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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

President speaks
Pluralism yes, but zero tolerance for terrorism

P
resident
Pratibha Patil’s address to Parliament on Thursday was a worthy extension of the agenda the Manmohan Singh government pursued during its first term in office and the promises it made to the people for his second term in office.

When exports shrink
Time to look beyond US, Europe
T
HERE may be signs of domestic recovery, but the world outside is still in dire straits, impacting India’s exports and rescue efforts. For the past eight months India’s exports have shrunk and the new Commerce Minister, Mr Anand Sharma, says the contraction will continue, at least, up to September. 


EARLIER STORIES

Pak flexes muscles, again
June 4, 2009
Treading the beaten path
June 3, 2009
Friends, or foes?
June 2, 2009
Better days ahead
June 1, 2009
The fury of cyclone Aila
May 31, 2009
Tasks assigned
May 30, 2009
Team Manmohan
May 29, 2009
Lahore again
May 28, 2009
Let peace prevail
May 27, 2009
PM’s appeal
May 26, 2009
Mayawati goes berserk
May 25, 2009
Mandate for Manmohan
May 24, 2009


Get tough on ragging
UGC lays down the guidelines
T
HE Supreme Court, which recently directed the states to set up two committees to tackle ragging, had always taken a tough line on the issue. Now, the UGC has come up with stringent rules and penalties both for the students found guilty of ragging and the institutions concerned if they fail to eradicate the menace. 
ARTICLE

BJP needs overhaul
Being shrill is not enough
by Amulya Ganguli
A
PART from the promise of stability and continuity, the Congress’s success has been attributed to the belief in the innate decency of Dr Manmohan Singh and to the return of the old-fashioned gentlemanly style of politics represented by Ms Sonia Gandhi and Mr Rahul Gandhi. Since this perception lies at the heart of the verdict, the BJP could not but be the loser considering that the thrust of its politics over the last two decades had been provocative and confrontationist. 

MIDDLE

Outsourcing
by Harish Dhillon

One of the most popular and successful mantras of the corporate sector in the prevailing economic atmosphere has been the mantra of outsourcing or, in more conventional parlance, the mantra of contracting out work to other bodies.  The results have been spectacular.

OPED

Growth and governance
Challenges before the new government 
by B. S. Ghuman

G
rowth
and equity are the central pillars of economic policy in India. Achieving high growth is, no doubt, a tough job; ensuring fair distribution of gains of growth is even tougher. The global economic meltdown has played havoc with both growth and equity.

What UN can’t ignore in Myanmar
by Pedro Nikken and Geoffrey Nice 
T
HE trial of the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Aung San Suu Kyi, has once again catapulted events in Myanmar onto the front pages of newspapers around the globe.

Health
Living with Parkinson’s disease 
by Jackie Christensen 
W
HEN people first meet me, they may not be able to tell that I have Parkinson’s disease. I’m 45, and the average age at diagnosis is 55 to 60. (I was 34 when my case was diagnosed.) I don’t really have a tremor, and in 2006, I underwent deep brain stimulation, a procedure that controls most of the wriggling and writhing movements that I had been experiencing. But once I open my mouth to speak, it often becomes apparent that there is something going on.

Corrections and clarifications



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President speaks
Pluralism yes, but zero tolerance for terrorism

President Pratibha Patil’s address to Parliament on Thursday was a worthy extension of the agenda the Manmohan Singh government pursued during its first term in office and the promises it made to the people for his second term in office. Recognising that the mandate the UPA received was for an inclusive society, equitable development and a secular and plural India, the President pledged that her government would pursue these with unrelenting commitment. The address sends a clear signal that women could expect a better deal from the UPA in the coming days. While the President said the government would initiate, in the next 100 days, the early passage of the women’s reservation Bill in Parliament, providing for one-third reservation in Parliament and state legislatures and constitutional amendment for 50 per cent reservation for women in panchayats and urban local bodies, the resolve would be tested as in the past by the strong opposition to this from different quarters.

