Cracks in the wings
Europe as a partner
Uptrend in interest rates
A blueprint for Kashmir
A special meal
Dress and discrimination
British set code for Muslim students
Have roots, then spread out
Cracks in the wings
THE courts normally do not interfere in the service matters of the defence forces, but the Delhi High Court ruling quashing the orders of promotion of four Air Marshals and the denial of promotion to two Air Vice Marshals to the rank of Air Marshal underscores the imperative need for a sound and credible promotion policy for top positions in the defence services. The judgement proves that all is not well with the IAF’s Special Promotion Board. It has ruled that the denial of promotion to both the petitioners — Air Vice Marshals T.S. Chhatwal and Harish Masand (retired) was “arbitrary”, “irrational” and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. This conveys the impression that considerations other than merit and efficiency also operate in the IAF. The court has not spared even Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy who, it said, “cannot exonerate himself from the obligation to be fair and impartial as head of the Air Force”. This is indeed disturbing.
The High Court has rightly struck down the IAF Board’s promotion policy of March 15, 2002, as it had given greater weightage to the “discretion” of the Board than to the time-tested policy of seniority-cum-fitness. Clearly, whenever discretion plays a major role in the exercise of one’s powers, there is scope for arbitrariness coming into play at the cost of merit. The Board’s abuse of discretionary powers is evident from the fact that though Air Vice Marshal Chattwal and Air Vice Marshal Masand had a better career record than the four promoted Air Marshals, the marks scored by them were disproportionate to their overall record and performance.
Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said on Tuesday that the government could file a special leave petition in the Supreme Court against the ruling. However, the ends of justice will be met only if the High Court ruling is implemented by reviewing the case of the two petitioners afresh, along with those Air Marshals who have been unseated. Merit should never be compromised, nor should the reputation of the IAF. Mr Mukherjee has hinted at expediting the process of setting up of an Armed Forces Tribunal. But will the government be able to keep military matters out of the purview of the higher judiciary? Surely, the judiciary must chip in, whenever necessary, to undo injustice in the defence services and uphold the rule of law, just as the Delhi High Court has done on Monday.
Europe as a partner
THE Fifth India-European Union summit at The Hague on Monday put India in a special category. India has acquired the status of a “strategic partner” of the EU, the honour so far granted to five major powers of the world — the US, Canada, Russia, China and Japan. The recognition to India mainly because of it huge market size and technically qualified manpower has, however, come not so easily. The process had begun with the 2000 Lisbon summit. The EU took a full year to prepare a set of comprehensive documents for the purpose, bringing India closer to an important pole in the multi-polar world. Greater economic, technical and political cooperation between the two sides will obviously result in immense benefits to both sides.
India has already been the largest trading partner of the EU with its exports estimated at Euro 13.5 billion. The volume is bound to rise with the EU having become a 25-member grouping (till early this year it had only 15 members), accounting for over 28 per cent of the world’s GDP. The new beginning in the India-EU relations may speed up India’s economic advancement, as the country has been attracting the maximum FDI from the EU.
As the joint Press statement issued at end of the Hague meeting makes its clear, the two sides will launch a concerted drive against terrorism, a major source of worry for India for a long time. This, in a way, is the recognition of India’s stand that any pretext like the “root cause” should not come in the way of the fight against the international scourge. Terrorism remains a serious threat to world peace despite all that has been done by the US in the wake of 9/11. India and the EU rightly discussed the ways to block the channels of funding to terrorist outfits and cooperate with each other to end the menace.
Uptrend in interest rates
AFTER Divali, housing loans will become costlier. While the HDFC Chairman has indicated a 0.50 per cent increase in the home loan rates, the heads of the State Bank of India and Punjab National Bank have given no specific figure. The RBI had given enough indications to this effect recently when it unfolded its mid-year credit policy and raised the repo rate. There are two reasons for the proposed hike in the interest rates. The housing loan market has grown very fast (about Rs 60,000 crore was disbursed in 2003-04) and needs to be regulated. The RBI has asked the banks to be more cautious in extending loans. Secondly, the cost of capital has gone up and the banks, as usual, will pass on the increased cost to the customers.
