Letters: The state of India

The trouble with India
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The Independent Online

India's gross mess-up over the Commonwealth Games (Mihir Bose, 23 September) is a tragic demonstration of the scandalous maladministration, mass corruption and widespread disorganisation which defines much of India's public life and governance.

The Indian state, since its formation in 1947, as a product of the British Raj, exactly like its Pakistani neighbour, has been a continuing cauldron of official incompetence, police abuses of power, human rights breaches, ministerial corruption and all the other usual features of chronic and widespread misgovernance.

Despite its grandiose imagery on the international scene, India continues to have the highest level of poverty anywhere in the world. It continues to deny access to UN human rights inspectors. Its police abuses, repression and torture are no different to its much-criticised Pakistani neighbour. Although it has has more millionaires and billionaires than the UK, 800 million of its people survive on £1 a day apiece.

India's claim to being an expanding economic superpower and the "world's largest democracy" is simply not matched by the evidence on the ground. Reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch all present a tragic picture of diabolical human rights practices. Corruption is profuse. That is the real, ordinary India.

The landmark film, Slumdog Millionaire, provides a cogent snapshot of the realities of the real India behind the gloss and political and economic rhetoric.

Jagdeesh Singh,

Slough, Berkshire

The negative press that India is receiving regarding the Commonwealth Games is turning into a free-for-all of India-bashing. Mihir Bose repeats tired old stereotypes, with "Indians do not encourage sports", and they have an "It will do attitude". You would be forgiven to think that they are a flawed race of humans.

This great nation started with nothing in 1947 after 200 years of colonial rule. Slowly but steadily, India has arrived at a stage where it is considered as one of the most vibrant economies of the world.

It has carried a billion people in a democratic set-up. Just as it has arrived on the world stage on the economic front, it is all set to arrive in the world of sport.

Bose is quick to quote his hero Mao on the importance of sports. With all its faults, Indian leaders never killed millions of their fellow citizens as happened in China. It is easy for Bose to sing the praises of China in comparison to India but it is only in India that he could rubbish the country and be heard. He could not do that in China.

In spite of all the problems, the Commonwealth Games in Delhi will be a grand success. The athletes who have decided not to go will not be missed.

Nitin Mehta,

Croydon, Surrey

The statement that "Sport is seen as 'just a bit of fun' " in your article on India's travails with the preparations for the Commonwealth Games goes a long way towards illustrating why the economy of India is growing at a time when our own is barely staggering out of recession.

Perhaps we should adopt their priorities, and relegate sport to a position lower down the list of activities necessary for the "Common Wealth".

S G Ranson,

Warrington, Cheshire

Calls for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi to be abandoned should not be dismissed lightly.

The Games are now something of an anacronism in a very crowded international sporting calendar and athletes should not be leant upon to participate in them, purely to satisfy political agendas, when their health and safety are obviously very much at risk. Keep politics out of sport.

Professor Ian Blackshaw,

International Sports Law Centre, The Hague, The Netherlands

Rightly, Mihir Bose highlights the cultural attitude, which sees sport in India as just fun, damaging India's ability to compete in a variety of sports. But the critical reason sport has not taken off is that most people in India are concentrating on earning enough to feed themselves and their families.

If the Indian government starts supporting athletes with a living wage, then India's sporting achievements will flourish.

Kartar Uppal,

West Bromwich, West Midlands

We must have blue-sky research

The recommendation from Vince Cable that science research should abandon work that is "neither commercially useful nor theoretically outstanding" as part of the UK's austerity drive has started a vital conversation. I believe strongly that investment in blue-skies research remains essential. It cannot be simply consigned to the scrapheap to meet short-term cost-cutting measures because without it, we risk long-term economic stability. We must not abdicate our future to short-term profit motivations simply because not every scientific discovery can be immediately quantified in terms of its commercial value.

In the past, blue-skies research was funded from different sources, all of which now face serious constraints on their budgets, and there is a temptation to point the finger at each other when it comes to living up to what is a collective responsibility (and ethical obligation to future generations) for supporting this type of research.

Part of what makes investment into blue-skies research less attractive is that even where it yields results that have short-term potential for commercialisation, an environment in which scientists and entrepreneurs can translate such results into commercially viable propositions is often missing.

Identifying and nurturing scientific talent and helping them to commercialise their findings requires recognising the opportunities generated by results of basic research, and creating an environment in which these opportunities can come to fruition and make a lasting impact that is commercially viable. Early-stage investment funds do not in themselves resolve the problem of who invests in blue-skies research, but they can make it a more promising and less daunting venture by helping to contribute to a faster and more reliable idea-to- market process.

