And the deafening beat goes on

It has been about 5 hours since I wrote my blog about the horrific gang rape and hanging of two young teenagers and my decision to raise my voice against such shameful occurrences till someone finally breaks the deafening silence. Five hours is all it took to be at my post again! Another teenager was gang-raped in the constituency represented by the supremo of the ruling party of the State. She was seventeen. And if that was not enough to get us seething, a rape survivor’s mother was brutally beaten by the father of the rapist because she refused to withdraw the case against his son. This occurred in the constituency of the Chief Minister of the same state, and the son of the aforementioned supremo. No arrest has been made while the woman is battling for her life.

I again want to reiterate that the strong, developed and inclusive India that our new Prime Minister wants to usher cannot begin to see the light of day as long as such horrific incidents continue to happen. Women constitute 49% of the population and if they are not included then India cannot be considered a blessed land!

The Badaun rape case as it seems to be known now seems to have got the attention of one and all. I am not a follower of Antisthenes but a sense of deja vu fills me with despair. I guess sufficient meat to prove my point. What do you say when you hear the Chief Minister of the State where these horrendous rapes have taken place under his watch and in his family stronghold tell a journalist who ask him about the abysmal law and order situation quip: “You’re safe, right? You feel secure?“. Let us not forget that it is the supremo of the same family who said some time back: boys make mistakes. The mistakes he was referring to was rape!

I do not see justice being meted in these circumstances. Some arrests have been made is what the State Government in a report to the centre and the guilty shall be punished. Why do I find this hard to believe?

An article that appeared touches a chord, if not many. It touches upon our reaction to such horrors. I will quote some lines that I found disturbing and yet so true: Sometimes a picture is not worth a thousand words. The photographs of the two Dalit girls, raped and strangled and then left dangling from a mango tree in Badaun have caused a firestorm. On one hand it’s been blasted as the “pornography of rape”. On the other hand, it’s been described as a jolt to wake up a blasé society where rape, especially out in the badlands of UP, is commonplace enough that it does not make front page news anymore. 

There is a point there. We are so inured, so numbed by the never ending horror story of rape that it seems we need to descend ever lower into the pits to be shocked to attention. It’s as if faced with a rape story, the media has to ask the question “What’s new about this one?” Is it a toddler? A foreign tourist? Or now is it the horrific spectacle of these two teenagers hanging from a mango tree while a crowd of villagers including children gawk?

The author ends his article with these terrifying words: If indeed we now need to see the “strange fruit” on our mango trees to be shocked, it begs the question about what kind of people we have become anyway.

These hard hitting words compel us to some serious soul searching. Have we really come down to this or will this photograph be the turning point we so need. Will it at least makes us accept that we have become people who are inured to atrocities as long as they do not touch our own. How many more such horrors will we have to see before we let out the cry that can bring about justice to all girls in our land.

Enough of these band aid and feel good solutions. Sadly our new Minister for women who is a woman herself has gone the usual way. She blames police laxity, and promises to create yet another rape crisis cell. She is also ‘willing’ to ‘recommend’ a CBI enquiry should the parents so wish. Come on what is the willingness and recommendation nonsense. The parents want JUSTICE and want this to never happen to another woman again. We want a Minister who is willing to think out of the box! We are fed up of ‘enquiries’ ‘commissions’ and such other jaded options. We are talking of young girls whose lives were brutally truncated before they even began. The little girl watching the scene must be thinking: is this going to be my fate to?

It is time to take the bull by the horns and to change all that needs to be changed. It is not the purview of one Minister or one department. It is concern of all the 49% of us! We have to get rid of everything that is feudal be it the police, the politicians or the so called feudal lords. We are a democracy. Don’t we love repeating this, so let us be a true one and right every tort.

Let us make these two beautiful girls the turning point and not look back!

It is one of us who could raped.

Music to my ears .. I hope and pray

The new dispensation has fixed its top priorities, ten of them reminding us of the ten commandments! Priority number 2 states: Prioritise education, energy and water. Mr Modi has repeatedly during his campaigns said that the expectations of the education system remain to be fulfilled. This is music to my ears as I have always propounded that only quality education for all will help bring about the India’s of our dreams.

