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EDITORIALS

Varun said it all
He must be proceeded against under law
When the venom spewed by Varun Gandhi on the Muslims had shocked the nation some months ago, he had tried to hide behind the canard that his voice had been doctored. Now that forensic examination has nailed his lie, it is time to prosecute him like any other person who spreads communal hatred. That he was supported by the BJP or that he made the searing remarks in the election campaign should not come in the way of his facing the consequences of spreading hatred.

One terror law is better
Too many state laws create confusion
The Centre’s decision to return Gujarat’s proposed anti-terror law, the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime Bill (GUJCOCA), following objections to certain provisions suggests that there is a need for a uniform law for the entire country. Until about a decade-and-a-half ago, terrorism was confined to the country’s border states, namely Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and in the Northeast, with occasional strikes by terrorists from Punjab in other parts of the country.






EARLIER STORIES

BJP at sea
June 22, 2009
People have right to know
June 21, 2009
Enforce the norms
June 20, 2009
PM’s offer well-meant
June 19, 2009
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

Victims of indifference
Homes without care a blot on Punjab
These are meant to be homes that provide care to those who need it the most — perhaps the vulnerable sections of society, the lonely and the lost. But in reality Punjab’s rehabilitation homes cut a sorry figure. Forgotten and abjectly neglected, while basic amenities are pertinently absent, often the inmates are subjected to harsh treatment. A Tribune investigation last week brings out glaring flaws in the management of these special homes where care is the casualty.

ARTICLE

Militants may lose
Talibanisation of Pakistan will go on
by Sushant Sareen
T
he devastating suicide bombing of the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar, the attack on the Lahore headquarters of the ISI and the assassination of a prominent anti-Taliban cleric in Lahore are rude reminders that Pakistan’s war against the Taliban and sundry Islamists is far from coming to an end. If anything, the security situation is likely to become much worse before it gets any better, if at all.

MIDDLE

No comments
by M. K. Agarwal
S
ome time back I sent a document to a venerable friend to elicit his views, which I considered to be valuable. After a long, pregnant silence of well nigh nine months I received a brief, two-word reply: “No comments”.

OPED

Desensitising society
TV and FM radio are becoming irresponsible
by Roopinder Singh
F
ree airwaves, far from being the harbingers of the sound of music, are sounding more and more raucous, and jarring. The recent handling of the case of a Bollywood actor who is accused of raping a person working as a maid in his house is a case in point.

Where wild things disappear
by Thomas Curwen
A
t the National Wildlife Property Repository, only the imagination runs wild. Everything else is dead and lies on the crowded shelves of this warehouse outside Denver, US.

Delhi Durbar
Foreign interest in India’s education
Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has had a packed first fortnight at work. And it has not been just about his meetings with the heads of educational institutions back home.

  • Zardari weakened?

  • Beware of cheats


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EDITORIALS

Varun said it all
He must be proceeded against under law

When the venom spewed by Varun Gandhi on the Muslims had shocked the nation some months ago, he had tried to hide behind the canard that his voice had been doctored. Now that forensic examination has nailed his lie, it is time to prosecute him like any other person who spreads communal hatred. That he was supported by the BJP or that he made the searing remarks in the election campaign should not come in the way of his facing the consequences of spreading hatred. At that time, howls of protests that had also arisen were because Ms Mayawati in her usual style had decided to invoke the draconian National Security Act against Varun, which indeed was excessive and an ill-thought-out move and was rightly struck down by the court.

As far as the BJP is concerned, it will be exorcising its own ghosts if it admits that backing Varun Gandhi was a blunder and one of the factors which led to its poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections. It may have won Pilibhit for the party, but it lost the elections for the Lok Sabha. What was most unfortunate was that none of the leaders — even those who are now asking it to do introspection — really disowned him then. On the contrary, party president Rajnath Singh rushed to Pilibhit in his defence and tried to make him a poster boy of warped Hindutva. Had the party asked him to stand down, it could have found itself in less hot waters. But then, the BJP has never picked up moral courage to disown such depredations either in Gujarat or Mangalore or Kandhamal.

