the fully loaded magazine
This refers to the cover story Railway Bogey (February 10). The pathetic state of the railways makes it more than clear that a deadly cocktail of crony capitalism and pseudo-nationalism is being forcefully shoved upon the people of India, which is more than evident in the provisions of the Union budget 2020-21. The allocation to various social security and rural development schemes like MNREGA, PDS and FCI has been reduced by almost Rs 1.5 lakh crore as compared to the revised estimates for 2019-20. Even the much-touted PM Jan Arogya Yojana got just Rs 300 crore more. The government is talking about opening medical colleges in public-private partnership, which actually means responsibility for the public and profit for private players. Indian Railways has fallen victim to this ideology, which justifies pathetic, substandard and lousy health, education and public transport—the three crucial public services the government is responsible for. Now, while the poor, deprived and disenfranchised are forced to travel like animals in mostly run-down ordinary trains, the rich can take 150 luxurious private trains where hostesses welcome them and make them feel like royals. Alas, while they fall sick—as many did after having breakfast on India’s first private train, Tejas Express—others daydream of the ever-illusive Bullet trains that may soon become a deadly nightmare, very much like ‘achche din’!
Rakesh Agrawal, Dehradun
Salvaging the railways is like moving a mountain. I had a chance to travel by Shatabdi from Chandigarh to Delhi. One look outside and your stomach churns, you run the risk of throwing up. V.S Naipaul, in his iconic work, An Area of Darkness, had commented that “Indians defecate everywhere”. He was widely criticised for his unkind and supercilious view of India, but to deny the filth and squalor we live in is to shut our eyes to the truth. All these references to swish interiors and fancy meals being served in trains, good as they may sound, are completely off the mark. What we need first and foremost is safety, basic cleanliness and punctuality. Food and wine can wait.
Sangeeta Kampani, New Delhi
Overcrowding in trains is the norm rather than the exception. The demand-supply gap is huge. Take Pushpak Express, the Lucknow-Mumbai train, for instance. While it departs from Lucknow daily at 7.45 pm, commuters who cannot afford the reserved class start putting their luggage in a queue early in the morning at the spot where the general coach of the train arrives. It has become very difficult to get a confirmed ticket and tatkal tickets are equally hard to find. People camp outside tatkal reservation counters overnight, but not many succeed in getting a ticket. The reservation mafia continues to flourish in spite of all efforts of the government to end the racket. Privatisation is not the solution to commuters’ problems. For most, rail is the cheapest mode of travel and they cannot afford trains run privately. The government’s decision to discontinue the separate rail budget and merge it in the general budget is also questionable.
M.C. Joshi, Lucknow
Like an ordinary person facing financial stress starts selling his kitchenware and wardrobe, the railways might end up selling its assets bit by bit. How giving away 100 rail routes to private players to operate 150 trains will affect different stakeholders can only be ascertained after studying the contract between the railways and private operators. In any case, they will face stiff competition from airlines and roadways. Such shoddy attempts to deal with the sluggish economy will not help the government.
M.N. Bhartiya, Goa
This refers to your interview with Carnatic musician T.M. Krishna (‘Artist, activist have to work in tandem to bring change’, February 10). I am a Tamil Brahmin and so is Krishna. He is doing everything besides singing and has become a torchbearer for the oppressed, joining ranks with the secular lobby to safeguard our Constitution that is under threat from the RSS-led right-wing lobby. The mridangam has become his latest obsession. Krishna rightly claims it is made of cow leather, but his statement that cows are killed to make the mridangam is a bit outrageous.
T.S. Rangarajan, Bangalore
Leading sabhas like The Music Academy have never barred people of any caste or religion from performing. It is naive to believe that you can spread classical music by singing in buses, trains or markets. The art world everywhere is feudal because ordinary citizens, fighting for subsistence have no time or money to learn the fine arts. Indeed, the fertile Cauvery delta produced more artistes than the dry Ramanathapuram district.
