chop onions chop heads

To say that we as a nation are insensitive is as sad as it is true. The latest example of this is an ad placed by the Delhi police to raise funds for its youth training campaign. The bye line used : “Help him learn how to chop an onion. Before someone teaches him how to chop a head.” The child in the picture is between 12 and 14. Child activists are up in arms. The creator of the campaign is trying his best to explain the bigger picture if there is any! It is obvious that the child in the advertisement is not yours or mine, but one from the other side of the fence, the kind everyone gives up on. he child destined to be ‘chop onions’ and the ‘heads’. The soft target for every bad deed that takes place in his immediate environment. The one everybody has decided can have no ambitions or dreams.

There are many aberrations in this ad! I will not delve on them. The ad also goes against the laws of the land be it child labour or Right to Education. Those only look good on paper. If they were properly enacted and implemented then no child would be working in our city. Just one look around and you find them helping their fathers at an eating stall, cleaning dishes at another one or tagging along their mums and learning how to clean houses and utensils. It is for the Delhi Police to ensure that child labour does not persist. Instead they come up with an ad that gives kids the options of chopping onions and should they not accept this then they are bound to be chopping heads. No matter what circumvented explanation anyone tries to put forth, to me it is nothing short of gory and unacceptable. Instead of ensuring that no child works and every kid attends schools, the Police is offering them a strange choice.

Every child has the right to dram and dream big. Even a kid born on the roadside had the right to
become what he wants. When we began classes more than 10 years ago for a bunch of gypsy kids on their roadside camp a young lad, around 14, joined our classes just because we had some foreign volunteers. Like every kid his age, he liked ogling at young girls, more so if they were blonde and pretty. Sanjay, however continued to study with us, unlike some of his pals who left along the way. I often use to tell these nowhere children that they too had a right to dream big, and that dreams did come true. Sanjay finished school and joined pwhy as a teacher. That was a great story in itself!

One day a film maker wanted to make a film on a feel good subject and to me the gypsy lad turned teacher seemed a great one. However that is not what it turned out to be. Sanjay shared his dreams with the film maker. He wanted to go to Bollywood. It did not quite happen but Sanjay became a model and walked the ramp not only in India but in Paris! Gypsy boy to ramp model! And he even starred in a movie aptly called Bollywodd Boulevard! Everything is possible.

Yet for too many, children who are born in underprivileged homes are destined to failure. This is not the way it should be.

Who will bell the cat

The midday meal programme could have been a boon for India’s children just as ICDS should have been. But Alas, though the programme was conceived impeccably the implementation and the monitoring was left in the itchy hands of the corrupt or as maybe, and apologies if it sounds cynical, its failure was seeded in its implementation as is the view of an activist who quips, “Perhaps the government does not want the scheme to function properly. They want problems to be created so that people ask them to stop the scheme altogether. Maybe they want to hand over the scheme to some corporate organisation”. It is tragic that 23 children had to lose their lives for the scheme to be exposed.

I agree with this view as it is one that is evident in many so called social programmes. Let us take education which is now a constitutional right. If every child was truly educated the profile of India would be transformed to the detriment of the political masters. Yet they want to look good to the world so after 6 decades of Independence they finally vote a Right to Education bill that defies all logic. Free education is from 6 to 14. What happens before 6 and post 14. An enigma. The pass percentage is as low as 33%. Looks good as statistics but does not get you anywhere. Then instead of sprucing their schools that stand on prime land but are often dilapidated, they come up with a 25% reservation for ‘poor’ children, setting criteria that allow access to middle class kids whose parents are willing to take some not so honest shortcuts. I state this with responsibility as I have witnessed it. So the idea that the state does not want the midday meal to work makes sense. Just as they rushed privatisation of education, they would be too happy to hand over the midday meal to corporates. Feeding 1. million kids makes good business sense. What one forgets was that when the scheme had been thought of, the idea was to have mothers and the community cook this meal! But surreptitiously things mutated to enable corrupt individuals to get their pound of flesh. Mothers mutated into NGOs often set up by interested parties or private contractors. Quality went for a free fall and nutrition too. Insects and lizards, worms and ultimately pesticides that resulted in the death of children.

The situation is terrible. Portions are insufficient. Conditions unhygienic. Utensils dirty. The list is endless. The reality is that no one cares for the children who are treated like a burden. No one is really interested in their well being and proper nutrition. The monitoring is on existent.

