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Driven to suicide
Farmers do need urgent help
I
ncreasing suicides by farmers have become a sensitive issue that needs careful handling. Many MPs took up the issue with the Finance Minister in Parliament on Friday and sought waiving of farmers’ loans in the affected states. 

Need for unity
Let the Hurriyat speak in one voice
M
oulvi Abbas Ansari's resignation as Hurriyat Conference chief has brought into sharp focus the crisis plaguing the conglomerate, claiming to be fighting for the Kashmir cause.

Call centres
American prisoners spoil desi party
C
ompetition is good if it is healthy. America has unleashed in the call centre segment a policy that is anything but healthy in the conventional sense. 



 

EARLIER ARTICLES

THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
ARTICLE

Poor democratic record
A source of constant worry for Pakistanis
M.B. Naqvi writes from Karachi
A
change of government took place in just two days in Islamabad towards the end of June. It can be seen in two ways: it is a theatre that can entertain as well as sadden the citizens of Pakistan. Here was a carefully chosen Prime Minister, Mr Zafarullah Jamali, constantly vowing his loyalty to his “Boss”, President Gen Pervez Musharraf.

MIDDLE

Misplaced adoration
by Trilochan Singh Trewn
T
his happened when I was 55 years old. Our Japanese host was from Yokohama in Kanagawa, pre-factore. We made many friends during our two-month stay there. One of them was the local mayor and his family. Initial time for hectic buying of digital watches, zoom lens camera and mikimoto pearls being over, we settled down on socialising with locally settled Indians and some Japanese families.

OPED

Getting as bad as in Third World
Fake degrees, poor healthcare and rising cheating cases
Dateline London
by K.N. Malik

C
oming from a Third World country, one often believed that the leaking of examination papers, distribution of fake degrees and diplomas, scores of people dying of infections contracted in hospitals or cheating of innocent citizens through advertisements in national dailies happened mostly in poorer countries and not in the developed European world.

People
Dance a great stress buster
F
eeling stressed? Take the advice of celebrated classical dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai and start dancing. She has always got pain and trauma released through dance and does so even now — at the age of 86.

  • ‘Don’t mess with Shani’

  • Coconut water secret of energy

 REFLECTIONS

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Driven to suicide
Farmers do need urgent help

Increasing suicides by farmers have become a sensitive issue that needs careful handling. Many MPs took up the issue with the Finance Minister in Parliament on Friday and sought waiving of farmers’ loans in the affected states. Apart from Andhra Pradesh, reports of distressed farmers committing suicides have also come from six other states — Punjab, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Orissa and Tripura. One district of Kerala, Wayanad, alone is reported to have witnessed 91 farmers killing themselves. The reasons for poor peasants taking the drastic step are varied: indebtedness, crop failure, incurable ailments, addiction to intoxicants and family disputes, apart from lack of social and economic security.

While agreeing to “carefully examine” the issue, Mr P. Chidambaram refused to commit the government to any loan waiver scheme and instead suggested the MPs wait for the results of the Prime Minister’s recent package to Andhra Pradesh. Time was when loan melas were held frequently and waivers announced for political reasons. This had crippled the banking system. The new government is unlikely to repeat the blunder. Its plan of action is already spelled out in the Common Minimum Programme and the Budget. In deserving cases, it may postpone loan recovery, reschedule loans or announce packages like those meant for Andhra farmers.

There is, no doubt, returns from agriculture have not risen as fast as in the case of other sectors. Instead, these have declined in some states like Punjab. Agriculture accounts for 60 per cent of the workforce as against 16 per cent in industry and 24 per cent in services. The productivity in agriculture has not increased as sharply as in the case of industry and services. To boost agricultural growth and raise returns to farmers, the government proposes to encourage diversification, particularly in oilseeds, promote agro-processing industries and double agricultural credit in three years. However, all these measures will take time. Meanwhile, the farmers’ dependence on private money-lenders needs to be reduced on priority. An extended insurance cover should take care of crop failures and better water management measures should minimise the fallout of a monsoon failure. There is plenty of work already cut out for the Farmers Commission led by none else than Dr M.S. Swaminathan. A new deal might emerge for farmers from the deliberations of the Swaminathan Commission.
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Need for unity
Let the Hurriyat speak in one voice