Men like Varun Gandhi come into prominence only because parties and organisations backing them do not have the foresight to stop them in their tracks. The Frankensteins get drunk on their own notoriety and cause tremendous harm to society at large. Adequate punishment meted out to him will send a strong message to all of his ilk that the country’s patience is now running out with those divisive in nature and approach.

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One terror law is better
Too many state laws create confusion

The Centre’s decision to return Gujarat’s proposed anti-terror law, the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime Bill (GUJCOCA), following objections to certain provisions suggests that there is a need for a uniform law for the entire country. Until about a decade-and-a-half ago, terrorism was confined to the country’s border states, namely Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and in the Northeast, with occasional strikes by terrorists from Punjab in other parts of the country. But during the last few years, the menace of terrorism has gradually spread across the country, leaving hardly any state unaffected.

Terrorism has become a national problem that requires a uniform and unified response. Terrorist groups in one form or another are spread out in many states. These operate at a national level, are often inter-linked with other terrorist groups across the country with many even having linkages to transnational terrorist organisations and governments inimical to India. Hence, a uniform law makes more sense. Instead, however, the last few years have witnessed a proliferation of anti-terror laws in different states. Maharashtra and Karnataka already have their own anti-terror laws, while anti-terror bills by several other states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat are pending assent from the Union Government.

While a need for such a law is understandable, it is equally imperative to guard against its misuse. Following the outbreak of terrorism in Punjab, the Union Government promulgated the Terrorist and Disruptive ` Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) in 1985. But this led to considerable misuse, the worst by Gujarat where a staggering 19,000 persons were booked even though there had been no incident of terrorist violence until 1995, the year when the law was allowed to lapse. In Punjab, a total 14,557 were booked under TADA. Yet, the conviction rate was a dismal 0.37 per cent. In all, 77,000 persons were detained nationwide under TADA of which only 8,000 were finally tried and a mere 725 indicted. The short-lived Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), too, was misused and civil liberties groups are making similar allegations against the current Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) that was passed in 2004. The purpose of such laws is to facilitate the government to fight terrorists. But it should not be misused by the local authorities to settle scores or be directed at any particular community.

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Victims of indifference
Homes without care a blot on Punjab

These are meant to be homes that provide care to those who need it the most — perhaps the vulnerable sections of society, the lonely and the lost. But in reality Punjab’s rehabilitation homes cut a sorry figure. Forgotten and abjectly neglected, while basic amenities are pertinently absent, often the inmates are subjected to harsh treatment. A Tribune investigation last week brings out glaring flaws in the management of these special homes where care is the casualty. In most juvenile homes, the guidelines of the Juvenile Justice Act calling for reformative and compassionate treatment are flouted blatantly. Children as small as six-years-old are treated like hardened criminals. The conditions in Nari Niketan, homes for the mentally retarded or widow homes are simply as pathetic.

While The Tribune survey focussed upon Punjab, available information suggests that the situation is no better at juvenile homes across the country. In 2006, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act was revised in order to strengthen the previous act and instil a child-centric rehabilitation and family restoration-focused system. However, little has been done to follow the spirit of the law. Rather administrative apathy is writ all over in the heartless manner in which these homes are being run. A report released by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) found that while in 70 per cent of the juvenile care-centres, physical punishment is a norm, 80 per cent of the staff has no training and 50 per cent of juvenile homes do not offer any counselling service. The functioning of Nari Niketans afflicted by many ills, including overcrowding and unhygienic conditions, has often come under the scanner. Time and again several homes for girls have been found to be run by male caretakers, thus putting the female inmates at the risk of exploitation. The recent rape case at the Nari Niketan is under serious investigation, with alleged culprits under arrest.

Under no condition should male caretakers run homes for girls or women. Besides, there should be separate homes for both sexes. The role of NGOs in running these homes cannot be ruled out, but the onus must lie with the government that cannot abandon its responsibility or pass the buck on to NGOs. The heartening example of a home for boys at Hoshiarpur proves that a semblance of dignity and decent living can be restored to the destitute. These centres are meant to be homes away from home and the departments concerned must go all the way to ensure so.