When after the terrible incident of Chappra, teachers were asked to taste the food, they went up in arms and even suggested that it be ‘tasted’ by street dogs. Though this was promptly shot down, it shows the attitude teachers have towards poor children. According to me teachers and students should partake of the midday meal together! Maybe that would change things.

What all this shows is the inability, intended or real, of the State to implement and monitor any social programme. All they excel at is formulating and drafting more and more of the same to gain political support that translate into votes.

The question is who will or rather can bell the cat

Five rupees joke

One thought one heard it all with the prayers to God to stop rains so that our traffic moves smoothly on Delhi pothole filled roads or that demure dressing protects you form rape (I wonder which diaper the babies that have been raped should have worn!) when a new shocker comes courtesy the ruling party. If we were to believe them than no one should be poor because you can have a meal for 12 rupees a day and if that was not enough another leader stated that you could eat well in Delhi for Rs 5! This after the planning commission has revised the poverty statistics and declared that : every eighth person living in urban areas is below the poverty line, while one in five rural residents is poor, the Planning Commission has estimated, hence the poverty ratio has declined to 21.9 per cent in 2011-12 from 37.2 per cent in 2004-05.

Dear Politician this game of statistics to prove that aal izz welll inIndia makes me want to throw up. You crunch the number and make some inane political statement and hope to get away, and sadly you do as many vote you back in power falling for your skewed and dishonest statements. Who do you want to fool? One does not need to be a rocket scientist to see poverty amidst your glitzy malls and gated communities. have you ever thought who build them? And how they live? And where there go? And what happens to their kids?

You come up with cleverly drafted options to meet your so called goals. You privatise schools and reserve 25% seats for the ‘poor’. I challenge you to do a survey and find out how many really poor kids get these seats. Oh you have taught us well. People know how to make fake certificates and fake rental agreements to beat your system. And it is kids of fairly well to do families who avail of this so called reservation which is meant to give good education to all. But does 25% meet the needs of ALL the children of India.

You say that 12 rs or 5 rs can buy you a meal. For you a daily consumption of 28.65 rs is enough to live in a city. I challenge you to so. And it is not only your 5 bucks meal but there are things like housing, clothing, eduction, health, transport! Or is this only for you.

I am speechless, repulsed, sick and ashamed of being a citizen of a country where no one cares about the poor.

Pray to God

Our politicians never fail to flabbergast me! The one that still has the power to startle me though one has come to expect the most ludicrous and preposterous statement from her is our very own CEO! The latest in her exceptional repertoire was her one line answer to a question posed to her about the water logging this city has to face after a heavy spell on rain. In her true inimitable manner she declared: Pray to God to stop Rains!

New Delhi is not the only city in the world to receive heavy rainfall. Moreover rains are the lifeline of our land. And our lady should be thankful for the climate change over the past decades because I remember Delhi when monsoon rains would hit the city non stop for days. Now we just have hours. Any self respecting city should have a proper drainage system. Ours has clogged drains and in my case we have a  peculiar rain storm drain as it stops tow houses away, where the owners have simply filled the drain and cemented it. Moreover the frenzy we have seen in the last few months where every square inch of a earth on the roads has been cemented makes it impossible for part of the rain water to percolate as should be the case. The cementing frenzy is to unable to fill pockets before the next elections.

The other excuse that is thrown at us for any problem we may encounter is the helplessness due to the multitude of agencies that rule our city. So why not sort this problem once for all. I am sure we as voters will welcome the move. If a girl is raped we are told the police is not under the Delhi administration and anyway women have  no business being out late at night, and even her daughter is scared after 10pm. If roads are flooded it is the responsibility of some other agencies . And this goes ad nauseum.

She is not the only one to come up with wise cracks like these; many of our politicians do be it their comments about the way girls dress to the very latest from the Bihar Education Minister who says:  he cannot guarantee that the disaster will not repeat itself. 

So let us take it from the top: if roads are flooded Pray to God; if you do not want to be raped stay at home and dress demurely and do not have a drink! We have had our share of this nonsense and it is not funny. We keep being told that Delhi is to be transformed into a second Singapore. It is glitzy malls and uber rich constructions that will make it happen. It is cleaning the city, disposing of its garbage, having drains that work and roads without potholes. We need to have an ace rain harvesting system and above all proper habitat by the ‘poor’ who play probably the biggest role in keeping our city going.

Maybe one should move in the other direction, I mean modernise the city from down to up.

Till then we are all praying.

