Quality education desi style

When 2% of class VII students cannot read capital letters in English you need to get terribly concerned. But does one? Sadly not because that 2% is not our child or the child of somebody we may know. However the writing is on wall. The  ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) for 2012 is out and the results frightening. Class III kids only read class I books, and only 40% of class V students can do a simple division. The findings of the report are scary:  basic reading levels showing decline in many states, arithmetic levels also show a decline across most states. And though school attendance is said to be higher. what is the point of an education that does not teach anything. The report goes on to state that there is an exodus towards private schools continues that shows that shows that all is not well in state run schools.

The findings of this report should shock us as it shows that even after more than 6 decades children of Independent India have not been given the right to equitable education and that is truly a shame but I am sure that many of us did not even read the articles that appeared in the press a few days back, or even if we did, it would not have struck a chord as our children mercifully go to swanky private schools. Yet we need to give this a thought and raise our voices. Education is the only way India can change for the better and quite frankly no education seems better than what a large number of children are getting.

I received an email from a lawyer activist who has been relentlessly advocating for better schools in our capital city. He recently visited a school in outer Delhi and “found that hundreds of girl students sitting in ground and on the school roof in open in bitter cold weather. Those found sitting in the classrooms were taking exams in total dark rooms without even electric connections, I am told by the teachers that nearly 1200 girl students are studying in the morning shift and the equal number of boy students are studying in after noon shift. The school appears to be running in a dangerous building for the last three years.” This is totally unacceptable by all standards. What is the use of a right to education if it is not guaranteed by the State. Why should children be studying in the bitter cold or scorching sun or giving examinations in pitch dark rooms. This school has 2400 children who are been denied their right to equitable education.

But they are not the only ones. Many State run schools in our capital city are in a pitiable condition. The schools pwhy children go to are no better. A few months ago our children were brave enough to highlight this reality in a postcard campaign and face the music thereafter. But in hindsight it was a good move as some things did change for the better. This once again proves that nothing comes easy in our great democracy. Our ‘rulers’ are masters at making laws that sound good on paper but meet many obstacles when implemented. Many of these pertain to education.

Let us begin with the decision of doing away with class X Boards and introducing ‘continuous comprehensive evaluation’ which is supposed to have  inbuilt flexibility for schools to plan their own academic schedules as per specified guidelines. Sounds great does it not? But to enable proper implementation of this scheme you need teachers who are capable of coming up with innovative ways. This may happen in ‘good’ schools but what about Government schools with 100+ children per class and unmotivated and even brutal teachers. For such a scheme to be successful, one should have first created the resources needed. As I said it looks good on paper! Seems that is all the lawmakers want. Never mind what happens on the ground. The same can be said about the ‘no fail policy’ till class VIII. Whereas public schools will ensure that their students meet the required standards in each class, Government schools simply promote their kids from class to class and that is why we have class V or VI or VII kids unable to read or solve a basic arithmetic sum. We have had many suck kids come to pwhy. Mercifully continued support has helped them bridge the gap and perform well. This is heartwarming as well as disheartening as one thinks of the millions of kids who cannot get the support they need and hence may simply drop out and never get the education they aspire for. And even the doing away of the Xth Boards seems to be have been a wrong move as many class XII students feel they would have been better prepared had they sat for the Xth Boards. The changes heralded 3 years ago seem to have somewhat failed. And though a CCE approach seems to help average students, it is a failure in a mark oriented system. Such changes should only be made once all needed resources are in place. The reality is grim: of the 800 000 aspirants who sat for the Central Teachers Eligibility Test in December, only 1% cleared the test! This exam is mandatory for teaching class I to VIII and is taken by those who have cleared their BEd! Alarming to say the least. If you are interested you can view some of the papers here.

