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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

PM’s offer well-meant
J and K needs peace to prevail
I
n his very first Press conference after being appointed Prime Minister for the second time, Dr Manmohan Singh has asserted that he is ready to engage in a dialogue with all those who shun the use of the gun in Kashmir. Speaking on board Air India One on his way back home from Russia, he underlined the fact that his government was ready to speak to even those groups who were not in the political mainstream.

Lessons from Lalgarh
Centre, state must fight Maoists jointly
The belated offensive against Maoists launched by a dithering Left Front government will hopefully reassure people that the state in West Bengal has not, after all, withered away. Not doing anything at Lalgarh would have reflected adversely on the Left Front government. It also took a firm message from the Union Home Minister, who maintained that it was up to the Left Front government to restore law and order, to prod the state government into action.






EARLIER STORIES

Beyond the handshake
June 18, 2009
Mayawati again
June 17, 2009
No changers win
June 16, 2009
That sinking feeling
June 15, 2009
Sahibs and Burra Sahibs
June 14, 2009
Swine flu pandemic
June 13, 2009
Now it’s Canada
June 12, 2009
Vision for growth
June 11, 2009
Beware! It’s not milk
June 10, 2009
MP or a murderer?
June 9, 2009

Iran after polls
Protests reveal a deeper divide in the nation
The outpouring of the people on the streets of Teheran and other cities in Iran after the re-election of Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President is reminiscent of 1979 when the Shah dynasty was overthrown. That public disenchantment led by the defeat of his challenger, Mir Hossein Mausavi, with Mr Ahmadinejad has shaken the powers-that-be in the country is evident from the way Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has agreed to order a partial re-count of the votes in the presidential election.

ARTICLE

What went wrong in Shopian
Handle different issues in stages
by Balraj Puri
M
urder and alleged rape of young women would shock people anywhere. But for a number of reasons the intensity of the shock in the entire Kashmir valley was much more severe when the police recovered the bodies of Nilofar, who was pregnant, and her 17-year-old sister-in-law Asifa Jan near a stream in Shopian on May 30. Massive protest rallies continued uninterrupted for full 10 days and in some form lingered on therafter also.

MIDDLE

Foxy Paws
by Raji P. Shrivastava
W
hen I enrolled for French lessons at the Alliance Francaise, I assumed I would be the oldest student in the classroom but found that there were others who had beaten me to that distinction. A fellow civil servant who travelled to Europe often, joked that he aimed to say in perfect French, “Please help me, I have lost my passport.”

OPED

Iran’s day of destiny
Crowds came out and called for freedom
Robert Fisk writes from Tehran
I
t was Iran’s day of destiny and day of courage. A million of its people marched from Engelob Square to Azadi Square – from the Square of Revolution to the Square of Freedom – beneath the eyes of Tehran’s brutal riot police. The crowds were singing and shouting and laughing and abusing their “President” as “dust”.

Grandmothers need our attention
by O.P. Sharma and Carl Haub
T
he Constitution of India provides equality between the sexes in all spheres of activities, including equal pay for work, but barriers of discrimination continue. To bring women into the mainstream of national development a committee on the “Status of Women in India” was set up with the result that a Department of Women and Child Development in 1985, nearly a quarter of a century ago and upgraded to a Ministry in 2006.


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EDITORIALS

PM’s offer well-meant
J and K needs peace to prevail

In his very first Press conference after being appointed Prime Minister for the second time, Dr Manmohan Singh has asserted that he is ready to engage in a dialogue with all those who shun the use of the gun in Kashmir. Speaking on board Air India One on his way back home from Russia, he underlined the fact that his government was ready to speak to even those groups who were not in the political mainstream. Apparently, the offer is aimed at reminding the Hurriyat and other organisations which had boycotted the recent Lok Sabha elections in the state that as far the Prime Minister and his government are concerned, the door is open for talks also for them. That is in keeping with Dr Manmohan Singh’s long-held belief that talks are any day better than violence on the street. Kashmir’s tragedy is that egged on by Pakistan, certain organisations have always tried to exploit the tense situation for different purposes. It is implicit in the Prime Minister’s offer that violence would be curbed adequately, but all those who want to sit across the table would be welcomed.