Kangayam R. Narasimhan, Chennai
This refers to the article Corrective Surgery Under The Dome (February 3). The lack of accountability in the judiciary requires serious thought. Though the article mentions the Restatement of Values of Judicial Life as a code of ethics for judges, this is not a law that can be enforced. In case of a serious misdemeanour, a judge can be impeached, but what about actions that do not seem to violate any law, yet have serious consequences? If bureaucrats sit on a file for several months, their superiors haul them up. But what happens when a judge sits on a case for an indefinite period? This can happen due to several reasons—the judge may be expecting a posting or promotion, for instance. After retirement, judges are often rewarded with memberships of tribunals and quasi-judicial forums. Passing orders that appear anti-government may jeopardise their prospects. So, they resort to various means to delay or avoid issuing such orders. Lawyers on both sides often go along or even assist in prolonging such cases. After all, they earn money every time they appear in the case. The only one who suffers is the poor litigant, especially if she is involved in a criminal case and is behind bars.
Maj Gen (retd) V.K. Singh, Gurgaon
Outlook has been my favourite magazine since Vinod Mehta’s days. I always read it first and in one go. But lately, I am disappointed with its new-found hi-fi status. Yes, there are professional and business compulsions, but leaving behind lower middle class readers is unwelcome. Alas, so much for my lovely magazine! Also, it is not a balanced periodical now. In the letters column (February 10), I found that only Arun Kampani’s mail mentioned the police’s helplessness. I pity the forces who are sacrificing themselves and their families because of wrong orders by whimsical, selfish rulers.
Harish Pandey, Delhi
Thank you for publishing my letter (January 27). I appreciate your sincerity—even though the letter is not a pleasant one, you printed it. That’s a hallmark of great journalism. Great rebuttal by Ruben to me!
Naveen Rao, On E-Mail
I have been a regular reader of your weekly for more than a decade. While I enjoy reading the weekly and generally agree with most of the views presented by the writers, I have a small request: The cover story should not consume so many pages; it should be limited to 10 pages or so. That will allow you to give more space for other articles. Too much coverage of a single topic, however important and critical, results in monotony. If you feel the cover story cannot be shortened, you should come out with a supplement.
P. Ramachandran, Bangalore
Way Out Excerpts of a letter from a Sogdian (present-day Iran) woman in the 4th century CE
We carried a column by Omair Ahmad (The Burden of an Unheroic Hero, February 17), wherein a disparaging remark was made against former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. This ought not to have been published. We sincerely regret the editorial oversight.
This refers to your cover story How Just is Our Judiciary? (February 3). Delayed or not, justice is almost always denied to us, the people of India, and especially to Dalits, adivasis, Muslims and women. The Supreme Court has no time to hear petitions concerning the lives of millions—those challenging the constitutional validity of the abrogation of Article 370 and of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act—but it has time to award the Ram temple to culprits of the crime committed on December 6, 1992, despite accepting their roles and finding no historical proof of demolition of an ancient temple. Not to speak of the sexual harassment charges against a Chief Justice by an employee of the court in which he became investigator, prosecutor and judge rolled into one, punishing just not the complainant, but her entire family! Justice in India is horribly expensive and excruciatingly slow.
India’s founding fathers who framed the Constitution had suffered so much during the British Raj that they thought only of rights and liberties that had been snatched away by colonial rulers. Now we go on strike for our right and liberties at the drop of a hat.
Rohan Pandey, Mumbai
Any controversy involving the judiciary is a potential threat to the institutional integrity of the judicial system of India and is totally undesirable. There has been a lot of talk about the slow delivery of justice. The final verdict in the Nirbhaya rape and murder case took more than seven years and even after the final verdict, its execution is still awaited. Pendency in courts is often attributed to inadequate infrastructure and lack of facilities for judicial functionaries. State and central governments are held responsible for insufficient budgetary provisioning. Courts cannot hold governments responsible for vacancies or delays in promotional appointments as the SC and the high courts now exercise full control over judicial appointments. It is time to dispassionately examine the functioning of the courts and signs of an increasing loss of public faith in the judiciary despite individual presiding judges setting occasional examples of completing even serious criminal cases in mere months. Perhaps it may sound futile to singularly blame judges for abnormal delays. At times, due to the prosecution’s failure to establish the charges beyond reasonable doubt, an alleged criminal of limited means gets acquitted, but only after suffering incarceration for a term that ends up being longer than the maximum permissible under law. But resourceful defendants are seen escaping culpability not necessarily on merit, but due to their ability to manage judicial processes to their advantage. Delays also occur when lawyers seek unnecessary processes and repeated adjournments. The judiciary needs to overhaul and regulate itself if nobody else is empowered to do this under the Constitution.
