Project Why – Panorama 2012

2012 is coming to a close. It is time to reflect and ponder about the year gone and ask one’s self as candidly as possible whether we really walked the talk. 2012 was pwhy’s 12th year on the field, more than ample time to make the difference we set out to make more than a decade ago. I will in this post highlight some of the important moments of 2012 and view them in the light of the mission we gave ourselves when it all began. I would also beg your indulgence in case thing are not in chronological order, but isn’t that expected of a project that has always followed its heart.

Project Why has always endeavoured to keep in sync with the reality that surrounds us and put in perspective for the children we nurture. Thus I cannot but begin this narrative with today, a day when a whole nation mourns the death of the  braveheart who suffered the worst form of assault imaginable. Since that terrifying night I have been following the story with horror and dread, more so because the barbaric perpetrators come from the same social strata as the children we teach. This makes our responsibility and task that much more critical and compels us to look back at the gone years and assess the work we have done in a whole new manner. True our mission as stated time and again was and has been to provide quality education support to children from slums and give them the required skills to excel in school and in life. But was our definition of quality education broad enough? We always followed the Delors 4 pillars – learning: to know, to do, to be and to live together. But did we emphasise enough on the ‘live together’? Were we not swayed by the ‘to know’ as every parent across the board is? But it is not the moment to delve on what we cannot change. Today the people want to see a new India, one that is safe for all its citizens, one where every man learns to respect women, where laws are strong and justice delivered. Where little girls are taught how to protect themselves and sex talk is not taboo. Yes we need a change in mindsets as well as laws and mindsets can only be changed one day at a time starting at a young age. So as 2012 ends, we at project why have taken certain resolves.

We strongly believe that one of the best ways to get boys and girls to learn to accept and respect each other is that they grow together. We would like to see all state run schools become coeducational. However till that day comes we have no option but teach boys and girls at different times. However since last week we have decided that on all holidays boys and girls will come together to the project and interact in every way possible. It is heartwarming to see that though there was some reluctance and hesitation, particularly from the boys, within no time the children were working together as pals and chums.

Several workshops on self esteem and gender biases were held along the year. We will ensure that these are held with more often in the new year. We also plan to hold gender bias and sex education workshops for the staff as we realised that coming from traditional backgrounds, they are hesitant and uneasy and need to be taught how to address this issue with children of different ages.

We alas live in a society where the girl child is still in danger and needs to learn to protect herself. Therefore we are launching regular ‘good touch’, ‘bad touch’ classed for all our primary girls. We also plan to have awareness programmes with the parents and hope these will be useful.

The horrific rape that shook all of us was also discussed with the older children. They were then asked to write their feelings. I will share this with you in a subsequent post.

Now let me briefly share the main happenings of the year gone by. As always the children did us proud   and the project why results for all centres and all classes was 100%. Hats off to all children and their teachers. I guess we have by now fulfilled one of our main objectives: to contain drop out, mainstream children and ensure good results.

This year we held several workshops in all our centres: a  work shop on self esteem in our Okhla and Khader centre as we have realised that children from underprivileged homes have poor self esteem. A workshop on the girl child was also held at our Khader centre. A workshop for the teachers of the special section was held in September to introduce new approaches in teaching.

Our main workshop however was a workshop on Right to Education, held with the support of an eminent jurist and that ended in a postcard campaign whereby the children wrote of the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court about the situation in their school. The children were charged up and wrote unabashedly about the violence and abuse by their teachers, the lack of facilities be it toilets or desks, the overcrowding of classes and the poor quality of teaching. These cards were included in a PIL with the judges demanding immediate action. Action was taken but the suspension of 2 teachers named by the student resulted in a huge problem for us as the teachers belonged to Khader village where our centre is located. Our landlord almost threw us out. It is the extremely wise and diplomatic skill of our coordinator Dharmendra that saved us from this explosive situation. Our children were also targeted in school but tempers calmed down and today the schools are functioning a tad better. This was  a lesson for all: bringing change is never easy. It needs courage and staying power.

For the women centre, it was a musical year as they had a western music workshop run by Diya, a young student from Singapore. A group of 8 children were introduced to western music and tried their hand at the guitar, the keyboard and bongos! In January 2012, Praveen one of our extremely talented student, began professional singing classes. His dream is to enter a singing reality show! More power to him.

2012 was also dancing year for the project children. It was decided to run dance workshops for all children, including the special ones.  And even though their performance would not meet  Bolshoi standards, the children had great fun and laughed to their hearts’ content.

We hope to have the children perform somewhere in 2013.

Everyone is invited!

This year it was the Okhla children who had the chance to get behind a camera thanks to the workshop run by one of our summer volunteers. You can see the pictures they took here.

We managed a few outings in spite of paucity of funds. The Govindpuri children went to the Science Museum, the Red Fort, the Children’s Park and India Gate. It was still open to the likes of you and me then. The special children went to Delhi Haat and Lodhi garden.

A group of children from Khader were taken to a movie and to an outing at the mall by some supporters.

As always we celebrated festivals: Republic Day, Independence Day, Gandhi Jayanti, Children’s Day, Diwali, Teacher’s Day, Eid and Xmas. On these days children often put up their own show with dances, exhibitions, speeches and song.

The star this year was undoubtedly our very own Santa.

We also had our share of visitors from all corners of the planet and of course our volunteer who make a huge difference as they bring a little of the world into our planet! We thank all of them warmly!

