Anna gave her best...

08 October 2006 |

Copyright: Washington Post

Anna gave her best to this world, till three bullets put an end to her life. The cowards who murdered Anna is trying to silence the voice of freedom, decency and dignity.

Anna, there is a place for you in heaven -- in the hearts and minds of people, who will remember you forever as a brave woman who had the courage to demand truth and justice. reports: The Moscow prosecutor’s office says they’re investigating her death as a possible murder.

Would we be surprised if the prosecutor told us that Anna shot herself thrice?

This is how the Economist reported.

A suspicious death in Russia

Oct 8th 2006


Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist, was shot dead on Saturday October 7th, aged 48

SHE was brave beyond belief, Anna Politkovskaya, reporting a gruesome war and a creeping dictatorship with a sharp pen and steel nerves. It may be a chilling coincidence that she was murdered on President Vladimir Putin’s birthday, but her friends and supporters are in little doubt that her dogged, gloomy reporting of the sinister turn Russia has taken under what she called his “bloody” leadership was what led to her murder in the lift of her Moscow apartment block.

Ms Politkovskaya’s journalism was distinctive. Not for her the waffly, fawning and self-satisfied essays of the Moscow commentariat. Nor the well-paid advertorial now so pervasive as to be barely noticeable. She reported from the wrecked villages and shattered towns of Chechnya, talking to those on all sides and none, with endless patience and gritty determination.

She did not sentimentalise the Chechen rebels, nor did she demonise the Russian conscripts—ill-armed, ill-fed, and ill-led—who have crushed the Chechens’ half-baked independence. She talked to soldiers’ mothers trying to find their sons’ corpses in military morgues where mangled bodies lay unnamed and unclaimed—the result of the Russian army’s unique mixture of callousness and incompetence. And she talked to Chechens whose friends and relatives had disappeared into the notorious “filtration camps” to suffer torture, mutilation, rape and death.

Few journalists, from any country, did that. The second Chechen war, which started in 1999 and still fizzles on now, made that mountainous sliver of territory in the northern Caucasus the most dangerous place on the planet for a journalist. Most Moscow-based reporters went seldom, if at all, and then only in daylight and well-guarded. Ms Politkovskaya was unfazed, making around 50 trips there, often for days at a time.

Chechens, and many Russians, adored her. Piles of post and incessant phone calls came, sometimes from people wanting to give her information, more often from those wanting her help. Could she intercede with a kidnapper? Trace a loved one? She always tried, she said, to do what she could.

She loathed those responsible for the war: the warlords who had misruled Chechnya during its brief spells of semi-independence, the Islamic extremists who exploited the conflict, the Russian goons and generals, and their local collaborators. She particularly despised the Chechen government installed by Russia, for what she termed their massive looting of reconstruction money, backed up by kidnapping.

The worst effect of the Chechen wars, she reckoned, was the corrosion of Russia itself. Her reporting from all over Russia made her see her native country in what many regarded as an unfairly bleak light. Mr Putin’s regime was utterly brutal and corrupt, she would say in her soft, matter-of-fact voice. He represented the worst demons of the Soviet past, revived in modern form. Hundreds had died to bring him to power, and that was just a foretaste of the fascism and war that was to come.

The latest twists in Russia’s vindictive fury towards Georgia for wanting to join Nato make her pessimism seem less extreme. Russians with Georgian surnames are now experiencing the some of the sort of retribution from officialdom that their Chechen counterparts have suffered for the past ten years.

Ms Politkovskaya suffered death threats aplenty. On more than one occasion, Russian special forces threatened to rape and kill her, leaving her body in a ditch. Each time she talked them out of it. In 2001, she fled to Austria after receiving a direct warning to leave Russia or else. In 2004, on her way to the siege of a school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan, where she hoped to mediate between the Chechen hostage-takers and the Russian military, she was poisoned, and nearly died.

But whoever got into her lift on Saturday October 7th was a professional, intending not to warn her, but to end the problem she presented. She was shot once in the body, once in the head; the pistol was a Makarov, the assassin’s favourite. It was left by her side: in that trade, weapons are used only once.

