have the power to ask for a change. We today have correctional facilities in name. They are more in the nature of physical infrastructure, of iron and concrete than in spirit. We have inside modern infrastructure: swimming pools, gymnasiums, libraries, chapels, classrooms, dining halls, playgrounds, work factories and even theatres. But where are the programmes that enable intensive soul searching for the offenders from “within themselves” to genuinely walk out of correctional centres?
During my travels to over 35 prisons around the world for writing my book entitled, “It’s Always Possible”, a product of the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship, I saw imposing multi-storey buildings with elaborate facilities, without adequate and comprehensive programmes that were universally addressing the need for self-reflection. So far as I feel we are more on external make-ups than on internal long-term corrections. And let us not forget the guardians who too serve time inside, in many cases no less a period as many insiders. But that is another debate by itself..
In my assessment, it’s a lost opportunity of what should and could be the true concept of incarceration in modern times, even if it be at the cost of global humiliation for America. And some of the successful programmes in the Delhi Tihar Prison are available for anyone to see. Equally for all our other prisons in
Diversities — Delhi Letter
The well-known artist and illustrator Dolly Sahiar is no more. In her early 70s, she had been eminent writer Mulk Raj Anand’s constant companion for some decades. She died last week on board while travelling from the US to Mumbai. “She died just before the plane landed at Frankfurt. Though she was booked for Mumbai, the airlines staff handed her body to the Indian embassy staff at the Frankfurt airport.
What’s been bothering us is that it took them almost five days for the embassy staff to send the body to her family in Mumbai. “It has been traumatic”, says Mulk Raj Anand’s adopted son Kewal Anand.
As I write this, I can recall Dolly’s face and the childlike innocence with which she spoke. In fact, several years back during an interview, when I had asked her what had attracted her to Mulk so much that she never got married and continued to be his constant companion (Mulk has been married to Shireen, classical dancer of yesteryear), she quipped, “You know the first time I met him, I mistook him to be a servant; he was wearing red shorts with holes in them. I began illustrating his books and he became my best friend.”
Yes, it was heartening to watch the two sit together and talk and argue and interact. Companions they were and at this age to be left without her must be simply painful for Mulk.
Celebration of love Yesterday at a dinner get-together, I was introduced to Harsha Dehejia, the so-called “Love doc”. No, doesn't seem to cure you of all those love blues, but he’s a Canada-based doctor who has gone and written a collection of essays, “ A Celebration of Love: The Romantic Heroine in the Indian Arts” (Roli). Released here in the midst of June heat, he had no great heroine(s) by his side, save his spouse.
Yesterday at a dinner get-together, I was introduced to Harsha Dehejia, the so-called “Love doc”. No, doesn't seem to cure you of all those love blues, but he’s a Canada-based doctor who has gone and written a collection of essays, “ A Celebration of Love: The Romantic Heroine in the Indian Arts” (Roli). Released here in the midst of June heat, he had no great heroine(s) by his side, save his spouse.
Meet on refugees To observe World Refugee Day on June 20, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees will host a meet at the India International Centre on “Solutions for refugees: A place to call home”.
To observe World Refugee Day on June 20, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees will host a meet at the India International Centre on “Solutions for refugees: A place to call home”.
Catch 22 is a concept that the Hurriyat leaders are well aware of—all except the single-mindedly pro-Pakistan Ali Shah Geelani. Those at least of the leaders who belong to the Abbas Ansari-led faction know well the feeling of being stuck between a rock and hard place.
Imagine how the previous chairman, the hapless Abdul Ghani Bhat, must have felt when he was bundled out of his car after a bomb was spotted tied under it. He was just leaving after addressing a secessionist public meeting at a village not far from his.
The problem for these leaders is that while the State brands them as leaders of a terrorist movement, the terrorists despise them for compromising on a soft line — if not simply as sold out to India. The latest to face this problem is the Mirwaiz, Umer Farooq. His uncle, Maulvi Mushtaq, was shot and critically injured while he was praying at a mosque in downtown Srinagar.
A few days earlier, terrorists had hurled grenades at the Mirwaiz’ home. There have since been demonstrations in downtown Srinagar against the threat to the young leader’s life. Umer’s father, Mirwaiz Farooq, was assassinated on May 21, 1990, when two young men came to the same house to meet him and pulled out pistols while he was talking to them.
Since then, Dr Abdul Ahad Guru, mentor of the JKLF, Qazi Nisar and Abdul Ghani Lone are only some of the leaders of the secessionist movement that have been assassinated. At least Guru and Nisar were engaged in talks with Rajesh Pilot and George Fernandes. Each time of course, whatever initiative for peace was underway has been punctured. Most recently, this happened when Lone was assassinated on the twelfth anniversary of Mirwaiz Farooq’s killing. The possibility that he would have got the Hurriyat to at least covertly back candidates for the last Assembly elections came to naught.
The attack at the Mirwaiz’ residence indicates that those in charge of the militant infrastructure want to trip up the dialogue between the Ansari-led Hurriyat and the Government of India. No doubt, they are concerned that the new Congress-led government will be less amenable to the subtle pressures of the US and the UK.
The encouraging facet of last fortnight’s developments is the response of the young Mirwaiz. After waiting for about a fortnight, he chose to launch a scathing attack against the terrorists in his sermon at Srinagar’s Jamia mosque last Friday. Interestingly, he took the doctrinal bull by the horns, calling attacks like the one at his home anti-Islamic. To preach that violent insurgency of this sort not only does not qualify for the term jihad, but is actually against the tenets of Islam is indeed bold. This is the sort of doctrinal debate that Kashmir’s leaders have feared entering into thus far.
It is particularly appropriate that the Mirwaiz, who is often referred to as the chief priest of Kashmir, should take on the task. Although he is young, his education and upbringing have made him genuinely liberal. Plus, he knows that history has placed him in a unique position to take power when the current round of violence winds down.
By taking on the perpetrators of violence head on, young Umer has finally proved wrong those who had put him down as a spineless leader who would avoid taking a stand if he possibly could. Clearly, he has calculated that he must show his enemies that, while he may be willing to lie low as long as he is left alone, he is willing to hit back with doctrinal and political thrusts if they target him. It is sound strategy for, although it places him at risk, the alternative is to submit to Geelani’s dictation.
For Mirwaiz Umer more than for the rest of the Ansari-led Hurriyat, that is a dangerous option, for Geelani belongs to the puritanical fringe of the Jamaat-e-Islami, close to the radical reformism of the Ahle-hadis. That stream of Islamic practice would like to do away with traditional seats of Islamic clerics like the Mirwaiz.
Consequently, not only is his political direction under challenge, the entire edifice of the Mirwaiz’ tradition and its vast wealth and pelf are under threat. Although that explains the intensity of his response, the courage that such public assertions require should not be underestimated. The young man deserves kudos, and whatever encouragement he can be
If we liberate our souls from or petty selves, wish no ill to others, and become clear as a crystal diamond reflecting the light of truth, what a radiant picture will appear in us mirroring things as they are, without the admixture of burning desires, without the distortion of erroneous illusion, without the agitation of clinging and unrest. — The Buddha He on whom God bestows the gift of His praise, is the king of kings. — Guru Nanak The happiest moments we ever know are when we entirely forget ourselves. — Swami Vivekananda Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another. — George Eliot Forgive thyself little, and others much. — Leighton
— The Buddha
He on whom God bestows the gift of His praise, is the king of kings.
— Guru Nanak
The happiest moments we ever know are when we entirely forget ourselves.
— Swami Vivekananda
Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another.
— George Eliot
Forgive thyself little, and others much.