The successful conduct of the elections has created the right atmosphere. The need of the hour is to solve the genuine grouses of the people of Jammu, the valley and Ladakh. Some of these are related to the relations between the Centre and the states. Unfortunately, the working group on this issue, chaired by retired Supreme Court judge Saghir Ahmad, which was to submit its findings by November 2006 is yet to do so. Four others — on economic development, rehabilitation of terrorism victims, trans-LoC issues and good governance — did so long ago.

Once again, the Manmohan Singh government has made known its goodwill for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, even in the face of provocation caused by recalcitrant elements. This is mainly because of the Prime Minister’s belief that those who have taken to protesting on the street are essentially alienated sections who can be won over by talks and reason. Now when the Prime Minister is through with the elections, his offer for talks, if followed by back-channel efforts, can begin the process of reconciliation with those who have been desiring to sit on the table to discuss the question of autonomy and related issues. The state has also gone through the Assembly elections and the new Chief Minister, Mr Omar Abdullah, has also favoured talks on the question of autonomy. The time is opportune for efforts by all sections of J and K, the state government and political parties to avail themselves of the offer made by the Prime Minister. The state, indeed, needs peace for its people.

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Lessons from Lalgarh
Centre, state must fight Maoists jointly

The belated offensive against Maoists launched by a dithering Left Front government will hopefully reassure people that the state in West Bengal has not, after all, withered away. Not doing anything at Lalgarh would have reflected adversely on the Left Front government. It also took a firm message from the Union Home Minister, who maintained that it was up to the Left Front government to restore law and order, to prod the state government into action. Adivasis and Maoists in Salboni and other areas adjoining Lalgarh had driven away the police five months ago and without much resistance. But the state government did nothing all these months to stamp its authority. Even during the last general election, electoral officers were left pleading with the people in the area to allow polling personnel and para-military forces to camp at polling booths. Even when the Maoists decided to storm Lalgarh a week ago and expand the “liberated zone”, the state machinery looked helpless. Maoists are said to have killed a dozen CPM leaders and workers without any intervention by the police. Villagers have been forced to fall in line at gun-point, although a majority of them would have, one suspects, gladly helped in summary action against local CPM leaders who are said to have built their own little empires in the area and ruled as ruthlessly.

The delicate situation in Lalgarh, however, requires careful handling and coordination of a high order between New Delhi and the state government. Armed Maoists have in the past routinely managed to escape after hit and run raids, leaving villagers to face the music. Official agencies too have instead been rounding up relatively innocent villagers. Denied their rights over land, forests, rivers, food, health and education, it would be tragic if vengeance is now wreaked on the poor Adivasis. At the same time, the wider issue of tackling the Maoist threat cannot be allowed to degenerate into a ping-pong game for political parties to score brownie points. Howsoever tempting it may be for the Congress and Ms Mamata Banerjee to gloat over the Left Front government’s discomfiture, the stakes for the country are far too high for them to adopt partisan stands over fighting the Maoists.

The Maoists have exploited public discontent against the CPM , used television channels to get their message across and managed to strike terror with chilling effect. They also appear to have deliberately encouraged the adventurism in resisting the advance of the police and para-military forces. The Maoists may retreat from Lalgarh in the face of superior force and firepower of the police and para-military forces. But they could well strike again. Hence the action against them has to be well coordinated and very decisive to be effective.

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Iran after polls
Protests reveal a deeper divide in the nation

The outpouring of the people on the streets of Teheran and other cities in Iran after the re-election of Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President is reminiscent of 1979 when the Shah dynasty was overthrown. That public disenchantment led by the defeat of his challenger, Mir Hossein Mausavi, with Mr Ahmadinejad has shaken the powers-that-be in the country is evident from the way Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has agreed to order a partial re-count of the votes in the presidential election. The Ayatollah had earlier described the result of the election as “divine.” There is indeed no guarantee that the re-count would be transparent and fair but the very fact that the spiritual leader who wields tremendous power has made a concession to the agitators is indicative of his assessment that the public protests are far widespread to be contained by force.