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Thought for the Day

The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet. — Edward Thomas

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Corrections and clarifications

n In the report entitled “Security at banks remains lax even after robbery bid” (Chandigarh Tribune, Page 1, June 19), Maharashtra has been mis-spelt as “Maharshatra” thrice.

n In the report “Makkar on denial mode, officials assert” (Page 5, June 20), the expression “He rather pointed out fingers at Town Planning officers…” is wrong. It should have been “He pointed a finger at….”

n In the report “BJP blames Congress for rout in Rajasthan” (Page 12, June 22), the text does not explain how the Congress has been blamed. The headline is inappropriate.

n The report “Accused remanded in police custody” (Page 9, June 21) says she (the rape victim) managed to “reach the police station at 2 p.m. on Friday morning”. It should have been “2 a.m.”, not 2 p.m.

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

Militants may lose
Talibanisation of Pakistan will go on
by Sushant Sareen

The devastating suicide bombing of the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar, the attack on the Lahore headquarters of the ISI and the assassination of a prominent anti-Taliban cleric in Lahore are rude reminders that Pakistan’s war against the Taliban and sundry Islamists is far from coming to an end. If anything, the security situation is likely to become much worse before it gets any better, if at all. Even as the Pakistan Army opens new fronts to oust the militant Islamists from the areas they control, they are widening the arena of conflict by striking at high-value and high-visibility targets in urban centres like Peshawar, Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. Not only have the militants demonstrated their reach and their ability to hit the Pakistani state where it hurts the most, they have also dealt a body blow to the confidence of the people in the ability of the state and its security services to protect them from these elements.

Clearly, Pakistan is in the throes of a conflict that it cannot afford to lose and perhaps lacks the material resources, ideological and strategic commitment and clarity, social cohesion, political will and consensus, and, most of all, the military single-mindedness required to win. Not only is there not enough understanding, let alone preparation, of all the political measures and administrative and social reforms that need to be undertaken to win this war, there is persisting confusion as to who the bad guys are or why this war is being fought.

What, after all, is the “big idea” behind the war? Is it a war to define what is or is not Islam? Is it a war for a liberal, modern, progressive Pakistan or is it merely a war for the survival of the state as it exists? Is the war against both the methods adopted by the Taliban as well as their version of Islam? Or, is it the case that while the Taliban version of Islam is acceptable (with a few tweaks here and there), the opposition is only to their methods? Is this a war which is being fought only to keep the dollars flowing into the Pakistan economy? Or is this war being fought purely because of the immense US military and economic pressure, but for which the Pakistanis would have handled the Taliban in a very different way?

The answers to these questions become unavoidable every time anyone in Pakistan talks of restoring the “writ of the state”. Surely, the phrase “writ of the state” must mean more than just reacquiring the control of a particular place by the police and the army after forcing millions of people out of their homes and then flattening entire towns and villages. No doubt, retaining the monopoly over coercion by using all the necessary means constitutes an essential element in enforcing the “writ of the state”. But what use is it to establish the authority and majesty of the state if the social contract that operates is not that of the state but of the Taliban.

Indeed, matters are fast reaching a stage where even if the Taliban groups are decimated, their ideas and indeed the social and cultural mores that have been mandated by them will survive. In other words, the Islamisation, rather Salafi-isation or Arabisation, of Pakistan is not likely to end with the defeat of the Taliban. While the Pakistani society has for some time now been spiralling headlong into religious, social and cultural obscurantism, the instruments that the Pakistani state is forging to mobilise public opinion and also to fight the Taliban are going to further push society in this direction.

After all, the tribal lashkars, the pro-establishment clerics and the “reconcilable” Taliban commanders who have come out in support of the state are not exactly poster-boys for a more liberal and progressive Pakistan. Perhaps, in the short term the state has no choice but to use this lot against the “irreconcilable” Taliban. However, if the state becomes too dependent on them, these people could become a law unto themselves, making the task of restoring the state’s writ close to impossible.