Some statistics and facts now: we are now a family of 1000! And to say that when we began we were a mere 40! We have a team of 45 and each one of them is precious and deserves to be saluted. The computer centre, library and secondary were shifted around. Secondary classes were started in our Govindpuri centre which now goes to class VII.

We would like to share two very special events.
Preeti from the special section has now been admitted to the Open school and is preparing for class X  and Shamika our special section in charge got the Karamveer Chakra award.

We are proud of you girls!

Our boarding school kids are well and growing by the day. They are good in their studies and participate in many activities: skating, yoga, dancing, music. I wish we could give this opportunity to every child.

Over 200 women completed their sewing and beauty courses this year. many of them have got employment and some of them even opened their own beauty parlours, two of them in the village. More power to you.

Planet Why remained frozen this year. All our efforts came to naught and we are now seriously thinking of alternatives. However our special children and Khader children kept the sustainability light alive.

The special children now make dream catchers that are on sale and our Khader chiildren made beautiful greeting cards that can be purchased on line. We hope these enterprises grow by leaps and bounds.

But all this would not have been possible without those who have believed in us and trusted us through the years. We hope you will continue to help us make a difference. To everyone a big thank you.

Happy 2013.

yes I am dented and painted – and

Yes I, the Indian woman, am dented and painted but not in the manner you politicians think! I am dented – and here I would like to use the verb ‘dent’ in its meaning ‘diminished’- from the very moment I am conceived. Even as I entered my mother’s womb, I knew everyone hoped I was a boy. If it was discovered that I was indeed a girl, I ran the risk of being brutally aborted and my tiny life ended in a pool of blood or a garbage bin. The day I was born, I was greeted with wails and tears and my mother cursed for not having born a son. You see the X Y chromosome story is understood by no one, or I guess they do not wish to understand as how can I boy do anything wrong. In my country giving birth to a child is wrong.

As I grew up I was often bewildered at what I saw. My brother always got what he wanted and I did not. I was often chided and put back to place. My brother got better food and even a better school bag. he even went to a private school while I had to go to the municipal one. I was often made to miss school as there was always something to do t home, and after the birth of my younger sibling, I became a surrogate mother even though I was just 6. I often heard my parents talking about me in disturbing words. Was I really a burden?

Imagine my surprise when as I grew a little older, I who loved playing on the street with other children, of being told that I had to remain in the house. It was not only my mother or father who scolded me, but even my younger brother, the very child I had carried on my hip for so long, never complaining. If I laughed too loud I was told to tone down as ‘girls’ were not meant to behave this way. If I peered out the window my brother pulled my braid and told me to ‘behave’. I never figured out what I was doing wrong as others laughed and peered out of windows.

I soon learnt one indubitable truth: a girl was controlled by a male – father, brother and the elusive husband that loomed large from the very moment I began understanding things. Time and again I saw my father abusing my mother in every way possible and saw her keep quiet or at best shed a few tears. I felt a boiling rage inside me and wondered why my mother did not react. Slowly I understood that this was the way things were and we as girls had no other choice but to comply. As my brothers grew older I even saw them abusing mother. I realised that we women were diminished in more ways than one.

If I was lucky I would escape the groping and harassment that many suffer within the confines of the so called safety of my home. It could be an uncle, a neighbour or even a friend. If I did gather the courage to speak up, then I was likely to be introduced to the deafening code of silence that is invoked in such cases by the very one who gave you life. That is when another stifling word was added to my vocabulary: ‘izzat’ – honour- ! I suddenly became the repository of the honour of my family even it I was the one who had been damaged and taken advantage of. I had to bear a shame I could not fathom. That is when I realised that we women had to live a double life and put of a show for the world to see. That is the day I knew that we dented women also had to be painted. Painted in the shades of patriarchy and its biased and baffling mores. I learnt to slowly reconcile myself to my station in life.

In spite of missing many classes to tend to chores at home, in spite of not being given the tuition so easily proffered to my male siblings or the books I needed, I studied hard and passed all my examinations. I guess it was the attraction of extra money that made my male handlers accept I take up a job. I was over the moon as it was a step to the freedom I so longed for. I stepped out of the house on that first day with a song in my heart and a head filled with dreams. How was I to know that another set of men would appear and remind me once again that I was just a woman in a world that belonged to men. The journey to my workplace made me open to sneers, lude remarks, groping and misplaced gestures. I learnt to make myself as small as I could and hope that I would reach my destination safe. Anger boiled inside me but I learnt to control it, in a way all women learn to in this land. That is also part of the paint job. If God forbid, something would have happened, I knew what awaited me. The ‘izzat’ scenario again from my very own, and had I gone over that then more abuse at the hand of law keepers and justice givers. If a woman is raped, she has to accept to be raped over and over again and even then she never gets justice.

Had I met a boy and fallen in love like every girl has the right to, I ran the risk of being killed by my own father or brother again in the name of ‘izzat’. So if I did fall in love, I knew it could only be covertly, till the day the men in my family found the next man to hand me over to. But those few days of love would be my silent rebellion and my few moments of freedom.

One fine day I will be told to get ready and look my best as a boy was coming to see me. Once again I could not but realise that I was a mere object. Should the boy like me, then I was to be hitched to him with a great relief from my family. Their duty was over, the burden passed on. Thank God the ‘izzat’ was intact.

Life would have come full circle. I would get pregnant and so conditioned was I, that I too would wish for a boy. I too would be chided for giving birth to a girl. I too would bear the abuse of my husband. I too would curtail the freedom of my daughter, buy a better school bag for my son and so on. I too would one day teach my daughter her place as a dented and painted object in a land where we venerate Goddesses.