That thousands of protestors turned out on the streets of Teheran and of other major cities braving police batons despite the Ayatollah’s endorsement of the result was unnerving enough. To add to it, a body of moderate clerics, the Association of Combatant Clergy, issued a statement calling the election “rigged” and seeking its annulment. As reports of the arrest of nearly 100 opposition leaders flew thick and fast, the Ayatollah evidently calculated that the agitation could take a turn for the worse if some concessions were not made. But it is unlikely that this would adequately satisfy the agitators who want nothing less than annulment of the election and ordering of a fresh election.

Internationally, the US in particular faces a dilemma over how to respond to Iran’s post-election drama — strong criticism could backfire but keeping quiet could make Washington look weak. President Obama indeed would have to tread warily because the Americans are held in suspicion in Iran and the Iranians would not take kindly to any hint that the US is attempting to influence the outcome of this conflict. Indeed, the situation in Iran needs to be tackled with tact and care domestically as well as internationally. A false move could jeopardise peace in a country that is already facing hard times because of its over 30 years of isolation from the world community. The divide between the moderates and the conservatives in Iran has come out fiercely in the open, revealing fissures deeper than realised outside the country. And this should worry the rulers.

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Thought for the Day

Love comforteth like sunshine after rain. — William Shakespeare

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Corrections and clarifications

n In the report entitled ‘Art provides some distraction at Attari’ (Page 4, June 16) the headline missed the point that the murals on the Pakistan side depict the horrors of partition in a partisan way.

n In the report ‘Ferozepur boy tops PMET’ (Page 4, June 16) the words ‘in the examination’ should have preceded ‘conducted by the Baba Faridkot Medical University for admissions in medical colleges of the state’.

n In Chandigarh Tribune (Page 1, June 17) the headline ‘we don’t care two hoots’ is flippant and inappropriate.

n In the report ‘caught between diplomacy and despondency’ (Page 1, June 18) ‘brought to Hoshiarpur’ has wrongly gone as ‘bought to Hoshairpur’.

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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ARTICLE

What went wrong in Shopian
Handle different issues in stages
by Balraj Puri

Murder and alleged rape of young women would shock people anywhere. But for a number of reasons the intensity of the shock in the entire Kashmir valley was much more severe when the police recovered the bodies of Nilofar, who was pregnant, and her 17-year-old sister-in-law Asifa Jan near a stream in Shopian on May 30. Massive protest rallies continued uninterrupted for full 10 days and in some form lingered on therafter also.

Firstly, the armed forces had camped near the place where the bodies were found, and their men were suspected to be guilty of the crime. As these forces have been visible all over the valley since the onset of militancy, it has not been difficult for political leaders to divert the popular agitation over the Shopian episode to the demand for withdrawal of the armed forces from the state and then the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Disturbed Areas Act, which give them immunity form the action of the civil authorities. They have also found it easy to link all this with the usual slogan, “We want Azadi”.

Secondly, people lost confidence in the government by its contradictory and confused initial reaction to the tragedy. In its first reaction on May 30, police officials said, “Drowning could have been the possible cause of death, and ruled out any kind of violence”. The doctors at Shopian Distirct Hospital separately stated that they were unable to complete their work because of the angry mob. Later doctors from a Pulwama hospital and the Srinagar Forensic Science Laboratory in their “postmortem conducted on the bodies revealed no marks of violence.” It was only on June 7 that the police admitted, “The interim medical report indicated that prima facie cognizable offence has taken place and a case has been registered.” On that date, a case for murder and rape was registered as the “forensic report found sperm stains in private parts on the victims.” Thus, the local administration, particularly the police, contributed to deepen the mystery.

Political leaders behaved no better. Cabinet Minister Ali Mohammad announced that an inquiry into the tragedy would bring out the truth within 48 hours. Nothing of the sort happened. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who was camping in the New Delhi for the swearing-in-ceremony of his father Farooq Abdullah as a Union Cabinet Minister, on his return, in his initial reaction found no foul play, prima facie.

Meanwhile, patience of the people had been exhausted. They expressed their lack of confidence not only in the government, the police department and the doctors by attacking the hospital but also in opposition PDP leader Mahbooba Mufti, who was greeted by angry protests when she went to Shopian to express her sympathy with the bereaved family. They protesting crowd pelted her bullet-proof car with stones and shoes. It was thus the loss of confidence in the government as well as the political system.