For the present, however, while the Pakistan Army claims to have wrested the physical control of many areas from the Taliban, psychologically the Taliban fighters remain pretty much on the ascendant, not only in the areas where they held a sway, but also in areas where their presence was supposed to be negligible. The signs of this are everywhere: one letter and shopkeepers in Lahore make a public bonfire of all pornographic CDs in their shops; in Muzaffarabad, people are scared of hiring women workers and are considering firing women employees after receiving a threat from the militant Islamists; doctors in Peshawar have started wearing Shalwar Kameez instead of trousers and shirts which have been declared un-Islamic; music and CD shops and barbers have been forced to change their line of business; there are markets in the NWFP and Quetta where women are forbidden - the list is endless.

Obviously, people take the diktat of the Taliban far more seriously than they respect the laws made by the Pakistani state, which they flout with impunity. What is more, while those behind the Taliban enforce their laws even on the pain of death, the state appears incapable of ensuring compliance of its laws. If this be the state of affairs in places where the Taliban influence is more notional than real, it is hardly surprising then that in places where the Taliban has held sway, not many people are willing to defy its diktat. So much so that despite the army’s claims of having cleared many areas of the Taliban, the fear and terror of the militants lingers on, more so after incidents of renewed Taliban activity in some of the areas from where they were supposed to have been thrown out.

The failure of the army to so far kill or capture even a single top-ranking Taliban commander has added to the sense of disquiet among the people, many of whom are still not entirely convinced or continue to doubt that the army is no longer patronising the Taliban or that the army is not playing favourites among the Taliban leadership or even that the army has finally decided to give up the use of the Taliban as strategic assets once and for all. The sheer magnitude of distrust in the state and its security forces, coupled with the growing anger over the ineffective and inefficient handling of the Internally Displaced People (IDPs) is going to severely compromise the moral writ and legitimacy of the Pakistani state in the eyes of these people.

Unlike Punjab where there is a tendency to romanticise the Taliban, many of the people from the NWFP, having suffered the Taliban, have no love lost for them. And yet, the treatment these people have received at the hands of the Pakistani state is in some ways worse than what was inflicted upon them by the Taliban. Indeed, the danger to the writ of the Pakistani state comes not only from the Taliban but also from the disaffection, disillusionment and disenchantment of the people in whose name the war is being fought.

The Pakistani state must provide succour (and not merely lip-service) to the people affected by the war. At the same time, it must plunge head-on into reforms that firmly put Pakistan on a liberal, progressive path. Unless this happens, regardless of who wins the war, the Talibanisation of Pakistan will be unavoidable.

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MIDDLE

No comments
by M. K. Agarwal

Some time back I sent a document to a venerable friend to elicit his views, which I considered to be valuable. After a long, pregnant silence of well nigh nine months I received a brief, two-word reply: “No comments”.

I tried to figure out the meaning, the logic behind this response. Was he put off by some unearthly elegance of the document, or its total absence — the former admitting of no refinement and the latter deserving not the scantiest of attention? Could it be that the personage was buried to the neck in the office mundane, and was left with no time for examination of the stuff? Or, was it that the gentlemen loved indolence, and any demand of attention was an intrusion on that blissful serenity which comes with a vacuous mind? After all, many men of letters, art and philosophy down the ages have hailed languidness as a virtue to be admired and cultivated.

Whatever be the case, the point to be noted is that with the terse reply which happens to be the caption of this piece, he extricated himself from an embarrassing position and got away honourably.

We all know that managers and senior officers are required to write the “annual confidential reports” of their juniors i.e. rate their performance. One of the important traits to be assessed is “integrity”. In the world of today, rare is the person of unquestionable credentials and absolute rectitude; the general lot possesses integrity in various shades of grey.

The dilemma is how to assess the attribute. To call it “good” when it is patently otherwise would mean being irresponsible and professionally dishonest. To appraise it truthfully, and call spade a spade, requires not only personal probity but also unusual pluck, to face the aftermath of charges of prejudice and of being put in the dock to provide evidence and substantiate the remarks.

A seemingly innocuous observation like “average integrity” is also no solution; rather, it is likely to invite ridicule for the writer. Certain things don’t come in half measure, like there is no such thing as average virginity in a woman? But an entry like “No comments” serves as the panacea against all odds — there is no miscarriage of justice, no compunction of the conscience, no embarrassment, and no bad blood!