I have my take on education and state with conviction as for the last almost decade and a half I have been up close and personal with what goes in the name of education in our capital city. I have often written about this but feel that few take heed of my rants and raves. But I will soldier on stubbornly in the hope that I am heard.

Education in the other half of the city, the one the previous dispensation even hid behind giant placards during the infamous Commonwealth Games , is nothing but a sad and now jaded joke played year after year on millions of voiceless and helpless children. Though the city has large earmarked plots for schools, the ‘schools’ built on them can vary from enabling to forbidding. While some have adequate buildings others have one storied barracks with asbestos sheets and yet others have tents and classes in the open. This in a city with varied and often inclement weather. Some have desks often broken and splintered making them dangerous for children, some even have desks that are too high for the students who learn standing. I guess getting someone to cut the legs is an administrative procedure that may take ages! Toilets and drinking water facilities are also of diverse degree: from adequate to non-existent. A toilet without a door is a no no for a young girl you will agree. Where there are ‘playgrounds’ these are often unusable and dangerous. The husband recently was willing to upgrade the grounds of the school next ground and get coaches and equipment but was met with the hydra headed monster of red tape even though he was not asking for a penny and was creating the facility solely for the children of the school.

I could go on and on but I guess you get the picture. But there is more. After 67 years of Independence we have not been capable of building sufficient schools for the children of the capital and hence the same building is used in two shifts and our boys go to school in the afternoon when we all know capacities are diminished. And if that was enough, classes are overcrowded. In some cases there are over 120 kids in a class. This is mostly the case with girls, are even illiterate parents have now understood that the state run schools are not up to the mark so send their ‘sons’ to the myriad of private schools that have mushroomed to fill the gap.

In this situation the abysmal pass percentage of 33% and the no fail policy till class VIII is a no fail policy for large numbers of drop outs post class VIII drop outs that sometimes can barely read and write.

I would urge our new Education Minister to please hike up the pass percentage to 50% as elsewhere in the world and to reframe the no fail policy in a way that it ensures that a child moves on to the next class only if he has mastered the curriculum of the class s/he is in. Whatever the reason for lowering the pass percentage – I was told it was to increase the number of ‘graduates’ to access funds – it is absolutely detrimental to the child and no one has the right to play with any child’s future. I cannot begin to count the number of kids we have salvaged from these conditions, kids who have not only passed but become toppers.

The children of India deserve better and I hope our new PM and Education Minister will stand by them. They have waited for far too long!

jus primae noctis

This picture is not from some old western. Nor is it a shot from a movie set in medieval days. This is a picture that was taken a week ago,  214 kilometres from where I sit and write. It is making world headline news and simple Googling for the words – cousins – rape – India – will show you how the story has been picked across land and seas. I normally do not like putting such pictures up but this time I felt the need to do so. It is high time we garner the courage to look straight at this horrific picture and have the guts to hand our heads in shame more so because, we are today on a high after the elections and rearing to make India count. Sorry, but until we ensure that no such horror happens we cannot aspire to that dream.

As you can see, the picture is of two girls hanging on a tree. They were so hung after being gang raped. The girls were Dalit – low caste – and the perpetrator of this heinous crime belonged to a higher caste. This reminds one the jus primae noctis an alleged legal right allowing the lord of a medieval estate to take the virginity of his serfs’ maiden daughters. It is yet again of the assertion of feudal lord to assert their old on the weaker communities. The police as always did nothing till the villagers refusing to hand over the bodies forced the administration to book the constables who had refused to act. Ultimately the guilty were ‘booked’ but the girls aged 14 and 15 were no more. As usual local politicians spouted empty words, the Government ‘promised’ action and the Central Government ‘sought’ a report from the State Government. The toothless Women’s Commission has also sought a report.

If you visit our new Prime Minister’s website and leave a ‘message’ you will, after an initial acknowledgment, get a response in a day or two.  The message says:

India is a blessed land, known for its glorious culture. It is our land that has shown the way to the world time and again. Today, we need to once again ignite the lamp of progress that will take our nation to greater heights and I believe together we can.

Once again I thank you for your wishes and I seek your support and participation in our endeavour to create a strong, developed and inclusive India.

When you see the picture above, the words make no sense. How can you be strong, developed and inclusive if revolting incidents like the one recounted above continue with impunity. How can you quote your past glory when the present is outrageous. And these are not isolated incidents. Far from that.