Another tale of two Indias

Last week a young 11 year old became one the youngest to undergo bariatric surgery. She was born normal but undue spoiling and the lifestyle of the rich made her morbidly obese. This is the same country where babies on the other side of the fence are born with extremely low weights; where 5000 children die of malnutrition related diseases; where basic clean drinking water is a rarity for many; where millions still go to sleep hungry. On the other side of the fence there are many like this young girl who get overfed the wrong things to the point of becoming seriously damaged.

The lure of the west, the proliferation of fast food outlets in humbler areas, the easy availability of all junk food in smaller and thus cheaper packaging – a great marketing ploy -; the smart TV ads where superstars extol the goodness of packaged food are now making the poor leave their healthy fare and get lured by all these unhealthy products.

In our creche we have mothers giving Instant noodles and small bags of chips to their children in place of the home bead roti or parathas and home cooked vegetables that we saw some years back and that they still cook for their husbands. No matter how much we plead, the TV ad is not a match for us. I wonder how long it will take to see our first obese slum kid!

In a plastic bag

What would you do if you had to carry the body of your dead child in a plastic bag for miles at an end from the hospital where he was born? I am not joking but dead serious. This happened last year to a tribal couple in a country that boats of luxury hospitals, swanky malls and the world’s richest people: India. A tribal, Ayappan’s wife Valli, near term pregnant with child, had hypertension and anaemia. The nearby tribal mission hospital referred her to the tribal speciality hospital at Kottathara 43 km away. But this hospital was crumbling and many of its facilities, like the ope­ration theatre, were closed down. So Valli was referred to the Palakkad Medical College, over three hours away by jeep. By the time they reached there, it was too late—she gave birth to a still-born male child. The hospital denied the couple an ambulance to take home their dead child. Ayappan and Valli carried their dead child in a plastic bag and took the state transport bus. They had to change four buses before they reached Kalpetti where they buried their first-born in the corner of their field. This is one the heart breaking stories that appeared in a leading magazine this week.

The article is about extreme malnutrition in the tribal belt of Pallakad district, Kerala. I urge you to take time of your busy schedule and read it with your heart. In the last six months scored of children have died in the tribal cluster of Attapady. The villages are in a pitiful state with no drainage or safe drinking water and scant food. Women are severely anemic, and children malnourished. Most of this happened after the land of the tribals was taken over by mafia in the name of setting up windmills. The tribal have no access to the forests that once were their feeding bowls, ensuring them proper nourishment. You can get the details of this horror story in the article. Some tokenism and knee jerk reactions have taken place, but everything will be back to square one. The tribals are not understood and easily marginalised in the name of development. yet with so many infants deaths the tribes are worried they might just be wiped out.

To me what is disturbing is that this is happening within the knowledge of politicians and administrators, and now the media. It supposedly has all the social hand outs that the government sets up but none of them work. The hospital is decrepit, the creches do not work and I am sure no school exists. No one is truly interested in the area as it only returns one MLA!

Is life so cheap in our country? Our these children not ours? Are they not protected by the rights enshrined in our Constitution. Have we lost our consciences forever? Will once again this terrifying story be forgotten as all others that do not concern us directly?

Try to imagine the pain and sense of helplessness and hopelessness of the mothers who see their children dying. Try to imagine the distress and anguish of tow young parents carrying their dead child in a plastic bag for miles and miles because a hospital denied them an ambulance? And if you can then will you remain silent or scream.

Fit for human consumption

Following the terrible tragedy that killed 23 children in Bihar, our city went into reviewing mode with officials taking stock of the situation of midday meals in the capital city. An article published this morning in a leading newspaper details the issue. I was aghast to read that the said officials gave themselves a pat in the back saying that over the past two years no sample had been declared unfit for human consumption. What is this a joke! They were quick to add that 50% of samples collected failed the nutrition test. I am lost. The midday meal is meant to provide nutrition to children. I agree that nutrition levels need to be tested but how does the fit for consumption but come in. Why should meals meant for children be tested for their fitness for human consumption. This in nothing short of mind boggling.

Delhi’s record is abysmal. 80% of the food cooked is substandard. It is time something was done. I shudder to think how all the schemes heralded with such fanfare will perform when implemented. The answer is quite evident. Either there is a lack of will and only political drama or the whole system is so corrupt and poorly conceived that no programme can ever be well implemented. Why should be bother many would think? Well first and foremost it is our money. But that is not all. Under nourishment is something we have to look at seriously. If children are malnourished then their entire development is compromised.