S.R. Gadicherla, Bangalore
It is really a shame that court cases take decades to resolve in the world’s largest democracy. It is the system that is at fault. Often, we find the apex court finding fault with the prosecution when the evidence is withheld, crucial witnesses are not cross-examined and dozens of witnesses turn hostile. Police and prosecution must be free from political pressure. The way ahead is to make the police simultaneously accountable to multiple committees of the legislature and human rights commissions. The need of the hour is to speed up the process of investigation and also fill vacancies of judges at various levels in order to ensure that cases do not pile up. Village-level panchayat courts should be revived and hearings must be done in the presence of the community.
G.S. Rao, Bangalore
Your cover story of the January 27 issue (Whose Police is It Anyway?) brought back memories of the time Outlook was helmed by the legendary Vinod Mehta. I have been an ardent reader of this magazine because of its truth-speaking boldness, but this had been missing in the past few years. This issue has partly rekindled the faith I always had in Outlook. Hope you and your team don’t lose track and reestablish the magazine as a bold, honest and truth-speaking one.
Amitabh Upadhyaya, On E-Mail
Police excesses witnessed in the streets and on campuses is manifestation of a ruling juggernaut being stopped in its tracks—something it is not accustomed to. The ruling dispensation is drunk on winning elections and forming governments, especially in the states, by hook or by crook, besides usurping important institutions such as the judiciary and clamping down on freedom of speech.
George Jacob, Kochi
It is obvious that India is moving from the rule of law to rule by the gun. When people protest against egregious violations of democracy, the police do not come as friends, or even as neutrals. They come as enemies. When the police act like a lynch mob, it is a travesty of law and erosion of truth in the justice system. The police need to work for the people, not for their political masters.
Uzair Ahmed, Muzaffarnagar
I have no grudge with the performance of the Indian police; I rather admire their loyalty and sincerity to their masters since their inception as an organised force for assisting in the governance of the country. The British rulers in India tactfully kept their constabulary of all faiths united and loyal to them. Our police continued to adhere to the same work culture over the past seven decades in the absence of any reforms for making them people-friendly and suitable for a liberal democracy. Failure to implement reforms ensures that politicians of all hues, when in power, misuse and abuse the police force to suppress their critics and opponents. The police, foundation of the edifice of our criminal justice system, have been groomed to scare the people and, if required, muzzle and eliminate them in ‘encounters’. In the process of proving their loyalty, they go to any extent of barbarity and falsehood, manipulating and fabricating evidence to fulfil the wishes of their masters. The real culprits responsible for police brutalities are the selfish politicians posing as nationalists. No wonder that in the decades since Independence, no party has bothered to change this convenient state of affairs.
While dealing with the JNU, AMU and anti-CAA protestors, the police have been blatantly prejudiced. What is worse is that the police have taken pride in this, throwing all standard operating procedures to the wind. This unabashed and complete subservience to the dictates of their political masters has made a mockery of rule of law as enshrined in our Constitution. The story of police excesses to please the party in power has been repeated time and again everywhere. The long-pending reforms in the police force may be a way out of this scary situation, but the moot question remains: why would politicians let go of the police baton and forsake the power to terrorise their opponents?