Rather than celebrate the hope that seems to be the flavour of the day, I hang my head in shame for my silence and my total helplessness. I hang my head in shame for our collective muteness and apathy.

We need to stop limiting our rants and raves to what we feel affects us and resort to guilty silence when the crime is perpetrated on people who we consider outsiders. Last year we somehow found our voices when the young woman was brutally raped in a bus in the capital. True a woman who went to see an English movie in a mall sort of made it to our ‘kind’ and the fear became real. But how do two little village girls in a remote area get our sympathy and make us take the cudgels for them.

The two teenagers were Indians just like you and me, they are constitutional rights just like you and me, they had dreams and hopes just like all teenagers even if theirs were somewhat different. The humiliation, pain and horror they felt whilst being raped was the same we would feel if it were to happen to us. The terror they must have experienced when they knew they were dying was no different from the one we would feel. I can go on endlessly. They were someone’s daughter, granddaughter, sister, friend.! And yet no one helped them in their distress, even those who are paid to do so. On the other hand they became willing partners in the crime.

Our December 2012 rants and raves did not amount to much. Rapes have not stopped and the perpetrators are still alive, but even their walking to the gallows would not make a difference to the crime rate. Our voice has to rise each time such an aberration occurs and we should not keep silent till the time they stop. I urge you all to do so in whatever way you feel comfortable with.

I hope our new Government gives the attention needed to these crimes as they mar the image of India in a way we cannot wish away.

degree or no degree.. that is the question

The latest polemic in town is the issue of our new Education Minister not having a degree, the hallowed piece of paper that opens doors in India. To me is it is absolutely a non issue and will elucidate my take as we go on. However it has become a free for all that may just boomerang on the initiator! It is the question of the day on some channel, and has created a TwitterStorm so let us try and see which side we stand on.

For the past decade and more I have had ample proof that degrees and certificates mean nothing on their own. I am well placed as for the past that many years I have been working with a bunch of great people who have no degrees or certificates but are doing jobs that I challenge anyone to do. I am taking of my staff at project why which was selected after an intuitive decision of mine to source all my staff from within the community. I needed ‘teachers’ to ‘teach’ kids from class I onwards. Now the community where I was on the prowl had scant degree holders and had this been an imperative in my search I would have found no one. I knew what I was looking for and also what I wanted from them: passion, dedication, motivation and the desire to learn. I realised many women had some education that had often been stopped in the tracks because of marriage; I also found some very bright souls that had ‘dropped’ out of school not because they lacked ability but because of some decision of illiterate and over caring parents. The feisty woman who heads a large part of project why is one such kid. When she came to me she had been taken out of school by her doting mother who did not want her daughter to go back to school after she was severely punished for being a few days late in paying her fees. The young girl had been made to stand in the sun and had subsequently fainted. Today she has certificates and degrees more for form then anything else and runs the project with great aplomb! This kid, as kid she was when I met her, is an indubitable proof of the fact that common sense laced with a passion to learn can move mountains.

My other co-ordinator may have had a degree but that was not why I selected him. I selected him because when I first met him and discussed some social issues, I was amazed at how alike was our thinking processes, our values and our approach to social issues. I decided that I needed him by my side and have never regretted what one may call my impulsive decision. He runs my women and children centre with tact and flexibility and has a solved many a thorny issues that even I couldn’t have.

Both these wonderful souls have been my guides and given me not only support but the best advise I could have hoped for and unable me to grow project why to what it is today. Without them I would have stumbled, fallen and even failed. Yet they do not have swanky degrees, do not speak the Queen’s  English or have the ‘profile’ that is usually sought for such posts. What they have in ample measure is compassion, understanding, street smartness and belief in what we do. I could not have asked for more.

The team my two stalwarts lead is also partly  degree less or possesses degrees that have no value at all as is the case in India where 33% is still the passmark to graduate. It is sad that our education has come to this. I have had young men with BAs and even MAs from other States and the street worthiness of these degrees is nil. Actually they more often than not, prove a hindrance as in many cases it gives the ‘graduate’  a sense of false superiority. We have had such young men who have ‘refused’ to work under a woman coordinator with less education. Obviously we bid them a hasty farewell. But that is the exception to the rule. Team project why is five star and as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, kids they have taught have never failed and some are now gainfully employed. As I write these words I just got a call that one of our students has secured 96% in his XII class! I am waiting with bated breath for all the results though I know it beforehand. My kids have never failed me. All this, with teachers who have scant certificates!

