Hope of justice
After the Red Fort speech
Monsoon sensitivity in Kasauli
Gender imbalance in West Bengal
AN Olympic silver medal and that too in an individual event? You must be joking! That was the reaction of many of those who had not seen Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore do the impossible in men's double trap shooting event thanks to a strike by cable operators. At last the jinx is broken. While more fancied players bit the dust in Athens, the army man from Rajasthan held his nerve and was bang on target. To say that this is the first individual silver medal India has got in the Olympics after Independence is a bit of a misnomer. Actually, it is the first silver medal ever. Before this, silver was won by Norman Pritchard, a British soldier serving in India at the 1900 Paris Olympics, which some think was credited to India. Technically that may be correct but to actually consider that an Indian triumph would be basking in reflected glory. Getting a silver medal in double trap, which involves aiming at two moving targets within one second, is particularly creditable because this is considered one of the most difficult events. The way Rathore came from behind to reserve his place in the sun is the stuff legends are made of.
The victory was the result of his obsessive focus on winning which had made him a butt of many jokes. At the same time the credit also goes to the Army and the Sports Ministry which had gone all out to give him the best of training, which included a stint in Italy under Australian coach Mark Russel. Shooting is an expensive game and only the total commitment of the backers can ensure proper practice.
The nation's ecstasy over the triumph is understandable but that is only because there has been such a dearth of medals all these years. The overall performance has been dismal, even in this Olympics. One wants to pray that Rathore's hope that his victory will inspire many others to go for the gold will come true. While nations like China have done 10 times as well, India is content to gloat over one medal. The reasons for this miserable performance are not a secret. Why these causes are not removed is!
Hope of justice
THE Supreme Court has taken yet another step to ensure justice to the riot victims of Gujarat. The court has ordered constitution of a special cell to reexamine the closure of over 2,000 post-Godhra riot cases. This constitutes a body blow to the Narendra Modi government. The court's intervention had become necessary as riot cases have been collapsing at the trial stage itself. The reasons are not far to seek. Shoddy investigation and lack of sincerity on the part of the prosecution leave the courts with no other option but to acquit the accused. When such acquittals had become the rule, rather than an exception, the court was forced to step in. The basic problem is the dual policy of the Modi government which sees the Godhra and the post-Godhra incidents differently. In the case of the former it even used the Prevention of Terrorism Act against the accused while virtually sparing the post-Godhra guilty
As a result, even in the notorious Best Bakery case the accused were not found guilty by the court. Thanks to the intervention of the apex court, the case will now be tried in Maharashtra. What is noteworthy about the present decision is that the court has given civil society a major role in the dispensation of justice. For instance, if the special cell, constituted to look into such cases, feels that the decision to close a particular case was right, it should give its reasons and place them on the Internet so that anybody can peruse them and, if necessary, challenge them.
The Modi government has been nonchalant even when the Supreme Court has been taking extraordinary steps to mete out justice to the riot victims. Deposition by senior officers before the Shah and Nanavati Commission inquiring into the Gujarat riots shows how upright officers were given a short shrift and the hoodlums were allowed to enjoy a field day. Since there is nothing to suggest that there has been a change in the mindset of the powers that be in Gujarat, the organs of civil society like the NGOs will have to strive hard to bring justice to everyone who was wronged against. It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs that even after two and a half years procedures for meting out justice are still being worked out.
THE P.C. Hota Committee Report on Civil Service Reforms assumes significance in the context of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's commitment to make the bureaucracy transparent and accountable. It has recommended, among other things, summary dismissal of corrupt civil servants by amending Article 311 of the Constitution; declaration of assets by bureaucrats like politicians; and attachment of ill-gotten property of officials. The report confirms the fact that Herculean efforts are needed to cleanse the administrative system. The Prime Minister has reiterated his commitment to reform the system in his Independence Day speech. But the question remains: will the Hota Committee report be implemented?