The President’s address — which was approved by the Cabinet earlier this week — talks of a policy of zero-tolerance towards terrorism and strong measures to handle insurgency and Left wing extremism. With Naxalism assuming menacing proportions in recent years, this will be put to test. That the government has already prepared a detailed plan to tackle internal security challenges to be implemented in a time-bound manner is reassuring. The address promises that “a national counter-terrorism centre will be established to take pro-active anti-terrorism measures and Special Forces and Quick Response Teams will be raised and deployed in vulnerable areas will be watched for their implementation and effectiveness. The address makes it plain that the government would seek to re-shape its relationship with Pakistan depending on the sincerity with which it tames the groups trained for launching terrorist attacks against India from its territory.

That the new government will focus on adversely-affected sectors like infrastructure, exports, small and medium enterprises and housing to restore the growth momentum is a statement of constructive and well-thought-out intent. The promise to “vigorously” pursue steps against illegal money of Indians in secret bank accounts abroad would not be easy to honour due to pressure from vested interests. All in all, the President’s address is along expected lines. What is important will essentially be how much the new government can accomplish in on year for which it is seeking money from Parliament, being reconvened for the Budget session next month.

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When exports shrink
Time to look beyond US, Europe

THERE may be signs of domestic recovery, but the world outside is still in dire straits, impacting India’s exports and rescue efforts. For the past eight months India’s exports have shrunk and the new Commerce Minister, Mr Anand Sharma, says the contraction will continue, at least, up to September. This, however, would happen if the present hopes of a revival of demand in the US and Europe are not belied. Fortunately, earlier fears of a prolonged recession are receding and various stimulus packages are showing their effect. What is notable about the export figures for March, April and May, 2009, is that the plunge at 33 to 30 per cent is the steepest in a decade.

The reason for this dismal performance is that India’s exports are US and Europe-centric. The export of gems, pharmaceuticals, textiles and auto parts to the US saw a 12 per cent drop between October 2008 and February 2009. It is no surprise, therefore, that India has missed its revised export target of $175 billion for the last fiscal. More worrying is the drop in exports would have been sharper had the rupee not depreciated significantly against the US dollar. Lately, the rupee has started strengthening, much to the disappointment of exporters.

What the falling export figures do not reveal is the pain of job losses. Industrial layoffs and unemployment have gone up sharply in the recent months. The continuing upsurge in stock markets may have given rise to hopes of a recovery, but the export data do not show any improvement at the ground level. The new government is considering steps to boost exports, including cutting interest rates and transaction costs of exporters. An important lesson to be learnt from recession is: India should diversify the export basket and shift focus from the US and Europe to growing economies like China, Japan, South Africa, Russia and Brazil.

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Get tough on ragging
UGC lays down the guidelines

THE Supreme Court, which recently directed the states to set up two committees to tackle ragging, had always taken a tough line on the issue. Now, the UGC has come up with stringent rules and penalties both for the students found guilty of ragging and the institutions concerned if they fail to eradicate the menace. The students indulging in ragging can be suspended, rusticated and even fined up to Rs 2.5 lakh. That the expulsion orders can be followed by a ban on admission elsewhere (even if for a specific period), too, will certainly act as a deterrent, both for parents and their wards, who will also have to give a written undertaking before admission that they will abide by the laws on ragging. However, a 24-hour anti-ragging helpline, likely to be operational by June 15, does not appear to be a feasible solution.

Over the years ragging has undoubtedly grown into a monster. From an innocuous custom of initiation into the campus culture it has transformed into a life-threatening scourge which has taken the lives of a number of students. The brutal ragging allegedly leading to the death of Aman Kachroo at Tanda has not only stirred the entire nation but also seems to have shaken the regulating bodies. The Supreme Court had banned ragging some time ago and even set up the Raghavan Committee. Sadly, its recommendations were not taken seriously. One hopes the apex court’s latest directive on setting up committees on de-addiction and counselling will be implemented with greater earnestness since the panels can help tackle the problem effectively.

A multi-pronged approach alone can help control ragging. Too much centralisation, as the helpline may lead to, cannot be very effective. Rather than relaying information from the helpline to the head of the institution concerned, educational institutions should be made the nodal point. Ragging should be stemmed where it happens. Institutions must be the first forum of complaint as well as redressal. Regulating bodies can play a crucial role, especially as watchdogs for the institutions where ragging incidents are repeatedly reported. However, unless the institutions themselves develop zero-tolerance against ragging, other measures cannot help achieve the objective.