Before I end this post I must mention one more person who proved beyond doubt that diplomas and certificates are not needed when you have a mission. Somewhere circa 1998 I had to make a decision that, though incomprehensible to most, was the only one I could make if I were to be worthy of being a mother. I decided to withdraw my younger daughter from school as I knew it was destroying her spirit. This wonderful kid had told me when she was 9 that she knew what she wanted to do in life: care for people with disabilities. I nudged her as gently as I could and as far as I could down the conventional line of diplomas and degrees. She played the game to the best of her ability but there was a moment when we both knew we had reached the end of the line. Even if I had the whole world against me, I knew that I had done the right thing for my child. She began training with autistic children at the age of 15 and has never looked  back. Today she handles the special children of project why with élan and confidence and has years of experience that no one can match. She is to the manor born!

Over the past years I have had the opportunity of testing some candidates with so called degrees. We had an MBA from one of the new universities that love blowing their bugle and come at a heavy price. I was shocked by the total lack of skills of this young man who barely could write a mail in proper English or for that matter handle any of the tasks assigned to him independently. I am glad he found a job as he did not meet our criteria.

We have also had a few persons with certificates in special education but sadly they have not met our standards as they lacked the compassion and common sense approach that is needed when you deal with students with diverse disabilities and varied ages. In a way I am glad that they too found greener pastures. Come to think of it, the ones who have stayed on came with no degree in special education but with their heart in the right place.

So to me degrees and super degrees do not matter; what matters is how you perform on the ground and more than that how you tackle challenges. Our new education minister may turn out to be a better one than someone armed with Doctorates and Post Doctorates. I am sure she will master in thinking out of the box and come up with the solutions our children urgently and desperately need. She comes with a fresh mind and the desire to prove her detractors wrong.

Why oh Y

In India’s capital city which is in celebration mood with the arrival of a new government, a man killed his wife and two daughters aged 2 and 6 months. Their crime? Well the former had not given him a son, and instead born two girls that also needed to be killed. The man and his mother had tortured the poor woman for her inability to ‘produce’ a son and of course for not having brought enough dowry. But let us forget the dowry issue but get back to sex determination saga. To have a boy you need the Y chromosome and that is something a woman DOES NOT HAVE. So she can never be responsible for the child not being a boy.This is a scientific fact and unless we petition to God to change things, this will remain a reality. This was discovered in 1905 by Nettie Stevens who realised that sex determination is due to the presence and absence of the Y chromosome. Women do not have it so how can they be held responsible for something they do not possess biologically.

However it seems to have been traditionally held that women were the ones who determined sex, and  over the ages, women have suffered the worst humiliation for producing girls. In some cases, like the one   cited above, a woman had to pay the ultimate price for something she is completely innocent of. What happened to the innocent until proved guilty!

I have been nurturing the dream of another project, this one named project Y that rhymes with, as my grandson would say as he is into rhyming words, Why! I wonder why, whether it is in biology curricula or sex education, this fact is not made crystal clear. Even to children one could easily say: papa provides the seed and mama the place for the seed to grow. Now whether the seed is an apple or an orange depends on papa. If little boys and little girls were told that at an early age, then the millions of women would not have to suffer a cruel fate.

I know such a project can only work if it is done on a large scale by the State machinery on the lines of an earlier family planning programme initiated many decades ago when catchy slogans appeared everywhere: Ham do, hamare do – we are two, we have two -. I have been thinking of a slogan but my      copywriting skills are not the best. So if somebody can come up with one, it would be great.

As I said this is mammoth task, one that large international agencies should have adopted long ago. To my mind, it would also bring a perceptible change to the number of children born, while of course freeing women from a ‘crime’ they are innocent of.

But who will bell the cat or even cats I should say? That is the question. In our country sex is taboo and considered ‘wrong’, though it is the basis of creation. Hence sex education is defiled by some fringe elements who want to ‘protect’ the honour and tradition of the land. But it is time we talked about it and if the word S** is offensive, then find one that suits your misplaced values, but it is really time we talked about it unabashedly. How can we as a nation, hold our head high when a woman is murdered with her two young children because she gave birth to them!

