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PERSPECTIVE

A Tribune Special
Underachievers at school
The fault lies with teachers and parents, says Usha Rai
T
HE television images of the seven or eight-year-old girl being assaulted by the Uttar Pradesh police — her hair being pulled in the most inhuman manner — allegedly for theft of Rs 200 still haunt one.
             
Illustration: Kuldeep Dhiman

Police: The issue is image
by D.V. Guruprasad
T
HAT the public perceives police to be rude, unfriendly, lazy and corrupt is not new. But this perception is formed purely without first-hand knowledge.


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February 24, 2009
THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS



OPED

Keep EC above politics
Collegium best for selecting commissioners
by V. Eshwar Anand
T
HE controversy over Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami’s suo motu powers under Article 324 (5) of the Constitution to recommend the dismissal of fellow commissioner Navin Chawla refuses to die down.

Profile
Poetry Gulzar’s first love
by Harihar Swarup
Gulzar, lyricist of Oscar winning song Jai Ho, will always have a regret; he could not make it to the Award ceremony in Los Angeles.

In search of life under layers of ice
by Steve Connor
British scientists are to mount one of the boldest-ever missions to search for life-forms that have survived for possibly millions of years.

 


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A Tribune Special
Underachievers at school
The fault lies with teachers and parents, says Usha Rai

THE television images of the seven or eight-year-old girl being assaulted by the Uttar Pradesh police — her hair being pulled in the most inhuman manner — allegedly for theft of Rs 200 still haunt one.

Like school teachers and those in charge of juvenile homes and other institutions for young people, the police are supposed to be their protectors and guardians.

Discipline, as and when required, has to be firm but gentle. Pummeling a child or berating her only ingrains in her/his psyche that aggressive behaviour is a way life.

Studies conducted by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007 show that two of every three school going children has been physically assaulted and mentally abused. Boys are more victimised than girls.

The report found that corporal punishment takes place in every district and
punishment as a tool to discipline children is deeply ingrained in both government
and private schools.

However, most children do not report abuse and continue to suffer in silence. Incidents of corporal punishment are highest in Tamil Nadu. During 2003-08, 91 children committed suicide in Tamil Nadu alone, according to Infocus, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights’ (NCPCR) newsletter.

A year-long campaign to end mental and physical abuse of children was flagged off in Delhi by UNICEF and the NCPCR.

Officials of the government in charge of school and secondary education, the NCERT Director, Prof Krishna Kumar, children from municipal schools as well as private schools shared their experience of corporal punishment.

They narrated how children are forced to do domestic work in the house for
their teacher; thrashed in class till they fall unconscious and ‘disciplined’ through
electric shocks.

There have even been instances of children being promoted to the next class only after sexual abuse by the teacher. There have been several instances of school children unable to face the humiliation and ridicule committing suicide.

The NCERT, which also conducted a nation-wide survey of emotional experiences in classroom of 1100 children, revealed that those who were frequently scolded developed poor learning abilities.

Poor classroom environment, use of foul language and beating impacted a student’s learning ability. A child shunted to the back of the classroom because he does not perform well in a subject or comes from a lower class, grows up hating the subject and school respectively.

According to Prof Kumar, the survey revealed disturbing trends of children fearing school because of the abuse they were subjected to. Corporal punishment and humiliation inflicted on children is also an important reason for many of them dropping out of school.

Every child wants to be treated with respect but the scars of the trauma suffered in school affect the child throughout life, the chairperson of the Commission, Dr Shantha Sinha confirmed.

Even though 16 state governments, including Delhi, have banned corporal
punishment and there are several laws preventing it, 14-year-old Tina (name
changed), studying in a private school in Delhi, tells you about the ‘razor sharp
tongues of teachers’ that disturb adolescent children to the extent that they
commit suicide.

