up, up and away…. another b & b

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Wonder what mr p. is thinking as he climbs the steps to a temple he decided to visit on his monthly day out.

This is the same kid who should not have been around had all things remained as they were in the life he was born to live. So what is it that altered his life? A simple question with a multitude of answers starting with the now jaded and tired karma. From a boiling pan to a boarding school has been a quantum B&B leap.

Everywhere around us with fashionable and compulsive regularity people talk about the need to change things, build a better tomorrow, save children, impart education. The list goes on ad nauseam and often stops there: a string of words that often end with a cynical shrug at the numbers.

And yet if even an infinitesimal percentage of these well meaning should make the effort to translate their words into action, the change would be huge. What one should understand is that even one life saved or changed or even touched carries within it a ripple effect no one can stop.

That has been our philosophy all along and I can say that our success has been far greater than expected and heartwarming. The problems encountered have strangely and unfortunately come from the very people who master the art of juggling words and expounding on the need to change things. They have the power to do so, and it would not take them much. All we ask them to do is to dip in their pocket and give us one coin each day, but we have learnt that the coin in question is very elusive.

One of the stumbling blocks of organisations trying to work at the grassroots has been sustainability, which translates into the act of finding that elusive coin. Somehow between the thought and action lie a host of obstacles that can all be bundled into one word: mistrust. I do agree that present NGO sector is replete with dubious organisations, but among those lie some who do reach out and transform lives.

The reason why we thought of seeking a-rupee-a-day donors was based on the prevailing scenario in the hope that people would agree to set that mistrust aside as the amount sought was almost invisible. We still hope to be able to do it but at the same time we are aware that the ultimate power of change lies within the beneficiary group and that is and has been our ultimate goalpost, or to say it in other words the high road.

One has to however realise that this will take time and were we not to survive that the whole exercise would come to naught.

We will not give up, but this i a road we cannot walk alone, i hope someone is hearing?

a moment in the India of my dreams..

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Look at this picture, at first glance it may seem to be just two people and a child posing in front of the Birla temple in Delhi, India’s capital city, nothing to write home about.

Look again and let me tell you the incredible bonds that underlie this picture. In normal circumstances these three should not be posing together. In our carefully crafted society replete with labels, and hermetic boxes the three belong to worlds that should never meet, let alone bond!

A on the right of your screen is an IIT engineer with a job in a multinational who should have been spending Sunday with his pals at some multiplex or mall. The man on the left is R, barely literate who drives a three wheeler and belongs to some backward and boorish village in the state of Bihar, and the kid, well is labels are confused, his mother a recovering drunk and his ancestry not quite defined. You may wonder what they are doing, and why they are looking happy and content. Some cynical mind may even venture to say that this is part of some marginal film script?

Well that is far from the truth. Amit , Radhey and popples spent their Sunday together, and had a ball. They took a metro ride, visited the temple had a great lunch, all part of Utpals monthly day out from his boarding school.

This is the India pwhy is trying to create, even if it goes down in recorded history as snapshots like this one. An India were bonds are made out of love and mutual respect. In this equation it is difficult to define who has given more, the child to the two adults of vice versa. Radhey and Amit who in today’s India should have never talked to each other, or at best exchanged a few innuendoes had A’s bike broken down and R given him a ride, have learnt to respect each other because of their bond to little utpal whose life has touched so many shattering boxes and discarding labels at the speed of light.

If i were to disappear today, this simple snapshot would have made my life worthwhile

vex, lie and lose

In the land of the downtrodden and the illiterate, all is not as it should be. One would think that anyone who gives jobs to people considered unemployable, works towards containing drop out rates with success and cares for the differently abled should be welcomed with open arms..

Well that is not quite the way it works. A pack of hungry and almost desperate wolves lurks at every corner waiting for the slightest chance to attack. In a normal environment rude behaviour, personal slander and unwarranted physical attack of another would justify termination of services without compensation. We learnt a year back that, that was not the case. No matter what you did, and how you did it, no matter how many lawyers you consulted and papers you got signed, you were still open to attack as in this dark world there were unwritten laws that got amended and modified to suit any situation.

But what is even more worrying is the ease with which simple people get manipulated and pushed to act in ways that defy all reason. When the behaviour of one of our staff members warranted at least a temporary suspension, no matter how we tried to explain the situation, it is the roaming wolves who got the last word.