As it is, there is no dearth of reports. But what is missing is the political will to implement them. For instance, one does not know the fate of the Surendra Nath Committee Report, the B.N. Yugandhar Committee Report or the Malimath Committee report on criminal justice reforms. The treatment given to the report of the National Police Commission headed by the late Dharam Vira is a classic example of gross apathy. Clearly, this is the reason why these reports attract widespread public cynicism and indignation.
Dr Manmohan Singh, despite the compulsions of coalition politics, can still make a new beginning if he means business. Reorienting the bureaucracy to respond to the challenges is not an impossible task, given the political will. We need a system that rewards the upright, punish the guilty and weed out the deadwood. The Hota Committee's suggestion to lower the age limit for recruitment to civil services from the present 21-30 years to 21-24 years (for general category) merits attention. This will help strengthen the district administration with younger Collectors; and enable those above 45 years to become Secretaries to the Government of India and gain experience in various ministries for a full 15 years before retirement.
After the Red Fort speech
IN the eyes of most people, barring incorrigible cynics, Dr Manmohan Singh’s maiden speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day was both worthy of the great national event and typical of the man delivering it. Not being a politician in the classic mould, he spoke like a scholarly and technocratic Prime Minister that he is.
He spelt out the philosophy and the vision of the government he heads, but he refrained from making any tall claims or promises or announcing thundering new schemes that are seldom meant to be implemented. “I have no promises to make, only promises to keep” was his credo. It merits much greater applause than it has received.
Despite the Prime Minister’s fine performance, the impression persists, and is being furiously fostered by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), that he is not really his own man. Or, at the very least, he has to function in a set-up in which the lines of command and control are not yet clear. Whether justified or not, this feeling exists and has got to be removed.
This can be done only by the Congress president and the head of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), Mrs Sonia Gandhi. It was her decision to renounce the office of Prime Minister and to handpick Dr Manmohan Singh for this post with that has created the present situation in the first place. To her credit, she always defers to the Prime Minister in public; in private also she reportedly listens to him with due deference. But the message underlying this does not seem to have sunk into the consciousness of some of the senior Cabinet ministers and even some Congress Chief Ministers. Otherwise, there would not have been the kind of advertisements that friends of Mr Amarinder Singh have been issuing in Punjab.
Similarly, Union Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh’s one-man crusade against the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) — especially his quixotic, indeed questionable, demand that the Prime Minister should purge the Central bureaucracy of RSS fellow-travellers — is inevitably causing a lot of damaging speculation.
No one knows better than Mrs Gandhi that she has a Herculean task cut out for her — to revive and rebuild the Congress party in several states where it is moribund and especially in the key state of UP where it is comatose. This would require consistent and persistent effort at the grassroots level. It would not be a bad idea, therefore, if Mrs Gandhi spends a couple of months in the countryside of UP — where the clash between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party ruling the state is also escalating — leaving the Manmohan Singh government to work things out in New Delhi.
Ironically, Mr Arjun Singh’s verbal archery is aggravating the climate of relentless political confrontation that perfectly suits the BJP, which, still shell-shocked after being voted out of power, apparently believes that intensified pressure on the present power structure would bring it down sooner rather than later. No wonder then that hardly had some kind of normality been restored to Parliament’s functioning when the Taslimuddin affair became another excuse for partisan political warfare. It is a pity that even a leader of Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s stature is impervious to the grave damage being done to parliamentary democracy. But then the primary responsibility to set things right is that of the party or combination in the driving seat.
This apart, there are some burning problems that need to be attended to — sadly, they can’t be resolved easily — with greater speed and vigour than have been in evidence so far. It was no mere coincidence that shortly after the Prime Minister’s Red Fort speech there took place in northern Assam one of the worst terrorist attacks in which schoolchildren and other innocent men and women were literally blown up.
In Kashmir, terrorist attacks have continued to be an almost daily routine notwithstanding the peace process and composite dialogue with Pakistan. Observers have noted that New Delhi hasn’t pointed an accusing finger towards Islamabad in the case of the present outrages that have been directed most against the Central Reserve Police though on Independence Day children were targeted. Evidently, those (many of them belonging to the establishment) who say that the strategy and tactics to fight terrorism need a second look have a point.