Vijai Pant, On E-Mail
Love’s labour Not Lost Written in 1477, this is the oldest surviving Valentine’s Day letter in English
This refers to your cover story on the police (Might is Right, January 27). The armed, paramilitary and police forces are paid by the central or state governments, and are expected to act on their orders despite their oath to abide by the Constitution and protect the people. It is quite natural that they act brutally against protestors. The main fault is of the government. The police can enter the Jamia Millia Islamia campus and library without waiting for the orders of the head of the institution, and assault the students, but wait outside the JNU campus for hours for orders from the vice chancellor while masked men armed with iron rods and lathis wreck havoc and destroy infrastructure and beat up the students. The government’s ideology was manifested in all the recent incidents of police atrocity.
In the past, Indians in police uniform used to thrash protestors during the freedom struggle against Britain’s ruthless imperialist regime. Those uniforms are still donned by Indians who assault citizens protesting against the elected government.
M.Y. Shariff, Chennai
As we witness a cauldron of repressed anger in our student community and with all the outrage over the conduct of police in JNU, one small thing merits attention. Are policemen not one of us? Are they not part of a milieu that is not of their making or asking? I speak with decades of experience behind me, having had the proud privilege of working in Delhi Police all these years. Is a police force not only as good or as bad, as free or as servile, as any other limb of governance? Is it not that the police get extraordinary flak just because their uniform is seen as a symbol of oppression? The comment in your editorial note that conscience seems to be in short supply in the top rungs of the police sounds like a half-truth, the famous Ardh Satya of the iconic film by that name. Its hero Anant Welanker is the prototype of an average cop and his dilemma whether to listen to his conscience or bear the consequences of his action is the dilemma of every person and every cop. Notwithstanding the optics of power, the cop is as vulnerable as anyone else as he delves into treacherous administrative quicksands, where the choices he makes are fewer than one can imagine. Policemen, at best, are only cogs in the wheels of a system. It might be convenient to blame the police, but what ails us is far bigger, deeper and more profound. We have a long to-do list. It’s a good idea to begin with the police, but to single them out for lack of professionalism is dodging the whole truth.
Arun Kampani, New Delhi
The fact that none of the articles in the cover story is appreciative of the police tells all we need to know about the Indian police forces. They hold allegiance to the politicians in power, who use and abuse them as their private force to serve their personal and political interests. Those concerned with the sorry state of affairs in the policing system and the politicisation of police have been long demanding reforms to free the police from political control. In 1996, two former director generals of police approached the Supreme Court with the request that the court direct the central and state governments to address the bad practices of the police. The Supreme Court realised in 2006 that it could not wait any more for governments to take appropriate steps for police reforms and issued seven directions that were binding upon governments till they frame suitable legislation.
India is fast becoming a police state, thanks to our inefficient, insensitive and anti-people police who could put the colonial police to shame. Never did they enter the library of an academic institution, create havoc there and force the students to come out with raised hands like a band of surrendered criminals. And never had they stopped an ambulance from entering a university. Instead of serving their political masters, the police must start serving their real masters—the people. Else it will remain what it is: an institution that perpetrates violence on unarmed citizens, including women and children.
Use of excessive force by a law enforcement officer is a violation of the victim’s rights. But what about the other side of the coin? The somber-looking men in uniform are mowed down by the pressures of ever-increasing crimes in this restive world coupled with political patronage enjoyed by the criminals. They are first to be blamed for every criminal activity and investigations initiated by them to book the criminals are mostly hampered due to political interference and criticism. The men in khaki are mercilessly dissected by the print and electronic media, which hold them responsible for every evil that exists in the society. The police have been reduced to mere slaves of their political masters, appointed and placed at various stations and designations just to carry out acts of vendetta against opponents of the ruling party. Political interference has to stop for efficient policing. The media needs to exercise restraint in blaming the police force for all acts and omissions. We need to evolve a strong support system for our police force. We need to adopt a system that enables the police to be able to work fearlessly.
J.S. Acharya, Hyderabad
This refers to Afzal Blowback (January 27) by Naseer Ganai. It is unfortunate that J&K Police DSP Davinder Singh, who had received a gallantry award recently, was found with two most wanted militants in a car. He was the officer who was also named by Afzal Guru as the officer who tortured and forced him to make some arrangements in Delhi for one of the militants who attacked Parliament on December 13, 2001.