The wolves in question are petty politicos and shady unions waiting either to be fed as they are by factory owners who defy all laws and get away with murder, or to pounce on those who are honest, righteous and law abiding and particularly on those who are trying to make a difference and eroding their vote banks.

So in a jiffy your are faced with a letter packed with incredible lies, and with a visit from a labour inspector and a summons to the labour court. The first time it happened we were taken by surprise and vexed and in a hurry to settle matters. This time one is faced with a dilemma as one can see the larger picture and feels a little saddened at the way our staff is being used.
We could stand our ground and we know that after a few appearances the matter is likely to be set aside. Even if it is not we all now how our lower courts work. If we settle with the person a large chunk of the settlement will be taken by the unions and others. The sad part is that we had asked our staff to wait for a couple of months and would have found another option for her. Now things being as they are, one has to tread carefully.

The reason for this post is not to recount a simple incident, but to view it in a larger context. First of all it vindicates the stand that powers that be are not in favour of seeing education percolate to the lower strata of society as most of their ‘issues’ will come to nought once people comprehend the sinister game plans. But more than that it shows how easily people can be manipulated and how easily the carefully nurtured divisive elements of our society are used, be it caste or creed, state of origin or economic profile.

Many will say it is a lost cause, and frankly at moments like this even a die hard optimist like me wavers a little. But mercifully these flitter away as many success stories flash by. Change is slow but it is there. It is your staying power that is put to test. Over the years base accusations that sent me flying seem to have lost their effect and what keeps one going is the fact that even one person changed is a success.

To say that one does not feel alone and lost at times like these would be an untruth, but to give up would be letting one’s self down.

an impossible dream or perhaps not….

In the wake of the reservation issue and keeping in mind the abysmal state in which education for the less privileged is, many questions come to mind. Today’s paper published a report on India’s capital city which states that over 100 000 children in the age group 6 to 10 do not go to school. These are kids for which doors closed before they could open.

Then the question one could ask is who is the reservation for, when no one seems bothered about a huge section of the children of India.

Instead of thinking of basic education, the powers that be are busy placing quotas in institutes of high learning.

I am convinced that each one of these 100 000 kids is a potential entrant to the best institution, if given a chance no matter what label our divisive society choses to stick on his face. Force majeure made us find a boarding school for Utpal whose labels are quite fuzzy. His alcoholic mom hit rock bottom and had to be sent for a detox programme, and his ‘father’ just vanished.

Utpal goes to a boarding school where he shares his dorm with children coming from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. He has integrated and learns happily with his little mates, rides a horse, plays games, sings along and does what kids his age should do. All doors are opened for him and as years pass he will walk through the ones he choses and could become anything from a rocket scientist to a choreographer!

My impossible dream is to take 10 underprivileged kids age 4, belonging to various deprived groups , castes and creed and put them in school and watch what happens when they sit for their class XII. Unfortunately I do not have the funds to do so as it would cost around 4000 rs a month for each child – not a huge amount when you see what it gives and one compares it to what one spends on a child in a city like Delhi.

One needs a corporate of philanthropist to set aside the corpus that would revert back at the end of the education cycle. The common school is a pipe dream because of bizarre misconceptions, or rather because of a warped status symbol syndrome. The young principal of Utpal’s school was initially a little hesitant, but a short week after Utpal’s admission he was the one to send me a message telling what a great kid he was!

It is time someone thought of giving underprivileged children all the support they need in schools till the day we can have the elusive common school. The children of India have waited 60 years or 3 generations in the hope that something will happen. How much longer will they have to wait.

One has to understand that is is not separate schools, or parallel education programmes that will solve the issue, India will find its identity when children of all walks of life learn to live together, respect each other and learn from one another.

Children have a great way of adapting to situation and imbibing new ways.. it is our duty to give them that opportunity, till date we have failed to do so.. how many more generations will have to wait for us to see the light.

hijacked promises

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The picture is a little hazy, just like the dreams these kids dare to dream…maybe it is better that way.

These are children celebrating Independence day 2006. It was their decision, their planning and they even invited to local SHO, Mr Khan who always makes it a point to come.
They sang patriotic songs and spoke about freedom and what it meant to them. It is with pride that they hoisted the national tricolour and saluted it, their eyes looking up with hope and barely formulated dreams.