Moulvi Abbas Ansari's resignation as Hurriyat Conference chief has brought into sharp focus the crisis plaguing the conglomerate, claiming to be fighting for the Kashmir cause. He wanted Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to take over the Hurriyat leadership as an interim arrangement because of the latter's acceptability among all the members of the undivided Hurriyat. Though the Mirwaiz has expressed his inability to function as interim chairman, he has launched a fresh drive for unity. This is what Moulvi Ansari perhaps wanted when he decided to leave the centrestage before completing his two-year term. He has always been in favour of all the Hurriyat constituents to remain on one platform, contrary to what he has been accused of by hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who heads a breakaway group.

The Hurriyat had split last September when Mr Geelani failed to get the People's Conference leader, Mr Bilal Lone, expelled from the grouping, on a charge of indirectly taking part in the 2002 Assembly elections, which was boycotted by the separatists. In his efforts to bring the Hurriyat constituents together again, the Mirwaiz is likely to get considerable help from those calling themselves the Unity Force --- the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Democratic Freedom Party, the People's League, the Jamaat Ahle Hadees and J and K Bar Association. They have been neither with the Ansari faction nor with that led by Mr Geelani, but struggling for ending the differences among the Hurriyat leaders.

Only a united Hurriyat will be able to present before the country what it actually wants. It will then be easier for the government too to deal with the forces constituting the conglomerate. It will be unfortunate if the Hurriyat leadership crisis delays the third round of talks with the Centre, to be held later this month, but this should not cause much worry. Most of the Hurriyat leaders stand for dialogue except for a few like Mr Geelani. One hopes the anti-dialogue leaders too will change their stance in the interest of peace in the valley. 
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Call centres
American prisoners spoil desi party

Competition is good if it is healthy. America has unleashed in the call centre segment a policy that is anything but healthy in the conventional sense. Convicts are in the process of taking over jobs that were once outsourced to India. Hard-boiled business houses never allow emotions to cloud their decisions. They have done it to duck domestic pressure against outsourcing. Now the American people have to decide between setting up call centres in American prisons or outsourcing jobs to countries where labour is cheap.

Look at the problem from Indian shores. It would hurt to be shown the door because American crooks serving prison terms have agreed to do the job for equally low wages? Do not forget that a dollar is worth about Rs 50, but in America it is worth just another dollar. American convicts would get $200 a month for answering calls that would otherwise cost the company a small fortune. A figure of 2,000 American convicts in call centre jobs is not alarming. However, a good idea does not take time to spread. This one is as good as it can humanly get. About 8,30,000 US service-sector jobs would be shipped out by 2005. Now most of them may end up in American prisons. The rationale of providing a chance of rehabilitation to convicts cannot be faulted.

Of course, not all call centre jobs in India will dry up. There are certain segments that require more than a decent voice to answer queries. The sense of hurt on being pushed by American crooks will heal with time. Crooks being crooks may not be able to hang on to their jobs for long. They may even end up complaining when call centre jobs again return to India.
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Thought for the day

If I am a great man, then all great men are frauds.

— Andrew Bonar Law
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Poor democratic record
A source of constant worry for Pakistanis
M.B. Naqvi writes from Karachi

A change of government took place in just two days in Islamabad towards the end of June. It can be seen in two ways: it is a theatre that can entertain as well as sadden the citizens of Pakistan.

Here was a carefully chosen Prime Minister, Mr Zafarullah Jamali, constantly vowing his loyalty to his “Boss”, President Gen Pervez Musharraf. Suddenly, a spate of rumours started that he was going in May. The Press published the reports that Mr Jamali was on his way out. And the poor Prime Minister, who was integral to the return of “real” democracy, had to go despite denying that he would resign.

