Letters to the editor

Readers’ comments: ‘Intellectuals should critique instead of just criticising’

A selection of readers’ opinions

Under attack

I am a qualified orthopaedic surgeon with fellowship from Royal College of Surgeons, so I am sure you would grant me the title of an intellectual (“India’s current anti-intellectual climate echoes McCarthy-era attacks on writers, scholars in the US”). This article is similar to those written by others in your intellectual fraternity. These articles have started cropping up after election of the BJP government. You have the right to criticise, but you cannot criticise everything. Try to put critique rather than just criticise.

The reality is that the intellectuals in the country are far removed from the ground realities of India. Do you not see that people were fed up of misrule by the Congress and the Left? Does your intellectual media suggest that Lalu Yadav, Mulayam Yadav, Mayavati or Mamanta Banerjee are the right choice for prime minister? If your answer to these question is yes then god save the country. Ramchandra Guha needs to open his eyes. It’s after decades that we have a government who can stare down China and can be proactive with regard to Pakistan. The country is at its highest standing in diplomatic circles. – Vishal Paringe

***

Does the current climate not throw more light on how Hindutva’s predecessors eliminated the once-flourishing Buddhist intellectual culture in India? And isn’t that more relevant to us today? Hindutva’s predecessors led the vast mass of our people into slavery then and modern Hindutva will lead the vast mass of our population into slavery again today.

That is, if they are allowed to be successful. – Prabhu Guptara

***

I appreciate the article by Ramachandra Guha describing the anti-intellectual intolerant atmosphere created in the country by the current party in power. We can only hope and pray that in 2019 the country will get rid of these fanatic fascist forces.

I have a personal experience to share on the McCarthy era. In late 1950s 25 Fulbright scholarships were awarded to Indian students, one from each discipline, for going to important US Universities to work on their PhD. In 1957 my friend, LP Vidyarthi, went on a Fulbright scholarship to Chicago. In September 1957, I was called to Calcutta for the regional selection from eastern India as I was then working at Ranchi in the Culture Change Evaluation Project as Research Supervisor in the Department of Anthropology, Ranchi College, which was at that time a part of Bihar University, Muzaffarpur. Professor Nihar Ranjan Roy headed that selection committee, which had some American members too. Thereafter I was selected by the National Committee at New Delhi (without being required to appear before it).

I understood that it was a high level committee headed by the US Ambassador and comprising eminent Indian and American educationists. I further understood that they included a man of the stature of Dr Zakir Husain. I started receiving packets of information from the United States Educational Foundation in India advising me to make preparations for my trip to the US and report to Mumbai in the first week of June 1958 for a one-week orientation programme before sailing for the US (Berkeley).

My PhD proposal was accepted by an eminent cultural anthropologist at Berkeley. About a month before my departure for Mumbai, all communications with USEFI stopped. I was perplexed. I brought this to the notice of my guru, Professor DN Majumdar, Head of Department, Anthropology, Lucknow University. He contacted Dr Olive Redick, Executive Director, USEFI, who confided in him that I had not been cleared by the State Department of the US Government. The lady herself was surprised that a person selected by a high level committee had been turned down for issue of a visa.

Then I was told unofficially that it was due to a hangover of the McCarthy era. I had been classified as a communist because of my political student and youth movement activities till 1956, having been the President of Lucknow University Union in 1952-’53 and having represented India in three international student conferences. It was ridiculous that a rather well-known democratic socialist and a known anti-communist after November 1953 was considered to be a communist only because these ignoramuses could not differentiate between a democratic socialist and a communist.

I had to reconcile with this when I recalled that McCarthy considered even President General Eisenhower to be a Communist and to him a great artiste like Charlie Chaplin was a confirmed Communist who had to leave the US.

This left a bitter taste in my mouth. I remembered the famous novel The Ugly American and decided never to visit the US. Only after my daughters, who had studied in the US, settled there and requested me to visit them, did I enter the country for the first time, in 1997– 40 years after the fiasco. Earlier around 1970 while posted at Madras I met the American anthropologist under whom I was to work for my PhD at Ooty. He said he was awaiting my arrival in Berkeley and felt sorry for the stupidity of the US Government. – CB Tripathi

History wars

I largely agree with Rohit Chopra’s article and appreciate it as a neutral introduction to the history wars raging in India today
(“Despite their conspiracy theories, Hindutva backers raise valid concerns about Indian history books”). Buried in the last paragraph is an important call to arms: we must always consider where different ideas about the study of the past come from. It bears repeating that the Hindutva worldview is not transcendent as it claims to be but is anchored in the colonial experience and is a 20th-century exercise in applying colonial ideas about race and nation onto pre-modern texts willy-nilly. Other historians, who are unburdened by Hindutva history’s false claim of authenticity, can afford to be more critical of their discipline and to think about method because doing so would not undermine their whole enterprise.

