Only girl can decide nature of touch

A court ruled recently yesterday that Even if you keep your hand on the shoulder of a woman, it is for the lady to comment on the nature of the touch, whether it was friendly, brotherly or fatherly, in other words only a girl can decide the nature of the touch. This judgement comes as a huge relief as finally the protectors of law have understood the ‘good touch, bad touch’ we women often speak of and which is far too often rebuffed by men as a figment of our imagination. We women experience this time and again when the touch of a man who maybe part of our social circle or work environment or even part of our family sends a chill down our spine and makes us recoil in disgust. And it is wrong to believe that that this ability comes with experience. Far from that. Even a little child can feel the difference between good and bad touch. 

In India and I guess the world over children are abused relentlessly by people they know, people who are respected within their families, neighbours and others. These children know when the pat or the hug is good and when it is bad. But when they muster the courage to tell this to someone they trust, they are again brushed aside with an outraged reference to some absurd notion like family honour! 

Please remember that when a child summons up the courage to tell you about such an incident, it is because she trusts you implicitly and playing her down is condemning her to consequences that can destroy her whole life. Yes even a pat can be abuse if it is perceives as such. The reaction is intuitive and instinctive. Predators lurk at every corner and do not have horns! They look just like us and sometimes are people you trust. 

The statistics are terrifying. It is time we all took up the cudgels against this terrible crime.

The dot you do not see

The dot you do not see on the picture, is our planet Earth viewed from the Martian sky. It is a beautiful reminder of who we truly are and takes care of any hubris we may be tempted to fall into. This is all 7 billion of us viewed from the heavens above. Makes one feel tiny doesn’t it?

Maybe it is not hubris we should aim for, but its opposite Sophrosyne which is the virtue of  healthy-mindedness and from there self-control or moderation guided by knowledge and balance. Sophrosyne is a Greek Goddess considered to be one of the good spirit that escaped Pandora’s box. She is the spirit of  moderation, self-control, temperance, restraint, and discretion. Whereas we humans have embraced Hubris with great haste, few of us even know of Sophrosyne.

If we accept that we are the dot you do not see, then we are forced to abandon Hubris and seek Sophrosyne and remember that we are an infinitesimal part of a Universe we have no control on. All we can aspire to is temperance and self control. But sadly that is not the case around us.

If you look around, you see only hubris.

What would you call the politician who had everything on a platter should he have followed the precepts of Sophrosyne and moved with temperance and self control. But he wants to conquer Rome in a day!

What do you call the politicians who rush and pass bills to garner vote banks if not hubristic. No one cares about the outcome as long as one can get back in power. We have had quite a few of these lately. In today’s world no one is willing to wait. They want it all and they want it now!

Some want statues of themselves, others aim for the tallest one in the world. One who dreams of the top cuts a huge birthday cake in the shape of the Parliament House. Is it not hubris.

And that is not all, to garner more brownie points bills that have lain gathering dusts for years at an end and not been passed, are passed through Ordinances, there validity a mere months if they are not ratified by Parliament. Who cares. Elections are now and vote banks need to be seduced now!

Our politicians are great followers of hubris. More so if it gets them in power and what ensues.

And everything has conjured to make this possible. When we started our lives Ranjan and I, we had a scooter, no TV and very little in the bank. Things came slowly and steadily as we worked towards getting them. It was the BC days – before credit – and you had to live within your means. Now with you can get anything you want. You are even solicited to do so as is proved by the number of calls you get offering you loans and credit cards. Moderation, self-control, temperance, restraint, and discretion are all thrown out of the window.

Hubris breeds impatience. Hubris coaxes illusions of grandeur. And we all fall for it. I guess I did too when I thought I could build Planet Why and let myself be swayed by an impossible dream. And is it not hubris that makes me want to see Project Why live beyond me. Why can I not just accept the maxim: The King is dead, long live the kind.

It is time I took a serious look at the dot you cannot see and tempered my life. It is time I embraced Sophrosyne and accepted that it is not I, but someone greater that controls our lives and thus decideds what happens next. I simply need to follow. Only then will doors open!