She was well aware that her murder would be a logical reaction from the authorities. In conversations with your obituarist, she brushed this aside, saying that her sources were in much more danger than she was. Journalists had a duty to report on the subject that mattered, she said no matter what—just as singers had to sing and doctors had to heal.

Ms Politkovskaya’s approachability did not mean that she was easy company. Her fondness for both sweeping statements and for the intricate details of the stories she covered sometimes made conversation heavy-going. She was both disorganised and single-minded; that could be unnerving too.

But she will go down as a martyr, in the beleaguered causes of free speech and public spirit. It would be nice to think that Russians will find her example inspiring. Sadly, they may well conclude that speaking out on unpopular topics is best avoided.

About 8,000 foreign students are studying in India. In Australia, on the other hand, there are about 350,000 — and remember, we add to our numbers every year more than the total population of Australia. Nor is it just that foreign students studying in India are less than a fortieth of those studying in Australia. The number of students who come to India has actually been going down: according to government figures, in 1990/91, there were over 12,765; last year there were 7,745! (By contrast, the increase in 2004 in the number of foreign students studying in China was three times the total number of foreign students that came to India: China hosted 141,087 foreign students in 2005.) We could be educators to the world — just as we could be surgeons to the world. But here is another opportunity missed: while Dubai, Singapore, Australia, to say nothing of distant US, etc. are positioning themselves as education hubs, we remain mired in that bog — the HRD Ministry.

It isn’t just that we are missing an opportunity. We are paying a huge cost every year. One estimate puts the amount that is spent on Indian students studying abroad at a figure that would be sufficient to set up 30-40 IIMs or 15-20 IITs every year. And going abroad to study is just the first step. Having studied in that country, having got familiar with the place and people, most decide to take up work there. Soon enough, they settle down there. Science and Engineering Indicators, 2006, reports that of Indian students who received doctorates in Science and Engineering between 2000 and 2003, close to 90 per cent said they planned to stay on in the US; two-thirds had firmed up “definite plans to stay.” The proportions were the same in one critical discipline after another: 91% and 62% in biological and agricultural sciences; 92% and 72% in mathematics and computer sciences; 90% and 70% in engineering...(Science and Engineering Indicators, 2006, Appendix tables, A2-96 to 100.)

The fault is by no means that of the youngsters. And there is no doubt that those who have stayed on in the US, etc. have also done much for India — they have, among other things, helped change the world’s perception of India, and, thereby, India’s perception of itself. But imagine how much our country would have gained in actual productive potential if we had educational institutions of such quality that these youngsters did not have to go abroad. Imagine how much our country would have gained if they worked here, that is if the work environment here had been such that they had felt confident they could develop to their fullest potential, and reap rewards commensurate with their capabilities and with the effort they put in.

And if we persist in the obscurantist policies and practices that mar our educational sector, this drain will only increase in the coming years. Countries are straining to develop themselves as the more attractive destinations — for students, for investors, for firms. Nor is the matter confined to choice, there is a compulsion too, a compulsion of which these leading countries are well aware and to counter which they are taking focused steps. In regard to the US, for instance, National Science Foundation data reveal that in 2003, 85 per cent of those holding Science and Engineering doctorates and working were above 55 years of age; 76 per cent were above 60 years; 20 per cent were 70 and above. The proportions for those holding Master’s degrees were equally significant: they were 85%, 65%, and 16% respectively. (Science and Engineering Indicators, 2006, Appendix tables, A3-43.) And this is just one among many reasons on account of which these countries will continue to aggressively court researchers and skilled workers from India and elsewhere.