Articulating a historical method is important because it allows readers to understand how a historian draws conclusions from texts. History as a discipline is not – contrary to how it is understood in some quarters – a licence to read whatever you want into the past. I take issue with Chopra’s caricature of “Left-liberal” historians’ insufficient acknowledgement of Muslim-inflicted violence. I do so not as a card-carrying “Left-liberal” historian – they never gave me a card – but I work for a British university, do not hold Indian citizenship, and studied at Columbia University so I will be lumped into that category whatever my views.

A frequent problem in Indian historiography since the colonial period, whether explicitly or at the level of unconscious bias, is that Muslim actors are understood as always inflicting violence as Muslims, “in the name of Islam,” whereas non-Muslims are assumed to have perfectly valid, secular-political reasons for inflicting violence. That double-standard is what historians like Richard Eaton are trying to chip away at. Eaton’s work is despised on the Right but it has not been effectively challenged except for an indignant “that can’t possibly be true!” and the character assassination that comes with being a non-Hindu, non-Indian scholar of Indian history.

Chopra raises the issue of separating religious acts from non-religious ones as a fatal flaw in Eaton’s reasoning, but Eaton recognises this difficulty and his argument does not actually require it. Eaton’s meticulous scholarship has a clear context, namely responding to magical thinking on the Right: in internet comments and political speeches, one frequently reads that once Ramrajya returns to India, minorities will have nothing to fear because a Hindu society cannot by definition countenance violence. No complex society has ever worked like this or ever will.

Incidentally, the founder of the Mughal Empire is “Babur” and not Babar, the friendly elephant who wears a green suit and appears in children’s books. If Babar the elephant had built an empire, the course of Indian history would have been very different.– Arthur Dudney

Nangeli’s sacrifice

Thank you for sharing Nangeli’s story (“A Travancore Tale: The graphic story of Nangeli, the woman who cut off her breasts to protest a tax”). I was deeply moved by it. It comes as a shock each time we are reminded of the cruelty and depravity human beings are capable of sinking to, and the price some have to pay just to claim their right to a life of dignity and fair treatment. It leaves you with very little hope in humanity. – Ajay Seshagiri

Rahul at Berkeley

This is a beautiful narration, but I don’t understand why only Rahul Gandhi has been singled out for blame for the collapse of the dynasty (“At Berkeley, Rahul Gandhi did not take the only question worth asking: ‘When will you step down?’”). Isn’t Sonia Gandhi responsible for the debacle? She mooted the idea of bringing a law against the Supreme Court verdict disqualifying MPs and MLAs convicted in a criminal case. It was Rahul Gandhi who objected to this attempt. Isn’t it true that Sonia Gandhi offered the prime ministerial post to Manmohan Singh knowing well he would only be a proxy and all decisions would be taken by her? Isn’t it is true that she did little for 10 years to resettle Kasmiri Pandits who were forced to leave Kashmir? Isn’t it she who continued the culture of the high command, against the wishes of the party workers? – Rajaram VV

***

Why did the University of California invite Rahul? What is so special about him? The university has lowered its prestige by calling him. – PN Mathur

***

How did Rahul Gandhi manage to speak about so much on so many subjects in one go? My guess is that the artificial intelligence he got in Silicon valley must have helped a lot. – MN Rao

***

Why is Rahul Gandhi heading a degrading party? Is it because of his intelligence, or his interest in politics? The Congress has many young, intelligent and able leaders to choose from, like Shashi Tharoor, Jairam Ramesh and Anand Sharma. But they will not look beyond the Gandhi family. But Rahul’s presented himself well at Berkeley. This is a new start. – Bharat Shah

India first

I hope concern for India underlines everything you say (“Swadeshi is a stupid idea under most circumstances, ‘Boycott China’ epically so”). By advocating China’s side, you are weakening the message that New Delhi is sending out to Beijing.

I presume you would have read about India’s struggle for freedom from colonial powers. Boycotting British goods played a very crucial role in driving them out. So, I was shocked and angry when you termed Swadeshi as stupidity. How can anyone call a struggle for self-dependence stupid? There seems to be little difference between this article and the stories published in China’s Global Times.

You said Patanjali possibly wants to earn profits in place of Chinese and other foreign companies that are taking chunks of Indian money. If that is the case, it is better if our money remains in hands of our people and instead of letting a foe plunder us.

Patanjali products are not only sold at fair prices but are also good quality. – Harsh Ramoliya

***

Indians must boycott Chinese products because that’s an enemy country. They will used the profits made from us to hurt us. – Nitin Patil

***

I am impressed by this to-the-point rebuttal of the call to boycott Chinese goods. As a Sinologist and India-China friendship advocate, I agree with you a 100%. In fact, nothing would be more anti-national and unpatriotic than to boycott Chinese goods at this critical juncture for our economy. – Shamsul Alam

Kick-start needed

This offers a comprehensive view of our economy (“Interview: ‘This is a kind of economic collapse. The first step to tackle it is to acknowledge it’”). It’s high time the government takes expert help to revive growth instead of leaving it to non-professionals and taking decisions based on one persons’ whims. – Vikram Khanna

***

The country is in serious trouble financially. In tough times, we need to build positive sentiment. Instead, the government has created fear, hatred and discontentment.