Shalu and the brass band

Yesterday we had the Kikiristan Fanfare come play for our children. They were a merry band of 8 somewhat reminding me of Sergeant Pepper’s revisited. They played for our Okhla children and then for our very very Special children. The session with the Okhla  kids was great with the band members interacting with the children but what happened on the terrace of the special section was mind blowing and a one in a lifetime experience.

It all began with me asking Shalu whether she would dance with the band. I had no doubt that she would agree, as unlike us ‘normal’ people, special kids have no inhibitions. They simply follow their hearts. But nothing could have prepared me for what was to come.

I asked the band leader whether Shalu could dance with them and of course they agreed. Shalu went and took her place centre stage and broke into her dance. She danced with the band for over three minutes and to anyone who did not know the truth, it looked like a very well rehearsed bit and was mind blowing.

Shalu is incredible!

But that was not all. After the performance the children were invited to ‘try’ the instruments and it was heart warming how to see our little angels blow the big horn or try their hand at the drums. We were quite taken aback at Loveleen’s prowess at the drums and of course Munna trying to blow the horn was a unique moment.

The show was pure magic. The special kids and the French Fanfare: incredible project why.

Open the doors of your heart

My friend Saras runs a day care for disabled children and adults in Malaysia. Today she faces an eviction notice. The reason: two neighbours do not want the premisses to be used as a day care for special souls. My heart missed a beat when I heard this news as we too run a day care that is almost a clone to hers: in a residential area for children and adults between the age of 7 and 48. For them it is the only place where they can spend some hours being happy and accepted and loved and cared. It is the only place they can be who they are, and be appreciated for being who they are. In Saras’ case the applicants have suffered nuisance throughout the day from 8.30 am to 5pm, Monday to Friday as a result of intolerable noise made by the special children as well as their attendants and carers and nuisance of experiencing the uncomfortable sensation of seeing the disabilities and sufferings of all the special children, the whole day, day in day out.

I am speechless and do not know what to say to such people. My first thought would be to tell them that not to tempt the fates as a special child can be born in any family, even theirs. What world do they live in and how can seeing a special child be viewed as a nuisance. They are the most precious children in the world. Actually we are the ones who are truly disabled and challenged as we do not have the heart to accept anyone who is different. They open their hearts to each and everyone who has the guts and ability to look at them straight in their eyes. And once they accept you they never let you down as they know not what treachery or betrayal means. It is we, the so called abled who master these emotions.

I pray Saras can save her centre.

It is no mean task. I have battled many demons to keep our centre going and even then it is has not been easy. If things had happened as I wanted them to and had people reached out and opened their hearts and purses, then the little girl in this picture could have lived her life in dignity. Sadly, for want of funds, we had to shut our residential centre and were unable to raise the funds for our own building. Radha who suffers from brittle bone disease – osteogenis imperfecta – and lives in a dark damp hole with 7 other people, could have lived in a happy and safe place. For the past weeks she has not been able to come to our centre as our leg has festered and she may have to face amputation if gangrene sets in. It is too difficult and excruciatingly painful to take a bumpy auto rickshaw ride every day and be carried up three flight of stairs to our centre. We are helpless and can only bring her some support in her home, but can not fill it with sunlight or laughter.

All the very special souls who come to our day care, come from homes where they are not cared for and yes they are noisy, and yes they look different but they have come to this world the same way we have and are entitled to everything we have, if not more. But more than anything else, they need our love, our acceptance and our protection. They are the truly children of God and not being able to open our hearts to them in tantamount to shutting our door to God.

It is time we opened the doors of our hearts wide and unconditionally.

Saras we are with you in your fight.

The think the ayes have it, the ayes have it, the ayes have it

For the past days I have been watching the shenanigans of our elected representatives with horror, sadness and shame. The democracy we hold so dear to our hearts and are so proud of looks like a joke when you see the behaviour of our august parliamentarians in the hallowed halls of parliament House. I am not going into the merits or demerits of any Bill in particular but simply highlighting how things happen. We all witnessed how our 49th state was created yesterday.You do not need to be a rocket scientist to understand the reasons for the rush in passing this Bill in an election year. Once again sleeping with the enemy was acceptable as every party wanted a share of the pie.