The boss may, once in a while, throw up a proposition for discussion. It may well have weight, but not necessarily so; the boss certainly enjoys seniority of position, but not, ipso facto, superiority of thought. To speak your mind is a good policy, but it carries a risk. Not every boss has the largeness to endure a contrary view; many are prone to take offence and some may even store your effrontery in their bosom. So, go along as far as you can, but when your turn comes, your subterfuge should be “No comments, sir!”

Be assured that you will never have to repent. Hide your light under a bushel, for another occasion, a better time.

A long time ago, a friend, whose wife had written a book, asked my opinion of it. I knew the book was rather pedestrian, but I lacked the gumption to say so. To give applause where not due is an art I have not acquired. I wanted to avoid awkwardness by referring to the rave reviews, but he persisted in having my judgement of the work. I escaped getting cornered with the remark: “ No comments, dear, till I read the book.”

When caught in a cleft situation, dear reader, remember the mantra to “No comments”. I assure you that in nine out of 10 cases you will come out unscathed.

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OPED

Desensitising society
TV and FM radio are becoming irresponsible
by Roopinder Singh

Free airwaves, far from being the harbingers of the sound of music, are sounding more and more raucous, and jarring. The recent handling of the case of a Bollywood actor who is accused of raping a person working as a maid in his house is a case in point.

Recently the Radio Jockey (RJ), a popular private FM channel, punned on words like “made”, as in “made it” and “maid” and his insensitivity was galling. He was using the language without knowing it, and in the process was, besides trivialising a serious crime, also contributing to further desensitising a society that in any case is benumbed to an alarming level.

Indians lived in a sanitised world of All India Radio until 1993 when the government sold airtime blocks on AIR’s FM channels in a few cities. All the content thus broadcast had to be submitted to AIR and there were restrictions that included not encouraging the use of tobacco or alcoholic drinks as well as not inciting any ill-will among communities.

When the government auctioned 108 FM frequencies across India in 2000, many private players entered the market. There is no separate regulatory authority for FM stations and the Association of Radio Operators of India (AROI) has formed an advisory committee for the creation of a self-regulatory content code for private FM radio broadcasting.

At times the free-rolling tongue of RJs has landed them and their stations in trouble. Red FM RJ’s ill-advised comments about the Gurkhas in 2007 resulted in street violence as far away as in Darjeeling.

RJs would rightly protest that they should not be singled out and VJs, their counterparts on television, should also share the spotlight on this issue. Well, anyone who has seen shows like Roadies and Splitsvilla, where the young participants compete by wearing skimpiest of clothes and use abusive language, in an environment laced with sexual innuendos, knows what unbridled TV is capable of.

While these are the prominent shows, there are many others, in many languages, that twist the notion of reality TV to unreal and often debasing extent. Those who listen to the radio will find echoes in various programmes that encourage dating, or “setting” as in setting up a date. Again the appeal is to the lowest common denominator among the listeners.

What was shocking only a little while ago is no longer so. As we sit in front of the idiot box, that memorable phrase which dates back to the time when television was first introduced in India—1959. We are so willing to watch and absorb anything that comes on TV that our natural instincts towards decency and values are given a short shrift.

TV stations chasing news also show an amazing lack of propriety. It was in evidence when a Delhi schoolgirl, Arushi, was found murdered at her home in Noida in May this year. The way in which TV channels “recreated” the crime was disturbing...and worrying.

Allegations flew in various directions, and it became a Whodunit tamasha, in which scraps of often unverified information were put on air with minimal, if any, verification, bit players and bystanders were given the centre stage—if you turned on the news channel for knowledge or sober reflection, you were tuned in at the wrong place.

Where is our sensitivity towards the victims, and indeed towards viewers? Following the live images of the terrorist attack in Mumbai that showed— gun shots, bomb blasts, raging fires and charred bodies, there were reports of serious mental trauma among kids. One report, in fact, maintained that there was a 25 per cent increase in the number of cases of children suffering from anxiety and insomnia.

Parents have little idea of how much television is safe. The coverage of the event by television channels came in for much criticism and renewed the demand for more control, and even regulation to instil a sense of responsibility among the TV channels.