Now let us talk about the RTE Act and some of its aberrations. First and foremost free education is only for children between 6 and 14. Why not till the end of of schooling? At 14 a child is somewhere around class VIII. Now with the no fail policy you can imagine what kind of education an underprivileged child will have! But that is not what I consider the weakest point to me. For me, if free and quality education is the right of every child born in India, then it is the Sate’s duty to run enabling quality schools in each and every neighborhood. The 25 % reservation for economically disadvantaged children in ALL private schools is an abdication of the state’s responsibility and an easy way out. Makes one feel that children have the lowest priority in all decisions! The drawbacks of this approach are many. First and foremost we all know that these seats will never go to the true beneficiaries. We all know how easy it is to get all sort of false certificates! I know of financially  sound middle class parents who have availed of this though they could well afford to pay for their children. I am sure that a survey of the social profiles of children admitted under this category would show that it is not the poorest of the poor who are now in swanky schools. The poorest of the p[oor, if in school, are forced to attend crowded state run schools with scant facilities. This whole approach to quality education is wrong. The state has chosen a backdoor option that reeks of reservation. Why should kids be branded! And what about the zillions of children who cannot avail of this facility. Where is their right to quality education? Not to mention the question that beg to be asked: what after the child reaches the age of 14!

That the system is flawed is evident in what is happening today to children seeking Nursery admission. Nobody seems to know what is happening! It is time we all lend our voice to this cause! Will we?

The trophy ad

For the past weeks I have been silently watching the ludicrous, absurd, idiotic, inane, nonsensical – and I could use all the synonyms possible – remarks of our politicians, religious leaders, administrators and let us not forget our so called protectors aka policemen on why rapes occur. At first I was I must admit dumbfounded and even revolted, but after a bit one almost got inured at the stupidity and lunacy. Rape is because: wearing skirts, wearing make up, going out, eating chowmein, not calling your rapist brother while being raped, not being married at an early age, drinking vodka, having a divorced mother,  and so on. And wait many ways of protecting one’s self were also proffered: wear an overcoat over your uniform in the tropical heat, stay indoors, go back home after school, accept the social contract called marriage where your role is to cook, do not live in cities as rapes do not happen in rural areas, live in Bharat and not India (wonder how that works)! I hope you see the common denominator that runs like a leit motiv: it is the woman and woman alone who is responsible for her rape. A politician had the audacity to state that 98% of rapes are consensual. I wonder how a two year old consents to rape. Much has been written about these aberrations and so I will not delve on the issue.

What is frightening though is that none of our so called leaders had anything to say about ‘men’ and their role in sexual assault. No one suggested that boys should be taught to respect women. But one should not blame them. In India boys are taught that they are superior, powerful, shielded and always protected – by their mothers, sisters, wives and even leaders as we have just seen. This message is insidiously and surreptitiously repeated over and over again. How can we forget the lofty portrayal of the Indian woman in Mother India! Cinema in the fifties and sixties was replete with images of the ever suffering, ever sacrificing mother and/or wife. I recently came across an article in a weekly entitled: the real woman haters. The brought to light the latest advertisement of a leading milk manufacturer. I would urge you to watch it and ponder over the lessons this one and a half minute ad offers.

It is disturbing that in the second decade of the XXIst century such an ad is made. It may look sweet and touching at first glance but what are the lessons that the little boy is given: daddies yell at mommies and mommies keep quiet; mommies take the blame on sonny’s behalf or in other words lying is good and acceptable; sonnies need to drink milk and grow up to look after mommies etc. The child is not taught to accept his responsibility and take the scolding. The child is not taught to stand up for his mom.    The child is made to believe that it OK that daddies shout at mommies. He is told that there will always be someone to take the rap. True that this ad sadly depicts the reality of many homes, even educated ones. If we want to change mindsets and attitudes and boys to respect women, such ads should be banned. They do more harm then the much maligned item numbers of scantily dressed heroines. It is time we looked at such matters with concern.

there are three fingers pointing back to you

When you point one finger, there are three fingers pointing back to you goes the saying. The recent statement made by the brave young man accompanying the one India calls braveheart raises a few disturbing questions that we need to answer honestly if we want to believe that all the protests that happened in the wake of the night of horror that saw a young life and her dreams crushed forever have any meaning.

