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EDITORIALS

Mahajot in Bengal
Major challenge for Left Front

T
he
victory of the Trinamool Congress (TC) in the Bishnupur (West) assembly by-election seems to have set off an irrational exuberance among sections in West Bengal. So much so that anti-Left sections believe that with the Congress-TC alliance sealed, the collapse of the “red fortress” in the Lok Sabha election is a foregone conclusion.

Doctors on hire
Punjab govt must stop the practice

T
he
shocking revelation that some Punjab government doctors have been engaging in scandalous moonlighting in private medical institutes deserves severe condemnation. A Tribune investigation lists half-a-dozen government doctors simultaneously figuring on the rolls of private medical colleges in southern India which they have been visiting for monetary benefit during mandatory head count inspections by the Medical Council of India, an apex body entrusted with maintaining uniform standards of medical education in the country.



EARLIER STORIES

Pawar at play
March 6, 2009
Blame-game won’t help
March 5, 2009
Pak terror in sporting arena
March 4, 2009
A destabilisation game
March 3, 2009
Zardari courts trouble
March 2, 2009
In quest of a new identity
March 1, 2009
Perfect 10
February 28, 2009
Zardari vs Nawaz Sharif
February 27, 2009
Just three years?
February 26, 2009
Terrorism is un-Islamic
February 25, 2009
‘Jai Ho’, ‘Jai Ho’
February 24, 2009
Modi’s claim nailed
February 23, 2009
A question of EC’s credibility
February 22, 2009


Pride at stake
Gandhi lives, but in symbols

I
t
was an auction that had aroused strong passions in the country and one that all the might of the Government of India could not stop. How could the nation accept that a part of the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi should be put on the auction block? Adding to the controversy, the seller of Mahatma Gandhi’s belongings, California’s James Otis, offered to donate the items of such emotional value to India provided the government agreed to increase the spending on the poor.

ARTICLE

The plot behind mutiny
Much more in the gory Dhaka killings
by Hiranmay Karlekar

T
he
Daily Star, Bangladesh’s leading English-language newspaper, reported on March 6 that, according to investigators, preparations for the recent mutiny by personnel of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) began at least two months ago and involved at least 100 persons. The question is: Who were the plotters and what did they want? For an answer, one must ask: Why did Bangladesh’s intelligence agencies, particularly the all-powerful Directorate-General of Force’s Intelligence (DGFI), not anticipate the mutiny, which began on February 25, and alert the government?


MIDDLE

Flight of fancy
by S. Raghunath
A
working group constituted by the Union Civil Aviation Ministry has recommended the setting up of a low-cost, “no-frills” airline to bring air travel in the country within the reach of the common man. — News report


OPED

Yearning for peace
Pakistanis embarrassed by terror attacks
by Kuldip Nayar, who was in Pakistan recently
L
AHORE has changed little since my last visit in March 2008. Perhaps, no city does in such a short span. Still the atmosphere in the end of February was different from what it was then. There was a fear of terrorists in the city. Entry into hotels and government offices was restricted and all vehicles and individuals were searched thoroughly.

Sri Lanka: Women caught in crossfire
by Emily Wax

I
t
was just past 10 p.m. when the hulking bus sputtered to a stop at the military checkpoint at Madavachiya, 70 miles from the front lines of Sri Lanka’s civil war. The passengers quietly exited the bus and stood behind the razor wire, identification cards in hand. The men split off into one line. A far smaller number of women went into a separate row, some cradling sleeping babies.

China faces social unrest
by Clifford Coonan

W
ith
China facing its worst financial crisis in a century, Premier Wen Jiabao assured comrades that the economy would still grow by 8 per cent this year, the level that the Communist Party believes is necessary to hold down the jobless rate and stave off wider social unrest.

 


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Mahajot in Bengal
Major challenge for Left Front

The victory of the Trinamool Congress (TC) in the Bishnupur (West) assembly by-election seems to have set off an irrational exuberance among sections in West Bengal. So much so that anti-Left sections believe that with the Congress-TC alliance sealed, the collapse of the “red fortress” in the Lok Sabha election is a foregone conclusion. True, the Left Front, which has been in elected office for almost 32 years — an international landmark for a Marxist party – is in a state of perceived decline. It is badly shaken, not only because it has been successively thwarted by the opposition in Singur and Nandigram, but also because it has suffered a string of electoral reverses. Therefore, it requires no particular political skill to observe that the CPM and its partners are facing their most formidable electoral challenge in three decades.