To salvage the image of his government, the Chief Minister admitted his mistake of relying on official reports. He appointed a judicial commission headed by a retired High Court judge to probe the incident and submit a report within one month.

Initially, the announcement of the commission was greeted with distrust. The bereaved family expressed lack of trust in it. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who had taken the lead in starting the protest movement, called the judicial commission a sham to gain time. The Kashmir Bar Association wanted a sitting judge to conduct the judicial inquiry.

But soon after the commission started its work, it got the case of rape and murder registered. DGP Kuldeep Khuda constituted a three-member SIT for expeditious investigation of the case. The Chief Minister personally issued an order transferring the Superintendent of Police of Shopian. The commission had gradually received the cooperation of all concerned.

Though Mr Geelani formally terminated “this phase of the agitation” from June 10, he urged the students to stage protest demonstrations in their educational institutions for two days. Apart from them, on June 11, the teaching and non-teaching staff of Kashmir University and the Government Employees Action Committee staged demonstrations to protest against the alleged rape and murder of the Shopian girls. Women employees of the civil secretariat, for the first time, registered their protest on June 13. Full normalcy has yet not been restored.

What are the lessons from the Shopian tragedy and how it was initially handled? Some of the responsibilities that the Chief Minister has assumed could be handed over to autonomous institutions. For instance, the State Human Rights Commission, which had offered a suo motu inquiry, could do so effectively if it was equipped with an adequate and effective investigation machinery of its own. Similarly, the State Women Commission, which had become defunct as all its members have retired, could take the initiative of visiting the trouble spot and establish a rapport with the agitated women and help them in articulating their grievances.

For a change, the current agitation witnessed a debate in the print media on the methods adopted by the agitating people like pelting stones on law enforcing agencies and government officers and prolonged shutdowns, and the effect on the economy, tourism trade - which was expected to register a boom this year - the coming Amarnath Yatra, education of students and patients to be taken to hospital. The questions are being raised whether Kashmir can be spared of such self-inflicted injuries.

It is not a question of comparing the monetary loss during the agitation with the honour of the young women. The relevant question is finding better and more effective methods of protest with the least damage to the interest of the local people. Mr Geelani, considered a hardliner, for instance, suggested avoidance of stone-pelting to register protest. Mirwaiz Farooq, leader of the other faction of the Hurriyat, acknowledged that strikes should be done away with and suggested “a way that the people do not suffer; tourism, trade and other related fields are allowed to drive.”

If the objective in the first stage was to know the truth about the real culprits, was it necessary to divert the popular anger to the movement for “Azadi” and even link it with the demand for the withdrawl of the Indian Army? If that was not done, it should have been the duty of the ruling party to seek the cooperation of the Opposition and even of the separatist parties instead of putting the leaders of the latter in jail. The leaders of the agitation could then count on the support of a large section of civil society and women activists from outside the state, which would have added substantial strength to their struggle, as eventually they did after about a fortnight of the tragedy. In any case, the issue of human rights could be separated from the final solution of the Kashmir problem. Even if they are related, technically all the issues should be taken up in stages.

Finally, the grilling of the former SP of Shopian by the commission of inquiry for six hours on two days had revealed glaring lapses in the role of the police which cast doubts about its complicity and possible involvement in the crime. After all, many recent incidents have shown that policemen are not entirely incapable of committing heinous crimes like rape. And what about nomads, who were camping near the site where the bodies were found? Where did they disappear? They may not be involved in the crime, but they might have been crucial eyewitnesses to it.

As the enquiry proceeds, more questions may be raised. There is, therefore, need to concentrate on getting answers to all the relevant questions without linking them with broader issues.

The writer is Director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, Jammu.

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MIDDLE

Foxy Paws
by Raji P. Shrivastava

When I enrolled for French lessons at the Alliance Francaise, I assumed I would be the oldest student in the classroom but found that there were others who had beaten me to that distinction. A fellow civil servant who travelled to Europe often, joked that he aimed to say in perfect French, “Please help me, I have lost my passport.”