To my simple mind, the very fact that there were so much dissent to this bill, would have meant that it should be looked at again and not passed in a hurry behind closed doors while a technical or tactical glitch kept the drama away from the very people whose government you are meant to be. Once rushed through the lower house, the higher house spent a ‘day’ discussing it before again passing it. What we saw was people shouting, holding placards, and shouting some more. One has to ensure that Parliamentarians have a good pair of lungs! But jokes apart it all seem well orchestrated: you will shout, you will try and speak, and the chair will intersperse it all with a dose of ‘please sit down’ and the ultimate ‘the house is adjourned for 10 minutes’ and the whole thing repeated over and over again till the time everyone wants to have his evening drink and meal. Then the show changes mode and you go on to pass the bill by what they call voice vote. The punch line then is either the ayes or the noes who have it, have it, have it and voila the fate of millions is decided. Yesterday there were many moments when MPs were busy laughing or talking and never said there ayes and noes. It was all prearranged.

One would have thought that Parliament is where people discuss and amend bills. Not at all. It is where politics is played at an astronomical cost paid by you and me. There are over 130 bills pending and one day to pass them.

There is one day left. I wonder how many bills will be passed today. Will the Disabilities Bill be passed or are the disabled people not a good vote bank, and what about the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act to ease restrictions on use of opioids like morphine for pain management. Will it be passed or will the cancer patients be denied an easy death because our MPs are too busy garnering brownie points. 

Only time will tell.

All about empowerment

circa 2013


There has been a lot of talk on the importance of empowering women! One of our supposed PM candidate has been more than busy wooing women as suddenly the 49% of us seem to be good electoral fodder. India will not become a superpower if women aren’t given opportunities. We need equal representation for women at all levels to make them empowered he clamours for those willing to hear him. I again wonder why it has taken 6 decades to understand this, why bills linger for decades waiting to be discussed and passed. Let us not talk about rapes, rapists who sit in power, patriarchal kangaroo courts who dispose of lives of women they feel are custodians of their honour. And how can we forget women who lull their hungry children to sleep every night with promised they cannot keep. 

Forget about all this. Suddenly we the women of India have gained importance and are told that we must feel free and safe and wanted. I would love to know how this leader would achieve that and why no one felt the same way earlier. The 49% of us has been there from day one! So why did it take 66 years to realise that: India can’t be a superpower until we empower women. Wonder when that will happen.

Today I want to share with you two real stories of women’s empowerment that I have witnessed and even been a part of. When I decided to set up project why, I also decided to give a chance to those who were never given one and thus sourced my team from the very community project why was reaching out to. Many were women and each is a story of empowerment waiting to be told.

I will today tell you the story of two such women, though one of them was a baby when I first met her. I mean Rani and Kiran. Rani must have been about 15 or so way back in 2000 when we set foot on the street she lived in. A school drop out – not because of poor marks, Rani is Harvard Business School material – but because she was beaten for being late in paying her fees and her doting mother withdrew her from school. Rani had finished a nursing’s aide course and was waiting to get married as in her community girls are married at an early age. Though she lived in the shadow of a  very dominating mother who barely allowed her to speak, I could sense a feisty spirit that was raring to break free. Thankfully her mother liked me and accepted that Rani help me in my work and she thus ‘joined’ project why and was in charge of our nutrition programme where we distributed bananas and cookies to children. The way she set about her task from minute one showed that she was a born leader. That banana and cookie tray was her first step to empowerment. A decade later she was and still is heading a large part of project why. Along the way she finished school, got her Bachelor’s degree and I am told she will soon get her Masters. 

But that is not the real side of her journey to empowerment. The real side lies in her acquired ability and prowess to alter the destiny of her family and thus become a true agent of change. The young girl who once only wore the ungainly clothes her mother chose, has now convinced the same mother that wearing a pair of jeans or a skirt does not change who you are and that values do not depend on the way you dress. Rani’s deep beliefs are intact and she has shown that one can be ‘modern’ without giving up what is important. Rani has transformed the quality of life of her family and her aptitude in sifting out the good from the not good is remarkable. The child who once had to carry water from long distances and sleep on a mud floor, is now a savvy woman in charge of her destiny and the destiny of her family. A truly empowered woman who will walk the extra mile when needed and hold on to what she believes. 