The Congress party joining hands with the Trinamool’s Mamata Banerjee represents precisely the kind of opposition the Left Front would have liked to avoid. As long as Ms Banerjee was seen along side the BJP and the Congress keeping a safe distance from the two, the CPM was confident that the anti-Left vote would be split to its advantage. But that is set to change in ways that go beyond the combined vote share of the Congress and TC. The opposition to the Left Front’s economic and industrial development policies may have been spearheaded by the TC. Yet, the TC was only capitalising on the disenchantment against the Left Front. Ms Banerjee was able to harness the protests and project herself as the most effective face of the opposition to the Left Front.

However, while Ms Banerjee can be daunting as an opponent, her temperament has been a troublesome issue for allies in the past. She does not represent any new idea or alternative to the prevalent order. Her blind opposition to the state’s industrialisation may actually be a problem for the Congress party, which was in a way somewhat supportive of the Left Front on issues of development. That is an issue that will figure after the elections. Right now, the Congress party has not only deprived the BJP of an effective ally, but also brought Ms Banerjee back to where she parted from the Congress party. The alliance, regardless of the outcome, has boosted the prospects of both the Congress and the TC. 

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Doctors on hire
Punjab govt must stop the practice

The shocking revelation that some Punjab government doctors have been engaging in scandalous moonlighting in private medical institutes deserves severe condemnation. A Tribune investigation lists half-a-dozen government doctors simultaneously figuring on the rolls of private medical colleges in southern India which they have been visiting for monetary benefit during mandatory head count inspections by the Medical Council of India, an apex body entrusted with maintaining uniform standards of medical education in the country. The figure of six doctors is more likely to be suggestive of many more doctors engaged in a similar exercise from just not only Punjab but perhaps from other states as well. This corruption by manipulation and moonlighting is the latest by government doctors, many of whom are since long known to engage in unethical activities of private practice and of taking commissions from private diagnostic laboratories and private clinics for referrals.

Even more strange is the display of indifference by the MCI, which has ruled out any action saying that they accept at face value a written list of doctors submitted by the medical colleges who are privy to the racket. The MCI seems to overlook the fact that only last year they had threatened to de-recognise the three government medical colleges in Punjab partly because of similar manipulation of manpower after 23 faculty members from Amritsar and Fardikot were detected of being posted to the Government Rajindra Hospital in Patiala on the date of inspection and then reverted to their parent institutions when they faced similar inspection a month later.

Mere condemnation and punishment, however, only partly addresses a grave malady, which is far more serious in a country like India with its nation-wide doctor deficiency of eight lakh and a dismal ratio of one doctor for 1,720 people. To make up for this shortfall, the government has decided to further relax MCI guidelines to set up more medical colleges in India for the country’s vital need for health care. But the question remains: Where will the teaching fraternity come from? Even if the MCI relaxes the guidelines on permanent staff, there will still be the issue of freelancing by government doctors. But for now, the Punjab government urgently needs to look into the vital issue of healthcare including medical staff and infrastructure that has been in an utter state of neglect and come down heavily on malpractices including unscrupulous doctors available on hire.

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Pride at stake
Gandhi lives, but in symbols

It was an auction that had aroused strong passions in the country and one that all the might of the Government of India could not stop. How could the nation accept that a part of the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi should be put on the auction block? Adding to the controversy, the seller of Mahatma Gandhi’s belongings, California’s James Otis, offered to donate the items of such emotional value to India provided the government agreed to increase the spending on the poor. The Delhi High Court too added its bit to soothe hurt national feelings when, regardless of its jurisdiction, it stayed the auction in New York.

All this did not help. However, Mr Vijay Mallya, the noted liquor baron known for his flamboyant lifestyle, has bought for Rs 9 crore the precious items belonging to a man who had vigorously advocated prohibition. None of the countless organisations named after Gandhi could do what Mr Mallya has done in bringing home the rimmed round glasses that Mahatma Gandhi had claimed “gave me the vision to free India”. None from Narendra Modi’s vibrant Gujarat helped the Mahatma’s great-grandson in making a bid at the auction. Imagine the kind of blow it would have dealt to national pride had some wealthy foreigner grabbed them for his private collection!