A homemaker in her fifties and a retired army officer were my other ‘seniors’ in class. The rest of my classmates were students – school kids goaded on by eager mothers or college students wanting to impress their (girl)friends or hoard Canada-friendly ‘points’.

 Not surprisingly, we each brought our own needs to the classroom and plodded along with varying degrees of success. The teachers were unfailingly encouraging and the corridors resounded with cries of ‘Bonjour !’or a tentatively voiced ‘Merci beaucoup’ on occasion.

The final examination was a masterpiece of suspense with barriers of age, vocation and purpose melting into the urgency of last minute learning – that essentially Indian trait that we carry into every exam of our lives long after the results have mathematically ceased to matter!

 It is a myth that children pick up languages faster than adults do. I found that mature students, with their greater exposure to reading and travel, fared better than the teenagers did. Perhaps this was also because youngsters had greater distractions and more interesting things to do with their free time than to practice their spoken French on unsuspecting pet dogs or people at home !

I stuck it out for several months and then gave up because of time constraints. With no chance to practice my new skill, I forgot the language almost as fast as I had learnt it. My classmates had resolved to stay in touch and practice hard but the tedium of quotidian existence took over and soon the emails pouring into the group ID we had created for ourselves only resembled Chicken Soup-ish forwards on self improvement (in English). Perhaps my former classmates would barely recognise me if they were now to pass me in the street, and I say without malice that I could return the compliment effortlessly!

 My permanent asset, however, has been the fact that every time someone wrongly pronounces commonly used words like ‘restaurant’ or ‘rendezvous,’ a red light in my brain tells me, “This is so wrong!” I also cringe inwardly when the Architect of Chandigarh is referred to as Lee Car-Booze-Ear.

 Thankfully my course taught me the difference between a military coup and a chicken’s coop. I attained my lifetime’s ambition of being able to say ‘au revoir’ correctly. I must say it sounds quite awful when pronounced the French way. I agree with whoever said that the French do not care what they say so long as they pronounce it correct. We Indians do not care which foreign language we butcher so long as we are able to impress an equally ignorant audience.

I have yet to recover from the shock of hearing an erudite professor refer to the Partition of India as “the biggest Fox Paws in the history of the subcontinent.”

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OPED

Iran’s day of destiny
Crowds came out and called for freedom
Robert Fisk writes from Tehran

A supporter of defeated presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi holds his photograph in front of Azadi (freedom) square during a rally in western Tehran on June 15.
A supporter of defeated presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi holds his photograph in front of Azadi (freedom) square during a rally in western Tehran on June 15. Photo: Caren Firouz/Reuters.

It was Iran’s day of destiny and day of courage. A million of its people marched from Engelob Square to Azadi Square – from the Square of Revolution to the Square of Freedom – beneath the eyes of Tehran’s brutal riot police. The crowds were singing and shouting and laughing and abusing their “President” as “dust”.

Mirhossein Mousavi was among them, riding atop a car amid the exhaust smoke and heat, unsmiling, stunned, unaware that so epic a demonstration could blossom amid the hopelessness of Iran’s post-election bloodshed. He may have officially lost last Friday’s election, but Monday was his electoral victory parade through the streets of his capital. It ended, inevitably, in gunfire and blood.

Not since the 1979 Iranian Revolution have massed protesters gathered in such numbers, or with such overwhelming popularity, through the boulevards of this torrid, despairing city.

They jostled and pushed and crowded through narrow lanes to reach the main highway and then found riot police in steel helmets and batons lined on each side. The people ignored them all.

And the cops, horribly outnumbered by these tens of thousands, smiled sheepishly and – to our astonishment – nodded their heads towards the men and women demanding freedom. Who would have believed the government had banned this march?

The protesters’ bravery was all the more staggering because many had already learned of the savage killing of five Iranians on the campus of Tehran University, done to death – according to students – by pistol-firing Basiji militiamen.

When I reached the gates of the college on Monday morning, many students were weeping behind the iron fence of the campus, shouting “massacre” and throwing a black cloth across the mesh. That was when the riot police returned and charged into the university grounds once more.