Most of the small and mid-level industries are suffering. The government now needs to build a feel-good environment, improve ease of doing business, award people for being tax compliant and make things easier for small businesses. We need to figure out how to boost manufacturing in India and lower cost of production. The government needs to stop spreading fear and hatred and creating communal divides. The economy needs the government’s undivided attention. – Mamtaa Gupta

Wilting economy

Do not be fooled by appearances; demonetisation has destroyed the black money rolling in the industry (“Revisiting demonetisation: In Chennai’s flower market, anger against Modi government is still fresh”). Why should Modi be apologetic? If they are angry, let them be. Citizens are with Modi. Only the black-moneyed sultans are angry with the prime minister. – Krishnan VC

Global warming

This is an exaggerated prediction. The author of the study does not seem to have taken into consideration the altitude distribution of the Himalayan Glaciers (“Millions stare at water deficit as global warming will melt a third of Asian glaciers by 2100: Study”). It may be noted that most research papers were not based on field studies but on studies of visual imagery, with no rectification of base maps. The author should have done more in-depth research before making a vague statement. – CV Sangewar

NEET mess

Let us say NEET is unfair. This then raises the question: is the prevailing system in Tamil Nadu fair (“The TM Krishna column: It was not just NEET that drove Anitha to suicide, we all did”)? If so, what about it is fair? The quota system? Can things really be fair when primary education is in a woeful state? What does it say of our school system when parents move their children to private schools as soon as they can afford to?

Leave that aside. Let us look at board exam marks, the basis of Tamil Nadu’s existing “fair” system. Over the last few years, data shows that marks have been manipulated and are unreliable. Some of this data manipulation is the consequence of the practices of the state boards, the Tamil Nadu board being a good example. I am old enough to remember a time when many students studying in CBSE or ICSE schools would move to Tamil Nadu state board schools after Class 10 because they knew the marks in the state board would be higher. Of course, it was only a matter of time before the schools realised this and now the whole thing is a complete mess with the marks meaning very little.
Where does this leave us? It leaves us with the uncomfortable realisation that our education system is not fair and it never has been. I can understand why S Anitha felt cheated but the simple truth is that NEET exchanges one unfair system for another. We badly need to reform our education system, both at the school and the university level, but are lacking the political will. – Suresh

Organ donation

As the chairman of the kidney subcommittee of the Zonal Transplant Coordination Centre of Mumbai, I believe that the current system of getting approvals from the state committee is fine when the donor is unrelated (“A change in definition of organ donors may once again open doors for illegal commercial donations”). However, the procedure should not take as long as it does. Second, even when the donors are related, if they are from another state, they have to go to the state-level committee which again takes very long. Third, even for related transplants, police verification is insisted upon. This should only be sought in selected cases, when there is reason for doubt. But when its a straightforward parent-to-child transplant, insisting on police verification is not fair. It wastes a lot of time and leads to harassment of patients. – Bharat Shah

Helping out

It is heartening to see a struggling developing nation rise so magnificently to the occasion (“‘1971 all over again’: Memories of war of independence drive Bangladeshis to help Rohingya refugees”). Bravo to the government and people of Bangladesh for letting go of fiscal concerns and cost-benefit ratios to extend warmth and hospitality to those who may have died by the thousands otherwise. Other countries would do well to learn from Bangladesh. – Geeta Ramakrishnan

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

Poor sanitation contributes to about 10% of the world’s disease burden and is linked to even those diseases that may not present any correlation at first. For example, while lack of nutrition is a direct cause of anaemia, poor sanitation can contribute to the problem by causing intestinal diseases which prevent people from absorbing nutrition from their food. In fact, a study found a correlation between improved sanitation and reduced prevalence of anaemia in 14 Indian states. Diarrhoeal diseases, the most well-known consequence of poor sanitation, are the third largest cause of child mortality in India. They are also linked to undernutrition and stunting in children - 38% of Indian children exhibit stunted growth. Improved sanitation can also help reduce prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Though not a cause of high mortality rate, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death and affect overall productivity. NTDs caused by parasitic worms - such as hookworms, whipworms etc. - infect millions every year and spread through open defecation. Improving toilet access and access to clean drinking water can significantly boost disease control programmes for diarrhoea, NTDs and other correlated conditions.

Unfortunately, with about 732 million people who have no access to toilets, India currently accounts for more than half of the world population that defecates in the open. India also accounts for the largest rural population living without access to clean water. Only 16% of India’s rural population is currently served by piped water.

However, there is cause for optimism. In the three years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country’s sanitation coverage has risen from 39% to 65% and eight states and Union Territories have been declared open defecation free. But lasting change cannot be ensured by the proliferation of sanitation infrastructure alone. Ensuring the usage of toilets is as important as building them, more so due to the cultural preference for open defecation in rural India.

According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.

Play

SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hindustan Unilever and not by the Scroll editorial team.