“Schools are like a second home to us and teachers are like parents. So when a teacher says ‘You are good for nothing’ or ‘You should be sent to a special school’ or that ‘Teachers are allergic to your face’, the student may not break down in front of the rest of the class but can think of nothing else but those comments for days and nights. It affects our self-esteem to the extent that one opts out of the subjects for which one has been ridiculed.”

Dr Samir Hasan Dalwai, Director, Child Development Centre, Mumbai, who is working closely with UNICEF and NCPCR on child issues, said that the impact of crimes committed on children is greater than crimes on adults because children are still in the process of developing.

In fact, there is scientific proof that beating does not improve the scholastic abilities of a child. Punishment leads to fear and aggression and behavioural changes — reflected in thumb sucking, nail biting, regressed behaviour, stuttering, stammering and lack of confidence.

A paediatrician and child psychologist, Dr Dalwai said that it was disturbing to
see an increase in the shaken baby syndrome where the young child is physically
abused in homes.

He cited the case in which a nine-month old infant who was brought to his clinic with burn marks on the back of the hand. Obviously, the child had been deliberately burnt as a punishment for something he had done.

Contrary to popular belief, disciplining does not mean physical violence. Instead of physical punishment, he suggested ‘positive disciplining’ by telling the child what he has done wrong and why it was considered wrong.

Instead of focusing on “obedience and disobedience,” he said parents and teachers should try for “cooperation”. Children should be made to think for themselves.

Very often, the deviant behaviour of parents and teachers stems from the tremendous pressure to get the children to score high marks so that they can get admission to primary school, then admission to a good college and later into institutes of higher learning like the IITs and IIMs.

Everywhere, the marks scored matter. There has also been a devaluation of the teaching profession, says Prof Kumar.

This can be seen in the lowering of teachers’ salaries. Instead of qualified teachers, many states are making do with half-baked teachers called para teachers.

In Madhya Pradesh, where teachers’ salaries had plummeted to below the minimum wage rate, the state was dependent on contractual teachers. The low wages were also a reason why young and talented persons were no longer attracted to teaching.

In Bihar, teaching had become so trivialised that teachers had no compunction in making a bonfire of textbooks to keep warm on a winter day.

Teachers also did not hesitate to hit a student in an examination hall so brutally that he fell unconscious and later died.

All these examples needed to be studied so that society takes cognisance of the darker side of education and acts to end violence against children, says Prof Kumar.

The UNICEF is frequently asked if ending corporal punishment would mean chaos in classrooms. The answer is ‘no,’ said Ms Karin Hulshof, its country head.

She said that evidence, globally and in India, supported the thesis that where children are engaged in schools that encourage their creativity and respect their dignity and rights, in a stimulating environment, discipline is a natural corollary.

The UNICEF promoted child-friendly schools as it was the way of ensuring schools and classrooms are child-centred and make children active partners in their learning. In such schools, social values of mutual respect and tolerance of differences are valued and are children learned actively.

Though India was fortunate to have the National Curriculum Framework (2005) that placed the child at the centre of school education, it was lagging in implementing these guidelines.

Anita Kaul, Union Joint Secretary (School Education), pointed out that the government policy is explicitly against corporal punishment and this is clearly stated in the National Policy on Education (1986) as well as the revised policy of 1992.

However, there is a gap between policy and practice. Children from weaker sections and disadvantaged groups, physically challenged children and first generation learners tend to become the target of corporal punishment and mental abuse. The logic seems to be that it helps to prepare children face hardships in the future.

Even the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, tabled in Parliament, incorporating the child rights perspective prohibits mental and physical abuse. The Bill also states there will be no detention and no failure.

On the issue of no detention, Ms Kaul said that reservations had been
expressed from several quarters that such a provision would adversely affect
the quality of education.

There were many who subscribed to the view that ‘fear’ was necessary as it induced a child to study, compete and progress.

But people closely engaged with children understood the importance of creating a learning environment which was free from fear, anxiety and stress.

So there is need for systemic reforms in evaluation and assessment systems, to enable teachers to pay individual attention to the child’s attainments.