RIP dear child….may your death not be in vain

Rest in peace dear child.. you whose name we do not know but who has become our very own.
I know you are in a much better place, a place where you can roam free and safe, a place where you can walk at night without fear, a place where you can soar free and see all your dreams come true. A place worthy of your spirit and courage. Rest in peace sweetheart we were not worthy of you.

We salute your courage to fight the most horrific ordeal and some out of it alive; we salute your desire to live in spite of all odds. But it was not to be. Did you give up or did you know deep in your soul that it would ultimately futile as things never truly change. Maybe you are the wiser than us all.

You came to this city to fulfill your dreams. We as a city let you so terribly down. You went that fateful evening to see a film with a friend. You went to see a film that was about surviving all odds, did you know that you would be faced with the worst nightmare barely a few moments later. I cannot begin to imagine what you went through when you were aggressed in the most revolting way but I know that even if you were humiliated in the most debasing way, and yet I know that the perpetrators were never able to violate your spirit and soul. That remained yours, and yours alone. We salute you little braveheart who today stands taller than us all.

Today we hang our heads in shame for not having been there for you.

We hang our heads in shame for every time we were made aware of an aberration perpetrated on any woman and simply moved on after a few clucks of false pity. We hang our heads in shame for simply having looked at rape and violations as statistics, disturbing yes, but not worthy of our intervention.
We hang our heads in shame for every time we have silently witnessed a woman being slandered and abused, be it in our homes or outside. Every time we have chosen to adopt the code of silence in the name of honour, reputation or simply misplaced morality. We hang our heads in shame for having kept silent each time a girl was killed; be it in the womb or because she wanted to life life on her all terms.

We have much to ask forgiveness for.

Will you forgive our apathy and indifference. Will you forgive us to have remained deaf and dumb when we should have screamed loud. Will your forgive us for not having raised our voice when we needed to. Will you forgive us for having made a mockery of democracy and not expressing our horror and distress each time we saw injustice being done.

Your terrible ordeal did move us out of our apathy. Somehow it touches us in a way we had never been touched before. That is perhaps we intuitively felt you were one of us. But will your forgive us for not having felt the same anger and outrage when others had suffered the same plight. Maybe if we had you would have been with us.

While you lay in the ICU fighting for every breath, we did not always look good. Will you forgive those who made the most insensitive remarks, some coming from those in power, those made to protect us, those we are meant to trust. Many young people like you faced the brutality of those who should have been in the streets that night and come to your help. How can I explain to you why it took days for those who rule us to make come out and mumble words of concern that sounded so empty. Will your forgive those who thought they should indulge in self praise rather than address the harsh truths that stared us in the face. While you lay in your hospital bed, other women were violated and abused. The horror does not stop. I do not know if ever will.

While you lay stripped of your clothes but not your dignity in the dead of night and in bitter cold, many watched and did nothing. Can you forgive their indifference. I cannot and will not and wonder sadly whether all the people who came out in your support will at least now reach out to anyone in distress. Why is it that I find it difficult to believe they would.

They say you are the turning point that will bring change. I hope this happens but somehow find it difficult to believe. Everyone wants the perpetrators punished. But will that ensure that such horror does not happen again?

You fought bravely and your spirit has given us the courage to go on and ensure that you did not die in vain. Everyone of us is responsible for your death. We need to look within ourselves with honesty and accept our wrong doing and see what we can do.

Today darling child we salute you and beg your forgiveness.

May your death not be in vain.

We as a country hang our heads in shame.

Rest in peace beautiful one. You live in our hearts and will so forever.

Theek nahin hai – It is not OK

Since last week concerned citizens, students, women, children, senior citizens gathered around India gate and then decided to move towards Rashtrapati Bhavan to voice their anger, concern, hurt, indignation and outrage at the horrific incident that occurred a few days ago and at the increased insecurity for women in the city. They wanted to be heard. They wanted to be reassured. They wanted harsher laws for crime against women. They wanted to share their angst with those they elected. And that is why they approached the hallowed gates of our first citizen and meet him. After some persuasion a small group was allowed to meet  one of the President’s men. They were informed of the protocol regulations and told to seek an appointment. My question is why could the President not meet these kids! Was the situation not important enough to break protocol. It was not.  The letter the kids wrote hurriedly and with hope; it must be still lying on some table along the protocol journey.

The crowd were swelling and the mood angry. Kids are kids and the young are known to be in a hurry. They are not like our antediluvian politicians. They fretted and got restless. They pushed and shoved like the young do. A simple meeting would have calmed things down. But instead they got hit by water canons in the cold, had tear gas lobbed at them in scores and even got lathi charged – a preferred show of power of our cops – and pushed back. No one came to meet them or talk to them. Their anger rose and more water and tears were sent their way. And as the news spread on Live TV, angered people joined the groundswell and sadly many lumpen elements. The mood got angry.

It was a spontaneous crowd, the kind one has never seen. It was not a protest organised by a political party where people are paid to come. Here every single protesters felt the anger and the hurt. It was perhaps for the first time that we saw true democracy where the electors wanted answers. No one in power recognised this reality. Had they done so, the events that ensued.