The worry on this score has increased manifold because the alarming mess in Manipur — ravaged by no fewer than 30 insurgencies for several decades — has been allowed to persist for the sixth week running. In the first place, the rage of the vast masses of Imphal, the capital of Manipur where 10 per cent of the state’s population lives, cannot be attributed the machinations of militants and secessionists alone. There has also been a regrettable lack of both promptness and sensitivity in responding to the case of Ms Manorama Devi, allegedly a victim of both rape and custodial killing at the hands of the Assam Rifles.
It is shocking that no senior Union minister found it necessary to go to Imphal even after a dozen women had come out on the street naked, behind a banner asking the Army to rape them. The Army top brass, too, has been remiss. Evidently, for New Delhi not just Manipur but the entire North east is a “faraway region about which it knows little and cares even less”.
Secondly, and more depressingly, the Congress Chief Minister of Manipur, Mr Ibobi Singh, evidently taking a leaf from the book of his Punjab counterpart, unilaterally declared Imphal not to be a “disturbed area” — ironically at a time when it had turned into an inferno — thus making the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) inapplicable to the city. This was a partial surrender to the demand of the militants who want this law to be lifted from the entire state and indeed repealed.
Thereupon, the Centre that had earlier categorically and rightly refused to withdraw the AFSPA adopted a “wait and watch” policy which is but a euphemism for utterly unacceptable inaction. Failure to slap down Mr Ibobi Singh would be disastrous. For, if he gets away with his misdmeanour, there would be a flood of similar acts of defiance by any number of states.
At the same time some of the draconian provisions of the AFSPA, such as the one enabling any army officer of even a junior rank to arrest anyone without producing him or her before a magistrate, have got to be
Monsoon sensitivity in Kasauli
Dusk in Kasauli. A profusion of dahlias splashed on the hillside. Droplets of rain sparkling diamond-like in their corollas. A green canopy of fragrant pines giving Kasauli its unique sub-Himalayan vegetation. Old fashioned cottages, veiled by stately chestnuts, perched at a respectable distance from each other. This, indeed, is a privileged place.
The view from Kasauli of the plains, as of the higher Garhwal Himalayas and Dhauladhars, is amongst the most splendid of natural panoramas anywhere in the world. And, the pristine cool air a more effective formula than cosmetics in the market place to keep at bay the wrinkles of creeping old age. Looking out to the south-west and west, lie the plains of Punjab, Haryana and the road to Delhi. Rain-clouds painted silver, crimson and gold by the translucent tones of a monsoon sunset. Meandering courses of streams and rivers..the Sukhna, Ghaggar, Satluj and Jamuna, benevolent and ferocious in their moods: bones of contention between chemicalised water-guzzling systems of agriculture in feuding states.
What a glorious view, but alas! what a letdown of the chivalrous and compassionate cultures that once adorned the Punjabi ethos. The ecstasy of the monsoon contaminated by a landscape of contemporary religion and politics desecrated by bigotism, caste prejudice, empty ritual and vulgarised bhangra.
A privileged place, also ecologically fragile and sensitive. This has been a monsoon full of suspense. Early light rain in June that held Kasauli’s mild summer at bay with an extended freshness of spring and flowers. No burning, pine needles this year to singe the hills. No infernos of burning forests, no fires to suppress the pink zephyranthes that habitually spread their floral aura in Kasauli in June. Then, after a little rain, the drought. The farmers’ fears of vegetables, paddy and maize shrivelling to death. Quaint gardens in Kasauli’s cottages crying out for water.