As far as the clause of no expulsion was concerned, Ms Kaul pointed out that the question often raised was what to do with the ‘habitually deviant’ child.

The implications of expulsion were that the education system had refused to
serve the child.

When education is a fundamental right, the education system cannot wash its
hands off a child.

Here again there is a need for systemic reform to enable schools and teachers to provide different curricular experiences and activities to bring about greater awareness and change the so-called ‘deviant’ behaviour.

Dr Shantha Sinha said corporal punishment is non-negotiable. The NCPCR is working towards setting up of parent-teacher associations in all schools so that they become the nodal body to shield children from being victimised.

Whether it is in India or the West, encouragement is needed for a child to develop, not corporal punishment.

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Police: The issue is image
by D.V. Guruprasad

THAT the public perceives police to be rude, unfriendly, lazy and corrupt is not new. But this perception is formed purely without first-hand knowledge.

A three-year survey conducted in 11 districts across 150 police stations in Rajasthan, the results of which were published recently, revealed that 89 per cent of the public formed their opinion against police without ever interacting with police!

Only 24 per cent of urban men and 5 per cent of women admitted having
interacted with police.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology along with Rajasthan Police conducted a survey from 2005; 33 per cent of the respondents felt that police are not courteous; and 56 per cent felt that police are lazy.

Similarly, 39 per cent law-abiding citizens stated that they fear the police. A majority of criminals do not fear the police was another opinion gathered.

Paradoxically, those who need to fear police do not fear them and those who should be friendly with police are fearful of them.

The survey revealed that the public perception of police is formed mostly through the media or through the experience of friends and relatives.

In fact, 1 per cent of the policemen felt that one of the poor aspects of their work is the poor treatment/ disrespect from the public.

In a survey conducted by this writer in Karnataka, more than 16 per cent respondents stated that the public has very poor opinion about them and this is one reason why they are dissatisfied with their job. (Results can be seen at www.ksp.gov.in.)

It was also seen in the Rajasthan survey that 70 per cent of victims of crime never report to the police.

Of the 30 per cent who reported a crime to the police station, 17 per cent said that police demanded money to register the FIR.

Most respondents said that there is no use in reporting a crime to the police
station because police did not take any action on their complaint; police were
not interested in detection: they didn’t arrest the accused and recover the
stolen property.

To improve the police image, Rajasthan police conducted an experiment, in which over 100 citizens were appointed community observers in each police station.

These observers visited their assigned police station at least for three hours a day and learnt about police work.

After one group of observers learnt about police working, another group was made to sit as observers.

With this, over a period of time, hundreds of citizens had visited police stations and had experienced police work first hand.

They were able to know the constraints under which police work and were able to empathise with police and change their perception of police.

Since community observers were present in the police station, the police changed their behaviour with public who visit the station.

They became more polite and more helpful in their dealings with public. The members of the community who visited the police stations became friendlier with the police.

In fact when I was Police Commissioner at Hubli in 1995, I had conducted a similar experiment in community policing due to which better intelligence gathering ensued resulting in decline in crime.

In Rajasthan, special emphasis was laid on police training. Selected staff from each police station was sent on week-long training on soft skills which included public relations, communications, stress relief and personal development.

Those who underwent this training were able to provide a better image of police to the community. Special training was also given on investigative skills to improve the rate of detection of cases.

To see whether there is a change in the police mindset, decoys were sent to police stations with complaints to see whether these are registered and how do police treat the complainants.

Selected case files from police stations were sent to retired police officers to
see whether investigation is being conducted on proper lines and suggestions
for improvement provided. After the three-year period, there was a change for
the better.

In fact the citizens understood police better and demanded that the SHO shouldn’t be transferred frequently (this is one of the police reforms suggested by the Supreme Court), policemen should be given weekly off and that the working conditions of the police should be improved. In fact the police themselves were satisfied with the experiment.

Other states could also try similar interventions due to which the public-police interface gets better and service delivery of the police improves.