It is time to reflect on the way we as a nation treat the Mahatma. We have put his ideas of non-violence and simple living, along with his personal belongings in museums. which some of us visit only on October 2. For most Indians the day is nothing more than a national holiday. A town here and a city there has a road named after the Mahatma, which we have, for our convenience, reduced to “MG Road”. Anyway, interest in Gandhi has revived lately, thanks partly to the film “Lage Raho Munnabhai”. That the idea of putting a price on Gandhi’s ordinary belongings should outrage so many in the country shows that Gandhi-giri is still alive. But much more needs to be done to spread the message of peace, harmony and love of fellow human beings for the benefit of the mankind.

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Thought for the Day

Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organisation of hatreds. — Henry Brooks Adams

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The plot behind mutiny
Much more in the gory Dhaka killings
by Hiranmay Karlekar

The Daily Star, Bangladesh’s leading English-language newspaper, reported on March 6 that, according to investigators, preparations for the recent mutiny by personnel of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) began at least two months ago and involved at least 100 persons. The question is: Who were the plotters and what did they want? For an answer, one must ask: Why did Bangladesh’s intelligence agencies, particularly the all-powerful Directorate-General of Force’s Intelligence (DGFI), not anticipate the mutiny, which began on February 25, and alert the government?

The argument that the DGFI was merely caught napping does not hold. There were enough indications that something was afoot. On February 24 night, some persons circulated among jawans in Pilkhana, the BDR’s headquarters where the mutiny occurred, a leaflet entitled (in English translation), “Save the BDR! Save the country! Save the nation: Why are 45,000 BDR personnel subservient today? The BDR is alien in its own home. Take a look, honourable Prime Minister, thinkers of the country!”

There was tension between officers and soldiers throughout the night.

Besides, the newly-appointed Director-General of the BDR, Brig-Gen Md Mainul Islam, who replaced the force’s slain chief, Maj-Gen Shakil Ahmed, told Bangladesh’s leading English-language newspaper, The Daily Star, on March 3 that video footage taken during the mutiny showed some unknown people moving about in the BDR’s uniform. The question is: Were they among the 40 men who had reportedly come to the BDR headquarters dressed as religious preachers? The need for an answer becomes clear on recalling that two binoculars recovered from Pilkhana were of a kind used neither by the army nor the BDR nor any other government agency. Also, while the sub-machine guns recovered from Pilkhana were used by BDR, some ammunition belts found were not! From where did these come?

The DGFI’s failure to notice what was going on appears particularly odd on remembering that on February 24, Sheikh Hasina had visited Pilkhana, addressed BDR personnel and distributed gallantry awards at a gathering held in connection with the observance of BDR Week-2009. Surely, the DGFI and other intelligence agencies should have, prior to that, scoured the campus for hidden arms, explosives and terrorists as a part of a standard sanitisation drill. While the leaflets were circulated after Sheikh Hasina’s speech, the other preparatory moves must have begun much earlier. Could the DGFI have not noticed anything? Or did it have an inkling but did not alert the government?

It is difficult to rule out the second possibility. Set up by President Ziaur Rahman in November 1977, as Directorate of Forces Intelligence (DFI), it subsequently became the DGFI. Established as an organisational clone of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate shortly after a visit to Dhaka by then ISI chief, Lt-Gen Ghulam Jillani Khan, it is linked almost umbilically to its Pakistani counterpart. Many of its officers have been trained at the ISI’s training centre at Islamabad.

Also, the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (Jamaat), the seedbed of Islamist terrorism and nursery of terrorist leaders in Bangladesh, has spread its tentacles wide and deep into the DGFI. Brigadier-General Azam Mir, who was perhaps its most influential Deputy Director-General until his removal on January 19, 2007, following the discovery of his involvement in a series of attacks on Hindi-speaking people in Assam, is a son of Golam Azam. The latter, identified as the most notorious war criminal during the liberation war in 1971 and accused of having been instrumental to the murder of thousands of men and rape of thousands of women, had fled Bangladesh just before its liberation. Allowed to return by President Ziaur Rahman in 1978, he became the de facto Ameer of the Jamaat, which, banned in the aftermath of the Liberation War, was allowed to function again in 1979. Maulana Abbas Ali Khan became the titular Ameer. Mr Golam Azam was openly proclaimed Ameer in 1991 after Bangladesh’s judiciary upheld his claim to be a citizen.

