Jammu and Kashmir

Print edition : December 06, 2002

It is now "Mufti's turn" (November 22) to play the game in Jammu and Kashmir. The expectations are great. So are the challenges. The first priority is a stable government. Then comes the task of providing an able, transparent and corruption-free government that carries out development works and welfare measures, ensures regional parity, talks with other groups, and so on.

Will the militant and terrorist activities decrease? To expect a miracle may be too much. But utilising the opportunity to take the right path towards a solution may itself be enough. The Central government should assist in this. Perhaps, only a dialogue with Pakistan may bring a permanent settlement to the Kashmir problem. It could even bring surprises.

A. Jacob Sahayam Karigiri, Tamil Nadu

Apropos the article "For a new security grid" by Praveen Swami. The proposals put forward by the Northern Command to combat the militancy in Jammu and Kashmir on a continuum are laudable. However, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who has his own agenda and wants to go slow on this front, would resist the recommended measures. The Union Home Ministry would do well to understand that the security forces, which have to face the music on a long-term basis, have higher stakes in the counter-insurgency operations than politicians who look at the short term. Therefore, the proposals emanating from the forum must be carefully analysed for long-term gains, rather than helping the survival of politicians by offering sops to the militants. The sops may put the clock back by many years. The Mufti would have gone after having done the damage, but the security forces will continue to be there, to undo the damage. One hopes that wisdom will prevail on the officials in the Home Ministry and a good workable plan will be approved for the long term.

Brig V.K. Agrawal (retd.) Dehra Dun

A.G. Noorani's article "A fractured verdict" (November 8) is an extremely negative summary of the Kashmir elections. Kashmir has just been through one of the most courageous and heartbreaking elections in recent memory, anywhere. The process was free and fair, with multiple political parties contesting under universal adult franchise. These features are still a distant dream in many developing countries in the world today. More than 500 innocent people were murdered for the `crime' of daring to cast their ballot in a democratic, pluralistic India. The so-called "coercion" by the Indian security forces in a "few" places has to be one of the most benign, if not downright positive, actions undertaken by any military in a developing country. The normal behaviour of the military establishment in such countries is to prevent actively or suppress any free and fair voting, in fact, any democracy. The rule was turned on its head in Kashmir, with the Indian military (together with the redoubtable Election Commission) supporting the democratic process and doing their best to protect democratic candidates from the murderous inclinations of the bigoted terrorists, their supporters and cohorts from across the border.

All praise and absolutely no criticism for the government, the Opposition, the military and, of course, the people of Kashmir who made it happen.

Varun Shekhar Toronto, Canada

Anti-conversion Bill

The anti-conversion Bill passed by the Tamil Nadu Assembly will increase unrest among the lower castes ("Behind Jayalalithaa's ordinance", November 8). By placing obstacles in the path of changing one's religion, the Bill violates the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. Moreover, if one person is subjected to undue pressure or influence to change one's religion, one is always free to revert to one's original religion and to set the legal machinery in motion under existing criminal laws. Religious conversion means a change of heart; it can neither be enforced nor stalled.

Conversion has been resorted to in India by the oppressed sections, such as Dalits and tribal peoples, as a means to get away from caste-based inequality and injustice. The recent report of the National Crime Records Bureau records an increase in the crimes against them. Instead of clamouring for a ban on conversion, Hindu leaders should strive to make Dalits feel that they are regarded as equals by caste-Hindus, open schools and hospitals for them and, above all, work among the leprosy-afflicted and other victims of untouchability. Then they will begin having faith in the gods of Hinduism and will not go in search of new gods.

Indeed, the same communalists remember with pride the Hare Krishna movement in the West. The numerous peddlers of Hinduism abroad are admired for their organisational brilliance and material success. But they do not want Christian and Muslim missionaries to carry on their work in India. What kind of fair play is this?

Religious conversion has been going on in India for long. Even the Vedic religion was spread in India by its proponents. There are accounts in the Puranas, which are historical allegories if not exact history, of forest-dwellers and animist tribes being made to accept the Vedic ways of worship.