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Thought for the Day

It has, I believe, been often remarked that a hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg. — Samuel Butler

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BJP needs overhaul
Being shrill is not enough
by Amulya Ganguli

APART from the promise of stability and continuity, the Congress’s success has been attributed to the belief in the innate decency of Dr Manmohan Singh and to the return of the old-fashioned gentlemanly style of politics represented by Ms Sonia Gandhi and Mr Rahul Gandhi. Since this perception lies at the heart of the verdict, the BJP could not but be the loser considering that the thrust of its politics over the last two decades had been provocative and confrontationist. What is worse, the initial success of this belligerence made it virtually impossible for the party to turn over a new leaf even when it dimly realised that its aggressive line was proving counter-productive.

It all began with Mr L.K. Advani’s rath yatra of 1990 with its sub-text of demonising the minorities. However, the fact that this outlook remained the BJP’s main driving force was evident from the post-election lament of one of the party’s few “token” Muslims that as long as it raised the slogan, “Hindu, Hindi, Hindustan, mullah bhago Pakistan”, at the ground level, there was little hope for the party.

From the targeting of mosques and churches to issues like the ban on cow slaughter and conversions, to the compulsory singing of Vande Mataram, to Ram Sethu, to the Amarnath land transfer dispute, to Afzal Guru, to Bangladeshi infiltrators, to the alleged lack of patriotism among indigenous Muslims - the BJP’s and the Sangh Parivar’s sole focus has been on whipping up anti-minority sentiments. It is this antagonistic stance which alienates the Muslims, Christians, the liberal-minded and those who simply prefer sobriety to aggression. That the party has realised this is evident from Mr Arun Jaitley’s comment that shrillness doesn’t pay and from Mr Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s objections to the use of the question of Afzal Guru’s hanging as an election issue.

However, if these second thoughts have come too late, the reason is that the saffron camp has believed for a long time that the Congress has emasculated the Hindus in a manner that the Muslims have been dangerously emboldened. To correct this supposed attitudinal deficiency, the Sangh Parivar had taken upon itself the task of making the Hindus adopt a macho mentality.

While the slogan, “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain”, was a part of this projected display of assertiveness, there were other, more challenging innovations such as the loud tolling of temple bells, especially in Muslim localities, and the deliberate flouting of police orders to avoid “sensitive” areas when taking out processions with the images of gods and goddesses. Why certain routes should be out of bounds for us in our own country was the grouse of the local Parivar leaders.

It is this kind of provocative behaviour with a negative fallout which is now apparent even to the BJP. What the party didn’t realise was that such combativeness in religious matters went against the grain of the serene Hindu temperament. The mistake it made was to confuse the religiosity of Hindus with contempt for other faiths. But the truth is exactly the opposite. A Hindu reveres all religions. He does not like disturbing others when they are praying in mosques or churches or gurdwaras or synagogues.

The same disconnect between the BJP’s idea of what a Hindu expects from a political party, which is pretending to guard his interests, and the actual reality could be seen from the Afzal Guru affair. Mr Advani’s observation that the convicted person would have been hanged by now if his name was Anand Singh or Anand Mohan was perhaps one of the most tasteless observations made by a man in his position. Apart from a blatant attempt to whip up Hindu sentiments, it made a mockery of the legal process although the person indulging in such rhetoric had once been the country’s Home Minister as well as Deputy Prime Minister. Yet, he was playing to the communal gallery with no sense of restraint despite the fact that Afzal Guru is the 22nd person on the death row and is entitled to presenting a mercy petition.

The same coarseness could be seen in the proud tones in which Mr Narendra Modi boasted of the gunning down of Sohrabuddin Sheikh by the police without mentioning that he had a Hindu partner in crime, Tulsiram Prajapati, for he knew that the mention of the latter’s name would dilute the impact of his speech on a partisan audience. The crassness of his attitude was also evident from his refusal to apologise for the 2002 riots and his description of the refugee camps for the riot victims as child-producing factories.