Indeed, the threat now is not just that individuals will be wooed away. Countries — from Singapore to South Korea to Taiwan to China to the EU-25 — are making even greater efforts to woo entire firms away, in particular R&D firms. Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan have already become significant research-hubs. But the suction for entire R&D firms can come from farther a-field too. We think of the US as a high-cost economy, as one that is now compelled to outsource R&D efforts to a country like India. But that is just one side of the picture, and that is true only for one end of research. In 2002, US firms spent around $ 21 billion doing research in foreign countries. As against this, foreign firms spent close to $ 26 billion doing research in the US. (Science and Engineering Indicators, 2006, Volume I, 0-4, 0-5, 18.) And that stands to reason: researchers are less costly in countries like India, but today a great deal of research, and almost all of frontier research, involves such high-technology infrastructure that it is best executed in countries like the US.

Things to do

The first thing to do is to stop counter-positioning primary, universal education against higher education. We need both. We can afford both. Second, we must see both — the threat as well as the opportunity: the threat that we may lose our best minds at an even faster rate than the rate at which we have been losing them in the past decades; on the other side, the opportunity that we can be educators to the world.

Third, to ward off the threat and to tap into the opportunity, we require the same sort of measures. To arrest and reverse the alarming deterioration of standards in most of our institutions of higher learning. To ensure that in regard to both - students as well as faculty - merit, performance here and now, alone counts. To ensure that rewards are strictly commensurate with performance.

And resources. A large proportion of these will have to come from the government - for instance, private entrepreneurs just do not have the long horizons that basic research requires. Equally, government alone will just not have enough resources for this sector. Thus, one service that finance ministers can do is to give the most generous incentives and tax-breaks for industry to invest in education and in R&D. For every trifling misuse, a Manipal will come up.

And the resources have to be defrayed not just on equipment - that is what is done ever so often: and by the time the underpaid, under-motivated faculty learn to exploit the equipment to its full potential, the equipment is obsolete. A good proportion of the resources have to be set apart for making salaries and allowances of faculty and researchers and their work-environment attractive enough for them to forego careers in private industry and to choose instead to be in universities and research institutions.

It is obvious that we cannot do any of this so long as higher education and research is dominated by governmental institutions. China, for instance, has launched an aggressive drive to bring back the very best Chinese faculty who are working in universities in the US, Europe and the like. To attract them back, China is giving them remuneration and allowances and work facilities that are better than what they have in universities where they are working. This is being done irrespective of what existing faculty get in the Chinese establishments in which these returnees will be lodged. Can such a thing be done in a governmental organisation in India - what with its scales and unions; what with the fact that the salary of a professor cannot be higher than that of the vice chancellor, and the salary of a vice chancellor cannot be higher than that of secretary, HRD...? I am, therefore, wholly against the current rush for affiliation, etc. We should encourage institutions to de-affiliate, from existing universities and the like. Colleges and research departments and institutions will come to be known by the work they do, by the standards to which they adhere. Along with this movement to de-affiliate we should develop first-rate, wholly objective and reliable methods to rank institutions.

But the gaps are so vast that mere resources will not do. We need to adopt unconventional methods to scale up this sector. The remarkable success that F C Kohli, one of the fathers of IT in India, has achieved with the “total-immersion” method in making absolutely illiterate persons literate enough to read a newspaper within 8 to 10 weeks; his analysis of “gaps” between the best engineering college in Maharashtra and other colleges in the state, and how these can be bridged by using modern IT and communications technologies - these are the sorts of measures we need to put in place. And, instead of stuffing IITs and IIMs with mediocrities just because they were born to one set of parents than another, we should induce them to multiply faculty, and to upgrade existing faculty in other institutions.

Two prerequisites

But for any of these measures to be executed we need two prerequisites. The first is to outgrow clich├ęs. “Do not make a commodity of education,” our politicians shout every time there is the slightest effort to make educational institutions self-sustaining. “Do not sell ma-Saraswati,” they shout every time there is an effort to induce industry to take up education. All such shouting ensures is that existing scarcities continue, and the existing education-czars rate off the lolly. All it accomplishes is to enable a dental college here, near Delhi itself, to pocket a “donation” of Rs 28 lakh from every entrant...Is the way to deal with the fact that 150,000 students have just applied to the IIM, Ahmedabad, for 250 seats in its two-year course, to force it to take in 27 per cent additional students — that is, sixty two more students — on the basis of birth? Or is it to give incentives to industry to set up 62 institutions of comparable worth?