In the late evening the Home Minister finally address a press conference. We were subjected to believe it or not praise for the police! Praise for those who had earlier used water cannons and tear gas shells! Then we were given the vapid platitudes we normally get when any aberrations occur: setting up for commissions, empty promises and more of the same. And that is not all: we were told that the minister himself and his second in command had 3 daughters and thus felt the pain and anguish of us all. Who are you kidding. First of all nothing would ever happen to YOUR daughters as they come under the hallowed and super protected category of VIPs. And had it ever happened, god forbid as this should never happen to any one, the rapists would have been killed in a convenient encounter. We were also introduced to a new concept, one that is unacceptable: the gradation of rape. There are rapes, rare rapes and rarest of the rare rapes. Believe me Mr Minister every rape is and should be considered rarest of the rare as it is the most cowardly, heinous, ugly, disgusting, despicable crime.

The day ended. The protesters were angry, the authorities felt smug.

What the young were looking for was their statesmen and leaders. For the first time young Indians – students, professionals – concerned parents, and simple citizens had come out on the streets to express their anger and hurt. For years we have born stoically all the aberrations thrust upon us. We have turned a blind eye to issues like gross corruption, poor governance and arrogant behaviour. We have waited as patiently as we could to see laws enacted and waited helplessly to see them implemented. We have paid our taxes and have reconciled ourselves to poor amenities. We even performed our civic duty by voting every time we had to.

 Saturday the 22nd of December 2012 was a red letter day for us, simple Indians. It was the day we wanted to see our Leaders and share our pain. It was a day when we still believed in them. It was a day that comes just once. Our leaders did not see the writing on the wall. How wonderful it would have been if our First Citizen broke protocol and accepted to meet a few young Indians. How healing it would have been if our CM had come and sat with the young protesters. How uplifting it would have been if one of the younger politicians has broken all rules and come and met the very people who make them leaders. Then all the ugly incidents that ensued would not have happened.

One may wonder why this rape incident struck such a chord in the hearts of so many when so many rapes and other aberration occur. It was probably the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The story of the young woman so brutally raped was the catalyst that made us scream ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

The next day genuine protesters were back. Some had even spent the night despite the cold. But the police swung into action and pushed everyone out of India Gate and surrounding areas. However how far can you push people. They had to be let in. Protests continued. Against the rapists but also against the cop’s behaviour. Sadly lumpen elements joined the show and very ugly scenes ensued. The brutality of the police was shocking: women, young students, senior citizens – no one was spared. It was vicious, barbaric, more so as the main issue that was being addressed was the safety of women. Need I say more.

The next day the entire India Gate area was shit to Indians. Even morning walkers were not allowed in. An alternate place has been given and young people are still protesting. But there are less people. I guess many parents must have not allowed their girls to join in after the terrible events of the previous day.

The Home Minister spoke again. According to him every demand has been acceded to. I guess he is in sync with the powers that be: commission set, empty promises spouted. He also insulted our intelligence by trying to make us believe that the unruly happenings were politically instigated. A terrible sense of deja vu! He has missed the point though as this time we are protesting against this very attitude. When asked by a reporter why no one from the government did not go and meet the young people on the first day he was  horrified: how can they come and meet us. It has to be the other way! He missed the point again: this is the attitude we are protesting against: the VIP culture, the disconnect between those we elected and us. We were also subjected to more platitudes. The Congress President and the heir in waiting missed a golden opportunity to reach out to the very people who could have made all the difference in 2014. Now it is too late. Nothing you door say can make us forget the terrible images of December 23rd 2012.

And finally when the Prime Minister did finally condescende to speak to the nation, a blooper or Freudian slip said it all. It was all a show.

We need statesmen and leaders. Till then nothing is theek hai!

We have cried for far too long

If there was an Oscar for insensitivity, I am certain Delhi Police would have won it hands down! It was a huge shock to hear, on the much awaited press conference of the Delhi Police Commissioner and the Home secretary, praise for the police for having cracked the case so speedily. Just allow me a moment as I am unable to contain my anger and need to gather my racing thoughts…

That was not all. We were then subject almost ad nauseum to a string of meaningless and somewhat galling  statistics: how many buses were impounded post the incident, how many tinted windows were checked, how many charge sheets were registered in the past year, how many rapes occurred last year, this year.. and when the figure for this year happened to be higher the PC was quick to assign the increase to population increase and/or increase of women coming forward to register cases. Who are you kidding. It looked like a PR exercise aimed at whitewashing a police that has lost all credibility. Sorry Sir it did nor work! Your blowing your own bugle sounded terribly false. And then the stats that you threw at us were pathetic.

First of all the measures announced seemed to be based on the premise that a similar incident may occur again. God forbid! That is not what all our anger is about. Our anger is about all the abuse that women go through every time they step out of their homes and whatever their caste, creed and age. I would like to draw your attention on the latest rapes in the city: a 3 year old in her play school and a 40 year old mother of 4 in her home. So forget about your tinted windows and your check on illegal buses figures and talk about facts. Come to think of it, if all your cops have been doing for the past day or so is check tinted windows no wonder rapes continue. God help us all! The Home secretary repeated use of the words ‘brilliant’ and ‘outstanding’ to commend the police was galling, to say the least. The police failed that young woman that night. This is a sad reality. And by the way the tinted windows should have been checked 6 months ago following a supreme court order. Why was it not then when as according you it took just a day to check so many.

We have been promised a safe Delhi but in the same breath been told that all bars etc will have to close at 1am. Cannot figure this one. Our CM was on the box too. She told us that she hated Delhi being called the Rape Capital. So do we. Please do something. We do not want to hear again ad nauseum that you are not in charge of the police. If that is a deterrent to things goings right, let us do something. Crying on national TV does not cut ice. We are past tears. We have cried for far too long. Our tears have dried up and been replaced by anger and rage. PR exercises and tears cannot begin to heal our hurt.