The other ‘woman’ who got empowered along the way is Kiran. She was 1 day old when I first held her and is now a teenager. Thanks to the support of her aunt Rani who had understood that a good education was the real trampoline to a better life, she  was admitted in a good public school and is now in class VIII. She is a spirited teenager who knows her mind and has her head in the right place. Kiran is the little girl who spends her holidays teaching our challenged children,  some of whom she has known all her life. She had opinions and defends them when needed. 

These two young women are the proof that if given the right conditions and support, one can battle strangling patriarchy and unfair and unreasonable diktats. They are the kind of women who can turn India into the ‘superpower’ mentioned above. But there is caveat. These two young ladies could only begin their empowerment journey because they had moved from survival mode to risen from survival mode thanks to the hard work and determination of their mother and grandmother. They had the basic enabling environment that is the first stet to any empowerment: food, a roof on their heads, access to school, health and so on.

When politicians come up with highfalutin ideas about empowering women they forget that in India today millions of women are denied the very basic needs to survive. A mother who has to constantly worry about how to get one meal for her children even if that means ferreting for grains in a rat’s burrow, cannot begin to think of empowerment of any kind.Her life moves from one meal to another with an occasional thought about what story she would tell her child to lull him to sleep should she not be able to get anything to eat. This is a reality we cannot shy away from. I once again quote Ash in the Belly They scour the harvested fields of the landlords with brooms to garner the gleaning of the stray grains of wheat and paddy… they follow field rats to their burrows and are skilled in scrapping out the grains stolen and stored underground by the rodents…after each weekly market ends, they collect in their sari edges, grain  spilled inadvertently by traders or rotting waste vegetable… they even sift through cow dung for undigested grain. (Ash in the Belly page 6). Maybe the politicians who talk of women’s empowerment should read this book before they open their mouth.

The women of India are extraordinary beings who survive in circumstances beyond imagination. The first step to empowering them is to help them move out of the survival mode they are condemned to and give them the dignity they deserve. What will happen after will be nothing short of a miracle. Maybe that is what the 51% so fear!

1176 hours

1176 hours equals 49 days. 49 days is all it took for the new kid on the political block to be compelled to render its resignation. The jury of course is out. I watched with amusement how the satraps were quick to vituperate and denounce the move and try to muddy the waters. We all saw what happened in the Assembly as old foes got together to defeat a bill that was meant to reign in corruption. I am not going into the merits of the bill which I am sure is not perfect, but then do feel that the valour with which old adversaries stuck to each other speaks volumes. The way in which they pretended to be knights defending the Holy Grail of corruption was to say the least laughable. And their wanting us to believe that they were simply safeguarding modalities and procedures did not fool anyone. The bottom line was that none of the old political parties wanted a law that would target them. It was too uncomfortable to say the least. When the session ended they were quick to go on camera to show themselves in a good light.

With the resignation came the accusations. The incumbent government it was said had run away as it was unable to keep the promises it had made. This sounded preposterous. They had been in power for a mere 1000 hours as compared to the 66 years the people of this country had patiently and stoically given to the old and entrenched parties. 66 years in which no government had been able to give drinking water, 2 square meals and a roof to millions of people. And what about proper schools, health facilities, roads without potholes, electricity in other words all the things that are enshrined in the very Constitution every one was pretending to defend. I guess it is a case of selective choices. Where is the justice, equality, liberty and fraternity we the people gave to ourselves on the 26th November 1949. These words ring hollow when we see them in the reality that surrounds us. Liberty and equality is only for the chosen few. So to my mind it sounds ludicrous to expect anyone to deliver promises in a mere 1176 hours.

What endeared and still endears the likes of me to the new political party that briefly shone on the political firmament of our city is the fact that they sounded like a breath of fresh air and went against everything that we were forced to accept as the almost holy prerogative of those we had elected: from red beacon lights to unbearable arrogance with everything in between. The ‘mango’ party as it has contemptuously been called, was the exact opposite. True they were unable to ‘pass’ their pet bill and thus true to their words they resigned but not before exposing for those of us who are willing to see, the fact that sleeping with the enemy is totally acceptable when needed and that finally all political parties have similar agendas.