As midday meals seem to be the flavour of the day following the recent death of 23 children, be are hearing a slew of horror stories from insects and lizards, to scorpions, of cooking on sceptic tanks next to stinking loos. And as the story enfolds we get more and more disturbing news about the way the midday meal programme is being implemented. And believe it or not Bihar even returned 500 crores to the centre, money meant to build kitchens and buy utensils for the midday meal scheme. The bottom line is that no one cares for children. And schemes made for children are the easiest to be hijacked.

The midday meal scheme is probably the best solution for dealing with malnutrition in children as it covers children from 0 to 14. Pregnant and lactating mothers are also meant to be covered so the critical nine months and 1000 days of good nutrition and constant monitoring should ensure no under nourished child in India. It is something we all should be proud as it is the largest school feeding programme. But sadly that is not the case. We should be given the Nobel for botching every programme meant for the poor and diverting it to bottomless pockets. How can anyone have gall to divert funds meant for the hungry and the destitute. But we have. Learn from us! You don’t believe me? Here is another proof.

A programme launched 2 days ago in this very cit, the capital of India, and meant to arrest anaemia in children by giving them iron and folic acid landed 20 of them in hospital. No wonder parents are scared!

Wonder how the new Food bill will fare. Midday meals are an intrinsic part of it!!!!

Time we woke up!

Death at noon

The writing is on the wall if anyone, just anyone is willing to see. We know politicians and their cronies and administrators and their lackeys will look away and go an hunt for the most implausible and far fetched explanations that no one, but they, will buy. The likes of us may utter a few concerned exclamations, maybe allot it some space in their next social event and move on. What I am referring to is the horrific death of 23 innocent children whose only fault was to have eaten their midday meal in their school, the very meal meant to provide the very nourishment they need to grow healthy and strong. Instead it too away their lives.

When we began pwhy way back in 2000, I was involved in some networking with the Delhi administration and  one of the things discussed were the midday meal. At that them a proposal was mooted, but of course rejected, of having mothers form cooperatives and cook the midday meal of the school their children go to. Needless to state that the reason it was shot down was that it did not allow space for corruption of any sort. Instead the programme was used to gratify friends and acolytes enabling them to loot abashedly. In some states this approach was selected and needless to say the children get well cooked and nourishing hot food. In some states however the ‘contract’ was awarded to big businesses who dole out supplements of sorts to replace the midday meal of creches and schools. But ‘supplements’ are supplement to something, and these children have nothing to supplement. They often depend on this hot meal to survive and hopefully thrive.

Sadly this is not the case. We are so corrupt that we do not even spare children. The midday meal looks great on paper but this not the case in reality. In the national capital the food is sub standard and barely edible. Our children are fed with grain crawling with worms, flies and even lizards. In one state, the contract was given to a liquor baron. The bottom line is that the amount of money to be made runs into thousands of crores and everyone wants a share of the pie. Nobody gives a hoot about the beneficiaries: voiceless and hapless children.

The midday meal or a clone of it is part of the new Food Security Ordinance. I cannot begin to imagine how it will work better under this new cloak. A quick glance at the series of article on the subject paints a gloomy and disturbing picture.

When we ran a small residential unit for Manu and our boarding school aspirants, we had a tight budget, but the one thing we never compromised on was food. I cannot imagine what kind of being you have to be to want to enrich yourself on food meant for children and starving people.

I do not think that the new avatar will change things for children but know that it will enrich many on the way. And no one will fight for the children. They will continue to die.

How many deaths will it take to clean our Augean stables.

grain drain

It is a reality that should make us hang our heads in shame. In a country where millions go hungry every day, where 5000 kids under the age of 5 die every day of malnutrition related diseases, we allow food grain to rot every year. The latest report comes at a time when the Government has rushed its Food Security Bill through an ordinance. In Bhogola, the wheat sacks are kept in the open and are completely getting drenched in the rain. The ones that are covered with polythene sheets are also not protected as these sheets are torn at places. Rotting grain is an old issue. Multiple articles and stories have appeared in the media over the years. In spite of Supreme Court orders and a plethora of social programmes that are rammed down our throats time and again, nothing has changed. India remains a poor country with pathetic roads, no electricity, insufficient and poorly run schools and abysmal health care. An interesting article explains in its own manner the reason for this immobility. Now we have all been ‘gifted’ the Food Security Bill, a supposed panacea for all the nutrition problems of the country. Yippee!!! I wonder how a given quantity of grains to 800 million people will solve malnutrition and address the problem of undernutrition.