At times, Mousavi’s victory march threatened to crush us amid walls of chanting men and women. They fell into the storm drains and stumbled over broken trees and tried to keep pace with his vehicle, vast streamers of green linen strung out in front of their political leader’s car.

They sang in unison, over and over, the same words: “Tanks, guns, Basiji, you have no effect now.” As the government’s helicopters roared overhead, these thousands looked upwards and bayed above the clatter of rotor blades: “Where is my vote?” Clichés come easily during such titanic days, but this was truly a historic moment.

Would it change the arrogance of power which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad demonstrated so rashly just a day earlier, when he loftily invited the opposition – there were reported to be huge crowds protesting on the streets of other Iranian cities yesterday – to be his “friends”, while talking ominously of the “red light” through which Mousavi had driven.

Ahmadinejad claimed a 66 per cent victory at the polls, giving Mousavi scarcely 33 per cent. No wonder the crowds were also singing – and I mean actually singing in chorus – “They have stolen our vote and now they are using it against us.”

A heavy and benevolent dust fell over us all as we trekked the great highway towards the fearful pyramid of concrete which the Shah once built to honour his father and which the 1979 revolutionaries re-named Freedom Square.

Behind us, among the stragglers, stones began to burst on to the road as Basijis besieged the Sharif University (they seem to have something against colleges of further education these days) and one man collapsed on the road, his face covered in blood. But on the great mass of people moved, waving their green flags and shouting in joy at the thousands of Iranians who stood along the rooftops.

On the right, they all saw an old people’s home and out on to the balcony came the aged and the crippled who must have remembered the reign of the loathed Shah, perhaps even his creepy father, Reza Khan.

A woman who must have been 90 waved a green handkerchief and an even older man emerged on the narrow balcony and waved his crutch in the air. The thousands below them shrieked back their joy at this ancient man.

Walking beside this vast flood of humanity, a strange fearlessness possessed us all. Who would dare attack them now? What government could deny a people of this size and determination? Dangerous questions.

By dusk, the Basiji were being chased by hundreds of protesters in the west of the city but shooting was crackling around the suburbs after dark. Those who were fatally too late in leaving Azadi, were fired on by the Basiji. One dead, thousands in panic, we heard behind us.

After every day of sunlight, there usually comes a perilous darkness and perhaps it was prefigured by the strange grey cloud that approached us all as we drew closer to Azadi Square yesterday afternoon.

Many of the thousands of people around me noticed it and, burned by the afternoon sun, seemed to walk faster to embrace its shade. Then it rained, it poured, it soaked us. There is a faint rainy season in mid-summer Tehran but it had arrived early, sunlight arcing through the clouds like the horizon in a Biblical painting.

Moin, a student of chemical engineering at Tehran University – the same campus where blood had been shed just a few hours before – was walking beside me and singing in Persian as the rain pelted down. I asked him to translate.

“It’s a poem by Sohrab Sepehri, one of our modern poets,” he said. Could this be real, I asked myself? Do they really sing poems in Tehran when they are trying to change history? Here is what he was singing:

“We should go under the rain. We should wash our eyes, And we should see the world in a different way.”

He grinned at me and at his two student friends. “The next line is about making love to a woman in the rain, but that doesn’t seem very suitable here.” We all agreed. Our feet hurt. We were still tripping over manhole covers and kerbstones hidden beneath men’s feet and women’s chadors.

For this was not just the trendy, young, sunglassed ladies of north Tehran. The poor were here, too, the street workers and middle-aged ladies in full chador. A very few held babies on their shoulders or children by the arm, talking to them from time to time, trying to explain the significance of this day to a mind that would not remember it in the years to come that they were here on this day of days.

The vast Azadi monument appeared through the grey light like a spaceship – we had been walking for four miles – and Moin and his friends spent an hour squeezing through a body of humanity so dense that my chest was about to be crushed. Around the monument, the Shah had long ago built a grassed rampart. We struggled to its height and there, suddenly, was the breathtaking nature of it all. Readers who have seen the film Atonement will remember the scene where the British hero-soldier climbs a sand-dune and suddenly beholds those thousands on the beaches of Dunkirk. This was no less awesome.