Kasauli’s is a strategic location at the western extremity of the watershed that extends westwards from the Brahmaputra valley. All nullahs, streams and rivers from the hills in this area that drain north and west flow into the Arabian Sea, and all that flow south and east empty out into the Bay of Bengal. From Monkey Point, the monsoon magic of Kasauli spreads out like an ethereal map of cloud, rain, forest and water system that are the life-blood of northern India. It is an ennobling experience to stand, stare and be star-struck by such a grand phenomenon. For, here is a sensitive ecology that needs care and protection. Something not easy to come by from our contemporary lot of ministers, politicians, bureaucrats, general and captains of industry, who scamper about in their helicopters or in limousines with their windows tinted black.
Every year the monsoon assumes a more treacherous beauty. Not because the gods would wish it thus, but because the pernicious elitist sections of this country are hell-bent on clawing their way into this sensitive and beautiful zone of Mother Nature. The latest intruders are the page three set from Delhi who are competing to establish concrete slums of pretencious villas that sit heavy on these fragile hills. Thanks to the previous Defence Minister, George Fernandes, one such slum has come up right in the shadow of the Air Force Station. The promoters of this aberration are also busy introducing junk food joints along the National highway from Kalka to Shimla Kasauli’s Lower Mall is also threatened by perforations in its boundary embankment by the promoters of this page three ghetto and others of the same ilk.
As for the Army and Air Force that dominate Kasauli, they have thrown in the towel in abject frustration.
We are celebrating the monsoon in Kasauli. Harbinger of life, death and exquisite beauty. The monsoon magic tempered by wanton page three intrusion. As the sun sets on another monsoon evening, the fireflies and glowworms along Kasauli’s hawthorn hedges are a cause of hope that this hill station has the will to survive the wages of wrongful
Gender imbalance in West Bengal
The recent West Bengal Human Development Report (HDR) 2004 focuses on two major public initiatives that have characterised the state in the past 26 years: land reforms and decentralisation. While there is no separate chapter on gender, the attempt has been to incorporate a gender perspective on all issues considered in the report.
This is the first HDR from West Bengal and is of particular interest given that the Left parties, committed to economic equity and social justice, have ruled the state for uninterrupted 27 years.
Gender discrimination has been an ongoing feature of economic and social processes in West Bengal. While it has declined in some respects in the recent past, it remains significant. It is much less apparent in health indicators such as longevity and infant mortality, and most evident in economic variables and in literacy.
The life expectancy data indicate the improving health position of women relative to men. West Bengal has been successful in bringing down both birth rates and death rates, with one of the most rapid declines in the birth rate in India. Historically, the sex ratio in West Bengal was worse for women than the all-India level. But it has improved faster, and is now just above the national average.
For women in the state, economic exclusion remains one of the most significant problems, and which tends to have a spillover effect in other aspects of life. West Bengal has among the lowest recorded rates of female work participation in the country. Typically, this is evidence of gender discrimination, not only because low participation rates reflect a resistance to women working outside the home, but more significantly because they may reflect under-reporting due to the social invisibility and lack of recognition of women’s unpaid work. Both of these suggest a major undercurrent of gender discrimination in society.
It is true that female work participation rates have been rising in the recent past according to the census, both for main and marginal workers. But it is not clear how much of this is due to better recognition and enumeration of women’s work, and how much was actually the real trend.
In the rural areas, micro evidence suggests that more women are entering economic activities related to the expansion of local networks such as panchayat-based groups and self help groups (SHGs). Most of this work is in non-agricultural activities, although it may be in related activities such as dairy, livestock rearing and food processing. SHGs have also helped in increasing women’s work involvement in a range of services, some of which are relatively new.
SHGs are also active in the urban areas, where they have assisted women in income-generating activities that have added to household income. In the urban areas, more women are entering the workforce as paid main workers, as well as those self-employed, especially in various services. And the increase in the number of female main workers has been more than three times the rate of growth of urban female population.
Land reforms in the state — land distribution and registration of tenants — were very effective in improving the class position of the rural poor, and unleashed productive forces in the countryside. They redressed social inequalities of caste and also benefited minority groups such as Muslim peasant households that were among the poorest in rural West Bengal.
