SIEGE OF CIVILITY
In Kolkata and its periphery
WHEN a lady staffer of Kolkata&’s Alliance Francaise du Bengale took the earliest flight out to Paris, her home, she left a city that in recent months has become hideously unsafe for women. This, sad to reflect, is the impression that a purportedly civilized city has conveyed to the West. Mercifully, the Chief Minister, this time around, hasn’t engaged in piffle quite yet. From Barasat to the Lake Gardens/Jodhpur Park belt via Park Street, no area is safe and at no time of the day. That very unpleasant truth ought now to be accepted  by the Home (police) minister without further inanities. And with a firm directive to the police to put its shoulder to the wheel.
   The French woman, a resident of Jodhpur Park, and her companion were chased at an inhospitable hour by a gang of ruffians through the roads and lanes of this upper-middle class residential area… and with the expressed intention of molestation, one that was stridently articulated in course of the chase. It is a measure of the gravity of the incident that the woman had to hide behind taxis, construction materials, scale the gates of a residential complex, and bang on doors for help.
To suggest that the couple ought not to have been outdoors at 2 a.m. on Saturday is only to beg the question and in a city that still deludes itself into believing that compared to others it is safer for women, even single, and 24 X 7. That fond perception has been reduced to nonsense over the past year. What the Governor described as goonda raj in another context is now confirmed.
Characteristically enough, the police was slow-footed in its response. It took  72 hours  to make five arrests, and it is fervently to be hoped that the charges will not be diluted as in the Barasat gangrape and murder. A link with the Trinamul Congress may yet do the trick, as in Kumdini. More&’s the pity that the incident coincided with French National Day (14 July) and the siege of Bastille by revolutionaries (1789). In 2013, Kolkata and its environs must suffer the siege of civility by roadside ruffians.  The French couple&’s tenure in Kolkata has been one that they would rather forget… but never forgive.
CHINESE APATHY
Towards India&’s forest riches
IT MIGHT appear a pinprick in the thorny Sino-Indian relationship, hardly worth bracketing with the boundary dispute and debilitating trade imbalance; yet there can be no overlooking the devastating impact of the unchecked market in China for endangered, “protected”, riches of the Indian forest ~ both flora and fauna. The seizure of 725 kg of red sanders (red sandalwood) worth some Rs 36 lakh, from 29 Chinese nationals at Delhi airport on 15 July was no stray case. A couple of days back a seizure in Andhra pointed to a Hong Kong-bound consignment, and earlier this month Chinese nationals were nabbed at Mumbai airport when attempting the same. And the authorities refused to accept that the aromatic wood was intended for personal ornamentation. Seemingly successful attempts to thwart larger consignments being smuggled across land routes in the North-east could be one reason for a shift to air transportation of smaller quantities.
Yet the enormity of the problem cannot be underestimated. It is more than disturbing that despite the wood being covered under the CITES protocol there is little evidence of the Chinese authorities cracking down on the end-user ~ the only way in which the menace can be eliminated. As long as markets flourish they will be “supplied”. This is, in fact, a repeat performance ~ the use of animal body parts for medicinal purposes in China is at the core of the poaching of tigers, leopards and rhinos in India. It is no secret that Sariska&’s tigers were poached to extinction, and that Delhi has become a major hub in the body-parts trade, with China/Tibet being the prime destination.
Theoretically, China subscribes to a host of international conventions to protect wildlife and rare plants, but it turns an unfriendly blind eye to organised trade in such contraband. Just as, at the political and diplomatic level, India opts to play dumb. India&’s forests, like its northern territorial frontiers, remain little protected.
CURSING CANINES
Politics has “gone to the ….”
NOT for Indian politicians any of that “man&’s best friend” business. Terms like “puppy love” and “puppy fat” would be deemed derisive, and even those who have thrived on a staple diet of sycophancy would never demand, “love me, love my dog”. Of course the chamchas would do that anyway, shower on the neta&’s mongrel the attributes the kennel club would accord to a pedigreed prize-winner whose bloodlines would attract as much attention as the much awaited child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Going ballistic are the battery of loose cannon in the Congress party over Narendra Modi&’s remark, which they insist is an insult to those butchered in 2002.
  Yet they have conveniently forgotten Rajiv Gandhi&’s foray into canine-land: when Ram Jethmalani was peppering him with 20 questions a day after the Bofors backblast had the then Prime Minister reeling he had snapped, “Do I have to answer every dog that barks?” However, lest anyone get carried away, that was not the provocation for animal lover Maneka Gandhi unleashing herself from “the family”.
In most other contexts, a remark about anyone getting upset when a car ran over a puppy would lend itself to sympathetic interpretation, but any suggestion of a tender side to Modi would not only go against the image he strives to create for himself, but actually rub him up the wrong way. After all he selfishly basks in leonine glory, even getting so parochial as to stymie bids to ensure longevity to the last of the Asiatic lions by creating for them another habitat beyond the Gir forest.
 When Najma Heptulla “second chaired” the Rajya Sabha she often waved her zoologist&’s doctorate to slam any unparliamentary comparisons with “lesser creatures”, insisting that would be insulting to animals. Who listened? Indeed the huge fuss over what has limited relevance to issues on which the next poll should be contested ~ and there is no dearth of them ~ only confirms that Indian politics has “gone to the ….”