We need better laws. Actually we need better implementation of existing laws too. We need a sensitive police. None of us feel comfortable walking into a police station. Come to think of it, we are leered at there more than anywhere else. And we all know the power of money where cops are concerned. Maybe it is time to set the cop house in order. Charity begins at home, does it not! Maybe the recruitment policy should be looked. I am told from the horse’s mouth that you have to pay lacs of rupees to get recruited. No wonder you then need to make up the loss through bribes collected.

The CM has announced  the setting up of a round the clock control room for women in distress. One then needs to define distress. Do we call the number each time we are groped or given a once over. I do not see how it works.

Everyone is crying death for the culprits though the cops have said they would go for life imprisonment. True a harsh punishment will go a long way in bringing some healing to the survivor, her family and perhaps even us. But will it stop rape? Will it stop harassment? I do not think so. It is time we look within ourselves, within our homes and  towards society and see where we have gone wrong with all the honesty that we can muster, even if we do not look good. How do we treat women; how are we treated by those near to us; how are we treated in our work place and above all why accept such treatment. Are we ready to take this journey and truly try to find long term solutions? I wish I knew the answer. Do you?

Dear Mr MP

Dear Mr MP,

I did not vote for you or for any of your adversaries in the last election. I do not shirk my civic duty. Far from that. I did ‘vote’ as I exercised my right not to vote, a right that the makers of our Constitution had given to all citizens in who simply need to fill form 49 O. Yet a right that was kept hidden by the likes of you, forcing the likes of me to abstain from voting and thus allowing our precious vote to be misused. There was a time when I voted regularly and blindly  believed in our democratic system. Alas that is not the case now.

My first disappointment in the system stemmed out of a visit to Parliament House circa 1983. Since, thanks to live TV, I have seen time and again the rowdiness and shenanigans that happen in the House. The time wasted that translates into 250 000 rupees a minute is shocking. The political games played are outrageous and the whole drama absurd.

We elect you to represent our aspirations and hopes. We elect you to be our voice. We elect you to enact laws that would benefit us. When laws are passed, it always seems to be in a raring hurry and the game of the ayes have it, the ayes have it seems just that: a game! But most of the time Parliament is stalled for entire sessions and bills are not passed.

Last week you had the chance to redeem yourself and show us you cared. But you did not. There was an uproar in Parliament over the horrific gang rape that has got the country outraged. Thank God you found the time to discuss the issue. There were many impassioned speeches that almost rang true. But you could have walked one more step. How proud we would have been of you had you decided to pass all the pending bills relating to women issues. But you did not. These bills are still gathering dust in some remote corner of the building. You could have set a precedent by showing us you cared about our feelings, our fears, our desires. Do not tell me you were not aware of the anger and despair of all of us who were on the streets. Technology allows you to keep track of everything, does it not.

Do not tell me that you have not passed bills in record time. You have done so in the past. I guess women are not important enough. Perhaps we are not real vote banks. Perhaps we are second class citizens in a patriarchal land. Perhaps our safety is not important enough. I would have thought it mattered as in spite of killing us in the womb or in the name of honour, we still form a large chunk of the electorate of this country! 

Do you hear the raging roar coming from every nook and corner of the land? Will it make you leave your comfort zones and take action. And by action, I do not mean a few outlandish measures that we know will not work. Will you give up your holidays and sit in session and make the laws we women are clamouring for. Is that not your primary role? To make laws to benefit the citizens. But who am I kidding. A quick perusal of the scores of laws that are ‘pending’ show that when it comes to laws that help the people you never find the time to enact them. 

Today the country is outraged. Do not think that it is only because of one case. The tragedy that befell the woman who is fighting for her life was the straw that broke our back and believe me when I say that we have strong backs. But how can we not be incensed when even as the country took on the streets a 3 year old baby was raped in her play school 

You talk of increasing police presence but do you know that  we have lost faith in your police has been caught saying aberrations such as women deserve to be raped because of their dress. I would like to ask you why action has not been taken against these so called protectors of law? And you want them to protect us. We have been told by those in power not to go out after a certain time and so on. We would like to remind you that we too are citizens of this country protected by the same constitution that protects you. We demand our right to freedom and we demand it loud. It is for you to ensure that this happens. That is why we elected you.

We do not want lip service or band aid therapy. You need to address the real issues. Where have you failed society as this is where it all begins. Rapists and eve teasers do not come from another planet. Have you failed in providing quality education and enabling environment to children in your city. You have not. It is time you thought about this. The men who harass women and the cops who abuse them stem out of this failure

Yes we need laws to punish culprits. We need fast track justice. We need a punishment that deters. I want to ask you why you do not raise your voices when killings of women are ordered by kangaroo and extra constitutional courts. You always fall short of acting because of vote bank politics. And by the way a study published today states that men accused of raping women are given tickets to contest elections and this across the board. Some are elected and thus become law makers. You expect us to believe that they will enact laws in our favour. I for one do not. We need electoral reforms. But who will bell the cat.

We are angry today. I am angry today. Enough is enough! It is time you heard our voice.