Suddenly on June 26 he had a brief audience with the President. The same evening he presented his resignation papers to the ruling Muslim League’s chief in front of legislators in order to prove that he was a faithful Muslim Leaguer and would like to stay in politics. What was startling was that he also announced the name of his successor: Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the ruling party’s President. The latter has duly taken over, though he will remain there till the end of August when his own nominee, Mr Shaukat Aziz, the Finance Minister, will be elevated to the post of Prime Minister after he wins a National Assembly seat in the coming byelection. In fact, two Prime Ministers will have resigned for Mr Aziz to occupy this position.

Many people are asking uncomfortable questions. Why did Mr Jamali go on denying for weeks that he would resign and then suddenly he did on the day one newspaper predicted he would? Why does he go on asserting that he did not resign under pressure? And yet he claimed that he resigned in order to save the “system”. This would imply a danger to the “system”. From whom was the threat perceived? Only the Pakistan Army is capable of staging a coup d’etat and indeed has done so on four occasions. Did he see a threat of another military takeover? Or, was General Musharraf, having ample powers to dismiss all the Assemblies and Central and Provincial governments, ready to scrap his own architecture of “real” democracy?

Mr Jamali nominating one interim or buffer Prime Minister and a substantive one later on is perhaps the only instance of its kind. Naturally, searching questions will be asked about the next Prime Minister-to-be. Who is he? He is not a professional politician. He is an import from the US, where he was sixth from the top in Citi Bank, having spent many years in the organisation. When General Musharraf brought him to Pakistan as Finance Minister he was suspected to have acquired American citizenship. Being a technocrat Finance Minister with a flair for PR, he has remained focused on his job. He is friendly with many journalists.

Despite his charm and ability, Mr Aziz has no political base or constituency. Opposition leaders call him a gift from America. Times having changed, the Pakistani Press is no longer servile even to a general. Whether or not it is really a free Press, it frequently criticizes General Musharraf and gets away with it. Even in the case of the Prime Minister, who has to remain subservient to the President, the designation and the job demands political skills. Politics in Pakistan is mostly non-ideological and the elected deputies are generally interested in what they can get for themselves, managing 342 MNAs and four quarrelling provincial governments requires qualities different from those of a technocrat.

There is also a sombre part of this sordid drama. Pakistan has long floundered in the quest for a stable political system. It made a mess of democracy in its earliest years. Its first Prime Minister was assassinated in 1951. After that a long line of Prime Ministers was either dismissed or ousted through manipulation by a bureaucratic coterie. All could see this cynical manipulation and did.

It radically undermined democracy and stability. The bureaucracy seized power within six or seven years because it was thought to control the Army. The Army too later noted that it was its support that had made the small bureaucratic caucus so powerful. In the eleventh year, Pakistan came under military control. That situation is still there.

The first military ruler, the self-promoted Field Marshal Ayub Khan, lasted over 10 years and cost Pakistan dearly. During that period Pakistan finally departed from democratic values. A majority of Pakistanis lived in East Pakistan. The rising bureaucratic and military power of mainly West Punjabi origin alienated the Bengalis. In fact, it can be said that the Bengalis were forced into seceding in 1971 by the Army. That was not the only heavy cost that Pakistan had to pay. The failure in nation building and the inability to create a stable political system was another cost.

Pakistan, in sharp contrast with India, had acquired the image of an unstable State as early as the 1950s. Four open military coups and innumerable illegal changes of government and a constant change in the constitution since have given Pakistan an unenviable image of a failed or failing State. Pakistanis spend much unhappy time comparing their own and Indian politics.

All Pakistan governments, especially the longer-lasting military ones, were fond of propagating their economic successes and often claimed that an average Pakistani’s per capita income was greater than an average Indian’s. For a time it was true. India is clearly over-populated than Pakistan. The land-man ratio in today’s Pakistan is still better than India’s average. Then, Pakistan has received a lot of foreign aid that was, per capita, greater than what India got. Even that talking point is no longer available: India’s rate of growth having become faster, its per capita income has notably outstripped Pakistan’s.