The DGFI is also the hub of Islamist terrorism in Bangladesh which now extends its tentacles throughout India. Along with Bangladesh’s army and the BDR, it was thoroughly infiltrated by Islamist jihadis during the regime of the four-party coalition from 2001 to 2006, when the Jamaat’s current Ameer, Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami, was the country’s Industries Minister, and the general secretary, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, was the Social Welfare Minister. Significantly, according to the report in The Daily Star of March 6 mentioned above, those motivating BDR personnel to mutiny included outsiders, and that those who had joined the force two to three years ago — roughly the last days of the coalition government — were particularly active.

All this needs to be remembered while considering the DGFI’s failure to alert the government about the mutiny. The organisation has doubtless a new chief, Maj-Gen Fazle Akbar. He, however, took over only three weeks before the mutiny and has had little opportunity to effect important changes. The intelligence failure which made the mutiny possible, therefore, raises serious questions about the role of at least a section of the DGFI’s personnel, many of whom have close links with Islamist terrorist outfits and are fiercely opposed to the move to try the war criminals. This is hardly surprising.

Among those identified as the principal war criminals are, besides, Golam Azam, Matiur Rahman Nizami and Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mujahid. Also, the move to try the war criminals is an integral part of the Sheikh Hasina-led government’s move to wipe out terrorism from Bangladesh and prevent its use as a launching pad for cross-border and global terrorism. Significantly, she had said during her speech at Pilkhana on February 24 that Bangladesh would not allow the use of its territory as a springboard for terrorist activity, and believed in maintaining good relations with all its neighbours.

In retrospect, the purpose of the mutiny was to scuttle the war against terrorism by violently ousting Sheikh Hasina’s government and perhaps even killing her and, failing in that, creating a situation in which the army would turn on her by portraying her as being soft on the mutineers. Initially, the mutineers had said that they would only talk to her and the Home Minister, allow them into Pilkhana and announce a ceasefire thereafter. They had perhaps banked upon her fearless and impulsive nature to walk into their trap and get killed. She did not, but they did manage to secure a promise of general amnesty, which she would not have made had she known of the slaughter of Bangladesh army officers that had already taken place.

Significantly, a report in The Daily Star of February 26 stated that the BDR headquarters had been seized in such a way “that the rest of the world was not getting any clear information about what was going on inside” and that even “the army and Rab (Rapid Action Battalion) personnel, who were deployed with firearms and cannons around the headquarters, also could not fathom the situation.”

Ultimately, the mutiny failed to achieve its goals because Sheikh Hasina, who displayed remarkable leadership qualities, quickly declared that the amnesty did not apply to those who killed and were otherwise involved in heinous crimes, and had a frank exchange of views with commissioned army officers of all ranks. To its credit, the army, under Gen Moeen U. Ahmed’s leadership, refused to be provoked, though Begum Khaleda Zia and other leaders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat leaders accused Sheikh Hasina of being soft on the rebels and of failing to deal effectively with the mutiny. 

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Flight of fancy
by S. Raghunath

A working group constituted by the Union Civil Aviation Ministry has recommended the setting up of a low-cost, “no-frills” airline to bring air travel in the country within the reach of the common man.

— News report

This is your captain speaking and welcome aboard the inaugural flight of the new Government of India Tughlaq Airlines. As you perhaps know, this is a no-frills airline which means we have dispensed with all non-essentials like fuselage, engines and wings.

I don’t have any navigational gear in the cockpit and I shall be greatly obliged if one of you passengers will kindly lend me his pocket FM transistor radio so that I can tune to the Vividh Bharati channel of All India Radio to get my bearings and find out just where the heck I am.

To save on fuel, I switch off the engines while in flight, depending solely on luck and a heart-felt prayer to stay aloft.

I don’t have a co-pilot with me and I shall grately appreciate if one of you able-bodied passengers will help me to manually push down the landing gear.

Being a no-frills airline, we don’t have fashionable English convent-educated air-hostesses in mini skirts flashing winsome smiles as they serve you choice French liquors and gourmet lunches. Instead, a toothless old hag will trundle down the aisle pushing a wooden cart and you may buy your requirements of sliced cucumber garnished with chilli powder and salt. This is the choice cuisine our no-frill airline offers.