The actual debate should examine why the weaker sections turn to other religions. One does not give up one's ancestral religion because of emotional and rather passionate attachment. One has to fight a lot against oneself before crossing the Rubicon. If the weaker sections among Hindus are happy with their place in society, they will not leave it for another faith forfeiting the `benefit' of reservation in employment, soft bank loans, free education, and so on, which are not available to neo-convert Muslim or Christian Dalits. Are these not `allurement'?

Ruby Nishat Bangalore

A Bill prohibiting forcible conversion is imperative for the time being. One would like to change one's religious identity only on the basis of what one thinks about one's religion, but in the case of Dalits, social and economic factors compel them to change their religious identity. The mass conversion in 1981 at Meenakshipuram village in Tamil Nadu's Kanyakumari district is a well-known example of such conversion.

Likewise, an educationally and economically privileged section can allure backward sections by promising money and jobs. This violates the right against exploitation guaranteed by the Constitution. So the Tamil Nadu government's law will not be an act against the fundamental rights. What does violate the fundamental rights is forcible conversion or exploitative conversion. So it is the obligation of all States to have a law prohibiting forcible conversion.

Majeed Paroli Kozhikode, Kerala

The Great Library

The article "A tale of two libraries" (November 22) makes fascinating reading. It is full of information about the city of Alexandria, which flourished in ancient Egypt. As the world's capital of scholarship and learning. The significant feature of the city was its Great Library, which attracted numerous scholars and learned men in many fields.

It is heartening to know that the government of Egypt has taken up a project to revive the spirit of scholarship.

B.S. Timmoli Shimoga, Karnataka

Sinister models

I am surprised that K. Natwar Singh does not back further into recent Indian history to trace the earliest signs of a threat to the Indian state ("Sinister Models", November 8). I refer, of course, to the carnage of Sikhs in Delhi following Indira Gandhi's assassination, with the collusion of not only the local administration but also the Centre. He did not raise similar concerns at the time.

It is saddening that neither the current ruling party nor the Opposition (when in power) has demonstrated any respect for democratic institutions.

Ashwini Kumar Middlesex, United Kingdom

Hats off to K. Natwar Singh for his superb column and the thought-provoking ideas and issues woven therein. History has of course, on the whole, not been kind to India and its people, and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is a mere manifestation of this unkindness. Every sane reader of your magazine will agree with the learned writer that "Modi is unfit to be called a decent, tolerant and God-fearing Hindu".

As for good writing, James Sheaffer has said that "of all those arts in which the wise men excel, Nature's chief masterpiece is writing well". In Saul Bellow's words, "a piece of writing is an offering."

T.N. Tandon Lucknow

Privatisation

In his analysis "Privatisation: from the Guru himself", (October 25), Prashant Bhushan presents some arguments that bear rebuttal. He refers to Noble Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz's account of the damage in Russia due to rapid privatisation and then concludes that we should not privatise in India because we may similarly end up with a bad outcome. Can we not prefer to draw a different conclusion from the Russian experience - that we can learn from the Russain experience, avoid the pitfalls and actually make a success of privatisation?

He argues that because corruption exists, "the disinvestments process will also proceed corruptly in a corrupt manner. An honest Disinvestment Minister is certainly no guarantee against dishonesty in the prevailing atmosphere." A more positive view would be that because we have an honest Disinvestment Minister, we should boldly go ahead with the disinvestment programme, which has been agreed upon by the Cabinet and Parliament and which forms the cornerstone of the current Budget of the government.

In stating the main arguments in favour of disinvestments, he has omitted the important point that the government needs money to meet the deficit in the budget. According to this year's budget, the government planned to meet the deficit by borrowing Rs. 136,000 crores and getting an income of Rs. 16,000 crores by disinvesting a part of its holding in a public sector undertaking. Should the government cling on to the PSU and increase borrowings?