But they were much less effective in reducing gender discrimination. In fact, until recently, the allocation of pattas (small land holdings) reinforced existing gender inequalities. Joint pattas for husbands and wives started only from the mid-1990s. Before that, when most of the land was redistributed, pattas were granted only to the head of household, who was typically male. Joint pattas account for less than 10 per cent of the total, while pattas in the name of women as single holders account for less than 6 per cent of the total. The rate of allocation of joint pattas has picked up recently in the state as whole, and most pattas are now granted jointly to husband and wife.
The other important initiative of the state government — enhancing people’s participation through democratic decentralisation and a greater role for panchayats (village councils) — has had much more positive effects in terms of the empowerment of women. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s — well before the 73rd Amendment Act of 1994 — more than one-third of the panchayat members were women.
This has had dynamic effects on the social and political empowerment of women in general and also positive effects on the general functioning and responsiveness of panchayats to people’s needs.
The significant increase in the proportion of girls in education, the better performance of girls in schools, and the strong motivation for schooling even among girls in low income or socially deprived groups, can be at least partly attributed to the influence of women panchayat members in raising consciousness and gender awareness in the local communities.
Illiteracy remains a significant problem. Even as late as the end of the 1990s, more than half of rural households and nearly one-third of urban households did not have any female adult literate person. In agricultural labour households, nearly two-thirds of the females are non-literate.
Poor school infrastructure contributes to gender imbalances. In the government school system in rural areas, separate urinals for girls are very rare, while latrine facilities do not exist in most schools. Even so, overall, girls are performing better in schools than boys.
So while it appears that the condition of women and girls in West Bengal is definitely improving, literacy and economic empowerment are two areas, among others, that require more focused attention. And the pace of change is not as rapid as could be desired. — Women’s Feature Service
From Pakistan ISLAMABAD: The Indus River System Authority (Irsa) on Tuesday decided to impose a 10 per cent cut on provincial water shares for the remaining period of the Kharif season and projected that water might not be available in dams for the Rabi season. “The water crisis has worsened and Irsa has opted to provide maximum water to the current Kharif crops, albeit with a 10 per cent cut on provincial water shares,” a participant of the Irsa advisory committee meeting told Dawn. The meeting, presided over by Irsa Chairman Rahim Khan Zarkun, requested the federal government “to announce offering of Namaaz-i-Istasqa,” notwithstanding over 60 mm of rains during the last fortnight. Irsa proposed that either the provincial shares be cut by 21 per cent, leaving two million acre feet to 2.6 million acre feet of water in the reservoirs for the Rabi season, or impose a 10 per cent cut, in which case water might not be available for the coming season. —
ISLAMABAD: The Indus River System Authority (Irsa) on Tuesday decided to impose a 10 per cent cut on provincial water shares for the remaining period of the Kharif season and projected that water might not be available in dams for the Rabi season.
“The water crisis has worsened and Irsa has opted to provide maximum water to the current Kharif crops, albeit with a 10 per cent cut on provincial water shares,” a participant of the Irsa advisory committee meeting told Dawn.
The meeting, presided over by Irsa Chairman Rahim Khan Zarkun, requested the federal government “to announce offering of Namaaz-i-Istasqa,” notwithstanding over 60 mm of rains during the last fortnight.
Irsa proposed that either the provincial shares be cut by 21 per cent, leaving two million acre feet to 2.6 million acre feet of water in the reservoirs for the Rabi season, or impose a 10 per cent cut, in which case water might not be available for the coming season. — The Dawn
NAB to control
ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Tuesday issued a notification under which two wings of the Federal Investigation Agency have been handed over to the National Accountability Bureau, the Interior Ministry’s spokesman Chaudhry Abdul Rauf told Dawn. Under the notification, the NAB takes over the Anti-Corruption Wing and the Crime Wing of the FIA, but its demand for control over the agency’s financial crime wing has been turned down. Some laws pertaining to the FIA’s anti-corruption and crime wing are now expected to be incorporated in the NAB Ordinance. “Cases of financial crimes and banking would be dealt with by the FIA while the NAB would look into documented fraud cases which were being investigated by the FIA under the Pakistan Penal Code,” the spokesman said. The NAB would also deal with minor cases of fraud, corruption and other irregularities of government servants. Earlier, such cases were handled by the FIA under the Anti-Corruption Act, 1947.