An Indian.

a dream on hold

The story of the young girl fighting for her life has touched many deep chords in me. And that for many reasons. First her spirit for survival. Even the doctors are amazed at her desire to survive. But that is not all. I heard an account of the visit made by the Lok Sabha speaker to the her family. In her mellifluous and somewhat haunting drone, Ms Kumar told the moving story of this young woman. She comes from a poor family. Her mother is illiterate. The father sold the only piece of land they possessed to fulfill their daughter’s  dream: to be a doctor. A rare occurrence in a country where parents bend themselves backwards for their sons; one that is so much more touching as they have two sons. Ms Kumar was impressed by the dignity displayed by this couple in the wake of such pain. There was no anger. Just  composed acceptance and the plea that this should not happen to any other girl.

I have witnessed this dignity time and again in humble families and have been moved. The wisdom displayed by those we often do not even look at, is more than humbling. I can only salute such individuals. I can also understand why this young girl is fighting all adversities with rare courage. You see she is fulfilling a dream that has been made possible by the sacrifice and unconditional love of her parents. It is too precious to give up.

This young woman is very akin to the young girls I have been caring for ever since the project began. Young girls who have dreams. Young girls who have the passion to fulfill their dreams. I remember Babli when she first came to us. She had a congenital heart problem that needed surgery. One could see her heart beating furiously as she spoke. The very first words she said to me was that she wanted to be a ‘police’. That was her dream. I did not have the heart to tell her that even if she got operated she would not be able to be a ‘police’. I simply told her to hold on to her dream. Babli was operated upon and today studies in a boarding school. She may not become a ‘police’ but I know she will succeed in fulfilling her dream. One will simply have to revisit it a little.

Today there is a young woman battling for life, battling for her dream! A woman who wants to honour the sacrifice of her parents. For the moment her dream is on hold. I pray to all the Gods in heaven to heal her and give her the chance to fulfill her dream as her spirit is intact. I hope God will hear this prayer.

She has to live.

But there is another aspect of this terrible tragedy that has kept me awake at night. I saw a grainy picture of 4 of the perpetrators and my heart missed a beat. These boys too are just like the boys I have seen in the past years. Second generation migrants living in slums and having their own set of aspirations no matter how skewed. Kids who grow up on the street as this city only opens school gates for them after 1pm. Boys who spend their mornings hanging around the corner and probably whistling at girls passing by. Kids who grow up listening to bad lyrics of Bollywood films that often denigrate women. Kids who have no mentor. Kids who cannot process the reality they live in and that is made of conflicting images: the tradition of the family and the uber modern urban reality they face. Kids who see their fathers drinking and are quick to emulate them. Kids who see their fathers beating their moms and believe that is the right thing to do. Kids who have costly wants that no one fulfills and so they come up with their own ways. How easy it is then to go wrong.

These are the kind of children that come to project why before they go to school. We have been mentoring and guiding them to the best of our ability but this week’s incident has made my blood run cold as it proves how much these children need and makes us that much more responsible.

Everyone is talking of what should be done to ensure that such horror is never repeated. Authorities are talking of banning tinted windows, increasing patrolling etc. But the real challenge is to change attitudes and teach our young lads to respect women. Moreover it is crucial to give them quality education that allows them to grow in an enabling environment and not cramp them into classrooms with brutal and insensitive teachers. That is what the State must do. It is appalling that India’s capital city does cannot provide proper schooling to its children. All children need love, understanding, compassion and guidance. That is the only way we can bring about the change we all seek.

Are we ready to really walk the talk

(I begin this post by urging you to spare a thought for Aruna who was sexually assaulted and brutalised almost 4 decades ago. Since she lies in a vegetative state abandoned by one and all: her fiance, her family, her friends and even the justice system. She waits in a dark room for death to release her from her terrible ordeal. This is what happens to victims of rape and sexual assault.)

She went to a movie with a friend in a swanky South Delhi mall.. After the movie she boarded a bus with her friend. What happened next is nothing short of a nightmare. She was  gang raped by six or seven men including the bus staff and mercilessly beaten with an iron rod. Her friend who tried to protect her was also beaten. She was then stripped and thrown out of the bus. As I write these words she is fighting for her life in a hospital. As always the authorities – in this case our Chief Minister – have promised strict action, whatever that means. Five of the six suspects seem to have been arrested. I only wonder what punishment will be meted out to them.

This happened in a city which is ruled by a woman, in a country where one if not the most powerful political person is a woman. The incident occurred in a posh area of the capital city makes it that much more alarming. In any civilised city one should be able to go and see a movie with or without a male escort and return home safely using public transport. That is what this young girl believed! Then things went terribly wrong. Many questions come to mind all begging for answers. First and foremost how was this rogue bus allowed to carry passengers? How does a passenger know whether the bus she is getting on is a genuine one? How were so many drunk staff on the bus? Maybe the transport authorities should look at that? But these are not the real questions. What really needs to be asked is why is our society churning out so many men who feel they have the right to view women as commodities, use them and then throw her away like a used object? Why do such men brazenly feel that they can get away with it?

What is horrifying in this case is the brutality meted out to this young woman. The doctors have stated they have never seen a victim of sexual assault subjected to such brutality. What could provoke these men to behave in such an outrageous manner. I heard on a new channel that they wanted to teach a lesson to the girl. A lesson for what! For being out at night; for being with a man; for fighting back; for having broken the unsaid covenant that says that women ONLY are the keepers of a family’s honour. Many questions that need to be answered one by one if one has the will to do so.

Everyday women are abused, raped,  molested, assaulted sneered at, leered at and more of the same. Many, too many, remain silent. Some cases come to light because of their being out of the ordinary like the one of the young woman. Then the show begins: politicians find a new way to espouse their agendas; the media to increase their TRPS; civil society to vent its pent up anger. The question is how long with this anger last? The authorities are masters at the waiting game. This too shall pass as everything seems to.