Persistent propaganda has pushed many unfavourable facts out of current discourse. The fruits of whatever growth has taken place in Pakistan are even more unevenly distributed. The rich have become richer while the poor continue to become poorer. Poverty has steadily grown in step with the growth in rural landlessness. Up to 40 per cent Pakistanis are certified poor, and suicides among the unemployed are steadily growing.

The propaganda of economic growth by the Musharraf-Aziz duo evokes sharply negative reactions. But propagate their success they must; the absence of true democracy is unconsciously sought to be compensated by the results shown with their management skills. They constantly get certificates of good economic management from the World Bank and the IMF. But at the grassroots level, things are different. That is ignored — and always minimised.

It is true that the worst suffering is reserved for the urban and rural poor under the World Bank definition, and the number is uncontrollably growing. But those citizens who are not so poor and are politically aware have suffered psychologically. Pakistan became an American satellite in 1953. Through the thick and thin of the East-West-Cold-War Pakistan remained Uncle Sam’s bag carrier. The image of being American stooges hurts, more so as Indian’s record was different and honourable.

American influence in the country’s governance is a constant affront to the Pakistanis’ self-respect. It is a direct result of the Pakistani rulers’ early choice. The governments in Islamabad and the Americans have supported each other. Indeed, the Pakistanis believe that if the Americans had not played the role they did, Pakistan would have been neither debt-ridden nor a helpless camp follower of the US as it is even today.

All that has resulted from the failure to build a self-respecting nation with a stable political system that would be democratic without any other adjective. The cost of democracy’s absence continues to grow. 
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Misplaced adoration
by Trilochan Singh Trewn

This happened when I was 55 years old. Our Japanese host was from Yokohama in Kanagawa, pre-factore. We made many friends during our two-month stay there. One of them was the local mayor and his family. Initial time for hectic buying of digital watches, zoom lens camera and mikimoto pearls being over, we settled down on socialising with locally settled Indians and some Japanese families. Visits to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples became a routine matter. We were now used to bowing and prostrating respectfully before Fox god, the presiding deity of the seaside Shinto shrine. Visiting ladies preferred to join ritualistic prayers in traditional Japanese Kimono dress in its simple form.

Finally, a day came when all Japanese hospitality came to an end. We were invited for a farewell dinner Suki Yaki. The mayor’s father, Bagai Watanabe, had been a general in the royal Japanese army when Japan had conquered the Philippines. We presented the couple with a bronze replica of a 10-inch-high Natraj. The entire family stood up and bowed several times while accepting our present.

Then followed the difficult part of the farewell evening. Mr Watanabe took out a 30-inch-long Japanese samurai sword as a gift for us to be taken to India. There was an appreciative silence in the room. I broke the silence by revealing that Indian customs regulations did not permit carrying of weapons like samurai by passengers on aircraft. Our hosts were disappointed.

Through an instant facesaving idea the mayor’s son, who had recently won a national trophy in football in a match against South Korea in Tokyo, suggested that the two-foot-high trophy awarded to him should be handed over to me in lieu, as a souvenir from Japan. The inscribed words on the national trophy were “For excellence in Football — Tokyo 1978”.

I was reluctant but accepted it under pressure on insistence.

In those days there was a general craze in India for foreign goods and we too had purchased a lot many items. This was not all. My wife had been presented sets of equisite Japanese magazines on catering, gardening, landscaping and kimonos, etc. weighing about 30 kg. This situation was a big drag in accepting any more baggage to be flown to India. Hurried thinking made me to decide that I should carry the gift trophy in hand along with my hand baggage.

The air journey by Tokyo to Hong Kong flight was comfortable. No one bothered about the large trophy in my arms. The extra baggage weight which I was carrying worried me less than the nature of someone else’s trophy I was carrying.

