Letters to the Editor — April 11, 2021

Violent incidents took place in previous elections in West Bengal too, but the 2021 Assembly elections seem the worst (“5 killed as violence mars fourth phase of polling in West Bengal”, April 11). The Centre, particularly the Home Minister, will be blamed for the deaths as the Central forces were brought in to maintain law and order and ensure violence-free polling. The Chief Minister’s remark earlier that people should “gherao” the Central forces was shocking. That the forces shot the voters without resorting to lathi charge first, citing self-defense, is deplorable. These elections will stand as an example of how democratic principles were thrown to the winds. The Election Commission seems toothless. The Bengal elections are a disgrace to electoral democracy.


This is a rejoinder to A.R. Venkatachalapathy’s article on the editorial page titled “The world knew him as Periyar’s editor” (April 10). It is in specific reference to the “dodgy academic (who) tried to steal Anaimuthu’s thunder by trying to upstage him in publishing of these volumes”. I am the academic being referred to. I am an academic and teacher to many generations of Tamil scholars, and retired Professor and Head of the Department of Tamil Literature at the University of Madras. Even though the writer has not mentioned the name of the “dodgy academic”, there is no one else who has worked on this area in Tamil, till date.

This rejoinder is not so much to put on record the credentials of my life’s work or this specific work on Madras Secular Society and my scholarly debate with Anaimuthu Ayya. To think that I even intended to or could “upstage” Anaimuthu Ayya is laughable at best. It is to address, in the public sphere, this culture of belittling the work of significant scholars. This is not new in the Tamil context. However, new generations of scholars have emerged who refuse to engage in propagating such graceless public behaviour. For Professor Venkatachalapathy to take an unsubstantiated dig at a fellow intellectual in a scholarly eulogy for someone of the calibre of Anaimuthu Ayya is uncalled for and does disservice to scholarly work.


The results of the study are not unexpected (“Protection from reinfection may last only months: study”, April 11) . The challenges raised by the emerging variants and the declining neutralising antibody levels might contribute to the lack of protection against reinfection. But it is pertinent to remember that vaccination prevents severe reinfection and hospitalisation in most instances. Therefore, the results of this study should not discourage people from getting vaccinated. It only means that booster doses of the vaccines may be required, or that the vaccines have to be tweaked against the newer variants to provide immunity. Vaccination and COVID-appropriate behavior, including mask wearing and social distancing, are the only tools we have.


Political parties and leaders including the Prime Minister, Home Minister and leaders of the Opposition have all participated in campaigns and road shows and addressed large rallies in regions where Assembly elections have been held or are being held. And now, after everything is over, they are busy blaming each other and the people, and requesting everyone to take care, as the pandemic rages on. It is distressing to see not just our carelessness but also the blatant hypocrisy of our leaders.


In a democracy, an elected regime is obliged to provide basic necessities like food, accommodation, clothing and vital healthcare facilities to all its citizens (“SC hears plea to decriminalise begging”, April 11). Begging is not a profession and people are coerced to beg due to reasons like poverty and starvation. It is not a failing of the individual but of the government. Therefore, criminalising begging is a concealed attempt to evade the duty of providing people necessities.


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