For the past three weeks or so we have been lighting candles, shouting slogans, ‘braving” water canons, tear gas shells and the colonial ‘lathi (baton). We have been screaming ‘we want justice’, thinking that the gallows will rid us of all that is wrong. We have been clamouring for better laws, death for rapists, more police presence, fast track courts etc. We want everyone to become gender sensitive in the bat of an eyelid: the cops, the men of the street, the politicians and their acolytes. True that we got some of our demands: the court proceedings have begun and some vague decisions taken – police women in thanas, more patrolling etc. Yet while we were yelling and screaming, rapes continued relentlessly: a married woman with children, a eight year old, a seventeen year old. While we were screaming hoarse a man died while protecting a woman just as it had happened one year back in Mumbai. While we were shouting, politicians across the board made degrading comments bet it the ‘dented and painted’ one, or the India and Bharat one, or the skirts one, or the stepping out of line one. Our politicians masters as always remained mute or at best came up with some inane explanation.

Hanging the culprits is not going to be the panacea of all ills. It will of course give a sense of justice to the family of the violated and murdered child and maybe ease our collective conscience. Is that what we want. If yes then rapes and sexual assaults will carry on with impunity. Most of them will be the kind that do not stir our selective conscience.

We need to stop pointing the one finger and look at the three fingers pointing back. The testimony of the young man squarely puts the blame on each and everyone of us. The young man recounts the night of horror and shares some of the events that were not known. What is the most poignant account is by far the apathy of the passers by: auto rickshaws, people in cars and bikes who slowed down but quickly  drove on, the posse of spectators that stood watching the show and not proffering any help: be it a piece of cloth to cover the nudity of the violated woman or reach out and help. Everyone of those bystanders is you or me, and we must hang our heads in shame. Imagine what was going on in the souls of the two young people screaming and begging for help. I shudder when I think of it. The excuse if any is the fear of harassment by the police should we reach out and help anyone. Maybe it is time to ask for a new law that protects the person who helps anyone in need. In some countries like France for instance there is a law that prosecutes anyone who does not help a person in need. Perhaps that is what we should ask for. One more thing though. We need to look at ourselves and assess whether it is only the fear of harassment that keeps us from reaching out or whether it is simply that we do not care. And more than that we should ask ourselves with utmost honesty whether as of this moment we, you and I, will stop and reach out to anyone in distress. If we are not able to answer with a loud YES, then all our candles lights, sloganeering and marches will be meaningless.

The young man also talked about the totally revolting attitude of the police who apparently quibbled and lost precious time trying to decide the jurisdiction under which the case would need to be registered. The police rushed into damage mode giving figures and stats to prove this to be incorrect. But why should the young man lie? And giving the track record of our ‘beloved’ Delhi Police this seems more than plausible. We need to be asking for rigid protocols in all cases, protocols that need to be followed to the T. Protocols that lay out strict procedures that need to be followed in all cases. But alas this may just remain a chimera as just a day or so back, a young woman who sought police help after being aggressed by an auto rickshaw driver faced the same treatment when she called 100.  The voice at the other end gave me another number – 27854799 – and said that the area I was in came under the jurisdiction of the police who would attend to my call. And the much heralded women’s helpline kept ringing. What can one say!  The question will always remain in the minds of the grieving family and in ours too: would she have made it if she had been taken to hospital earlier? We will have to live with this all our lives.

The young man also said that he had to pick the body of his friend himself and put it in the police PCR. First of all why is it that well equipped ambulances manned by paramedics are not the ones that pick wounded people like it is done in every self respecting society. Picking a severely hurt body can be fatal if one does not know how to. This is something we have experienced first hand at project why! The police refused to pick up the body of a young mentally challenged young man who lay on the road with maggot infested wounds and screaming in pain. It is our staff who did it and accompanied the body to the hospital where we had to get the press to ensure that the young man was attended to! Over and above more PCR vans can we press for well equipped ambulances for all accident victims so that precious time is not lost.