A dilemma that stares all house loan takers in the face is: should they continue with the floating interest rates or shift to the fixed rates? Most of the loanees have opted for the variable interest rates. Even banks encourage this to guard against any unforeseen cost escalations. When it became clear that the interest rates would harden, certain public sector banks and the HDFC raised the fixed interest rates on home loans on August 30 this year. Before shifting to a fixed rate loan, one has to calculate the cost of conversion as also the future scenario. That is a tough task. Very few bankers, leave alone ordinary citizens, can predict accurately which way the interest rates would move.
Possibilities are the present soft regime of housing loan interest rates will continue and the rate hikes will be only temporary. It is in everyone’s interest to keep the interest rates low. Housing activity gets a boost. Apart from the banks, cement and steel industries have benefited from the boom in housing. While more and more housless get a roof over their heads, labour finds employment. However, the surging oil price and inflation may spoil the party for house-seekers. The interest rates in general are set to harden to soak excess liquidity from the market.
The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.
A blueprint for Kashmir
Whether we like it or not, President General Pervez Musharraf has been able to retrieve the Kashmir problem from the backburner. Our satisfaction is that the military establishment he heads has realised that no solution is possible through hostilities. This is a substantial gain because from the days of the Tashkent Agreement in 1966 New Delhi’s endeavour has been to convince Islamabad to renounce the use of arms to end all disputes between the two countries.
Now when the talks look like throwing up a solution, we should not be seen flinching. The international community is watching the progress on Kashmir anxiously. We should not be found wanting. Moreover, this is an opportunity the two countries cannot afford to miss.
General Musharraf has set the ball rolling. He first told two Indian journalists that the solution of Kashmir lay in identifying the area, demilitarising it and giving it a status. Subsequently, he gave shape to his proposal by specifying seven areas: the plains, including Jammu, the foothills up to 7,000 feet, Pir Panjal, the valley, the Great Himalayan zone, the upper Indus valley and the Northern Areas, the Karakoram, parts of which are with China.
For the first time, a Pakistan ruler has proposed independence for Kashmir, besides joint control or UN mandate. General Musharraf must have done the rethinking after talking to the Indian journalists, including myself. At that time, when he said that the Kashmiris wanted independence, he meant that they would “step back” once concrete proposals were on the table. This might still happen. But independence is an option as of now.
New Delhi has not yet reacted to General Musharraf’s proposals in any significant manner. In the past, there have been remarks like “the sky is the limit.” Still India has been fiercely supporting and sustaining the status quo — the four corners of our policy on Kashmir.
The Home Ministry has a department on Kashmir which does not believe in having any input from outside. Politicians in power and bureaucrats in the department work out a strategy, not policy, as and when the situation demands. A few former bureaucrats are thrown in as interlocutors every now and then to know the minds of the leaders in the valley. The department often gets it wrong.
What General Musharraf has proposed is a re-division of Jammu and Kashmir. This is something to which none in the government — the Opposition or even the experts — has applied his mind, at least not methodically or seriously. Even if they had, I do not think any government in New Delhi can sell to the country a proposal which suggests a division on the basis of religion and throws out the status quo completely. True, a sterile policy is worth jettisoning, but when the price demanded is a seven-tier state, the suspicion heightens.
I believe that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proposed to discuss certain options when he met General Musharraf in New York, putting two riders: one, no territorial adjustment, and two, no division on the basis of religion. General Musharraf’s proposals eschew the word “religion”, but the geographical changes he suggests are primarily on that basis.
An unsteady secular polity like ours cannot accept this. Any division or even a hint of it may revive the horrors of Partition. The defeated BJP is only looking for a semblance of a chance to revive Hindutva which, at present, does not arouse any response.