While the print media is answerable to the Press Council of India, there is no such body for TV channels. The News Broadcasters Association, comprising 12 TV companies that run 25 news channels, is still working out a self-control mechanism, including a Code of Ethics and a Disputes Redressal Authority to entertain and decide on complaints regarding any news broadcast.

Prominent members of the NBA are TV Today Network Ltd., NDTV Limited, Times Global Broadcasting Company Ltd., TV18 Group, Global Broadcast News Limited, Media Content & Communication Services Pvt. Ltd., Independent News Service Pvt. Ltd. and Zee News Ltd.

While some sting operations have shown a clear intent towards public interest, the concept went out of hand and in 2007 there were two particularly notorious cases that came in for strong criticism. A fabricated story of a Delhi schoolteacher who was alleged to be a Madam was exposed as a fraud, but only after the teacher had been victimised and violence had erupted on the streets of Delhi.

In another case, the Supreme Court directed the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to restrain all television news channels from telecasting purported nude photographs of a Bollywood actress, allegedly shot in bathroom when she was detained in Bhopal jail.

These instances brought about strong condemnation from all quarters, and violated the NBA’s Code of Ethics, which lays down that sting operations must have an “identifiable public interest”, must be used “as a last resort” and must not use illegal methods, like sex and sleaze to get the information.

The pressures of competition are indeed great. 24X7 news channels are ever-hungry beasts and all are fighting to increase their TRPs (television rating points). It should not come at the cost of trivialising news—a major English news channel ran the following breaking news ticker: “Former maid says current maid in love with Shiny Ahuja”. Really, that’s “breaking news” now!

During the recent violence in Jalandhar, a news channel continually showed a visual of a truck burning on a street, and another of a clash between the police and the protesters. The looped visual, and statements from bit players or lumpen elements in the agitation, made one wonder if trouble was being “fanned” rather than being reported.

While no one wants the “members of one community clashed with the members of another community” kind of journalism, surely some restraint needs to be exercised by reporters and anchors, more so because the public at large takes its clues from them.

The private broadcasters need to get their act together, and fast, otherwise political interference, indeed even censorship in some form, can’t be ruled out. Those who have the power to shape perceptions in society would do well to keep in mind Aristotle’s principle of the Golden Mean, the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency. There is, often only a delicate line that delineates the differences—but it is there and it should not be blurred.

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Where wild things disappear
by Thomas Curwen

At the National Wildlife Property Repository, only the imagination runs wild. Everything else is dead and lies on the crowded shelves of this warehouse outside Denver, US.

There’s a Hartmann’s mountain zebra, its hide a rifle case — the souvenir of a safari to southern Africa.

There are the alligators whose skins adorn eight pairs of $2,000 Air Force 1s, the scheme of a hip-hop-inspired importer.

There are the black bears whose gallbladder bile was extracted and crystallized, a futile cure for hangovers and hemorrhoids.

Some deaths here, however, defy imagining — like that of the orangutan, whose skull, carved with decorative swirls and lightning bolts, is all that remains; or the caimans, standing on hind legs and holding silver trays like butlers; or the cheetah, with the frozen snarl and teardrop eyes.

Domestic and international laws protect roughly 5,000 animals against exploitation and extinction, and the National Wildlife Property Repository is the endpoint for all that is caught and confiscated by federal agencies in this country.

Held for educational purposes, future undercover operations and possible use by the Smithsonian or other museums, the items in this building represent, in the words of one agent, nothing less than “the evil in mankind.”

The federal government may give the repository a fancy name, but it is really a mausoleum, a tomb for nearly 1.5 million mammals, insects, reptiles, birds and assorted sea life, testimony to one of the largest illegal, if not creepiest, trades in the world — third behind drugs and guns — worth an estimated $20 billion annually.

Skinned, mounted, cut up and/or processed, the items arrive from U.S. Fish and Wildlife field offices around the country. Specialist Doni Sprague’s job is to sort and document the pieces before wheeling them through the double doors and into a dusty oblivion.