This post is neither an apologia nor an elegy. It is simply a statement of facts that one needs to remember. The din and noise that is being made to try and drown the little positives that have happened in the past 1176 hours should not blind us to what we have witnessed. For the first time we saw some kind of shelters put up for the homeless and even if they were just tents at least it was something. An audit was made of the existing schools’ resources something that activists had been clamouring for, hospitals were also inspected and remedial measures taken where possible. An anti corruption cell was set up and if nothing else, for the last 1176 hours the police harassed fewer people as was confirmed by the three wheeler drivers we employ.

An attempt to listen to the people was also made. True the weekly contact programme had to be abandoned for practical purposed but I am sure some other system would have been found. The idea of local committees to suggest how the money given to local leaders should be spent was a good one as we are all silent and mute spectators to the innumerable times perfectly good footpaths are destroyed and rebuilt for no reason at all if not the garnering of deep pockets. With time I am sure a via media would have been found and the money used in a sensible way that would benefit people. But therein lay the problem: all these changes were touching issues that would have hurt those used to make money. It was bad enough to have one’s red beacon lights taken away but basta! Let us not forget how quickly – in a matter of minutes – the Parliament passes a bill to increase their salaries and how bills that would better the lives of the disabled or women linger in Parliament for years at an end. Get the picture?

No one wants their comfortable boats to be rocked. There is a line that cannot be crossed. And the AAP was guilty of crossing the line.

It was refreshing to see a party that believed in transparency. It is time political parties were upfront with the source of their financing. The uber expensive PR campaigns we are witnessing – be it the lengthy TV and print advertisement or the state of the art tea parties – makes us wonder where the funds are coming from. And come to think of it the sight of a CM sleeping on the pavement touched many more people – I am referring to simple people – then the glitzy advertisements that punctuate any TV programme we see.

The Cassandras will come up with all sort of criticisms as days go by. The Pollyannas will hold on to the dream that they believe in. Somewhere in between the likes of us must decide whether we want change and if we do, whether we are willing to forgive mistakes and above all give time to anyone who is willing to walk an honest talk. If we are not, then we are doomed to the old ways for a long time to come.

This time I am not crying wolf

If I told you that the future of this little girl is linked to the shenanigans of our political masters and the image people have of our country, you may think I am talking nonsense, but sadly that is the reality. It is always the innocent and the helpless that bear the brunt of the wrongdoings of others. India is slowly falling off the map of tourists and donors. The perception of India as an unsafe and unstable place is too big an adversary for this little challenged child. To be able to spend a few hours every day laughing, singing, dancing and learning with her friends is entirely dependent on our ability to keep our doors opened and run our day care for special children. Should we be unable to do, the world as she knows it crashes without a sound. This is also the reality of the 1000 children project why reaches out.

This morning I got a mail that very gently suggested that all is not well and that funds that we were a lifeline may dwindle sooner than we think. It would be untrue if I said that this came as a bolt out of the blue. Actually it was more like a Damocles sword that has been hovering over my head for long that gently fell. I know I have cried wolf many times in the past but each time an Angel appeared and set things right. This time I am not crying wolf.

Some may say that everything has an end and that one should accept this reality and bow to it. How can I! What have my innocent kids done to deserve such a fate. They have played by all the rules and even walked their extra mile. Not only have they passed each examination but have topped their class many times; they have come each and everyday come rain, hail, storm or unrelenting heat. They have done us proud in every way they could. They have proved time and again that they were worthy of our trust and love. How do I tell them that because India is no more the flavour of the day, you are neither. Should I have to do so, I would never be able to look at myself again. They never asked for me, I went to them to fulfil some need of mine. Now it is payback time for me.

I cannot put the clock back and change things. I cannot conjure from a non existent hat a super endowed being who would come and make things right. I cannot wallow about all the I should haves that I did not do. Hindsight is great but futile.

The miracle case scenario would be to find someone who would give us access to the interest of a corpus fund that s/he could withdraw should we fall out of line. Stop dreaming old biddy is what I find myself repeating.

So what do we do. Cut costs is what many would say. So help me out. Which of the 1000 do I axe: my babies in the creche ( I know that is what my reasonable team would suggest) but my heart breaks; the challenged ones, the primary, the secondary, Okhla, Khader and so on. Get the picture. It is more than Sophie’s choice.