It was exactly 6 in the morning when the Lufthansa flight from Hong Kong landed at Sahara International Airport, Mumbai. As we converged towards the customs counter with my wife dragging the heavy bag containing dozens of Japanese coloured magazines, time seemed to stand still for me. I was holding the customs declaration form in my left hand by which I was also holding the football trophy. The customs officer advanced his hand and picked up the declaration form but his gaze was fixed at the trophy and not at the form. He with unusual interest read the writing on the base of the trophy and loudly congratulated me. Watching this some more customs officers, including their four striper chief, also came closer and placed the trophy in his hands and said “Gentleman we do not know you but we are proud of your achievement in foreign land.” Through prompt intuition, I just uttered “thank you — I have nothing to say”, I wondered how at my age they could expect me to pick up an International football trophy!

Contents of my bulky baggage were ignored. My declaration form was promptly stamped. I was ceremoniously escorted out of the customs enclosure by almost all the admiring airport staff available there, an honour I certainly did not deserve. 
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Getting as bad as in Third World
Fake degrees, poor healthcare and rising cheating cases
Dateline London
by K.N. Malik

In Britain fake degrees are easily available. Tony Blair inspects an art classroom
In Britain fake degrees are easily available. Tony Blair inspects an art classroom 

Coming from a Third World country, one often believed that the leaking of examination papers, distribution of fake degrees and diplomas, scores of people dying of infections contracted in hospitals or cheating of innocent citizens through advertisements in national dailies happened mostly in poorer countries and not in the developed European world.

One was, therefore, a bit surprised by a banner headline in The Guardian, which screamed " Website offers fake degrees for £ 165/-." Only a few days earlier, the BBC had announced the authorities would take strict action against those responsible for leaking the GSCE examination papers. Earlier, in an elite private hospital, I reminded a ward nurse that the bandage on a patient's knee had not been changed for three days. Pat came the reply: “We try not to change the bandage often for fear of infection”.

A few days later the secretary of state for health, while dwelling at some length on the government's efforts to improve health care in the country on TV, announced that special steps would be taken to fight the epidemic of infection in hospitals. The measures which he enunciated included more effective drugs and better hygiene. Scores of patients, mostly elderly, succumbed to infection in hospitals.

While on this subject of vulnerability of frail old people in hospitals, only a few days earlier one had watched with horror on TV channels the trial of a senior nurse accused of killing several elderly patients. Her plea was that she pulled the plugs on people who had their days to make room for younger and more deserving patients.

Occasionally one comes across stories of fake doctors or surgeons with fake qualifications or who had been struck of the medical register, carrying on practice or operations resulting in deaths of patients. There was a celebrated case of a GP (general practitioner) killing his elderly patients, some of whom had made a will giving the GP their houses. These instances are shocking considering that the UK' National Health Service is universally acknowledged as one of the finest government-run systems in the world.

The NHS's strongest point is its emergency services and its weakest is consultation with specialists. It can some time take six months to get specialist consultation or treatment. There are cases where patients have died before their turn came for specialist treatment.

Another weak point is the nursing services, though certainly not as bad as in most hospitals in Third World countries. Though their cleanliness standards have come under attack, especially because of spread of infection in hospitals, it is way above Third World standards.

Lately, the government has made heavy investment in health services. And all three main political parties are trying to make further improvements an issue for the next elections. While the Labour wants to commission services of private healthcare as subcontractors to supplement its services, the Conservatives want to privatise the services. The popularity of the public health system, however, is so great that even the Conservatives are now pledging to invest more money in public services, including the NHS, though they have not given up the idea of privatisation.

One weak point in the system is the terms and conditions of consultants, who are allowed private practice. Human nature being what it is, some among them exploit the system and bring a bad name to the whole community of consultants. They use the NHS to draw patients for private practice. Consequently while it may take six months to see a consultant in the NHS hospital, the same consultant may be available in a day or two privately. One is familiar with the problem in some states in India where government doctors are allowed private practice.

Reverting to fake degrees, the police was able to trace the person who was offering these near-genuine degrees. He is Peter Quinn from an address in Liverpool. He describes himself as a magician. He boasts of offering most authentic looking degrees and certificates from universities across the world. The newspaper obtained a medical degree from Oxford University, a Bachelor of Arts degree from Strathclyde and a full set of GCSEs in the name of a student who is still awaiting his results.