We might occasionally hit an air-pocket and, being no-frills airline, we haven’t provided vomit bags. Therefore, please feel free to throw up on the kurta-pyjamas of your fellow passenger. In an emergency, it might become necessary for all of you to jump out without parachutes. Please open your umbrellas and jump out and best of luck.

I request passengers standing near the door to be doubly careful as it doesn’t have a secure locking arrangement. A second division clerk in the office of the Director-General of Civil Aviation, in a file noting, has had said that secure door locking arrangements are an unnecessary frill. The door is held together with some home-made glue and a rubber string.

The windows don’t have plexi glass and please make sure that your children don’t put their hands out.

I thank you for patronising our no-frills airline and I wish you a pleasant flight. We’re great people to go down with.

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Yearning for peace
Pakistanis embarrassed by terror attacks
by Kuldip Nayar, who was in Pakistan recently

LAHORE has changed little since my last visit in March 2008. Perhaps, no city does in such a short span. Still the atmosphere in the end of February was different from what it was then.

There was a fear of terrorists in the city. Entry into hotels and government offices was restricted and all vehicles and individuals were searched thoroughly.

The rhythm of life flowed as usual but people had learnt to live with terrorism. They knew that anything could happen anywhere and they were fatalist about the future.

Still the attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team must have shocked them. It must have given them the terrible feeling of living in the midst of terrorists.

What has made them concerned, as I found, is the increasing Talibanisation of their country. Except the Jammiat-e-Islami, no political party has supported the handing over of the Malkhand division, including the Swat valley, to the Taliban.

People say openly that the Taliban can take over Peshawar whenever they like. That America has not liked the deal does not bother them because many feel that the responsibility for their ills lies with Washington itself.

However, the government they know is ‘servile’ to America in view of money it receives regularly. Terrorism is considered a consequence of America’s policy.

“We are your first line of defence,” many Pakistanis say. “If they take over Islamabad, they will not stop at the Wagah border.”

Former President General Pervez Musharraf is now looked upon as a person who played a double game, encouraging the Taliban on the one hand and fighting against them on the other.

Washington is also not being singled out because it is said to have trained and financed the Taliban during the regime of General Zia-ul Haq, who too wanted to fight against infidels (kafirs) coming up to Afghanistan through the help of the then Soviet Union.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, with whom I had a long session, wanted Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to forge a joint front to combat terrorism. He was, indeed, worried because he had found the Taliban’s penetration in every part of Pakistan and every facet of its activity.

He said that Pakistan had been reduced to such a plight because of one martial law after another. It is difficult to say whether New Delhi would agree to a joint front because it did not accept Pakistan’s offer to have a joint investigation of the Mumbai attack.

I think that any cooperation between the two governments may be difficult until the Mumbai attackers are brought to justice. The situation has become more tangled since New Delhi feels that some army officials are involved in the Mumbai attack.

None in the President Asif Ali Zardari establishment can dare ask the question from the army because it rules Pakistan, although not as visibly as it used to.

I led a goodwill delegation to Lahore and Islamabad from February 22 to 26. Our purpose was to strengthen the hands of the Pakistani civil society, which has been trying to span the distance between the countries.

We also wanted to convey to the Pakistan government that it was not trying hard enough to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage to justice quickly.

Whatever the posture of Islamabad — it looks dragging its feet — the people and political leaders in Pakistan want those responsible for the Mumbai carnage to be punished without delay.

There was condemnation of the tragedy and a desire to turn a new leaf. People were concerned over the use of Pakistani soil by terrorists.

The people did say that they were themselves a target of terrorists. This was not meant to defend themselves but to persuade India to join hands in combating terrorism.

As far as India-Pakistan relations are concerned, they are at the lowest ebb. People want peace with India. They openly say that America is their first enemy, not India.

There is a realisation that they have no go from friendship with India. But there is a feeling that New Delhi is not as forthcoming in response as the people in Pakistan would want it to be.

The people-to-people contact had done wonders. Tensions in the two countries had practically disappeared. The unending process of action and reaction was waning. But the Mumbai attack reduced everything to ashes.

When our delegation met leaders on the other side, they felt they were embarrassed over the killings in Mumbai and they used all the words to condemn the murders.