Fascism thrives, of course, on the uninhibited targeting of a community. Politeness is alien to the creed. From this respect, it is antithetical to civilised conduct. After all, if a mosque is being demolished or a church burnt, it is not possible for the cadres to display social graces. Since the basic objective is to foment passions, it is not surprising that Bal Thackeray, one of the leading lights of the Hindutva Parivar, did not stop after only suggesting that Ajmal Kasab should not provided with a defence counsel (in accordance with the norms of a civilised society), but even suggested that he should be hanged publicly.

Again, the purpose is clear. Public execution is abhorrent to modern society because it brutalises the onlookers. Yet, this is exactly what the saffron lobby wants, as could be seen from Sadhvi Rithambara’s blood-curdling call at the height of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement for one last khoon-kharaba to settle scores with the minorities. As long as the BJP and the Parivar continue to fight the medieval battles against the Muslim “invaders”, they cannot expect to be a part of the social and political scene in the 21st century.

Just as the communists believe that capitalism will soon collapse and the world will realise the virtues of socialism, the Hindutva camp believes that the ultra-nationalistic outlook will sweep away the bleeding-heart liberals and pave the way for the establishment of a Hindu rashtra. It believed in this myth till 2004 and even afterwards consoled itself by saying that the defeat was due to over-confidence and deviation from hardline Hindutva policies. The BJP’s string of victories in the subsequent assembly elections seems to have strengthened its conviction that the setback in 2004 was an aberration.

The shock of its latest defeat, therefore, has been all the greater because it has realised that it was living in denial all along. Moreover, if the BJP wants to regain the lost ground, it will have to reinvent itself, which means a drastic overhaul, starting with cutting its umbilical links with the RSS and its rabid affiliates like the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. But such a transformation is beyond the BJP’s intellectual and organisational capacity, just as turning away from the myth of “scientific socialism” is virtually impossible for the comrades.

In all likelihood, therefore, the two ideologically driven parties — one on the Right and the other on the Left — will continue to follow their flawed path in the foreseeable future.

There may be a few in the BJP like Mr Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who has said “vikas is Hindutva”, or Mr Jaitley, who will shun extremism and follow the middle path. But they seem to lack the charisma and mental tenacity to take over the reins of the party at the national level, where the old warhorses of the RSS will continue to rule the roost.

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Outsourcing
by Harish Dhillon

One of the most popular and successful mantras of the corporate sector in the prevailing economic atmosphere has been the mantra of outsourcing or, in more conventional parlance, the mantra of contracting out work to other bodies.  The results have been spectacular.

The process of outsourcing has two inherent and very obvious advantages to it.  One, of course, is that the subordinate workers involved in the outsourced element are constantly on their toes as they are afraid that if satisfactory results are not delivere it would mean the end of the contract and cons quently of their own employment.  The other advantage is that industries and commercial organszations are spared the headache of threatened strikes and lockouts and the endless demands of union organisations.

Inevitably, seeing these obvious benefits, organisations other than industrial and commercial have also fallen prey to the lure of outsourcing. Even educational institutions, including public schools, are outsourcing more and more of their non-academic work: security, housekeeping, catering etc. 

In my own school this turning to outsourcing has yielded immediate and obvious results.  The gardens are more beautiful, the toilets are cleaner and there is a greater degree of professionalism as revealed in the general air of briskness in the way the employees go about their work.

As I sit in my verandah looking out at my lush green lawns and revelling in the benefits that outsourcing has brought to the school, I cannot help feeling a pang of regret, a sense of nostalgia for the good old days.  I cannot help feeling that perhaps the price that we have paid for these benefits is a trifle too high.  Elements that were for long the backbone of public school life, elements like loyalty, continuity and pride in a job well done, a feeling of belonging to one family all seem to have fallen by the wayside, and now appear to be irrelevant and completely out of fashion

On the lighter side, outsourcing can throw up some amusing moments too.  A new company had been contracted for the security services in our school and their contract came into effect at 5 p.m.  I had gone out cycling and when I returned at 6 p.m.  it was to find an unknown set of security guards at the gate.  Their captain asked me who I was.  With a grea degree of impatience and some degree of arrogance I said: “I am the Principal”: He took a long look at my cycle and me, laughed and said: “Then I am the Principal’s father”. 

The Bursar had to be summoned to get me past the gates.  I did the politically correct thing the next day – I called the sheep-faced guard to my office and complimented him on performing his duties in such an exemplary manner.  But the incident did have the salubrious effect of deflating my over-inflated ego and pulling me down a few rungs from the stratosphere which all heads of public schools tend to inhabit.