And then there is the even more urgent task — to reverse the recent trend in regard to the few islands of excellence that remain: the recent trend of interfering in the IITs and IIMs. The recent edicts regarding reservations are just one — though by itself fatal enough — lance of such interference. Appointments of directors; hauling them up before Commissions because some congenitally disgruntled employee keeps writing letters to high-ups; the insistence of a legislative Committee that they switch to Hindi as the medium of instruction...There is an all-round assault to breach their autonomy.

To ward off such senselessness, three things are required. First, do not temporise: do not think that the way to meet the assault is to concede a bit - those concessions will not assuage the grabbers; on the contrary, they will become the reasons for the political and bureaucratic class to grab all: “See, the director himself is saying that they are ready to abide by our order - all he is asking is that he be given a little time to do so...” Second, as those who are working in these institutions are in a sense under the thumb of government — and I have been struck dumb by fear to which faculty themselves testify in open meetings — outsiders, in particular the alumni of these institutions, have an important duty: they must constitute themselves as firewalls around these institutions.

But the assault on such institutions is but an instance of the general assault on excellence in India today: from legislatures to civil service to educational establishments, mediocrity is being asserted as norm, vulgarity as right, intimidation as argument, assault as proof. Two classes today stand in counter-position to this assault on standards - entrepreneurs and the professional middle class. Accordingly, the pan-Indian organisations of professionals should get together to contain, roll-back and eventually eliminate this assault.

by Arun Shourie -- Based on the Foundation Day Lecture, IIT, Kharagpur, Alumni Association, Delhi.



Should India Kill a citizen?

02 October 2006 |

Should the Government of India kill one of it's citizens? Aren't we civilized enough to abolish Capital Punishment?

Today is Mahatma Gandhi's birthday. What happened to Gandhi's India? What happened to the India I love so much?

What do we achieve by hanging a man? In 1989 the Indian Government killed Kehar Singh for conspiring to assassinate Indira Gandhi. Yes, for conspiring to.

We haven’t even heard Afzal’s story

Nandita Haksar

Mohammad Afzal has been sentenced to death by hanging for the offence of conspiring to attack the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. The news that the date for his hanging has been fixed for October 20, 2006, has been greeted by most of the media with approval, if not celebration. But before we endorse the decision to hang Afzal we need to inform ourselves of the hard facts of the case without emotion. It is important to remember that we are not discussing whether Afzal was or was not a part of the conspiracy to attack the Parliament. He has already been found guilty of the crime and convicted. The question is on the sentence.

There are three principal reasons why hanging Mohammad Afzal would violate basic principles of natural justice and equity.

First, the charge sheet was against 12 persons: three Pakistanis (Masood Azhar, Tariq Ahmed and Gazi Baba) who were said to have master-minded the attack (none of the three were arrested or brought to trial. If Pakistan were to extradite them they would be protected from death penalty); five Pakistanis who actually attacked Parliament and were responsible for the death of nine members of our security forces; and the four people who actually stood trial. Afzal was not responsible for anyone’s death or injury. He did not mastermind the attack. The Supreme Court has noted that there is no direct evidence of his involvement.

Second, all the three courts, including the Supreme Court, have acquitted him of the charges under POTA of belonging to either a terrorist organisation or a terrorist gang.

Third, he was denied a fair trial. The investigation was full of illegalities and the courts noted with concern that evidence was fabricated and he never had a lawyer who represented him. The Designated Judge passed an order giving Afzal the right to cross-examine witnesses but even a person with legal training without knowledge of criminal law would find it difficult to conduct such a trial. The Supreme Court has held that “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.”

Can the collective conscience of our people be satisfied if a fellow citizen is hanged without having a chance to defend himself? We have not even had a chance to hear Afzal’s story. Hanging Mohammad Afzal will only be a blot on our democracy

The writer is a civil rights activist, closely associated with the rights of defendants in the Parliament attack case and is leading the public campaign for mercy in this case.