No doubt, only through contact the climate can be changed. But before that a congenial atmosphere has to be created.

New Delhi’s suggestion to Indians not to travel to Pakistan, particularly the cricketers who were to tour that country, looked ill-advised. But in hindsight there seems to be some merit in it.

However, the Sri Lankan players agreed to replace India and tour to help Pakistan’s cricketers and cricket-lovers, who were starved of the international game for so long.

But the attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers at Lahore’s Liberty Chowk last week has left a big question mark hanging over the future of the game as no international cricket team may be willing to tour Pakistan.

The incident also highlights a perilous security situation, making it highly improbable for Pakistan to co-host the 2011 World Cup.

All this notwithstanding, the highest point of our delegation’s visit was the reception by the Jammiat-e-Islami that announced publicly that they wanted to befriend India.

It was their first reception to any Indian delegation after the Mumbai attack. They assured us that they would like to solve all the problems, including Kashmir, through dialogue. Their wish was to bury the hatchet once and for all.

The common man’s love for India remains undiminished. When I passed opposite Achason College in Lahore, I remembered how a Major General from India had wished his ashes to be sprinkled outside the college where he was once a student. His farewell message was: Tell the Pakistanis that I have fought wars against them but I bear no illwill towards them.

This holds good for most of the Indians and Pakistanis. Bitterness between them is an aberration, not something permanent. Nowhere in the world are the two peoples so similar and still so distant.

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Sri Lanka: Women caught in crossfire
by Emily Wax

It was just past 10 p.m. when the hulking bus sputtered to a stop at the military checkpoint at Madavachiya, 70 miles from the front lines of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

The passengers quietly exited the bus and stood behind the razor wire, identification cards in hand. The men split off into one line. A far smaller number of women went into a separate row, some cradling sleeping babies.

But it was the women’s line that took twice as long to navigate. That’s because female officers rummaged through women’s purses and bags before moving on to their breasts, even feeling the insides of their bras for explosives.

They didn’t stop there. They patted down their groins and occasionally looked inside their underwear. Pregnant women routinely had their swollen bellies squeezed or prodded, just to make sure.

Women are often singled out for scrutiny because, in Sri Lanka’s 25-year civil war, more than two-thirds of the Tamil Tiger suicide bombers have been women, according to experts from the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.

The rebel group, known officially as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, has had the highest number of female suicide bombers in the world and was the first to widely use women in suicide attacks, according to the FBI and military experts.

A woman from the rebel group’s Black Tiger cadre killed former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. More recently, on Feb. 9, a female suicide bomber from the Tamil Tigers detonated explosives at a checkpoint as female officers in the Sri Lankan army frisked her. The blast killed 28 people, according to government reports.

In Sri Lanka, an Indian Ocean island of 21 million where modesty is a virtue and women still wade into the sea in billowing saris, the focus on women at checkpoints can be painful — some turn red and even cry as they are being frisked.

Overall, Sri Lanka’s stepped-up security — the routine traffic stops, countless checkpoints, car searches, bag checks and frisking — is testing the boundaries of what people here are willing to endure for the sake of their safety.

The experience could serve as a barometer for other countries forced to balance civil freedoms and privacy rights against the need to protect residents from terrorism.

Across much of South Asia, suicide attacks and bomb blasts are increasing. In India, which suffered terrorist attacks in eight cities last year, frisking has become a part of daily life at malls, movies theaters, five-star hotels and even hospital emergency rooms.

Women’s groups are pushing not only for more female guards, but also for some basic protections, such as separate curtained-off areas, more metal-detecting wands and fewer hands-on searches, which some rights groups say are an affront to women in a region where nakedness is still highly taboo.

“You really feel humiliated. Even when a female is putting her hands all over your body, men are often watching,” said Roshan Farid, 39, a researcher for a women’s rights group in Sri Lanka. She passes through about 14 checkpoints during her trips from the capital of Colombo to the northern region of Mannar. “On my way home, there are about nine checkpoints where no female officers are working.”

In Sri Lanka, the level of security is ratcheted up after every attack. The country is hyper-militarized, and the movement of its residents is tightly regulated, especially now that the Sri Lankan army has cornered the rebels in a tiny patch of jungle.