Still General Musharraf’s seven-region proposal should not be rejected outright. It can be made the basis for riveting a setup which may ultimately overcome the objections voiced by India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris. Why not merge the seven regions into two units so that they are viable and, at the same time, can pass the muster to be acceptable to the majority?
I have a proposal. Having been associated with leaders and people in the state for more than four decades, I consider myself competent as well as involved enough to suggest a wayout. Once youthful Kashmiri leader Yasin Malik advised me not to make any proposal on Kashmir so that I might one day help the process of negotiations. My profession of writing demanded me to react to the situation prevailing at a particular time. If that rules me out, I cannot help.
The crux of the problem is the valley. The Indian Parliament has also asked the government to take up “the other Kashmir under Pakistan’s occupation.” So there are two units: Kashmir and “Azad Kashmir”. They have established their identity in the last 55 years — the first is Kashmiri-speaking and the second Punjabi-speaking.
My suggestion is that both Kashmirs should be given autonomy. The governments in these two regions should enjoy all subjects except defence, foreign affairs and communications. The three subjects were the ones which the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir gave to New Delhi when he signed the Instrument of Accession to integrate his state with India. “Azad Kashmir” is directly under Islamabad and enjoys only the crumbs of power thrown at it. My proposal gives it full autonomy like the one in Kashmir on the Indian side.
The border between the two Kashmirs should be made soft so that the citizens of the two sides travel freely, without any passport or papers, in both parts. (I hope terrorism will be over by that time). The status for these areas is that of an autonomous unit. The three subjects — foreign affairs, defence and communications — will vest in the government in New Delhi as far as Kashmir is concerned and Islamabad regarding “Azad Kashmir.”
Both Kashmirs should be demilitarised, India withdrawing its forces from the valley and stationing them at the valley’s border. Pakistan will do a similar thing regarding "Azad Kashmir". The UN and major powers should be individually or collectively involved to guarantee the demilitarisation of the areas if and when a final settlement is reached.
The settlement should be final. There will be no reopening. Both countries should withdraw their complaint from the UN and other international bodies. All the 72 confidence-building measures — India has increased the number from eight to 72 — should be implemented straightaway so that people-to-people contact increases and trade gets going.
I know General Musharraf is allergic to the line of control (LoC). But there has to be some line drawn to demarcate the border. The LoC can be straightened as Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had suggested to the then Pakistan Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, at Shimla. Islamabad knows it well that the international community is in favour of the LoC becoming a permanent border, with minimum changes.
Since the communications is one of the subjects entrusted to the Central government on either side, the autonomous areas will not feel that they are landlocked. Facilities available in both India and Pakistan will be at the disposal of the two Kashmirs. With soft borders, they can trade between themselves, have a common currency if they so desire and receive tourists freely from all over the world. Both Kashmirs can transfer more subjects to Central governments, “Azad Kashmir” to Islamabad and the valley to New Delhi. It is up to their state assemblies to do so once the settlement is signed, sealed and delivered and fresh elections
A special meal
I had not had lunch or dinner the day before and was famished. I hoped that we would stop at Ramban and I would get something to eat. But four kilometres short of Ramban the bus drove off the road, rolled down the hillside, plunged into the fast flowing waters of the Chenab and settled on the river bed. I remembered that I was sitting behind the driver and there was a door to his right. I made an effort to get to it and was propelled through the shattered window screen. The water grew lighter as I shot upwards till it broke above me and I saw the beautiful, azure sky. From a little ledge, about six feet above the water, a Sikh gentleman threw me his turban and hauled me to safety.
There were only three survivors – the driver, conductor and I. The first two were grievously injured.. A passenger from another bus gave me a dry kurta-pyjama and a ten-rupee note and then we were alone in the small, rural dispensary in Ramban. My hunger returned with a ferocious intensity but there was little I could do about it.
At three there was a flurry of activity: the Transport Minister had arrived, accompanied by officials, press reporters and hangers on. He stood besides my bed and the cameras clicked furiously.
“Is there anything we can do for you?” The Minister asked.