Everyone is asking for change. Change in laws and in mindsets. The perpetrators of this horrific crimes were the product of our society. Hanging them will not stop us from breeding more of the same. Rapes have not stopped post our protests. Our patriarchal and feudal mindset is age old and is carried out first and foremost in our homes. The false and misplaced sense of power that men have in India, is the result of his upbringing and is mostly inculcated by the women in the family: the granny who wails at the birth of a grand daughter and places the ‘blame’ on the innocent daughter in law; the mother who mollycoddles the son and neglects the daughter, the sister who accepts a secondary role with silent acceptance. And this happens across the board! Should a sexual assault occur within the home and the girl have the courage to bring it up, it is the women of the family who rise as one and brush away the crime in the name of honour, thereby condemning the survivor to share a space with the perpetrator. Maybe it was time we as educated people stood up for our child no matter what the consequences. Can honour be more important than the pain of an bused child. It CANNOT and should not.

Perhaps it also time we stopped blaming a girl, no matter what her age is, for the assault she may experience. This is done time and again and in all homes rich or poor. She laughs too loud, dresses too revealingly and so on. And maybe we should start educating all people, men and women about the X and Y chromosome story and free the woman from the unfair accusation of being responsible for the sex of a child. WE women do not have the Y chromosome!!! I know of an educated gentlemen, or should I say supposedly educated, whose answered shocked me when we were discussing this topic. My son can do no wrong he quipped angrily. In the country where women Goddessed are worshipped night and day giving birth to a girl child is wrong. Maybe it is time we again looked into ourselves and see how guilty we are. Time to set our house in order before casting the first stone.

Another point that may see disturbing and unsettling to many and yet needs to be made is to look at who the perpetrators are and where did we as a society, go wrong. Let us take the case of the youngest accused. Before I go on, I would like to say that I am not defending anyone but simply trying to understand what makes a child a brutal criminal and assessing where we went wrong, as at this moment we have to live with the fact that rapes and sexual assault will happen. Today’s newspaper gives an interview with the mother of this boy. His family is the poorest in the village and lives under a plastic sheet. 11 years ago when he must have been just 6 he left the village to earn a living as he was the eldest and his father mentally ill. There are 5 younger children who do not go to school and need to travel 30 km to get work as labour. Today the mother does not wish to see her son. Her only worry is that now no one will marry her daughter. Take a moment to ponder over this. In 11 years a six year old kid became a barbaric killer. Six year olds need a home, the love of their family, food in their belly, a school to go to. Most of this is guaranteed under the Constitution. He is not meant to be thrown in the  big city alone. It took about a decade for him to become a killer, his only teacher the big city. A city that has passed many laws to protect children but failed to implement them. Had the child labour law been respected this boy should have been either sent back to his family or kept in a children’s home and received education. How many children have not seen working and yet how many of us have picked the phone and reported the matter. Many children work in homes of the rich and yet no one says anything. Another code of silence that needs to be broken.

There is debate about lowering the age of the Juvenile Justice Act. This Act was implemented as it was felt that children should be reformed and not punished as adults. This per se is a very sound approach. But it requires one important element: well run remand homes where the child is given an enabling environment that would allow hom to reform. All you need is visit one of these homes and you will realise that no one can be reformed in them. is it not time to demand for well run reforms homes for the children who have turned into criminals.

But before that we need to look at our school system. If our state run schools were well run, many problems we see would be set right. Perhaps it is time that all schools be made coeducational so that boys and girls grow together as buddies, competitors, friends.

It is also time that sex education, and here I do not mean a chapter on reproduction often hurried through, but age appropriate sex education, starting with good touch bad touch and explaining all emotions that children, tweens and teens go through, should be imparted to every child in school.  It is time we did that and not brush these under the carpet as we tend to do.

I could carry on and on but will not.

I simply would ask each one of us to look at the three fingers pointing back and be man enough to accept responsibility.