I think it is time we gave a thought to a woman named Aruna that we all seem to have forgotten.  It was on the 27 November 1973, almost 40 years ago, that she was raped, sodomised and strangulated with a dog chain. She has been living in a vegetative state for 4 decades, abandoned by all: her fiance, her family, the justice system, collective conscience.  Aruna’s story movingly recounts what happens to a rape victim in reality.

We clamour for quick justice for the perpetrator; but who gives justice to the victim. Even if she is not physically mutilated, she is emotionally shattered. Our system is such that if she wants justice then she has to accept being raped over and over again: by the police, the defence lawyers and the whole caboodle that makes our weak and spineless justice system.

When I was a young woman I too lived in Delhi. That was 40 years ago. I worked at the radio station and my duty hours were at night. An official car use to come and fetch me at 9 pm and drop me back at 2 am. Sometimes the cars broke down in far off places as we had to fetch people from many locations. I often would be the last one in the car but when I look back at those times I remember an array of emotions: anger, frustration but never fear. Delhi then was safe. True there was some Eve teasing and misplaced comments but not the chilling fear we are experiencing today. In those timed a stern stare would make the person look away. In those days we went out alone or with friends. I remember how we sneaked out of college at night to have paranthas at a known outlet and came back safe. We saw evening movies and caught public transport back without feeling scared. If we felt a tad apprehensive the presence of a male – pal of relative – was enough to set things right. Even the parents approved.

The recent incident has put an end to that sense of security. The girl who is fighting for her life was with a man. And  she was so brutally and inhumanely aggressed because she dared fight back. It seems that the perpetrator resented to having been bitten by her and flew in a manic rage.

Come to think of it, even the Taliban views women as  safe with a male escort. But that is not the case in India today. Women are unsafe no matter what. When they get molested or abused, authorities are quick to find fault with them, it is always what they wear, where they go etc that is the cause of the reprehensible behavior of their male counterparts.

What make men take such liberties and feel they can get away? One of the obvious reasons could be the fact that most of the cases of harassment go unpunished. Perpetrators seem to get away with alacrity and impunity. But there is more. It seems that our society has become one where though we still loudly praise Goddesses in all shades and hues, we treat our women with abject contempt.

The men that committed this heinous crime were one of a multitude that inhabit a city that has seen an exponential population growth in the past decades subsequent to the wave of migrations that we have witnessed courtesy the ever growing need of a city aspiring to become a world class one. For that to happen it needs hands willing to get dirty and those come from across its limits. The perpetrators of this week’s crime were a bus driver, a cleaner, a fruit vendor, a gym trainer. Young men eager to spend a Sunday on the prowl in their pals bus. Now rape is a power game and power comes courtesy hooch so easily available across this city. (The government seems on an overdrive in opening watering holes in every nook and corner of the city!). The perpetrators in question have been well honed in the art of denigrating women as they belong to homes where women have scant authority. They come from homes where their mothers are beaten by their drunk fathers and little girls are killed before they are born. They come from a section of society where boys are treated like demi Gods and made to believe that they have license to do anything. They come from a place where one’s whistles at the passing girls or sings cheap film lyrics that denigrate women. They come from a place where if women dare step out of line they need to be chastised at once. So when a young woman dares challenge them all their misplaced manhood is violated and they act the only way they know. That is not all. The move to the city has brought into their lives realities they cannot process or handle. It is a recipe for disaster and one sees the outcome in every aberration you hear about each and every day: children and women raped and assaulted. The question is how to we address the crux of the problem. Education? Awareness? Gender sensitisation? But what can you do when even the basic chapter on sex education is not thought in state run schools. The teacher often asks the student to read the said chapter.

The city is in damage control mode. Old laws yet to be implemented are suddenly revived:  ban on tinted windows in vehicles, more patrolling etc. Will it change anything? I for one remain sceptic. There will be a lot of hue and cry for a day or a week and then every one will revert to old ways.

It is heartwarming to see the outrage across the Nation. But can we sustain it till we ensure that things change? I do not know. But that is not enough. What needs to change is our attitude to women. Can we hope that the young men protesting on the street will be as vocal when their parents demand dowry or their sister choses to marry a person of her choice? Or will the traditions and misplaced code of honour silence their newly found cause.

There is a long way to go. Are we ready to walk the talk.

What does it take

What does it take to get people to open their hearts? I am at a loss to find the right answer. This is why.

It has been almost a month since a little crew of very special children decided to craft dreamcatchers. A little background first. It has been our endeavour at the special centre to try find something that children with special needs could craft and sell. This is because the ones I call children as some have been with us for more than a decade, are now young adults and like all young adults they too want to earn a living and become independent. We have explored many avenues but they all fell short in some way or the other . Some were too heavy to mail – our waste material mats -, others too fragile – our painted earthen pots –  and so on. And of course we needed something that was not seasonal. And one more thing, we wanted everyone to participate in its making in some way or the other. That is when I thought of an object I had stumbled upon quite by chance and warmed to immediately: dream catchers. I had always been attracted to the wisdom of Native American tribes and found solace and comfort in many of their sayings.