“I am terribly hungry,” I said “I had my last meal 30 hours ago” The Minister turned to the doctor: “See that he gets something to eat.” More flashbulbs exploded and then the Minister was gone.
“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” the doctor said later “There are two men dying in the next room and all you can think of is your stomach”.
This scene was repeated again, with the clockwork precision of an army drill, when the Minister of Tourism, and later, the Chief Minister visited. They stood on the same side of my bed, asked the same question, gave the same response to my answer which produced the same reaction from the doctor.
And as the night came on I knew for the first time in my life the pain that real hunger can cause. They had a constable on duty, Ram Singh by name, who finally took pity on me and brought me a bowl of dal and three chapattis. I wolfed this down and tried to force my ten-rupee note upon him. He was embarrassed.
“No, its nothing really. The dal was left over from lunch and no one would eat it at dinner. The chapattis were so badly burnt that my wife said even the dog would not eat them.”
It was a special meal, not only because I was so ravenously hungry but also because it taught me a lesson in humility: all that we really need to survive is a bowl of dal, which nobody wants, and chapattis, which the dog won’t
Dress and discrimination
THE turban of the Sikhs is once again caught in a controversy. The Sikhs have proved everywhere else — from the UK, Canada to the US — that they have a fundamental and inalienable right to wear their turban in all situations of life.
Without proper consideration, the Parliament of France has passed a law prohibiting all signs of outward manifestation of any religious faith. The reason given for passing such a law is that any human being having allegiance with a particular group with collective or religious interest, cannot be a good citizen. Since a good citizen does not belong to anyone.
The definition of secularism or State neutrality, as developed in France, is totally opposed to the definition of secularism as understood in the common law countries.
The purpose of such a law is to “Frenchify” the population of France and to impose on it one single culture, one language, one way of thinking, irrespective of various distinct identities of the people.
From this point of view, it is clearly an instrument of internal and external colonisation and imperialism.
The turban is much more than a head-dress, as it is an integral part of the Sikh religion and inseparably connected with the Sikh baptism and the Sikh code of conduct.
Therefore, France’s law should not be used to take away the inalienable right of the Sikhs to wear the turban.
The legal question regarding the turban first arose in the 1970s in the face of the law by which wearing crash helmets were made compulsory while riding a motor-cycle in England. The Sikhs protested against that and a Bill to exempt the Sikhs was introduced in the House of Commons.
There was a long debate on this subject in the House of Lords. Lord Mowbary and Lord Stourton, defending the right of the Sikhs to wear the turban, said, “The question of Sikhs and crash-helmets has aroused some interest and public discussion over the last few months, not only in the Sikh community, where, as we know, feelings run very high, but also the country at large.
“Some commentators have on occasions questioned the exact theological status of the turban and whether it is absolutely binding on a Sikh to wear one.
“However, I would suggest that this is not a fruitful line of discussion. The study of other religious systems is not one that can be mastered in a short time, and this is perhaps particularly true of the great oriental religion. However, as in all cases involving religious convictions of others, we must respect even when we do not necessarily understand. Also we ought to be guided in matters concerning other faiths by the members of those faiths themselves.
“When in the case of the Sikhs you find a whole religious community united in its strength of feeling on a given issue, it would seem to be most foolish to question their judgement. I would submit that so far as concerns the Sikh religion we should accept what the Sikhs themselves say”. After a long debate, the House of Lords passed the law to exempt the Sikhs from wearing crash helmets when driving motor cycles instead of their turbans. The bill was passed on 15th November, 1976.
Another controversy regarding the turban arose in the schools of England in 1982. Lord Denning MR rejected the case of the Sikhs to wear the turban in the schools of England as they were not a racial group.
On appeal, the House of Lord reversed the judgement of the Court of Appeal holding: “they are more than a religious sects they are almost a race and almost a nation.” Therefore, their right to wear the turban is protected under the law.
Unfortunately, after such a judgment of the House of Lords and the courts of many other countries, the controversy once again has again arisen in France after almost 21 years. The Sikhs’ search for justice does not seem to have come to an end in this regard.