Breaking News. I interrupt the flow of this post to share some terribly distressing news: 20 children under the age of 10 have died after consuming the midday meal served in their school. It seems the rice had some lethal pesticide in it. It seemed it may not have been properly washed. Whatever the reason, nothing can forgive this criminal Act.

The midday meal is also an important part of the said Bill. If they cannot get their act together now, what miracle will occur to change things. Maybe one should have set one’s house in order before conjuring new plans. Malnourished children die of diseases that are preventable. Maybe we should look at this more closely rather than dole out more suspicious hand outs. It is all in the name of garnering vote banks: the ruling party brings an ordinance, the opposition will not dare oppose it in spite of its flaws as every one needs to woo the poor. There are sufficient schemes in place the intelligent and honest approach would have been to simply ensure every one of these work adequately. But that is not the way things work in our country. You need new programmes to add new avenues for corrupt people.

The new ordinance has flaws. The obvious one is that a certain amount of grain given to a person does not solve malnutrition which is the main bane of the country. This needs preventive medical care, sanitation and safe drinking water. To curb undernutrition the 9 months and 1000 first days of a child are crucial. Early malnutrition cannot be reversed.

This bill is no magic pill. It is just one more political gimmick aimed at retaining power. When will we see politicians truly willing to put their house in order?

Health a la carte (2)

This is in continuation of my earlier post Health a la Carte.  I had ended the post with the following words: So as per plan we shipped the husband to the hospital late in the night! Imagine my surprise when I was told that he had been given a single room! Was it an answer to my entreaties or to my prayers. I do not know. But I feel a little better knowing I beat the system. How naive I was! or should I say stupid, credulous and dupable! I really thought that prayers and entreaties could work in our world. That night I went to sleep believing that better sense had prevailed and we had gotten a room where we would just have to pay the difference between what our insurance gave and the going rate! When we had shipped the husband late at night in pouring rain,  so that we all could spend some time with him, we were reconciled to him having to share a room. So when we got the news that he had been given a single room I really believed that my stratagem had worked.

I woke up before dawn and reached the hospital. I was happy to see my husband fast a sleep in his ‘single’ room. I sat with him and we talked about things that we often are not able to at home. Some reminiscences, some plans for a morrow we still are unsure of. A sort of bucket list of twilight years. Anyway I was happy to see him in his room, though the needles and lines made me uncomfortable. Some time later my daughter came in and as we were not sure of the time he would be taken into surgery, I decided to take a short break and be back after a few hours. I had barely reached home when my daughter called to say 2 units of blood were needed and thus 2 donors. She would be one of them. I rushed back with my son in law. By that time the husband was in surgery and it was waiting time. My daughter and I decided to wait in the famous single room as we were promised that we would be contacted on the phone by the OT when it was all over.

The phone rang and we both jumped hoping to hear that the surgery was over. But the call was from the administration and asked me to come down to sign some paper. I went to the office and was given a blank sheet and asked to write that I was willing to pay the difference in the room charges. A while later another call informed me that actually I had to sign a proforma! Wonder why I was not given the ‘proforma’ before. I duly went down and was given a typed letter that stated that I would pay all the additional charges that went with a single room: surgery, anesthesia and so on. The letter was dated the previous day. I signed the letter but wrote that this was given to me at a particular time one day after the date of the letter.

I knew I had been had! The time when I was given the letter was when my husband was in surgery and there was no way I could take him away. The proforma had not been produced when admission took place on the previous night. Had they done so, we would have gone for the double room option. We were asked to deposit some money and it took a lot of patience and tact to get a figure out of these people. 50k were deposited and we were told that we would be given back any money not used. But there was a rider! if the money was under 20k we would get a cash reimbursement, and if was over 20k a cheque. Would you believe me if I told you that the reimbursable amount was 20 040! I am still waiting for the cheque.

When I thought this drama was over we were in for another surprise. Another call informed me that the three days sanctioned by my husband’s PSU had expired. Now the husband got there at 10pm on the 9th, so in my simple mind he was covered till the 12th morning. Not at all. The first day were the 2 hours from 10pm to midnight counted as one day. Though I got one day extension, we brought him home on the 11th.

I do not know what awaits us now. I know that we visit the hospital with the results, we will again have to go through a seduction game aimed at comforting and scaring us at the same time. But I am prepared for the onslaught of their well rehearsed spiel and have my answers ready. I have read and reread all I possibly could – God bless the world wide web – and will not be caught off cards. Come to think of it, I may not even take the husband!