Will the new Government which has the numbers look at this problem with honesty and courage so that no woman has to ever pay the ultimate price for bringing a little girl into this world.

Coronation Countdown – one more letter to our new PM

Dear Prime Minister

Coronation Countdown is what of the news channel has chosen to name the hours before your swearing in today, May 26th 2014, 18 00 hours. As I write these words, the clock is ticking and we are about 8 hours away. I like the use of coronation for your taking over the helm of our country as I view it as the coronation of the voiceless people of India who after being perhaps bedazzled or simply manipulated, believed that their future lay in the hands of those who used ‘poverty’ as a clever political plank. I too must admit that for some time I fell under that spell and was convinced that all the programmes targeted at the poor would ultimately rid us of the shameful bane of poverty. Today I admit my mistake.

There have many new age theories that propagate that the more you talk about something, the more you attract it and hence it seems that we have collectively erred for brandishing the banner of poverty high and loud. True millions in India are poor and this something we must be deeply ashamed of, but we must view them as part of the whole or in other words as Citizens of India. I would like to think of today as the coronation as these citizens who I hope will finally be given a voice. You have said time and again that you are the Prime Minster of 125 crores Indians and that is what we want to believe.

I do not want to rain on your parade as today is your day. You have proved without an iota of doubt that India is a country where anyone can aspire to and become Prime Minister. You come to the hallowed grounds of the land with a story, a story that every Indian can identify with and thus you become a role model, something we Indians did not have. As you rightly pointed out, those who fought for Independence and even paid the ultimate sacrifice cannot be emulated as we have to live for India. Today the humblest heart looks up to you and feels that s/he to as an opportunity to break every ceiling that till now weighed on his head. With you at the helm, no ceiling is strong enough if you have the will, the honesty and the motivation to succeed. I would urge you to put an end to the bogey of poverty that has too long been a stranglehold.

I know that you have your task cut out for you and its is nothing short of Herculean! But I also pray that these tasks do not entail the falling in the crevices of oblivion, of issues that plague people everyday and tar India in a shameful manner. Most of these are due to the arrogance and feudal attitude of the machinery that we finally bid farewell to.

Without raining on your parade, I would like to remind you gently that on this 26th day of May 7000 citizens of India will die of hunger and of these 5000 are children under 5. This has to end not by handing a few kilos of grain a month in the name of food security, but by setting into motion actions that will entail self sufficiency in every family. Indians are proud people by nature and should be rid of the humiliation of having to beg for what is and should be a right granted by the Constitution. I would like to again draw your attention to the story of Ashok Kaurase who walked 35km in scorching temperatures as he was told that his compensation for crop losses had been credited to his account. It had not and on his walk back, he collapsed and died 10 km from his home. The post mortem indicated that there was not a grain of food in the 50 year old’s stomach. The family had not eaten for days. This happened a month ago. The man had made many trips to the bank to be told that it would take more time. The sum was a paltry 4200 Rs, but to him and his family, it meant life or death. That the money was credited a day after the news was reported is to my mind highly suspect. I tried to find a link to this story but could not. It has appeared in this week’s The Week with the title Hunger Strikes. So you see Prime Minister, even what is promised never reaches in time. Maybe your first step should be to ensure that promises are kept and to make those in charge of implementing such programmes aware of the fact that they are not giving charity and need to respect the dignity of the beneficiary. Such programmes are a sad reminder of our failure in implementing the constitutional rights given to them on 26 January 1950. Deaths from malnutrition have to stop specially in a county where grains rot in the open and food is thrown with impunity.

On this 26th of May, Sir, 6 women will be raped and 14 molested in Delhi. This too has to stop and here again it is not simply by sending a rapist to the gallows that we will solve the problem. Gender equality is again something that will need to be addressed by setting into motion changes in the mindset of those who believe in the inferiority of the female sex. Education can play a role in this and  we need to shed our apprehensions about including sex education at an early age. Little girls are raped and abused  in our country. They need to be taught the difference between good and bad touch as early as possible. And the teaching of the role of X and Y chromosome in determining the sex of a child needs to be explained loud and clear to ensure that no woman ever has to suffer the pain of being held responsible for not bearing a son.