The international community should take note that the Sikhs are feeling hurt and humiliated by the French Law. The world would be more friendly and more peaceful if all Frenchmen say in the Voltairean spirit: “We do not wear the turban, we may not like it — but will defend to the death the right of the Sikhs to wear it on the land of the French Revolution.”
British set code for Muslim students
PRESSURE was mounting on Monday for national rules on Muslim dress in schools in Britain to be drawn up after a local authority chose Ramadan to enforce a ban on the jilbab, leading to protests from parents and pupils.
Schools in Tower Hamlets, the London borough with the highest concentration of Muslims in Britain, were accused of insensitivity after letters were sent during the holiest month of the Muslim year restating their dress code.
The letters, which made clear that wearing the jilbab - an ankle-length dress which covers the body except for face and hands - was not permitted, led to three girls at one school being withdrawn in protest.
Others pupils are understood to have protested about the letters with some requesting to be moved to different schools.
Muslim leaders last night called for national guidelines to be drawn up on appropriate dress for Muslims after a series of clashes between pupils and school governors across the country on the issue. This summer a 15-year-old student from Luton lost a High Court action after she argued that her human rights were infringed when she was excluded from lessons for wearing the jilbab.
Under current rules, dress codes are decided by the headteacher and governors of each school in accordance with guidelines provided by local authorities and central government.
Inyat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “The current situation is causing chaos. Islam is a diverse faith and some people feel that their faith requires them to wear the jilbab.
“We feel that those who wish to wear jilbab should be able to do so. But the Government’s policy is that dress codes are open to interpretation by each school and that is why we have got this mess.
“It seems that the Government needs to set out precisely what is and is not acceptable.”
The latest row erupted after a number of secondary schools in Tower Hamlets, including Morpeth mixed comprehensive and the Central Foundation Girls’ School, sent letters last month restating a dress code policy agreed with local mosques.
The policy allows pupils to wear a tunic and headscarf but bans the jilbab and burka on health and safety grounds. Tower Hamlets, with a large Bangladeshi community, counts 36 per cent of its population as Muslim.
Rifat Akhtar, 13, a pupil at the Central Foundation school, said she was considering a move to a different school. She said: “The jilbab is part of my religious belief. It makes me confident and gives me an identity as a Muslim.” Critics said that despite the policy, girls had been wearing the jilbab in Tower Hamlets for several years and the enforcing of the ban during Ramadan was poorly timed.
Oliur Rahman, a Tower Hamlets councillor, said: “This will be seen as an attack on Muslims and their wider community.”
The local authority last night declined to comment on the timing of the letters but said it had now formed a working party to discuss revising the guidelines.
— By arrangement with The Independent, London
Have roots, then spread out
THERE are two sets of people in Delhi. A small segment comprising the uncomplicated and straight (I’m going by the traditional standards) and, of course, the vast majority of the cunning and complicated. Forty-year-old writer and film-maker and home-maker Reema Anand falls in the former category and that ‘s what initially drew me to her. In fact, much before I’d read books written by her or saw any of the documentaries made by her, it was her unaffected and straightforward personality that actually impressed. Though she has been living in New Delhi for years but has been able to retain that connection with the place of her roots — Punjab. To be nearer precision, Ferozepur. In fact, in each of her works, there’s that passionate focus on Punjab and people from that state. It gets evident in her books — “His Sacred Burden — Bhagat Puran Singh” (Penguin), “Rehras” — (Penguin) which she had co-authored with Khushwant Singh and in the two books which are in the pipeline — a collection of biographies of Sikh spiritual figures and also a book centring on romantic legends of Punjab. And this streak is again evident in the three documentaries she’d made — on Bhagat Puran Singh, another on the rehabilitation of Punjab terrorists and Army deserters and now the latest on the work being done by Bhagwant Singh Dalawri for the leprosy struck. And with that in the backdrop, I had to ask Reema the reason for this intense passion for people of her home state. She quipped: “This could be because my mentor, Khushwant Singh, has often told me that don’t forget your roots and first grow a strong niche in your roots and then spread out.” In fact, she is frank enough to say that right from early childhood, she ‘s been a loner. “It was a lonely childhood. I took to poetry writing and reading books on different subjects and on religion for guidance. Yes, the political turbulence in Punjab in the ‘80s also left an impact on my psyche.” And it was marriage that got her to New Delhi. And with that her talent came forth, surfaced and spread out. In the early 90s she travelled to Denmark to do a course in journalism and there’s been no looking back since then. In fact, that was the time when my first born was just about two months old, but my husband and his parents were supportive and encouraged me to go in for this course. Even now they do play a very supportive roles, otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible for me to write books and make films and together with that look after my three kids.” Especially so in the backdrop of what Reema off- loads about herself: “Like any creative person, I’m not an easy person, I’m moody and definitely do need my space. Writing is a release for me, for if I don’t write I feel frustrated.” And on the mix and match of the written word with the documentaries she makes, she quips, “visual impact could be temporary but it’s a very strong medium.” And perhaps in keeping with that, she is on her way to Toronto film festival.