“The frisking in Sri Lanka now is very intimate, and it feels shocking and rude,” said Ila Kumar, an Indian woman who frequently makes business trips to Colombo. “But it’s a question we are asking in India and maybe all over the world, also: Is it worth it if it stops even one female with a bomb in her bra?”

The heart of the war has centered around the discrimination that Tamils, who are largely Hindu and make up about 12 percent of the population, have felt for decades in Sri Lanka, said Beate Arnestad, a Norwegian filmmaker who made a 2007 documentary, “My Daughter the Terrorist,” about two female Tamil Tiger suicide bombers.

“Who won’t be brainwashed if the only experience you have in life is such a cruel war,” Arnestad said.

“The female suicide bombers think, `I would rather die with a weapon in my hand, defending the cause, than become a victim of the war.’ They think the Tigers saved them, the Tigers are the way to have freedom,” Arnestad added.

Many of the women joined the Black Tigers squad because they felt respected and secure within that force, after reports of Sri Lankan army soldiers sexually assaulting Tamil women, Arnestad said.

For many women, the fear of checkpoints has been heightened by stories of rape and harassment at the hands of those supposedly trying to restore order.

Padmini Ganesan, 65, a Tamil schoolteacher, said many Tamil women remember the 1996 case of Krishanthi Kumaraswamy, an 18-year-old student who had just completed her school exams when she tried to cross a checkpoint in the northern city of Jaffna.

She was gang-raped and strangled by Sri Lankan soldiers and a police officer, according to published reports at the time. To cover up their crime, the perpetrators also killed the student’s mother, her brother and a neighbor who helped look for her.

The Sri Lankan government, which was at first slow to investigate the case but eventually yielded to international pressure, convicted the soldiers and the police officer, sentencing them to death.

“Every Tamil remembers the Krishanthi case,” Ganesan said. “For us, the checkpoints are sort of a slow-motion thing, the trauma and the fear that we go through.”

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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China faces social unrest
by Clifford Coonan

With China facing its worst financial crisis in a century, Premier Wen Jiabao assured comrades that the economy would still grow by 8 per cent this year, the level that the Communist Party believes is necessary to hold down the jobless rate and stave off wider social unrest.

Until growth slowed to 9 per cent last year, China had enjoyed double-digit expansion for the previous five years. The government’s prediction for this year was more optimistic than that of the International Monetary Fund, which has forecast growth of just 6.7 per cent for China. But Communist Party officials said 8 per cent growth was the make-or-break threshold for keeping the population satisfied and making sure that China does not fall victim to widespread rural unrest.

“Maintaining a certain growth rate for the economy is essential for expanding employment for both urban and rural residents, increasing people’s incomes and ensuring social stability,” Mr Wen said in a two-hour address.

China’s economy is the third-largest after Japan and the US and will play a pivotal role in helping drag the global economy out of its downturn. But, to the chagrin of the markets which had been hoping for another shot in the arm, Mr Wen failed to announce any extension to the four trillion yuan (£414bn) stimulus package unveiled in November.

It would also take further steps to offset the rising number of unemployed, victims of a slump in the export market. Collapsing overseas demand for Chinese toys, shoes and electronics have caused the closure of 670,000 small and medium-sized companies. Officials estimate about 20 million migrant workers have already lost their jobs owing to the closure of export-dependent factories and many are now returning to their rural homes.

In the year that the Communist Party celebrates the 60th anniversary of the 1949 revolution, the fear is that people will start to question its power.

Chinese authorities have been training police forces to deal with potential labour unrest. President Hu Jintao has called on the army to remain loyal in the face of growing discontent at the first downturn many Chinese people have experienced. Last month, a clash between police and about 1,000 protesting workers from a textile factory in Zigong City, Sichuan province, left six demonstrators injured, according to the rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

The manner in which China is keeping a tight lid on social unrest was highlighted yesterday when a group of about 100 petitioners from Shanghai went to a Beijing police station to air their grievances but were quickly detained or dispersed. Petitioning is an ancient system dating from the imperial age, where Chinese people who felt they were being abused by the system turned to the Emperor for help, travelling to Beijing to petition for the assistance of the supreme authority.

It used to be that petitioners were heard during the National People’s Congress, but fear of social unrest means those days are gone. Any petitioners seen near Tiananmen Square are rounded up and often jailed in “petitioners’ hotels”, a euphemism for detention centres.

By arrangement with The Independent

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