You have given hope Prime Minister to every Indian whose heart beats for India and in your coronation we see the coronation of every soul born on this land.

I wish you success and fortitude.

An Indian

The law of the land needs to be respected…

Whenever a person in uniform with his cap on enters any space where I happen to be, I normally get up. It is what I have been taught by my parents: RESPECT. If it is someone dear to me then I am quick to ask him to remove his cap so I can give him a hug. I know how puzzled my staff felt when in early Project Why days I sprung up like a jack in the box even if the beat constable entered my office in full uniform. Yes, the very beat constable who has known for his harassing and his corrupt ways. It is only when he removed his cap that I sat down. It was the very woman whose father and loved ones were mercilessly beaten by men in uniform who taught this as there was a difference: the ones who beat my granddad where working for the coloniser; the one who entered my office represented free India. That he was despicable was a matter of his conscience, not a reason to disrespect an institution in free India.

The reason I am reminded of this incident is the absurd drama we are being subjected to by someone we all thought, or some of us at least, would bring a change in the political firmament of our country. This post is from No 354495 ( my ancestor’s indentured labour number) to No 3646, the prison number of the main protagonist in the aforesaid drama. This is the person many one believed would change the course of politics in India and usher better times. Today one feels totally let down more so because some of us did ‘forgive’ him many faults as we felt he was a neophyte in a well oiled machinery. We hoped he would learn with time. 
You must have guessed that I am talking about Mr Kejriwal and his AAP. I wonder if it is time to write the obit of his career or wish that he has some epiphany of sorts. But dear Mr K your main agenda has been cleverly appropriated by the new rulers who have been voted by the people of India across the Board, obliterating all schisms that had been nurtured over the years in the name of vote banks. That was one of the things you too had done but then you lost it all. In delhi you did not get the majority you needed and we would have thought you would sit in the opposition. One never thought you would sleep with the enemy. Had you waited and new elections were called for, you would have been voted back to power with a thumping majority. But you chose to rule. Was it hubris that had started taking hold of you. Hubris is a hydra headed monster that few, if any can slay.
That is when your downslide began. You were unable to check some of your associates and take the stringent actions you once extolled. Then you threw it all leaving us rudderless and confused. Did you think that you were ready for the top post of the country. 
I remember once being asked by a well seasoned politician whether I wanted to join politics. My answer was no as I had experienced the corridors of power up close and personal. He nevertheless advised me that were I ever to think that way, I should begin at the very bottom of the pyramid and work my way up. I think his advise was extremely wise. You cannot compete with a person who has worked his way up and spent decades doing so. The learning process is politics is a long and tedious one. 
You also need to be constituent in what you say and that is something we did not see. Your discourse often sounded erratic, as if you espoused different causes and targeted people at your whim and fancy. The one day friend could become foe the next. Having lost you totally floored us when we heard that you were ready to come and rule again, after having lost the battle you abandoned us for. But we are not ready anymore and it will be a long time before we trust you again and you will have to regain this trust if you one day abandon hubris for common sense and accept your shortcomings.
Your latest cause is too me nothing short of absurd. True that we have heard in recent speeches about freedom fighters who went to jail to get us freedom. The reason I chose a number to identify myself is because my ancestor became an indentured labour as his head was put to price. He was a freedom fighter and so was my maternal grandfather whose daughter did not want to give birth to a slave child and thus married post 47. Your going to jail for deliberating breaking the law of a free India does not make sense. You cannot fight in free India like our forefathers did in British India. 
Today you have to respect the law of the land, even if its absurd. Should you want to register your views, there are other ways to do so. Courts have to work according to the laws that have been legislated. If that is not done then there would be chaos. You may be innocent and according to law your are innocent till proved guilty, but again you have to follow the system. There are no two ways about that. Your fight has to be within the system that is open to all sides. If you state something that someone finds offensive, and if that person choses to knock at the door of law, then a procedure is set in motion and we all have to abide by it. I do not think this drama your are enacting will get you sympathy. I find it impossible to defend and I am a good student of Socrate’s maieutic. 
Many saw hope in you but today the same hope is seen in the new PM who also talks of ending corruption. Those who voted for you have crossed the line. 
You will need to set your house in order and find a sound platform to regain those you have lost. Sporadic and incomprehensible actions like the ones we have been privy to recently are alienating you from the very people who once supported you.
India is impatient for change. Maybe what you really did achieve is making your opponents conscious of the ground realities. I guess they need to thank you for that.
This post if from the descendent of No 354495 ( my ancestor’s indentured labour no) to no 3642 