Afzal was hanged in 2013 to “satisfy the collective conscience” of Indian society, but this officer continued to be a favourite of the security establishment. All this is highly suspicious and a huge embarrassment for our intelligence agencies.
Bal Govind, Noida
This refers to Nivedita Menon’s column Dangerous Minds (January 20). The events leading to the bloody Sunday of January 5 at JNU leaves no doubts about the central government’s intentions. The BJP, whose political mission is to establish a Hindu Rashtra, wants to change the ethos and character of those educational institutions where free flow of ideas is not just valued, but encouraged. It’s not surprising that the liberal Hindu feels as much hurt, psychologically, as the bleeding students who received blows from masked goons. The Centre has yet again failed in providing security and equality to all its citizens.
This refers to When the States Push Back (January 27). The stand taken by the Opposition is nothing but to appease the minorities even after the prime minister made it clear that CAA will not affect Indian Muslims. Therefore, the contention that it polarises communities is incorrect and the needless exercise is only an attempt to mislead the nation. The prime minister must call for a meeting of chief ministers and explain the salient features of CAA to prevent the impending implosion.
K.R. Srinivasan, Secunderabad
Waving of the national flag in anti-CAA protests is not a spontaneous outburst of pluralist sentiment, but a belated attempt to blunt the perception that opposition to the new law is a front for spewing hatred against the elected government. The attempt to depict the protests as the fight between a community and the government is a dangerous narrative that upset those who seem willing to accept the articulation of CAA as positive discrimination in favour of persecuted people who have cultural links with the nation.
K.S. Jayatheertha, Bangalore
Subhas Chandra Bose resigns from the ICS, 1921
This refers to your cover story on “men and women making a difference in the battle against hunger” (Nutrition Warriors, January 20). We owe you thanks for raising this rather ugly issue of hunger and deprivation because, as a society, we seem to care only for beautiful things. In a country where healthcare is dreadfully inadequate and superstition spreads faster than a rumour, it is good to know that some people are genuinely concerned. The story of the young IAS officer Somavanshi and his struggle to fight the scourge of ‘daagna’ was particularly inspiring as were many others. Here is a quote from John Conrad’s iconic novel Heart of Darkness that explains hunger like nothing else: “No fear can stand up to hunger, no patience can wear it out, disgust simply doesn’t exist where hunger is and as to superstition, beliefs and what may you call principles, they are less than chaff in a breeze.”
The cover photo as also the stories inside touched my heart. Ask the children who are starving how they value a full meal. We overeat and waste food, throwing it in the garbage bin. We rarely share our blessings with the underprivileged. This issue of Outlook should at least tug at the conscience of some of us. As a 66-year-old veteran soldier, one of my important sources of happiness is in sharing our blessings with the poor. We make it a point to look after our service providers like the postman, safai karamchari and domestic help.
R.D. Singh, Ambala Cantt
There is an urgent need to include millets in the diet for many reasons. A beginning has been made by the NGO EcoSikh by introducing items made from millets. These grains are eco-friendly, rich in fibre content, nutritious and easy to cook.
Prithipal Singh, New Delhi
I sincerely congratulate you and the Outlook staff for your cover story on malnutrition prevailing in our country, especially among the children who are our national wealth and future ambassadors. Kudos to Chandra Shekhar Kundu and his tribe for taking care of these children. I wish the government enacts a law making it mandatory for people who spend lakhs on weddings to voluntarily part with a portion of the food directly to dedicated child centres, instead of volunteers collecting the leftovers.
Rangarajan T.S., Bangalore
There is indeed light at the end of the tunnel, as confirmed by the stories of the few obstinate ones. Because of their grit and determination, India may now climb a few notches up the World Hunger Index.