The writer is Director-General of Police, Corps of Detectives & Training,
Karnataka, Bangalore


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Keep EC above politics
Collegium best for selecting commissioners
by V. Eshwar Anand

THE controversy over Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami’s suo motu powers under Article 324 (5) of the Constitution to recommend the dismissal of fellow commissioner Navin Chawla refuses to die down.

Ironically, President Pratibha Patil has not only rejected his recommendation but
also appointed Mr Chawla as the next CEC after Mr Gopalaswami demits office on
April 20.

As the nation is on the election mode, there is need for peace and tranquility in the Commission. If the general election to the Lok Sabha and elections to Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Sikkim Assemblies (April 16-May 15) are to be held in a free and fair manner, nothing should be done to weaken or compromise the integrity and fair reputation of the Election Commission.

The President’s decision on the CEC’s report against Mr Chawla, based on various inputs including the government’s advice, constitutional provisions and the Supreme Court judgement, does not come as a surprise.

When the controversy came to the fore early last month, Union Law Minister H.R. Bharadwaj categorically stated that there was no question of the government removing Mr Chawla from his post.

He said that the CEC was not empowered to seek a fellow commissioner’s removal unless the President made such a reference to him.

Significantly, constitutional experts and jurists are sharply divided over the issue. While Mr Fali S. Nariman and Mr K.K. Venugopal have deplored the “extraordinarily inept” timing of the CEC’s report, others like Mr Soli J. Sorabjee and Mr Subhash C. Kashyap have defended his suo motu powers.

In the national interest, The Tribune organised a debate on the issue in which leading advocates of the Supreme Court, among others, participated. But there was no unanimity of opinion.

Clearly, though Article 324 (5) of the Constitution empowers the CEC to recommend to the President a fellow commissioner’s removal, this doesn’t give him absolute power to act independently.

No doubt, the CEC is the captain of the team. He is like primus interpares (first among equals). However, the Constitution doesn’t put him on a higher pedestal. He and the two other commissioners hold the same rank of a Supreme Court Judge.

The CEC cannot act like a typical boss. Of course, he chairs the meetings of the full commission and helps coordinate the work. The Election Commission is more or less a collective body, taking collective decisions.

Moreover, the CEC’s suo motu recommendation breached the Supreme Court’s 1995 judgement in the T.N. Seshan case, where it held that the CEC could take recourse to Article 324 (5) only on a reference from the President.

Going a step further, the apex court warned that if suo motu powers were conferred on the CEC, he would become “an instrument of oppression, destroying the independence of the Election Commission”.

Interestingly, Mr Gopalaswami has defended his suo motu powers by quoting the August 7, 2007 ruling of the Supreme Court. However, the Bench consisting of Justice Ashok Bhan and Justice V.S. Sirpurkar has not given its explicit opinion on the matter, while allowing the withdrawal of Mr Jaswant Singh’s petition.

It said, “the permission to withdraw the writ petition shall not be taken as an expression of opinion on the part of this court regarding the questions involved. All questions and contentions of the parties are left open.”

One should appreciate the significance and rationale of Article 324 (5). Its main purpose is to protect and safeguard the interests of the election commissioners from political or executive arbitrariness.

Imagine the fate of an upright commissioner if he, without the CEC’s protection, refused to succumb to political pressure. An overzealous government would have peremptorily packed him off for his rigid but forthright stand.

In essence, Article 324 (5) provides a check on the executive’s power to summarily dismiss an election commissioner as also safeguard the Commission’s independence as a constitutional body.

Worthy of mention in this context is the legal opinion of Mr Ashok H. Desai, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court and former Attorney-General of India, in response to the advice sought by the Election Commission about the CEC’s suo motu powers in April 2006 when Mr B.B. Tandon was the CEC.

According to Mr Desai, “…this privilege has been conferred on the CEC to ensure that the Election Commissioners as well as the Regional Commissioners are not at the mercy of political or executive bosses of the day…the CEC must exercise this power only when there exist valid reasons which are conducive to efficient functioning of the Election Commission.”