Amid the great basin of grass and concrete that surrounds the monument were a thousand souls, moving and swaying and singing in the new post-rain sunlight. There must have been at least a million, and – here one struggles for a metaphor – it was like a vast animal, a great heaving beast that breathed and roared and moved sluggishly beneath that monstrous arrow of concrete. Moin and his friends lay on the grass, smoking cigarettes.

They asked each other if the Supreme Leader would understand what this meant for Iran. “He’s got to hold the elections again,” one of Moin’s friends told him. They looked at me. Don’t ask a foreigner, I said. Because I’m not so sure that the fathers of the 1979 revolution will look so kindly upon this self-evident demand for freedom.

True, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader – how antiquated that title sounded – had agreed to enquire into the election results, perhaps to look over a polling statistic or two.

But Ahmadinejad, despite his obtuseness and his unending smile, is a tough guy in a tough clerical environment. His glorious predecessor, Hojatolislam Mohamed Khatami, was somewhere down there amid the crowds, along with Mousavi and Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard, but they could not protect these people.

Government is not about good guys and bad guys. It is about power, state and political power – they are not the same – and unless those wanly smiling riot police move across to the opposition, the weapons of the Islamic Republic remain in the hands of Ahmadinejad’s administration and his spiritual protectors. As, no doubt, we shall soon see.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Grandmothers need our attention
by O.P. Sharma and Carl Haub

The Constitution of India provides equality between the sexes in all spheres of activities, including equal pay for work, but barriers of discrimination continue. To bring women into the mainstream of national development a committee on the “Status of Women in India” was set up with the result that a Department of Women and Child Development in 1985, nearly a quarter of a century ago and upgraded to a Ministry in 2006.

The ministry promotes a broad spectrum of programmes from training-cum-production units to crèches for working women’s children.

But how have these measures benefited the aged woman, who has crossed her 60th birthday? Many older women are compelled to work for survival, often do hard manual labour.

At the time of the 2001 census, out of the 496 million females counted, 39 million were aged 60 years and above — 29 million in villages and nearly 10 million in towns and cities. Their number is expected to swell to more than 50 million by 2011.

Of the 29 million aged females in villages, one-fourth were either main workers (working 6 months or more) or marginal workers, the majority in agriculture as cultivators or labourers.

In cities and towns, the position was obviously different from the one revealed by rural areas as occupations require skill or some educational attainment, unlike in rural areas.

Out of 9.8 million aged females, 6.8 per cent were main workers and 2.2 per cent were marginal workers. About 88 per cent of the rural aged female main workers were illiterate while the percentage of illiterates in the urban areas was 68.

The question which immediately comes to one’s mind is: why do such numbers of aged females have to work? Not only that, a sizeable number among the marginal workers and non-workers were searching for regular work or a job.

Under the Indira Gandhi National Widow Scheme launched now, widows between 40 and 64 years and belonging to households, below the poverty line are entitled to a monthly pension of Rs 200.

The existing Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, entitles all elders aged 65 and above and living below the poverty line, the same monthly pension of Rs. 200.

The states have been requested to contribute at least a similar amount to the beneficiaries for a monthly assistance of Rs. 400.

The enactment of “The Maintenance of the Parents and Senior Citizens Act” by the Government of India is a laudable step.

The Haryana government has gone one step further by increasing the amount to Rs 700 per month for those who, as on April 1, 2009, had been continuously getting pension under the old-age allowance scheme for the past 10 years.

There is an apparent need to compel the progeny to perform the responsibilities which children have towards their parents in their old age.

With their dwindling financial resources and weakening health, parents are often being perceived as a burden and, even while living within the family, may face violence and/or neglect.

The Act does not just provide for the maintenance of the elderly but also for welfare measures such as (i) better medical facilities (ii) protection of life and property and (iii) old age homes in every district.

The reality is that even at this old age, a substantial number of our aged women is either working or searching for a job, mainly to survive or to some extent supplement their family income. Otherwise where is the need for such aged females to work or look for work?

Evidently, the younger generation is not following the great Indian values of respecting their aged parents and grandparents, whose number is increasing day by day forgetting that soon they will also be in the same state.

The writers are associated with the Population Reference Bureau, Washington-DC

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