Homeless in the capital city

The past weeks has seen a city angry and outraged at the brutal and reprehensible assault on a young woman. One wonders what made this rape awaken our frozen consciences and come out of our convenient and self induced torpor. Rapes are not new. In fact there is a rape in our country every 22 minutes, that is 65 rapes a day! Not a figure to be proud of. Many of these are as reprehensible as the one that happened last month. What could be worst that the rape of a 2 year old and yet we kept silent. Perhaps it was because the victims were not ‘one of us’ and we felt immune from such aberrations. The rape of the young woman that shook us all was one we could identify with. It could have been our daughter or our sister as they too watch movies with their friends and may take a bus back home. This incident was too close for comfort and thus we shouted and protested and wanted to be heard. We clamoured for news laws, for severe punishment, for safer roads and so on. I can only hope that something positive comes out of our new collective persona.

Yet there are many things that should shake our conscience as human beings. One of them is the state of the homeless in the freezing winter. There are over 300 000 homeless in Delhi, including women and children. They are not hidden. We see them huddled under flyovers as we drive past. We see them sleeping on pavements as we return from a party or a late night movie. Every year the media run programmes on their plight. And yet we remain mute or at best to ease our consciences by donating a poor quality blanket. The same state that let down the one we call our braveheart, has only been able to make a paltry 154 shelters that can accommodate 7500 or a mere 2.5% of our homeless. In spite of court intervention nothing much seems to happen on the ground. Some homeless people have no option but sleep in public toilets to escape the biting cold.

While we layer ourselves with thermals and woollies, sit next to heaters and sip a hot mug of coffee, these people just pray that live through the night, and through every winter nights. No one cares for them. For politicians they are not vote banks and for the rest of the city they simply do not exist. They are brutalised by the police and often their paltry belongings confiscated. The women are abused and the children will never see a school. They are the most vulnerable and abandoned by one and all.

They too belong to the city we live in. Will the collective conscience that has been awakened by a brutal rape, raise its voice for these defenseless citizens of India.

Enough is enough

Enough is enough! I have kept quiet for far too long. It is time I reclaimed every right that has been usurped from me. I do not want to be killed in the womb just because I am a girl. I want my birth to be celebrated and feted. I have the right to the same education, to as many toys, and to the same new school bag every year than the one my brother gets. I want to play outside like all children. I want to wear whatever I feel like and laugh as loudly as I can.

I do not belong to anyone. I am your daughter, your sister, your wife, your mother but I am first and foremost an independent being. I am ready to learn and respect values and want the right to abide by them because I want to, and not because you impose them on me. I do not want to be told what to do, think, see, touch, feel and  hear. I want to experience everything on my own. I want to feel the the coolness of the evening breeze and the warmth of the winter sun. I want to discover the world at my own pace and through my own eyes. I want to learn and grow with the same freedom as my brothers do. I want to go to school and not be used as a surrogate mother whenever needed and saddled  with household chores. I do not want to see my studies interrupted to look after ailing grandparents in the village. I do not want to be considered as a burden that one has to rid itself of by harnessing me to an unknown man.

I want to be the pride of my family. I also know what honour means so do not throw the izzat bogey to curb my freedom and make me do what you want. I want you to trust me implicitly and you must  if you have taught me right. I am not an object or a commodity. I am a person with dreams and aspirations. Please do not hijack them or stifle them. I do not want to be judged by a kangaroo court and killed if I decide to fall in love. I want the right to fall in love like any one else.

You worship Goddesses with a fervour that sometimes seems false and sanctimonious. When you sit and chant her name through the night, do you forget that she is a woman just like me and the best of respecting her would be to respect every woman you see. When will stop being so hypocritical! Your  double standards are galling. You will protect the women in your family but consider every other woman your plaything. I am sick and tired of all the groping, leering, ogling and all other kind of abuse you are master at every time I step out of my door. You rape with impunity be it a baby or a mature woman. Do you ever think that the 2 year old you violate could be your own child. You then unabashedly throw the blame on us for the crime you commit. It was what we wore, or the time of the day we were out, the place we were at and so on. Please tell me how a 2 year old in a play school was at the wrong place, at the wrong time and wearing inappropriate clothes or are diapers sexy too! You make me sick.