I know that as hours pass, I will come out with some band aid solution, have I not always done so. But that is not enough as this day will dawn again and again till the time we find the sustainable solution, if there is one.

buffaloes are black and black is not beautiful.

I never thought that at the ripe age of 60+ I would be writing a post on colour, I mean the colour of your skin. But in a country where tracking down the robbers and returning the buffaloes to a leading politician has become the top priority of a district police, everything is possible. Apologies for using this example for a post that deals with something as serious as racism, but this is simply to show where our priorities lie. However buffaloes are black and black is not beautiful.

The simple reality is that we are racists though we are not man or woman enough to admit it. Look at our matrimonial ads!

Being different is not easy. I grew up being different and having to fight for my place in the sun. As my parents were diplomatic nomads I was waltzed from country to country every three years. The colour of my skin was never the right one. And what was the worst was that my name which sounded like something out of this planet. As a child I was lucky to find friends who stood by me and made me feel wanted. It was only when I went to boarding school in Switzerland at the age of 15 or so that racism really hit me. My classmates much older than me and from rather rich homes disliked me for being a good student. They made fun of my name, my rather humbler clothes as theirs were branded and ostracized me. In a dining room that had tables for 8, no one sat at my table as I was the ‘noire’, the black one. At 15 it is not easy and I decided to pack up my bags and go home to Ankara where papa was posted.

Later, when I was on the marriage market I was again faced with all this black and white business. Everyone wanted a fair bride. I bore the brunt of some remarks about the colour of my skin and put and end to all this drama and happily found my husband. I know of a dark girl whose family was asked for a car as the girl was so dark! And we say we are not racist.

The incidents that have occurred lately in our capital city targeting Africans and people from the North East have not only touched a chord deep inside me but also saddened me and made me hang my head in shame. What endeared me to my religion as I was growing up in lands of different faiths was the feeling of tolerance I found every time I flung what I thought were trying questions to my parents. Whenever I asked if I could fast with my Muslim friends, go to church with my Christian ones or be part of Sabbath festivities with my Jewish pals, the answer was always a resounding yes and as this game continued I felt stronger in my belief. So when I came across the ugly side of the religion that I had accepted so unconditionally, I was lost. Sadly this sense of loss has deepened as intolerance and aberrations came my way relentlessly.

Today, when I saw that following the terrible death of a young Indian from Arunachal, students from the North East were demanding a law against racism, my heart broke without a sound. Is this the India our forefathers fought for, the India my father told me not to lose faith in shortly before he breathed his last? Is this where we have reached 66 years after Independence?

Our intolerance now seems the rule rather than the exception. The stories that have poured out after the cowardly attack in the middle of the night against young Africans are heart wrenching, more so because that is not who we are. It seems  we have become lulled into stupidity by our so called politicians who have forgotten the spirit of our constitution and decry diversity instead of celebrating it.

Before I carry on, a breaking news that again shows the pits to which we have descended. The buffaloes have been found and 3 cops have been punished for not having done their job promptly enough. This assumes a different proportion in the light of the fact when it comes to dealing with people, the police is to say the least incompetent.

The reason why I am so angry at this intolerance towards people who are different is that I know this is not who we truly are. I would like to share a true life story with you. The story is about Stone, our very first volunteer who was from Uganda. It is true that it took a little time for the community to accept Stone, and it also true that some bad tongues did mention N and H words, but the children accepted him with open arms and as he marched the kids up and down the street, it did not take long for perplexed and even intolerant looks to turn into big broad and welcoming smiles. It was Stone who was the first to open his heart to Manu and to care for him when no one else did, notwithstanding the terrible state he sometimes was in, drenched in his own excrement. Stone would bathe him like you would your own child and never lose his smile. Over the few years he was with us, he not only taught the children but reached out to anyone who needed help. I was quite amused when one day, a woman known for her violence and foul ways slapped a passer by who had dared use the H word for Stone. The morning he left, the whole street was outside and even the most hardened souls were openly weeping. Stone was and African and he was black. As it taken 10 short little years to make us into intolerant wimps too scared to stand up for what is right.

Everything is now a mad scramble for vote banks. Students from the NE began a candle light vigil to seek justice for their murdered kin. Here was a cause to espouse in election times and all political parties jumped in the bandwagon: one aspiring PM screeched his take in a rally, the other chose to sit in with the students, whilst our new CM proposed to make his presence felt today. Where were all these people when a young woman was brutally raped last winter? Oops I guess rape victims are not vote banks to woo.