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Growth and governance
Challenges before the new government 
by B. S. Ghuman

Growth and equity are the central pillars of economic policy in India. Achieving high growth is, no doubt, a tough job; ensuring fair distribution of gains of growth is even tougher. The global economic meltdown has played havoc with both growth and equity.

The real economic challenges, therefore, before the new government are how to regain the 9 per cent growth trajectory and to ensure the benefits of high growth reaching the ‘aam aadmi’ in the street.

The accomplishment of the twin goals partly depends upon the quality of governance as the growth stimulating and equity promoting programmes are executed by the administration.

The Indian economy is passing through a difficult period. Its growth rate after reaching the peak of 9 per cent plus has been sliding, partly because of global economic meltdown.

According to the RBI’s recent quarterly survey of professional forecasters, the Indian economy is likely to slow down from 6.6 per cent in 2008-09 to 5.7 per cent in 2009-10.

No doubt, deceleration in growth is a global phenomenon, but in a developing large-sized and labour surplus country like India a dip of 4 per cent points in the rate of growth has far-reaching implications.

The industrial sector, particularly export units, have been hit hard. According to the Federation of Indian Export Organisation, about 10 million workers will loose their jobs in export-oriented and related industries by the end of June, 2009.

The textile sector is the worst affected as this sector alone is likely to loose jobs to the tune of one million. These estimates are on the higher side, but large-scale job losses due to the economic meltdown are a foregone conclusion.

In this backdrop the maximum energy of the new government should be spent upon the reversal of the deceleration trend in the growth rate.

Investment in infrastructure, preferably through the Public-Private Partnership mode; a proactive fiscal policy; a cheap credit policy; a revival package for exports; restoring the confidence of investors and consumers; and investments in public enterprises can help in arresting the slowdown.

An active involvement of public enterprises is all the more necessary when the private sector is holding back investment. Investment in public enterprises is picking up. It was Rs. 42, 0476 crore during 2007-08, which increased to Rs. 45, 5409 crores in 2008-09. Increased public sector investment may help in stimulating private investment.  

The benefits of growth, according to the ‘trickle down’ hypothesis, would automatically percolate down. The empirical evidence of the 1960s and the 1970s, however, suggests the failure of the ‘trickle down’ hypothesis.

This necessitated a shift in the policy paradigm advocating the launching of direct poverty alleviation programmes. The slogan of Garibi Hatao of the 1970s and subsequently the adoption of ‘economic growth with social justice’ as the prime goal of the Indian planning were the outcome of this shift.

Unfortunately, the poverty alleviation programmes received a setback during the initial years of economic reforms under the garb of economy measures and financial distress.

During the economic liberalisation phase, the proportion of people below the poverty line has declined; however, the pace of decline has been slow, especially in the light of 9 per cent rate of growth.  

The government is fully aware of the skewed distribution of fruits of the high rate of growth. The Eleventh Plan clearly enunciates, “There are many divides, all demanding equal attention. The foremost among these is the divide between the rich and the poor. ….. poverty is declining, but only at a modest pace which is no longer acceptable given the minimalist level at which the poverty line is fixed.

“The pace of poverty reduction must be accelerated. There is also a divide between those who have access to essential services and those who do not, which leads to large disparities in health and nutritional status, in education and skills, as also in the availability of clean water and sanitation”.  

The World Bank report, “Global Economic Prospects for 2009”, has predicted that by 2015 a quarter of India’s population will be extremely poor – living on $1.25 per day. 

For promoting equity, the Government of India has launched a number of anti-poverty programmes. These are classified as self-employment programmes, wage-employment programmes, food security programmes and social security programmes.

Out of these, the recently launched National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) is the most prominent. This scheme aims to provide 100 mandays employment per household during a year.

The evaluation of the NREGS undertaken by the National Council for Applied Economic Research and Public Interest Foundation reveals that the scheme has succeeded in achieving nearly half of the target, as the employment generated was 40.5 average mandays per household against the benchmark of 100 days.

The study also reported corruption; fudging of muster rolls; and over bureaucratisation of the process. Other schemes, especially the self-employment schemes, also suffer from many ills, including governance hassles, corruption, lack of access of the poor to credit, technology, skill development and marketing. 