If a woman is violated and we demand justice you come up with asinine fixes: do not go out at night, do not wear skirts, do not own a cellphone etc. The best one is get her married. This is not acceptable. You have such disregard for us as even your prized abuses have to insult us. How many times a day do you f**** sisters and mothers. Have you ever thought of that.

Last month you abused and violated a young beautiful woman who only wanted to live life on her own terms with such violence and depravity that the nation shook and every woman in this country, young and old felt defiled. Yes you raped us all. But let me tell you one thing: you could not and never would violate her soul or spirit,

When we were on the streets  venting the rage we felt, you kept quiet at best, or blasted us with water and tear gas and broke sticks on our back. What were you trying to prove? That you were men! You even fell as low as  calling us painted and dented to once again try and denigrate us. You took a dying child on a plane ride when you knew she was going to die. And then you brought the braveheart back in the dead of night and cremated her like you would a thief. Was it because you were too scared of the very people you come and beg for votes once every five years.

How good you are at protecting yourselves. You clamp all kind of laws and restrictions against your own people. Let me tell you: you do not look good. We wanted you to come and grieve with us, to listen to our woes and suggestions. We did not want empty words that sounded so hollow. We have seen through your game.

Yes we want justice for the young woman whose dreams you crushed. But what about the millions of women waiting for justice and who have gone old waiting. Will you bring laws that ensure we do not get raped over and over again if we muster the courage to seek justice. Will you ensure that justice will come to all those waiting. Will you change the law that would make a rapist or abuser guilty till proved innocent? But that is not where it ends. We want to reclaim our space day and night. We want to be able to move freely at any time of the day and be safe no matter what we wear. We want to be respected and accepted as equal citizens.

We do not need protection, we need freedom be it in our homes or on the streets.

2013 dawns

This is perhaps the first time that I am at a loss of words to usher a new year. Normally one is filled with hope and dreams and resolutions. But this year seems different as it has placed on our shoulders responsibilities we all have been shirking for far too long. Somehow 2012 can be divided into two parts: before December 16th and after December 16th and though the later is an infinitesimal part of the 365 days that make a Gregorian year, the last 15 days of the year gone by have shaken us of the comfort zone we had allowed ourselves to slink in. We were rudely awakened from an almost catatonic slumber that made us believe that all was well. Suddenly the conscience we had conveniently parked somewhere in the recesses of our minds was stirred and we had to accept the uncomfortable reality that we had we had failed in more ways than one. What was even more troubling was the fact that it had taken the most brutal and barbaric death of a beautiful young girl to make us come to our senses.

It is apposite that the young braveheart has remained anonymous and unnamed. She thus becomes every one’s daughter or sister and makes our irresponsible behaviour that much more unpardonable. For years we have been passively accepting rapes and other reprehensible acts without the outrage that must be felt by any self respecting human being. We conveniently brushed these aside by telling ourselves that such aberrations did not happen in the tiny confines of our lives. We clucked away news of children being abused and hurt when we should have screamed our indignation. As supposedly educated and aware citizens we never lend our voices to ensure that justice was done. We accepted corruption, inefficiency and venality in every realm of our lives. At best these made juicy drawing room  chats and never went beyond that. We accepted the arrogance of politicians and bureaucrats  and found ways of circumventing things when it concerned us. We too surreptitiously became partners in crime.

This how we have been shaken to see ourselves and what we see is not pretty. It makes us hand our heads in shame. But at the dawn of this new year we have been given a chance to redeem ourselves. I hope we will. If we do not then we are doomed.

It is a new year and I cannot but hope and pray that my family and my extended family and all my friends and supporters have a wonderful year. Is this not what one wishes fro those we love? As for myself I hope that I can walk that extra mile that would make the two Indias we live in come closer and learn to accept and respect each other just like the two little Angels in the picture, Utpal a child of the dark and Agstya my little grandson.

May 2013 bring the wisdom, sagacity and healing we so need.