It seems unfair to blame the credit rating agency Standard & Poor or Washington for downgrading Indian government bonds to junk status. The agency had to issue a rating, for the guidance of investors, just prior to a huge issue of government bonds. It was just doing its job. This rating did not worry the government (the borrower) or the Indian lenders because the borrower is considered reliable (it owns the currency printing presses).

He has made a reference to Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL), which was disinvested, and NALCO, which is listed for disinvestment. It is on record that VSNL issued bonus shares 2:1 and the government took out dividends of 1375 per cent on the expanded shares in the two years before it sold its shareholding in VSNL. NALCO, likea all capital-intensive producers, shows a huge `gross profit', but the bottom-line profit after tax shows earnings per share of 6.4 only. In any case, the assets of the PSU and its profit projections are taken into account in fixing the (retention) minimum selling price of its shares. Every businessman knows that the best time to sell a business is when it is profitable.

With regard to the profitable oil companies HPCL and BPCL, we have to look at the total picture. The country does not have the money to explore for oil and therefore has to invite foreign companies to explore for oil and in return give away part of its oil rights. Should the government cling on to HPCL and BPCL and invest in their refinery expansions or spend more on oil exploration and retain more oil rights? These hard choices have to be faced. In a broader sense, what should be the priorities of the government? HPCL, BPCL and more refineries or the basic needs of health, education and infrastructure?

Of course, when government monopolies are privatised, there is the risk that `private monopolies' may be formed, but this nothing to be afraid of. These `private monopolies' will not have the benefit of administered prices and they will have to compete with imports. They will have no monopoly power at all. They will be watched by statutorily empowered regulatory bodies and kept in check by the government's monetary and fiscal policies (import and excise duties).

In the name of Joseph Stiglitz, we should not mix up `privatisation' with `globalisation'. For India, privatisation for the reasons mentioned above has become an imperative. The rules for privatisation are written by the government. The productive assets remain in the country. The productivity of the assets can improve. The government will be free of the vicissitudes of business and can focus better on governance. Privatisation is a win-win process for the government (seller) and the new management (buyer).

G. Ramakrishna Mumbai

Iran, Iraq and the U.S

This refers to "Sanctions and other weapons" by Sukumar Muralidharan (October 11) wherein it is stated: "In demonising the Saddam Hussein regime today, the farthest point in history that the U.S. would like to touch is the 1988 incident - after the ceasefire with Iran - when Iraq dropped lethal chemical agents on the town of Halabja to retake it from rebel Kurd elements."

The chronology is wrong. Halabja occurred in March 1988 and the ceasefire was in August the same year. More interestingly, in July 1988 the U.S. warship Vincennes shot down an Iranian commercial airliner that was taking off from an Iranian airport, killing 290 passengers. In fact, Vincennes was in Iranian waters. Iran realised that it was unable to take on the U.S.-Iraqi alliance and decided on the ceasefire.

Earlier, in May 1987, Iraqi missiles struck the U.S. destroyer Stark, killing 37 Americans. Baghdad apologised and Washington treated the matter as `friendly fire'. By then everyone knew that both Iraq and Iran were using chemical weapons against each other.

K.P. Fabian New Delhi

RESPONSE Animals in research

This is in response to the column by Praful Bidwai on animals in research ("The case for animals in research", November 22).

The first Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA) was formed by the Government of India in 1964. Its Chairman was Mr. Kamalnayan Bajaj, MP, and its members were mostly the Directors and Heads of Government animal-using laboratories. After visiting about 175 laboratories all over India between 1964 and 1966, the CPCSEA released a paper titled `Animal Experimentation'.

The present CPCSEA is the most broad-based of the Committees since 1964 and consists of some of the most respected scientists in India including Professor Ranjit Roy Chaudhury, Dr. Manju Sharma, Dr. Vinayak, Dr. P.Y. Guru, Dr. P.K. Dave and Dr. Sultan Ahmed Ismail.