In the long run, it is the quality of human resources of poor households, which will play a pivotal role in the removal of poverty. Thus, along with the employment generation programmes, pro-poor policies in the education and health sectors are equally important.

The programmes already in vogue in the social sector include Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Aam Admi Bima Yojana, Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana and the National Rural Health Mission. These programmes also suffer from the problems similar to that of the NREGS. 

The government, though, has initiated a series of programmes for the promotion of equity; however, most of these programmes have partially achieved their missions mainly because of governance bottlenecks.

The Government of India has set up the Second Administrative Reforms Commission. The execution of the recommendations of the commission will certainly help in improving the quality of governance, including that of poverty alleviation programmes.

In the meanwhile the restructuring of the stimulus packages and anti-poverty programmes aiming to evolve a simple and hassle-free administrative procedure; promoting transparency to eliminate corruption; making service providers accountable to the beneficiaries directly; combining the top-down and bottom-up approaches; and encouraging an effective social audit can help in achieving the twin goals of growth and equity. 

The writer is the Dean, Faculty of Arts, Panjab University, Chandigarh  

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What UN can’t ignore in Myanmar
by Pedro Nikken and Geoffrey Nice 

THE trial of the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Aung San Suu Kyi, has once again catapulted events in Myanmar onto the front pages of newspapers around the globe.
A Myanmarese shouts slogans during a protest outside the Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur
A Myanmarese shouts slogans during a protest outside the Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday. Reuters

The leader of Myanmar’s struggle for human rights and democracy has been charged with violating the terms of her house arrest after an American citizen swam across a lake and broke into her home last month.

Heads of state from Asia and the West, celebrities, and U.N. leaders such as human rights chief Navi Pillay have responded strongly, demanding not only an end to the trial in Myanmar’s kangaroo courts but the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years.

With the verdict expected this week, many eyes remain glued to Burma. We hope this global attention will result in long-overdue action.

For while the imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi, without trial, has long been denounced, a less-publicized travesty has been under way in Burma for much of the past 15 years.

Organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First and Amnesty International have reported on the crimes against humanity and war crimes committed under the rule of Burma’s military regime, including the recruitment of tens of thousands of child soldiers and attacks on ethnic minority civilians.

The former U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, reported last year that he had received information indicating that the military regime had destroyed, forcibly displaced or forced the abandonment of more than 3,000 villages in eastern Burma, where ethnic minorities predominate.

At least 1 million people fled their homes as a result of the attacks, he said, escaping as refugees and internally displaced persons. This is comparable to the number of villages that have been harmed in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Inexplicably, the U.N. Security Council has not systematically investigated these abuses, which probably rise to the level of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

So a group of jurists from the United States, Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa — of which we were part — commissioned a report by the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School to determine whether the United Nations is sufficiently aware of the seriousness of the charges and willing to pursue justice.

The Harvard team — relying only on U.N. documents and not information from human rights groups — examined four international human rights violations documented by U.N. bodies over the past 15 years: sexual violence, forced displacement, torture and extrajudicial killings.

It found that, indeed, the United Nations is well aware that such abuses are taking place in Burma. Numerous U.N. special rapporteurs, the U.N. General Assembly, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (now Human Rights Council), and the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women have repeatedly documented and cited human rights abuses that rise to the level of crimes, using language such as “widespread” and “systematic,” which are key elements to proving the existence of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Harvard report noted that the United Nations has acknowledged that rights abuses in Burma have taken place with impunity. Moreover, U.N. reports observe that most often the Burmese military commits these grave human rights abuses.

Key U.N. experts have acknowledged that there is no independent judiciary in Burma, with Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights, stating as recently as November that “There is no independent and impartial judiciary system” in Burma.

Tragedies such as last year’s cyclone and this spring’s sham trial inevitably draw the world’s eyes to Burma. We should maintain our gaze. Given that the United Nations is aware of the scale and severity of rights abuses in Burma, it is incumbent on the Security Council to authorize a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Health
Living with Parkinson’s disease 
by Jackie Christensen 

WHEN people first meet me, they may not be able to tell that I have Parkinson’s disease. I’m 45, and the average age at diagnosis is 55 to 60. (I was 34 when my case was diagnosed.) I don’t really have a tremor, and in 2006, I underwent deep brain stimulation, a procedure that controls most of the wriggling and writhing movements that I had been experiencing. But once I open my mouth to speak, it often becomes apparent that there is something going on.

