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Economic crisis

Print edition : Jun 29, 2012 T+T-

The GDP figures of 6.5 per cent for 2011-12 and 5.3 per cent for the last quarter are disappointing and indicate that the economy is in bad shape (Cover Story, June 15). No one would have expected the government's austerity response to redeem the country from the mire and revive growth. Harsh methods may be necessary. But as a general election is expected within two years, the government may not be able to cut expenses on welfare measures and subsidies. However, the country needs to go forward through right policies, initiatives and investment.

A report prepared by a banking multinational points to lack of infrastructure, shortage of power, high tax regimes, governmental delays and corruption as factors that are likely to affect India's growth story. Investors want to do business in countries such as China and Japan that have good infrastructure, sufficient power supply and where there are no administrative delays in starting a business.

The Indian government should take urgent steps to eliminate administrative delays and corruption, which are the major stumbling blocks to growth.

Cartoon row

The hue and cry MPs raised over a 1949 cartoon in a school textbook has only wasted Parliament's precious time (Chorus of unreason, June 15). Neither Jawaharlal Nehru nor B.R. Ambedkar, who are featured in the cartoon, ever objected to it. Some MPs, who seem to take pride in making a mountain out of a molehill, behaved as if they were the messiah of Dalits.

It is embarrassing for the government that Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal yielded to pressure and promised to have the cartoon removed and to get all NCERT textbooks revised.

The protest by politicians on the cartoon issue is nothing but vote-bank politics. Its sole objective was to divert the attention of the aam aadmi from the issues confronting the nation because of the collective failure of ruling and opposition parties to take prudent and timely decisions in the overall interest of the nation and the public at large. The manner in which Parliament was put under siege, the apology expressed by Kapil Sibal and the decision to remove the cartoons were disturbing.

However, it is heartening to note that a group of eminent activists and Dalit intellectuals not only termed the controversy as uncalled for but also categorically stated that there was nothing objectionable in the cartoon or accompanying text.

Humour through caricature is universal, and mass leaders of yesteryear such as Indira Gandhi, K. Karunakaran and E.K. Nayanar used to enjoy cartoons and would personally congratulate cartoonists whenever they were depicted in them.

Cartoons are meant to be taken lightly and laughed at. Mature people take it in the right spirit unless it is a personal attack. The art of cartooning must not die because of intolerance.

It is condemnable that a group of MPs can affect education in the country and the way children are taught about the intricacies of the social and political fabric.

The MPs who protested against the cartoon after 62 years claimed that it offended them as it depicted a minority leader in a bad light (when the leader himself was not offended). Instead of withdrawing the cartoon from the textbooks, the better thing would be to add another cartoon or illustration lauding his role in making the Constitution and thus presenting a different point of view.

I hope textbooks are not going to be held hostage to the whims and fancies of politicians again.

It would be foolish to expect the country's politicians to not act safe on this controversy because no party would like to be on the wrong side of the table, especially when the elections are to be held in 2014.

What is ironic is that on the one hand we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Parliament and on the other we are trying to kill freedom of speech, and that too over a cartoon first published in 1949. What a pity that politicians took offence at such a trivial issue when there is so much in the country that needs the government's urgent attention.

War crimes

The indictment of George W. Bush and his deputies for war crimes by the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal has set a precedent (Shades of Nuremberg, June 15). The U.S. has time and again threatened to drag people from other countries to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face trials for war crimes. The first nation that should be tried for war crimes is the U.S., for war crimes dating back to the war in Vietnam and, more recently, for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Malaysian effort should be lauded for its courage. Its proceedings should have been telecast live. It will be an exercise in futility if the transcripts of the Kuala Lumpur trial are sent to the ICC and the U.N. Security Council because no action will be taken against the U.S. in these organisations.

Macaques

The article on the lion-tailed macaque was timely in the context of World Environment Day and proved interesting reading (Many moods of the macaque, June 1). The Save Silent Valley campaign of the 1970s brought the macaque into the limelight and prompted several scientific studies and provided it with the protection it needed.

The author was disappointed that in spite of his arduous treks in the Nelliampathy reserve forests he could not spot even one adult animal, never mind a troop. But one need not go to such widely known habitats as Nelliampathy and the Silent Valley National Park to see the simian. I have been fortunate enough to come across troops of the macaque at such nondescript habitats as the Achenkovil forests and the Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary.

I once saw a full troop comprising nearly 60 individuals at the high-altitude Dharbhakulam area of the sanctuary and have frequently spotted smaller numbers in the semi-moist rainforests of the Umayar region and in places such as Rockwood and Kattilapara.

India & the U.S.

The recent visit to India of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was primarily to pressure India into reducing its oil imports from Iran (Building pressure, June 1). Twelve per cent of Indian oil imports are from Iran as are 18 per cent of China's. The U.S. is, therefore, putting pressure on the two fastest growing economies of the world to cut their Iranian imports.

If India follows the U.S' dictum, then it will face oil security problems in the future, which in turn could lead to serious financial instabilities. The fall in the value of the rupee is a hint of the impending recession that awaits India.

History

The two-part article on the Origins of Indian Communism (May 4 and 18) gave a good account of some little known aspects of the history of the Communist Party. The insider accounts highlight the fact that the party committed some historical blunders and was slow to recognise and correct them.

The rare photographs that accompanied the text make the series a collector's item for enthusiasts and students of history and political science.

* * *Informed debate

The debate concerning the cartoon of B.R. Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru has centred on the following oppositional categories: reason versus sentiment; secular identity versus group identity; partisan politics versus non-partisan pedagogy; and censorship versus freedom of expression and thought. As a Dalit student, I feel that it is high time this debate on censorship was extended to the larger question of the representation in textbooks of Ambedkar and anti-caste struggles.

A section of the academia has always ignored the history of the struggles of Dalits and Adivasis. Let there be in textbooks cartoons that criticise Ambedkar and other politicians, but there should also be adequate information on Ambedkar and what he stood for. Let there not be another generation of schoolchildren who know nothing about Ambedkar apart from the fact that he was the Father of the Indian Constitution. Let there not be another generation of Dalit youth who feel guilty and insecure. But first, let us attack this unpardonable silence because silence is the most powerful form of censorship.

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