— The Dawn
ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Tuesday issued a notification under which two wings of the Federal Investigation Agency have been handed over to the National Accountability Bureau, the Interior Ministry’s spokesman Chaudhry Abdul Rauf told Dawn.
Under the notification, the NAB takes over the Anti-Corruption Wing and the Crime Wing of the FIA, but its demand for control over the agency’s financial crime wing has been turned down.
Some laws pertaining to the FIA’s anti-corruption and crime wing are now expected to be incorporated in the NAB Ordinance. “Cases of financial crimes and banking would be dealt with by the FIA while the NAB would look into documented fraud cases which were being investigated by the FIA under the Pakistan Penal Code,” the spokesman said.
The NAB would also deal with minor cases of fraud, corruption and other irregularities of government servants. Earlier, such cases were handled by the FIA under the Anti-Corruption Act, 1947. — The Dawn
on the rise
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has witnessed an alarming rise in drug trafficking cases during the past five years. A drug abuse assessment study conducted by the United Nations Organisation of the Drugs Control (UNODC), in collaboration with the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF), said that there are more than half million hardcore heroin abusers and drug injectors in Pakistan. Forty per cent heroin users are in the prime age group of 25-34 years. Six per cent teenagers also use drugs while 77 per cent take heroin on a daily basis. LAHORE: In order to provide flour bags of 10 kg and 20 kg at reduced rates to the deserving people, the Punjab government has decided to re-start the “Sasta Atta Scheme” from October 2004. The decision was taken at the Provincial Price Monitoring Committee meeting held here on Tuesday with Provincial Food Minister Chaudhry Muhammad Iqbal in the chair. Provincial Minister for Agriculture Marketing Rana Qasim Noon, Secretary (Food) Shahid Hassan Raja, DCOs of Lahore, Rajanpur and Mandi Bahauddin also attended the meeting. Chaudhry Iqbal said that in order to make the scheme a success, committees comprising people’s representatives would be formed. —
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has witnessed an alarming rise in drug trafficking cases during the past five years. A drug abuse assessment study conducted by the United Nations Organisation of the Drugs Control (UNODC), in collaboration with the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF), said that there are more than half million hardcore heroin abusers and drug injectors in Pakistan.
Forty per cent heroin users are in the prime age group of 25-34 years. Six per cent teenagers also use drugs while 77 per cent take heroin on a daily basis.
LAHORE: In order to provide flour bags of 10 kg and 20 kg at reduced rates to the deserving people, the Punjab government has decided to re-start the “Sasta Atta Scheme” from October 2004.
The decision was taken at the Provincial Price Monitoring Committee meeting held here on Tuesday with Provincial Food Minister Chaudhry Muhammad Iqbal in the chair. Provincial Minister for Agriculture Marketing Rana Qasim Noon, Secretary (Food) Shahid Hassan Raja, DCOs of Lahore, Rajanpur and Mandi Bahauddin also attended the meeting.
Chaudhry Iqbal said that in order to make the scheme a success, committees comprising people’s representatives would be formed. —
I want world sympathy in this battle of Right against might. — Mahatma Gandhi The Guru is the river of ever-clean water by bathing in which man is rid of the dirt of his evil-intellect. The perfect abulation lies, therefore, in meeting the True Guru who turns man’s animal-and-goblin nature into that of the angelic beings. — Guru Nanak Man suffers through lack of faith in God. — Sri Ramakrishna
— Mahatma Gandhi
The Guru is the river of ever-clean water by bathing in which man is rid of the dirt of his evil-intellect. The perfect abulation lies, therefore, in meeting the True Guru who turns man’s animal-and-goblin nature into that of the angelic beings.
— Guru Nanak
Man suffers through lack of faith in God.
— Sri Ramakrishna