Most of them are OBCs or belong to some reserved category and yet not one of them knows it, let alone what it means and how it can change their lives. Most of them did not even go to school when pwhy decided to clean up a garbage dump and start its work. Today most of them have integrated school and some even topped their class. Suddenly the dreams seem less hazy.. or so they believe with their tiny hearts..

When I see these kids and realise how they trust us, I am at a total loss. The reality that they will grow up to seems bleak if not black! The protection that was so carefully crafted by those who wrote our constitution got hijacked without their knowledge and remodelled to suit other interests by the very people who should have guarded them. These kids will have their dreams shattered one by one at some stage or the other, it is is just a calamity waiting to happen.

As I watched students being doused by water guns in one of the anti quota rallies, I somehow felt that they may not have protested had children like the ones in the picture been the beneficiaries. But to reach that door, they have to walk passed many that still remain shut. The portals of the primary schools, the gates of the secondary one and then the entrance to higher education.

One does not need to be a rocket scientist to see the game Machiavellian game being played. The vested interests will ensure the loyalty of their vote banks while also perpetrating their illiteracy and hence their manipulability and all will be well in independent India where children of lesser gods have no voice.

I wonder what those like Gandhi or even simple people like my mother, who decided not to marry unless her land was free so that her child would not be a slave to the British would say?

Sixty years down the line, Indian children are still slaves: slaves to the greed of others, slaves to hidden agendas and much more. The Right to Education Bill lies unattended, dismissed, sent off to states whereas the bill to raise MPs was passed without a murmur.

That is the state of India, a tale of unkept and hijacked promises

tread carefully mr government

maniapanda

A well rated TV channel has been airing dramatic pictures of instances of child labour, and we all agree that child labour should be banned as it goes against the essence of human dignity.

Then why have I been so disturbed by some of the stories and in particular the one of the little Mania?

This little child has nowhere to go if he stops working at his dhaba. His whole world will crash. His huge deformity will bring endless taunts and without his work he will have no shelter, no food and not even his surrogate family.

There are many many Manias who will suddenly find themselves alone and lost. Mania did want to study but circumstances shattered his dreams and though he has a right to education enshrined in a constitutional amendement, the law executors cannot find the money to make sure it gets to the likes of him.

True child labour should be abolished, but what are you going to replace it with particularly for children who have no homes to go back to, or whose parents can barely feed the siblings that are still there.

My work on the field for the last six years has taught me that things are not quite how they look and making laws without keeping the human factor in mind is more dangerous than the prevalent situation, however abysmal. Kids like mania will roam streets, steal to feed their hunger pangs and then find themselves branded as thiefs or bad elements. The number of working children is staggering, and a month down the line when the ban comes in force they will have nowhere to go.

Has anyone thought of mechanisms to get them back home, if home they have, or to give them a safe shelter and three meals a day; are there schools where they can learn or does the powers that be expect small organisations to do the job while they bask in the glory of having passed a great social law. Organisations like us are constantly trying to survive and prove that we are not crooks. But we also are the ones who open our hearts and meagre resources to anyone who is hurting. But how much can we do?

And who will bell the cats a.k.a the professional, well educated, well connected people who employ so many children in their homes and sometimes treat them in disgraceful and terrible ways while nodding their heads in public places and parties while someone disparages the practice of child domestic servants.

And last of all, has anyone looked into the number of little children just a walk away from where we sit comfortably who are taken out of school to look after their siblings while both parents work, maybe to build that extra room we need?

mybe little mania will find someone after his national TV debut, but what about the other little manias who can barely comprehend what awaits them.

a day in the life of India at 60

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Three news item caught my attention today. Little Pakhi, age 6 is thrown out of her school bus as the driver brakes suddenly and dies on the spot, her school barely a 10 minute drive away from her home; 665 migrant labour come Delhi everyday and four years down the line, our government has not found the time to ensure that the the 82nd amendment is passed as mandated by the constitution of India to ensure that every Indian child has a right to free and compulsory education..

In my mind, all these issues are linked by one thread: education. If pakhi could have walked to school she may not have dies, if the 665 migrants had better options for their children – read good school – in their habitat of origin they would not have come and as for the last item it simply that the right to education bill is a bill without a will!