This refers to ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’ in Poliglot (January 20). As poor healthcare has once again let down the poor with the deaths of infants at a government hospital in Kota, Rajasthan, crossing the 100 mark in a month, it exposes shortage of doctors, inadequate supply of medicines and poor availability of hospital beds. It is unfortunate that this happened despite the outrage caused by news of the outbreak of acute encephalitis syndrome in Bihar last year, which took the lives of a large number of children, and the deaths of children in Gorakhpur in 2017 due to the hospital running out of oxygen cylinders.
K.R. Srinivasan, Secunderabad
Indian diplomacy faces a litmus test as it tries to balance its relations with Iran and the US in the aftermath of General Qassem Soleimani’s assassination (Trumpets: Twitching the Tail of a Serpent, January 20). Exercising caution, India has appealed to both countries to refrain from going to war. With both Iran and the US eyeing de-escalation, the war clouds over West Asia seem to have drifted away for now. India’s stakes in the region are high. Iran is a major supplier of oil to India and India is developing the Chabahar seaport there at a great cost. Moreover, millions of Indians live and work in the region. While France, the UK and the European Union want that the existing nuclear deal with Iran to continue, Japan and China would want a peaceful region to get regular supplies of energy. It is gratifying that Trump, who threatened to unleash overwhelming military strikes, including against cultural sites in Iran, is now clearly intent on de-escalating the crisis. The pressure from the US Congress that the president should seek its approval before conducting any military campaign against Iran has obviously put paid to Trump’s reckless bid to heighten the conflict. But Trump will certainly impose massive sanctions on Iran to thwart its nuclear weapons programme.
I feel sorry to say Banaras Diary by Rituparna Kakoty (January 20) is unkind on the common reader. One would need a dedicated dictionary for many words and phrases. Quoting them would make a long list. Talking about a multifaceted city like Benares could be much smoother, more informative and enjoyable. What has been dished out is stylistically objectionable.
L.V. Shastri, Bangalore
This refers to your story about “rods and stones greet JNUites protesting fee hike, following crackdowns on anti-CAA protests at many other places” (Campus Rising’s Bloody Sunday (January 20). The mayhem let loose in JNU is a typical symptom of the ailment the ruling dispensation suffers from—unbridled mania for monologue and malignant phobia for dialogue.
At the outset, I wish to frankly admit that we, a circle of four-five friends, all in their 70s and 80s, were getting a little disappointed with the last few issues of your magazine because current events and burning topics were not getting due importance. The January 20 issue has made us rethink. Nivedita Menon’s column on the violence unleashed on JNUites (Dangerous Minds, January 20) is full of facts, calls a spade a spade and sets Outlook’s coverage apart from much of the print media. British-era traditions and customs of the police playing loyalties to “His Master’s Voice” have become more brazen in the form of atrocities on the people in the absence of any reforms worth the name. The police care only about being faithful to the powers that be, whether Modi-Shah now or Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. The police comprise the foundation of the criminal justice system. They would definitely be doing ‘right’ as per the culture and ideology of their masters judging their performance. Who said and did what, when and where, and how many lives get sacrificed, are immaterial in the bid to achieve the regime’s target of saffronising everything. The agitation of students and academics supported by all and sundry irrespective of their religion, region and learning are bound to ultimately peter out in the face of the lathis and guns of the uniformed forces fully supported by RSS footsoldiers.
The reluctance of the police to act, the politics of what makes JNU, the fight between Left and Right have all dominated the national discourse. There is an outpouring of sympathy and solidarity from across the country. Bollywood celebrities, activists and others seem to be coming together to stand up for the students and support their struggle for democracy and justice. As our liberals side with separatists and infiltrators, but are vocal against nationalist and Hindu concerns, those who propelled Narendra Modi to fight a civilisational war on their behalf are silently watching. No wonder the grimmest war between the old Nehruvian establishment and the new nationalism under Modi is being fought on campuses. That’s because the Left, almost wiped off India’s face electorally, has invested so heavily on its last bastion—a handful of campuses such as JNU in Delhi and Jadavpur in Calcutta.
J. Akshobhya, On E-Mail