Quinn has successfully evaded the law because of loopholes. The police is frustrated and universities find it hard to pursue cases against him because of hefty legal costs. Each time the police catches him on one website and manages to close the site he pops up on another website. Quinn claims that at least 11,000 hits on his websites. The government is under pressure to plug loopholes in the law but finds it hard to do so.

Meanwhile, the government is under fire for agreeing to changes in the legislation to ban slapping children by parents. About 300 pressure groups have been agitating for a ban on hitting children altogether. The compromise law, which finally was passed a few days ago, has caused more confusion. As per the new law, you can hit a child but cannot hurt him or her. The government proposal for a complete ban on hitting a child was diluted by the Lords, many of whom believe mild smacking by parents can be good for disciplining a child.
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People
Dance a great stress buster

Mrinalini Sarabhai and her daughter Mallika Sarabhai perform at a function in New Delhi
Mrinalini Sarabhai and her daughter Mallika Sarabhai perform at a function in New Delhi.

Feeling stressed? Take the advice of celebrated classical dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai and start dancing. She has always got pain and trauma released through dance and does so even now — at the age of 86.

“For me, dancing is the best means of stress reduction. But any form of art can do that,” Sarabhai told an interviewer recently.

“The real self of an artiste lies in art, so when an artiste performs, all the pain, trauma and tension get released through art, be it dancing, painting, singing, writing or even martial arts,” says Sarabhai, the wife of renowned Indian space scientist Vikram Sarabhai — whom President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam considered
as a mentor — and the mother of dancer Mallika Sarabhai.

‘Don’t mess with Shani’

The success made by scientists in exploring the planet Saturn may be a matter of pride for the mankind, but the astrologers are as usual playing the spoilsport. Many of them think that many recent disasters around the world, for instance a devastating earthquake in Iran, were linked to such efforts by man.

“Saturn is even more powerful than the sun,” said astrologer Ajay Gautam. “Man will never reach there. He will be destroyed before that. He should not even attempt to build such enmity with nature and, least of all, with such powerful planets.” He was referring to the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft — a collaboration between NASA and other space agencies — firing its engine into Saturn’s atmosphere.

Pandit Laxmi Narayan Shastri, the head priest at the Birla Temple in Delhi, thinks there would not be any impact of the space probe on people who worship Shani or Saturn. “But those monitoring the spacecraft will definitely be affected”.

It seems that science cannot triumph over belief and faith. Astrologer Ranjit Jha believes: “Man himself will not reach anywhere near Saturn now. In a way, it is faith that is propelling man to make such attempts. Perhaps he will benefit because he is putting in so much of hard work and perseverance just to get near Saturn.”

Astrologer Ajay Bhambi, however, believes the marvels of planet Saturn will be unravelled one day. “Man will definitely benefit from this attempt. Man will go there, he will discover new chemicals, he will expand his existing knowledge and thus develop whole mankind in the process. Anyone who predicts anything else is bluffing,” he says.

Coconut water secret of energy

Many Indian cricketers are brand ambassadors for aerated drinks. But it is coconut water which keeps them going at the Asia Cup preparatory camp in Chennai as they acclimatise to the weather they are likely to face in Sri Lanka later this month.

Aerated drinks are of course available, but the preference is for coconut water.
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The company of those who cherish the True Lord within, turns mortals into holy beings.

— Guru Nanak

The immortal can be reached only by continuous acts of kindness; and perfection is accomplished by compassion and charity.

— The Buddha

The absolute is the material of both God and Man. As Absolute Omnipresent Being we are all one; and as personal beings, God is the eternal master and we are the eternal servants.

— Swami Vivekananda

Action cannot destroy ignorance, for it is not in conflict with ignorance. Knowledge alone destroys ignorance, as light destroys darkness.

— Sri Adi Sankaracharya
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