Mr Gopalaswami is an able administrator. Known for his integrity and administrative acumen, he has successfully conducted the last general election and Assembly elections in some crucial states such as Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.

He is entitled to his views about his powers just as the Centre has the prerogative to reject his advice.

Nonetheless, as the issue has evoked mixed reactions, there are compelling circumstances for the President to seek the Supreme Court’s opinion on the matter under Article 143 of the Constitution.

Let the new government at the Centre, after the ensuing Lok Sabha elections, advice the President to take recourse to this route.

Let the Supreme Court give its considered opinion. This will be one of the best possible solutions to resolve the tangle.

The Election Commission enjoys a high degree of credibility for conducting free and fair elections. However, the present mode of appointment of the CEC and commissioners leaves much to be desired.

In the present system, there is scope for political interference in the matter of appointments with the result that the nominees are generally accused of being patronised by the ruling party.

While the NDA government appointed Mr Gopalaswami, Mr Chawla was selected by the UPA government. Thus, both of them are accused of being favourable to the BJP and the Congress respectively.

Significantly, in the Constituent Assembly debates, members suggested that the person to be appointed as the CEC should enjoy the confidence of all political parties and therefore his appointment should be confirmed by a two-thirds majority of both Houses of Parliament.

This implies that even at that stage, members felt that the procedure of appointment should be broadbased, cutting across party lines.

The best way to maintain the fair and apolitical character of the Commission is to insulate the appointment of the CEC and other commissioners from any kind of interference, political or otherwise.

Whichever party comes to power after the Lok Sabha elections, it must implement the recommendation of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Mr M. Veerappa Moily.

In its report, Ethics in Governance (January 2007), the Moily report suggested a five-member collegium headed by the Prime Minister with the Lok Sabha Speaker, the Union Law Minister, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman as members to appoint the CEC and commissioners.

Indeed, such a system already exists for the appointment of chairperson and members of statutory bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission and the Central Vigilance Commission.

Maintaining the fair image and reputation of the Election Commission is integral to the successful functioning of the world’s largest democracy.

Thus, in the national interest, the Centre would do well to exercise its power of appointment of election commissioners judiciously and with utmost circumspection.

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Profile
Poetry Gulzar’s first love
by Harihar Swarup

Gulzar, lyricist of Oscar winning song Jai Ho, will always have a regret; he could not make it to the Award ceremony in Los Angeles.

He has been penning beautiful songs for Hindi movies for years, but it took a Slumdog Mllionaire and A.R. Rahman’s brilliant music to get Gulzar his first nomination.

He was hurt on the right shoulder while playing tennis. Though his family members insisted that he should go to the Oscar ceremony, he declined. That regret will always remain with me”, Gulzar says.

He firmly believed that Indian lyrics could never win an Oscar. As a matter of fact, Indian songs had no place in the west.

The Jai Ho song has become so popular that the Congress has made it part of its election campaign. It also bought the rights from T-Series. Gulzar, however, is not happy. “Don’t make it political; it is such a nice lyrical song…”, was his reaction.

Gulzar’s original name was Sampooran Singh. Born at Deena in Jhelum district of undivided Punjab, he came to Delhi after Partition and began writing poetry.

In 1961, he joined Bimal Roy productions and in a couple of years got his first break as lyricist, writing songs for Roy’s Bandini.

Its success made him Bimal da’s full-time assistant. He got writing assignments for films by such acclaimed directors like Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Asit Sen.

His scripts and stories, as many as 60, made a mark in the film world. He also directed 17 movies, each one a masterpiece.

During 1987-96, Gulzar withdrew from films but during the period did one of the most outstanding jobs for the small screen. He produced TV serial Mirza Ghalib, a tribute to the legendary poet.

The serial will remain one of the most memorable TV productions for its music, direction, dialogues and portrayal of Ghalib by Naseeruddin Shah.