It may be that the rigidity of my throat and chest muscles has made my voice soft and lacking inflection. Stiffness in my facial muscles can give me a blank expression or, even worse, make me seem angry or aloof. I may sound like I am trying to talk with a mouthful of marbles.

The problem that bothers me the most — because it seems to be especially disconcerting to others — is the halting quality that my voice frequently takes on, especially if I’m nervous or upset. It’s ... as ... if ... what ... I ... want ... to ... say ... has ... to ... be ... squeezed ... from ... my ... brain ... to ... come ... out ... of ... my ... mouth ... as ... individual ... word ... bubbles.

If reading that was annoying to you or made you want to finish the sentence for me, you are not alone. Many of my friends, colleagues and family members feel the same way.

I have a theory about what bothers them. So much of the information that we take in these days is filtered through a lens shaped by subtle nuances in tone of voice and facial expression. That is why we enhance our e-mails with “emoticons” — those smiley or frowny faces that help convey the meaning behind the words on the screen.

What if something happened to your computer and it would no longer add emoticons? What if your keyboard allowed you to type only a few words at a time? You would probably be angry and frustrated but still feel that your thoughts and opinions were worth hearing.

With Parkinson’s disease, our brains — our inner computers — have been damaged, and we are begging someone to design the equivalent of a software patch or a new operating system to help us function. We are urging medical researchers and drug companies — the IBMs, Apples and Microsofts of the Parkinson’s research world — to come up with the fix. Unfortunately, we never know when we will be able to speak smoothly, making it difficult to get our points across, whether we are speaking at a congressional hearing or telling a bedtime story.

So we have enlisted our care partners and families, whose systems ARE functioning, to tell our tale. But if we are not involved in the discussions and developments ourselves, we may end up with a purported solution that doesn’t work — a software patch for a PC, if you will, while we have a Mac.

The question of who speaks for whom goes beyond friends finishing my sentences for me or a woman telling the support group how her husband is doing while he is sitting right next to her. This issue also affects Parkinson’s organizations.

I don’t believe that anyone is usurping our rights intentionally. I believe they think of it as trying to be helpful, like tying a child’s shoelaces for her. However, most of the time, I am not asked if I would like assistance; someone just goes ahead and finishes my sentence for me. And except for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, most Parkinson’s organizations have not chosen spokespeople who actually have the disease.

Certainly, there are some advanced Parkinson’s patients who can no longer speak audibly or choose not to try because they know that the stress of trying will often make the problem worse. Some, like Mr.Fox, seem relatively unaffected. But many Parkies like me can still speak and want to do it for ourselves, even if it is difficult. We’re very passionate about it!

The perspectives of the care partners and the family members and the clinician all contribute to educating the public about how Parkinson’s affects people and why we need to find a cure. Yet right now, I feel as if the voices of those of us who live with the disease — the main characters in this tragicomedy that is Parkinson’s — are being stifled.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Corrections and clarifications

n The headline “PM to stick to the beaten track” (Page 2, June 4) is an unfair comment which does not conform to the spirit of the item.

n In the Jalandhar report “Victims of post-Vienna violence threaten stir” (Page 5, June 1), the expression should have been “take to the streets”, not ‘take to the roads”.

n In the report on Class X exam results (Page 5, June 3), the headline ‘Two top positions go to boys” is misleading. It should have been “First two positions”.

n Shamlat has been mis-spelt as shamlaut in the slug in the report on land encroachment ( Page 4, June 4 )

Despite our earnest endeavour to keep The Tribune error-free, some errors do creep in at times. We are always eager to correct them.

We request our readers to write or e-mail to us whenever they find any error. We will carry corrections and clarifications, wherever necessary, every Tuesday & Friday.

Readers in such cases can write to Mr Kamlendra Kanwar, Senior Associate Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh, with the word “Corrections”  on the envelope. His e-mail ID is  kanwar@tribunemail.com.

H.K. Dua,
Editor-in-Chief

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