Will the young boy from Arunachal get justice. I wonder. Will people from the NE get the protection they have been promised is also a big question. Here again it is about changing mindsets and not win to vote banks. I was beside myself when yesterday the coordinator of our women centre told me that some kids were refusing to come to school today as it was Saraswati (Goddess of Learning) puja and they had been told that they were not to touch books and pencils. Now where did this come from and which vote bank does it woo.

Reservations, quotas and affirmative action have become the favoured weapons of our political class even if it goes against the very grain of the Unity and Diversity are kids dutifully learn in their schoolbooks. We are Indians last after being from a city within a state, a caste or sub caste within a religion and so on. And above all we remain stuck on our notion that black is lot beautiful.

nursery admissions

The nursery admissions annual nightmare is on. It has had many avatars in the past years, each more ludicrous then the other. In a city where there are 4 tiny tots applying for 1 seat, the odds are really skewed against the poor souls. Over the past years nursery school admission procedures have gone through many mutations and avatars. Each time a problem arises due to the supply and demand situation, a Committee is promptly set and a new set of regulations are made making our children nothing short of guinea pigs. I remember a time when a young woman I knew burst into tears when she came to know she was pregnant. When asked, she answered amidst sobs: I cannot go through a school admission again! I do not blame her as getting your child admitted to school is a herculean task! To give you a taste of what it was 3 years ago in Mumbai, I simply suggest you read this link. This was the time when parents were submitted to a sort of Spanish inquisition. Here is a sampler:

Do you have a PC at home? Are you the carrier of a life threatening disease? How big is your house? What car do you drive? Do you have your tax returns in place? And most importantly, do you have a criminal record? The normal answer would be : this is none of your f****** business!! But beware the wrong answer would deny a place in school to your child.

When the parent’s interview’s were found to be outrageous, a new model was conjured and you had the points system and the possibility of your child being rejected by umpteen schools and the said system was elitist to say the least. Then there was the donation route which again left the humbler children out. All this whilst schools made money hand over fist as they charged greedily for admission forms and you had to fill up umpteen if you wanted to see your kid’s name on the hallowed list. More Committees with unclear terms of reference or should I say hidden agendas. Then came the quota wand! Oh how we love this word: QUOTA! It has been the preferred route of our political masters to muddy waters when they are in a soup. So over and above the points: siblings, gender, alumni, neighbourhood etc there was the management quota that at least protected those who had connections or moolah. It suited some interests.

By this time the debate on neighbourhood school versus 25% reservations for the poor was raging and the later won. Wonder why? Insidious privatisation of education was in full swing instead of the saner option which would have been to improve Government schools and make them a valid option for the the middle class. And therein lies the problem. Everything got lost in translation as inane regulations were drafted and Government schools left to decay. Let us not forget that most of our senior bureaucrats are G school alumni! So quota it was: 25% for the poor and underprivileged and then the point system. Now we all know that we Indian are masters at beating the system. I cannot begin to tell you how many fudged income certificates and tenancy agreement have been made to circumvent the problems. So be it the 25% quota or the neighbourhood points, most of them do not really have the real beneficiaries.

Last week, another bombshell: the scrapping of the management quota. Ouch. It hit where it hurts! And to answer the question our CEO quipped: “Schools are charitable societies and their motive should not be to earn profit. Why are Delhi schools resistant to being transparent? They should not have approached the High court.” I am a bit lost. Education should be run by the State and yet no one talks of revamping the G schools. Now in Delhi, there are Government schools everywhere, almost at walking distance and many have single storied sheds. They have huge grounds and ample space to grow. Instead they are falling apart. Why not look at them and make them the logical option to everyone, and those who have issues about their kids studying with the kids of their staff can built their own gated school. It is time the children of India learned together as it should be and schools became the level playing field. But who will bell the cat.

Till that day, all we will see is more parents harried, more kids suffering and quality education never reaching the child most in need. Let us not forget that parents are now empowered and that even illiterate aspire to a good school for their kids. Education is a a right our kids earned after 6 decades of Independence so please do not botch it for them.