Mr. Bidwai is obviously unaware of the INSA guidelines he refers to. He complains that "... many animals have to be housed in a clean, comfortable, air-conditioned environment - a facility denied to most of the human staff!" The INSA guidelines state: "The environment of animal room is an important factor... A constant room temperature is essential, because variation in room temperature causes change in food and water intake. A change in temperature of 4 C can cause 10-fold alteration in biological responses." Since biological responses are what are being studied, this is an essential requirement.

Mr. Bidwai terms an inspection of the National Institute of Nutrition (NII) by "CPCSEA-authorised inspectors on September 28" a "raid". The inspectors included a Professor and a Supreme Court lawyer. He goes on to state that they "grossly exaggerated the prevalence of TB among the monkeys - 90% plus, when only two of the 200-plus animals were infected". Figures compiled from the register given to the inspectors by Dr. Subeer Majumdar of NII indicate that over 70 monkeys had tested positive to TB. Monkey number 310 tested TB positive on 5.7.2000, 31.8.2000 and 1.11.2000 and still had surgery performed on it. Every monkey from NII serial number 299 to 326 with the exception of No. 315 and 323 were shown as TB positive.

In order to reconfirm how conditions at the NII primate house could be so deplorable, a new team headed by Dr. Kiran Singh, former Deputy Director-General of ICAR with Dr. J. Ramkrishna of TANUVAS and Dr. Ajit Kumar, Primatologist from SACCOM, were authorised by the CPCSEA to inspect NII on October 21, 2002. In spite of NII being informed of this and in spite of Dr. Kiran Singh being a member of the Board of NII, the team was not allowed by the Director of NII to inspect the animal house on the grounds that they did not possess valid identification! NII Senior Manager Mr. Bose stated that they have instructions from the Ministry of Home Affairs not to allow anyone for security reasons! Writing about this to the Chairperson of the CPCSEA, Dr. Kiran Singh stated: "Everybody felt humiliated. I hope some stern action would be taken against the Director of NII and his colleagues mentioned in the report so that such incidences do not recur."

Mr. Bidwai claims that the rules are "implemented whimsically" and refers to the committee for large animals. This committee is headed by the distinguished Professor, Ranjit Roy Choudhury, Professor Emeritus of NII, and consists of some of the most reputed scientists in the country - animal users, all. Whimsical, Mr. Bidwai?

Mr. Bidwai's objection to the domain name being cpcsea.org is ridiculous. He has also stated that while "the bulk of the members of the CPCSEA are ex-officio (meaning government officials), virtually all the others are animal rights activists and office-bearers of NGOs such as Blue Cross". I am proud to be the Chairman of the Blue Cross of India and also be a member of the CPCSEA. I testified in 1964 before the first CPCSEA about the horrible conditions of laboratory animals in India - a fact that Mr. Bidwai confirms when he says: "Chaos prevailed, as did shoddy, bad, often inhuman practices". I have served on the CPCSEA since 1996 - at substantial personal cost. My three and a half years as a research scientist over 30 years ago with American Cyanamid and my experiences in India show that a law will be followed only if it is properly enforced.

For the first time, the country is seeing a group of inspectors who are doing their job because they believe in it. They are not willing to accept a cup of tea and a little something extra and close their eyes to what is happening. Mr. Bidwai and the bad eggs in the scientific establishment must realise this fact. Good welfare of research animals makes for good science. Those establishments which cannot accept this fact might as well close down if they do not want to change.

Dr. S. Chinni Krishna Chairman, Blue Cross of India

From the CPCSEA paper

The object of these experiments is said to be in order to advance scientific knowledge, and to undertake research to save or prolong human or animal life and alleviate suffering. In the name of science, however, animals are made to endure the most barbaric tortures ever invented by the human brain, often lasting over long periods and without any sort of anaesthetic.

Animals are frozen, boiled, have electric currents passed through their brains or are driven insane, all in an insatiable "quest for knowledge", which can do nothing whatever to benefit the human race. Many experiments which are successful with animals are a complete failure when applied to human beings. Vested interests, however, make it necessary for the experiments to continue, although what they are showing may be completely useless, or already known.

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