Dream catchers are meant to filter out bad dreams and let good dreams and thoughts enter our minds. The legends are many but the bottom line is that dream catchers filters out bad forces, and help us stay on the right path in life. Is that not what all of us want! I for one believe that dreams come true and thus the dream catcher is something right up my street. Moreover it was lights and unbreakable thus solving the problems we had with our earlier ventures.  The idea was opportune and God sent as it came when we have Emily with us, a young volunteer who knows how to make dream catchers. And above all is this not the right object for our very special bunch of dreamers who can all participate in some part of the making of dream catchers. Ok they may not look perfect but remember they are made by those we far too often tend to forget or ignore.

Our dream catcher crafts persons are a motley crew of people with a huge heart. Some cannot walk, others cannot hear or talk and yet others cannot understand the world in the same manner we do. Yet they put their heart and soul in the beautiful dream catchers they create and in with each turn of the thread or feather hung they add their little prayer just for you. They wait with bated breath for orders as with each dram catcher sold their future seems a little more secure.

Behind them is a marketing team: Emily, Shamika, Rani and yours truly. We set up a Facebook page and an on line payment option. We all thought that with the thousands of friends we had, orders would pour in, particularly as it was Xmas time. But that did not happen. True some die hard friend and supporters reached out and placed orders. But that was it. Irrespective of the number of reposts, the results remained the same: a deafening silence.

 I guess people have lost the ability to see with their hearts. Wonder if anyone could tell me why.

You were on my mind

This morning I went to INA market. For the uninitiated, INA is probably Delhi’s treasure trove for food, and a cornucopia of pleasures for the senses in every way possible. The abundance of colour, fragrances and aromas make it a sensorial delight. You can amble for hours feasting your eyes on the beautifully arranged vegetables, the mounds of assorted spices, the stalls of fish and meat and so much more. For me INA has become a kind of pilgrimage since the day my father breathed his last, as it has he who made me discover this unbelievable place. So today, his 20th death anniversary I found myself amidst fish and vegetables, remembering the man I so loved. Ram was not just my father. He was so much more: my friend, mentor, guide, my confidante, my first and perhaps last true love and even my partner in crime. He taught me so many things, actually most of what I know today. Ram was larger than life. A master in the art of living on the one hand, and in diplomacy on the other. One of the youngest recipient of the coveted MBE, but also a Commander of the Wine tasters. With him I rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty and dined at the finest tables. Thanks to him I discovered the pleasure of reading and was primed in to every art form possible. It is Ram who also took me to every corner of the countries we lived in and imbibed me with many cultures.

But that was just one side of Ram, probably the lesser one. What he truly taught me was the art of looking with one’s heart. Our visits de the INA did not end with impersonal shopping sorties. Far from that. Most of the shopkeepers he frequented were known to him at a personal level. For many he had provided pro bono legal help. He knew about their families, their problems, their achievements. To them he was topi wala sahib, the men in a hat, as he always wore some kind of head gear. So every trip to INA was never a short one. True we came back laden with baskets of fish and poultry, fruits and vegetables and often a warm treat for Mom  who shunned food shopping. But we also came pack with precious human stories that made the experience unique. When he died, many of the INA shopkeepers closed their shop to attend his funeral. And when I gathered the courage to go back to INA after his death, I was overwhelmed by the number of persons who stopped me to say: Topi wale sahib bahut yaad aate hain – we miss the man in the hat so very much. And the bonds remained as once when I went to Papa’s preferred meat shop to get some meat for a party, I was shocked and rather annoyed when the owner ignored me whilst attending to another customer. The mystery was solved when the customer left and Abdul Bhai turned to me and said with a broad smile: the meat is not good enough for you! And though I came back empty handed, having just got a cup of warm syrupy tea, the moment was one to be cherished as it brought memories of Ram in abundance. So imagine my surprise when today, after 20 years I found the meat shop owner at his shop, a rare occurrence as he has aged and now leaves his sons to run the business. For me it was a boon: an occasion once again to reminisce about the topi wala over yet another cup of luke warm over sweetened tea!

This truly special moment made me realise what my true legacy from Ram was. It was not just Ram who taught me about life but also topi wala – for want of a better name! If Ram initiated me to the high end of life experiences it was topi wala who taught me about life itself. From the pleasures of caviar laced with non alcoholic bubbly to the delight of a rustic roti eaten with mustard oil and salt, he made me discover the true meaning of things. From the pleasures of the intellect via books and art to the soothing lull of a bhojpuri berceuse, from dining with royalty to sharing the table of the house staff, he ensured that I remain grounded in reality at every given moment.

He taught me to always keep an open mind; he taught me to learn from the smallest and the humblest, as that is were one found the truly inspirational stories and real values. When he left this world I was to say the least shattered. I mourned him for many years and simply gave up on everything. Life simply seemed to have lost all meaning. I was rudderless and lost. In hindsight I feel terribly ashamed of the time I lost. It is not what he would have wanted me to do. But I needed time to pick up the pieces and rebuild myself into something that would appear whole. I know if he were here he would have given me a kick in my butt and told me it was time to put all the lessons learnt to the test. But I am not as strong as he was, or he thought I was. I needed time to process the loss and reinvent myself. It took 8 long years: from November 1992  to June 2000 when I met Manu. I wonder today if Manu was not sent by an exasperated Topiwala ! The bottom line is that something happened that day. It was as if I had finally awoken from a long slumber. The rest is history and there for all to see.

Sometimes people wonder why I taken on every challenge that comes my way be it opening a new class or mending a broken heart. You see, for me it is honouring Ram’s memory in every way possible. He for one would not have wanted me to chicken out of any situation and I intend to agree. So the road ahead is long and filled with challenges. I will walk because I knowRam walks by my side!