Forty-year-old writer and film-maker and home-maker Reema Anand falls in the former category and that ‘s what initially drew me to her. In fact, much before I’d read books written by her or saw any of the documentaries made by her, it was her unaffected and straightforward personality that actually impressed.
Though she has been living in New Delhi for years but has been able to retain that connection with the place of her roots — Punjab. To be nearer precision, Ferozepur. In fact, in each of her works, there’s that passionate focus on Punjab and people from that state. It gets evident in her books — “His Sacred Burden — Bhagat Puran Singh” (Penguin), “Rehras” — (Penguin) which she had co-authored with Khushwant Singh and in the two books which are in the pipeline — a collection of biographies of Sikh spiritual figures and also a book centring on romantic legends of Punjab.
And this streak is again evident in the three documentaries she’d made — on Bhagat Puran Singh, another on the rehabilitation of Punjab terrorists and Army deserters and now the latest on the work being done by Bhagwant Singh Dalawri for the leprosy struck.
And with that in the backdrop, I had to ask Reema the reason for this intense passion for people of her home state. She quipped: “This could be because my mentor, Khushwant Singh, has often told me that don’t forget your roots and first grow a strong niche in your roots and then spread out.”
In fact, she is frank enough to say that right from early childhood, she ‘s been a loner. “It was a lonely childhood. I took to poetry writing and reading books on different subjects and on religion for guidance. Yes, the political turbulence in Punjab in the ‘80s also left an impact on my psyche.”
And it was marriage that got her to New Delhi. And with that her talent came forth, surfaced and spread out. In the early 90s she travelled to Denmark to do a course in journalism and there’s been no looking back since then. In fact, that was the time when my first born was just about two months old, but my husband and his parents were supportive and encouraged me to go in for this course. Even now they do play a very supportive roles, otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible for me to write books and make films and together with that look after my three kids.”
Especially so in the backdrop of what Reema off- loads about herself: “Like any creative person, I’m not an easy person, I’m moody and definitely do need my space. Writing is a release for me, for if I don’t write I feel frustrated.”
And on the mix and match of the written word with the documentaries she makes, she quips, “visual impact could be temporary but it’s a very strong medium.” And perhaps in keeping with that, she is on her way to Toronto film festival.
Personal God comes nearer and nearer until He melts away and there is no more Personal God and no more “I”, all is merged in the Self.
— Swami Vivekananda
Never forget God’s Name; dwell upon it day and night. Be content with the life He gives you.
— Guru Nanak
Vedic literature is meant for three things — telling us of our relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead; showing us how to act according to that relationship; and, finally, to achieve love of Godhead as the highest perfection of life.
— Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Learning, tempered with humility is beneficial in this world and the next. Just as a plant cannot grow without water, learning will not be fruitful without humility.
— Lord Mahavir
Embrace all living beings with kindness.