I would like to ask our politicians and law makers if the 3% extra allocation needed to give children their fundamental right at a time when we boast of a 8% increase is because children are not yet a vote bank to woe, or because they do not have a voice or because having large number of illiterate people will ensure manageable and influenceable vote banks: in a word, is this right not been given to children for some Machiavellian reason.

There are others rights enshrined in the constitution that are the right if everyone born in this land, but without education they become superb tools of manipulation and political battles using the cleverly nurtured illiterate base.

What our law makers do not understand is that education is the only way India can change. A citizen who can read, write, have access to knowledge, will undoubtedly rid the land of corruption ensure that projects are executed, make the rulers accountable.. and democracy functional.

But then the question that comes to mind is do we really want democracy or have we just shrouded our feudal ways in the garb of democracy.

I get appalled and my blood runs cold when i see the sustained care with which governments are wanting to privatise education. Why not democratise education and have a common school to which little Pakhi could have walked.

The 665 migrants who will bring kids with the hope of a better education will soon find that education is better in small towns as we have seen time and again. They will go looking for some shady mother nonsense convent and spend their meagre resources on trying to get their kids educated till their own illiteracy because the cause of the kids dropping out, their homes relocated to barren areas or too poor for join the tuition raj and though they belong to the OBC quota policy, the system would have made sure that they are never likely candidates.

Common schools all children would walk to could have with peer bonding may have made that possible. Mothers like mine wanted their child to be born a in a free India, but 60 years down the line are Indian children free..

..and the show does go on

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Away from the petty problems that we are facing with misguided staff and our plethora of ‘well-wishers’, little Deepak fights his valiant battle vindicating thereby the raison d’être of project why.

His journey has not been easy. What should have been a simple heart surgery, turned to be, once again because of external adult games, a battle for life. The wrong doings of a quack lead to his heart stopping and his having to be revived, a true code blue, just as in movies! Then a total strike while he was in hospital resulted in an abdominal abscess that took over a month to heal.

he came visiting today, a little disoriented and very tired, but two days from now he will be admitted again and we hope that the much needed surgery will finally happen.

To me this braveheart’s battle is almost the sign from above that i needed to find in me the strength to carry on. I must confess there are moments when one wonders why one tried to do something positive in a world that abhors people who do so. Why does one have to prove at every turn that one is honest, sincere … Even an accused is presumed innocent till proved guilty, but no so in the case of people just trying to make a difference.

I get emails asking me how does one know whether a person is genuine or fake.. and frankly I do not know the answer. But I know that if I give up then there maybe another deepak somewhere who would lose his battle without a fight.

the show must go on

many a times I have felt defeated in the work I do.. you think you have got somewhere and one ugly incident takes all sense of achievement away from you.. your first reaction is to say: were people better off without us..

Then you stop and think and realise that somewhere the incident is due to the fact that you are succeeding and that change and transformation is bound to meet with resistance and obstacles.. A recent incident led to my having to take disciplinary action against one staff member. it was to be a temporary suspension necessary to maintain dignity. To my absolute horror it has turned out to be a nightmare due to the meddling of small politicos by bete noire!

Instead of keeping quiet and trusting our ways, the staff in question fuelled by the mischievous advice of our detractors reacted – and the last nail in the coffin was beating up in public the woman who had thought it her moral duty to inform me of the bad mouthing and slander..

This of course has forced me – much against my will – to file a complaint with the local police station, as I cannot take the risk of another misplaced action on their part. It is the question of the safety of children and their parents as well as my staff.

The other side of the coin is that by this action, the dismissed staff has closed all possible doors. it is with extreme dejection that I learnt that she has now fallen prey to the ‘local unions’ that wait like sharks for any prey, not getting them anything but ensuring that a large chunk of a settlement they would have got anyway, would become theirs.

At such moments, it becomes important to hold on to what one has achieved and realise that one cannot change everyone.. but that one has to continue hoping. I must confess that there are times when one feel like packing up.. but once that fleeting angry moment passes, you realise that actually too many would lose too much.. so you swallow pride, anger, hurt, irritation in one large gulp, hide the dejection behind dark glasses and put on your clown’s mask.

the show must go on…