Come 1996 and Gulzar was back in action, behind the camera for making of Maachis (matchbox), a movie on terrorism in Punjab. After Maachis, he teamed up with new breed of music directors like A.R. Rehman, Anu Malik, and Jatin Malik.

Though films gave him mass recognition, poetry always remained his first love. His first poetry collection, Ek Boond Chaand, was published as far back was 1962. Rupa-Harper Collins has recently published his new poetry anthology, Triveni.

His another poetry collection was recently published in Pakistan. A publishing house is currently compiling scripts of Gulzar’s films in the form of a book.

Last few years have been years of experiment for Gulzar; young artists from different faculties worked with him and provided new expressions to his work.

Some of the notable experiments include Kharaashein, a play by Salim Arif on Gulzar’s short stories, Uddas Paani — an experimental music album and, Gulzar’s Poetry on Canvass by young painter Ajay Kumar Samir.

Gulzar also penned the theme song, Lau Se Lau Jalti Rahe, for the Olympic Torch Relay event in New Delhi and Chal Dilli Chalein Chalna Hai for the Commonwealth Games due to be held in New Delhi in 2010.

Doubtless, Gulzar Saab, as he is respectfully called in the film world, has revolutionised the Hindi lyrics by using simple words in a complicated phraseology.

Yet, he succeeded in making ethereal connection with the classes and masses, without compromising on his intellectual self.

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In search of life under layers of ice
by Steve Connor

British scientists are to mount one of the boldest-ever missions to search for life-forms that have survived for possibly millions of years.

A team of Antarctic scientists has been given the go-ahead to drill through a two-mile-thick sheet of ice that has sealed a sub-glacial lake from the rest of the biosphere for at least as long as homo sapiens has walked the earth.

They hope to find species that have survived beneath the ice sheet since it formed two million years ago.

Finding life in such an extreme environment would be one of the most important discoveries of the century, raising the prospect of searching for extra-terrestrial life on Europa, a moon of Jupiter where life is thought to exist beneath a frozen ocean.

The scientists plan to use sophisticated ice-drilling technology developed in the UK to penetrate the ice cap and enter the liquid-water world of Lake Ellsworth in West Antarctica, one of about 150 subglacial lakes scientists have recently mapped with ice-penetrating radar.

Lake Ellsworth, about the size of Lake Windermere, is thought to be more than 300ft deep with a floor covered in thick sediment. The scientists who surveyed it believe it is a prime candidate for sub-glacial life.

“It is a dark, cold place that has been sealed from the outside world and it’s likely to contain unique forms of life,” said Professor Martin Siegert of Edinburgh University, the principal investigator on the Ellsworth project.

“This is a benchmark in polar exploration: our team will be the first to explore
this ancient lake.”

Microbiologists think deep-water subglacial lakes are unique extreme environments where unusual microbes might adapt and survive.

“These environments may be the closest analogues on earth to Europa, which has a thick icy crust above a liquid ocean.”

The British team has been promised more than six million pounds by the
Natural Environment Research Council, and its experts are being drawn from a
consortium of universities, including Bristol and Edinburgh, and specialist centres
such as the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton and the British
Antarctic Survey in Cambridge.

They intend to break into Lake Ellsworth in the Antarctic summer of 2012-13 with
a pair of scientific probes designed to capture living organisms, or the chemical
signs of life.

It will be the first time any nation has explored these mysterious subglacial lakes
and the British probes are specially designed to be sterile to prevent microbial
contamination from the surface.

Technical problems have dogged a similar Russian project to penetrate a much bigger lake called Vostok in East Antarctica.

The Russian project is also mired in controversy because it is based on a non-sterile drilling technology that uses kerosene as a lubricant, which could easily contaminate the pristine environment of Lake Vostok.

A healthy competition between Russia and Britain has spurred each side in the race to be first to enter a sub-glacial lake. But Professor Siegert says that it is not just about being first.

“Competition is something that drives science. But if the race was the only thing that was driving us, we’d have done it by now. We’ve been working on this project for 10 years.”

— By arrangement with The Independent

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