Lucy P Marcus,

CEO, Marcus Venture Consulting,


Exams market a marked failure

I've been involved in educational publishing for more than 30 years, and have become very concerned over the past seven years about the way in which the faux market for exams has led to the unintended corruption of the system, as Mick Waters describes (Education, 17 September).

The numbers are interesting. The examination market in England is worth about £280m per annum, and 95 per cent-plus is spent by schools on GCSE and A-levels. That's more than £100m more than is spent by schools in the whole of the UK from Year 1 to A level on curriculum-focused books and electronic learning materials.

Most parents would be astonished to learn that the average comprehensive spends about four times as much on examination fees as it does on learning materials, and that one of the exam boards is owned by a FTSE 100 company, and that another has an exclusive publishing arrangement with one publisher.

Commercially, I can completely understand and even grudgingly admire the wit of these arrangements. As a parent committed to reversing the dumbing-down of education, I think these arrangements have created a unattractive new equation: the £280m market plus the heads' desire to do well in the league tables plus the former government's (and perhaps any government's) desire to "prove" standards are rising equals the unintentional corruption of the system.

Finally, beware: when someone says an exam is more "accessible", he/she really means it's easier.

Philip Walters,

London SE24

Fisk takes me back to my past

As an unabashed Fiskoholic who has introduced many acquaintances to the planet's foremost foreign correspondent, I've religiously read everything that your peerless columnist has offered up in The Independent for many years.

I've often thought of responding to some of his sage comments on the geopolitics of the Middle East and the world at large; I especially enjoy his uncanny ability to link current events with what has taken place down through history.

As it happens, I've never commented to you on anything he's written before now, but after reading the 18 September column, "Steam trains, relic of a bygone era that will outlast us all", I'm compelled to.

Mr Fisk recalled his boyhood trainspotting, reawakening recollections of my own childhood hobby, spent on a cold, hard bench on the platform at Camborne railway station; of endless hours recording the names and numbers of the magnificently smelly and noisy steam engines pulling the trains of the Great Western Railway back and forth between Penzance and destinations through Britain.

I thank your ace writer for rekindling almost- forgotten memories, of a time when Ian Allan's ABC of British Railway Locomotives was the most important publication in the world to a pre-teen Cornish boy.

Bernie Smith,

Parksville, British Columbia

A frozen North

So racist and gay insults are still rife in North Yorkshire (report, 21 September). What a surprise. In 1983, my then 12-year-old son corrected a racist shopkeeper on a visit to my home town of Middlesbrough, saying, "We don't use that sort of language in London". It seems nothing's changed.

Peter D Brown,


Perspectives on GM food

This may be a leap too far

Steve Connor describes the new giant GM salmon (report, 22 September). There is a problem. The evidence on the benefits of fish consumption for the health of the heart, the brain and mental health is in its provision of long-chain omega 3 fatty acids, iodine and other trace elements. This omega 3 nutrient cluster is at its richest in the marine food web and is poorly available from the land.

These nutrients cannot be made in the body. For salmon, this means ranging long distances collecting its food. Rapid growth rate is achieved through growth hormone acceleration of the velocity of protein synthesis and can outstrip nutrient accumulation. This means the end product could have far less of the health benefits of salmon. A fish of the size you illustrate might have about one-eighth of the nutritional value of the natural fish. Exactly this effect has been reported in chickens with accelerated body growth.

The value of seafood is not in protein. A rhinoceros reaches a one-ton body-weight in four years. It gets all the protein it needs from grass. But it has only a tiny brain, weighing about 350g. It grows so fast that it is not able to accumulate the omega 3 fats needed for brain growth.

The health value of fish is in the specific marine-rich cluster. If this fish is to be sold, it should first be properly analysed for its marine nutrient density. Its genes are different, so, if sold, it should have a new name.

Last century, there was a dramatic rise in nutrition-related disorders, including heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes. Already in this century, mental ill-health has risen to overtake all other burdens of ill-health. In the UK, the DoH estimates the bill at £77bn, a cost greater than heart disease and cancer combined. This matter needs to be taken very seriously.

Professor Michael A Crawford,

London NWI

Beware of agribusiness

Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but by a scarcity of democracy. Because agribusiness has patent-protected ownership of GM food they can control food markets and raise prices for private profit. Food riots are a more likely outcome of surrendering our food autonomy to GM agribusiness.

Dr Michael Rainsboro,

London E1