On a recent day she was processing a shipment of antiques from Detroit: opera glasses, snuff boxes, ink wells, each tricked out with elephant ivory or sea turtle shell.

The seizure was nothing scandalous. An agent dropped in on an antiques store in the upscale suburb of Birmingham, Mich. He said he was a buyer, and he kept returning for the next few months until he learned that these particular items — objets de vitrine as they’re known in the antiques trade — had been smuggled from England.

In another age and era, they represented the privilege of empire. Today, they are a crime against the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act. In a plea bargain, the owner of the store agreed to pay a $15,000 fine and $10,000 to the Detroit Zoological Society’s endangered species program.

The illegal wildlife trade is colored by many shades of gray. Some violations are blatant: trafficking walrus tusks or polar bear skins. Others, such as selling these antiques, seem strangely innocent and are often prosecuted largely for the purpose of discouraging a potential market.

Laws and regulations governing the trade cover the world like a net, tangled and knotted in an attempt to unite countries and cultures in one common mission. That mission — to conserve ecosystems and save endangered and threatened species — came of age in the U.S. during the Nixon administration after nearly 200 years of vanishings.

Birds that had once blanketed the sky, seals that had once crowded the Caribbean and sea turtles once so plentiful that a man could capture 100 in a single day off Cape Hatteras were gone or nearly gone, and Congress decided to act. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 put the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in charge of protecting various species. Two years later the national agenda took an international turn when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species was ratified.

“Given the poverty and the corruption that exist in other parts of the world, there will always be pressure to resort to the illegal wildlife trade,” he says. “People have to eat. When people are hungry, this is what they do.”

Scientists in the last few years have begun floating estimates of how many animal and plant species will be heading toward extinction by 2050. Some say between 15 percent and 37 percent, a quantity high enough for this period of time to be called the Sixth Extinction since life emerged on Earth.

Although global warming and pollution are playing a role in this trend, Grosz knows firsthand the heavy toll that the wildlife trade has taken.

Now retired and writing books about his experiences with the agency, he often resorts to metaphors of war (“. . . there will not be a lot of animals out there if we’re not able to hold the line . . .”) and a surprising degree of tenderness when describing the losses.

“Wildlife dies without a sound,” he says. “We’re the only guys who can give them a voice.”n

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Delhi Durbar
Foreign interest in India’s education

Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has had a packed first fortnight at work. And it has not been just about his meetings with the heads of educational institutions back home.

Among the early courtesy callers on Sibal were a host of foreign dignitaries led by US under secretary of state for political affairs William Burns with whom Sibal has already inked an Indo-US education exchange pact.

Following Burns to Sibal’s HRD office was British High Commissioner to India Richard Stagg, who discussed the future of Indo-British ties in education.

The French and Somalian ambassadors to India also ensured they met the new minister, who appears to have an open mind on the issue of foreign campuses and foreign direct investment in education.

The channels of communication with world leaders in HR already stand opened, and no one wants to miss out this chance of wooing India.

Zardari weakened?

The Indian diplomats may pat their pats back for staging a coup of sorts in India-Pakistan relations but the move has unwittingly further weakened the position of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s blunt message to Zardari in Russia last week that the Pakistani territory should not be allowed to be misused for terrorist acts against India in the presence of media personnel was a well-crafted Indian move.

It was obviously aimed at silencing those who might have tried to make a political capital out of the stand taken by New Delhi so far that it would not have any dialogue with Pakistan.

But it caused further damage to Zardari’s reputation back home in his country. Pakistani observers are now wondering whether India wants to strengthen the civilian government in Pakistan or cause further damage to its credibility.

Beware of cheats

The involvement of a former Delhi MLA in cheating people by promising them high returns on their investment has had a ripple effect on the Delhi police and forced it to swing into action.

Faced with this peculiar case, the Delhi Police has suddenly launched a series of advertisements on various radio channels to educate people about the possible ways of getting cheated.

And the focus is on not getting lured into investing in firms which offer three to four times returns, especially on cash deposits. Issued in public interest, there are special instructions in the advertisements for people to be vigilant. n

Contributed by Aditi Tandon, Ashok Tuteja and Girja S Kaura

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