We cannot wait Mr Prime Minister

Everyone is busy giving their bit of  ‘advise’, probably unsolicited, to the new Prime Minister. I guess in a democracy that is what you do. You find these in debates on TV, in magazines and newspaper and of course on the social media. I often read them hoping to find some views that concur with mine, particularly on education. I found one in a recent magazine entitled Focus on Quality and Innovation. I rubbed my hands in anticipation as these were words that echoed mine and I was eager to know how the proposed changes would benefit my 1000+ kids. As I read on the glimmer of hope was replaced by a sense of despair and deja vu! Don’t get my wrong, everything that is said is more than politically correct and well articulated and there is a time line that goes from 100 days to 5 years. The first thing that should shock us all is the fact that a blue print made 67 years after Independence should: outline a five-year vision and ensure every child is able to read and write by Class IV. Now this means that either we have not thought it necessary for 67 years to ensure that every child read or write or that all previous governments have failed miserably to address education as a priority or else that education has till now been a great way of garnering funds and pockets. It is sad that in 2104 we are still making a blue print for literacy. But let us go on.

The rest of the article gives excellent technological inputs and solutions that no one can argue with and even, and that was music to my years as I have been suggesting for years now, the creation of an Indian Education Service on the lines of the Indian Administrative Service. But most of the suggestions will take time and as I have always said children cannot wait.

I reread the article trying to extract what could be applied to my kids now, as kids cannot wait 1, 2 or 5 years. A 12 year old will be 17 in 5 years. This 12 year old, a girl, studies in a secondary school in South Delhi and there are 125 students in her class. A period is for 35 minutes. Now how can a teacher, however good s/he might be, teach anything in these conditions. By the way, girls are told to bring a gunny sack or equivalent so that they can sit on the floor after all the benches for 2 have accommodated 80 odd girls. In these condition, I am sad to say, none of the technological tools make sense, and I forgot that electricity often plays truant. Now as the teacher follows the no fail policy till class VIII, s/he does not feel any pressure to ensure that the students are up to the mark. You amble from class to class till class VII. You may barely have learnt to read and write. We have had students of class VII with a class II knowledge. A year later those children have caught up and even excelled. All that was needed was someone to teach them. By force majeure we too have overcrowded classes and sit on the floor, but our passion and the student’s motivation make us winners.

The author of the article suggest allowing outcome-based private remedial centres to be set up. For the past 14 years we have done just that and more so done with untrained staff from within the community, limited resources, scant space and no charge. The proof of the pudding lies in the fact that since the time we began no child has dropped out and every student has passed his or her Boards, some with distinction. It does not take much to redress the situation and though we would have loved to have all the technological and pedagogical support suggested, we managed quite well, even if I say so myself. If we could do it, I am sure many could provided they had the passion to do so, the same passion that our new PM recognised in the freedom fighters who gave their life for the country. He told us we had the opportunity to live for the country. I guess what he meant was to do something for the country. Without all of us, nothing will truly change. Are we ready to make this ‘sacrifice’.

What does it entail you may ask. Giving up some of your ‘goodies’, some of your ‘time’ and repaying a debt you owe to every Indian who has made it possible to live a life of ease. It would be their children that you would be helping.

The author of the article also suggests that a law be enacted  that makes parents will be liable to punishment-say with forced community service-if their children are not in school. Though again it makes perfects sense on paper, the reality is quite different as I learnt on the field at my expense. I believe that most of the parents are now quite aware of the importance of education and also of the fact that State run schools are of poor quality. This has enabled the mushrooming of zillions of private schools charging moderate fees and where many parents send their sons. The girls are still sent to State run schools. In the same school running 2 shifts (girls in the morning and boys in the afternoon) there are 45 boys in class VII and 125 girls in the same class. Get the picture. So in my humble opinion the reason why parents do not send their children to school is not because they are not aware of the importance of education but because of other realities. Girls are often kept back to look after siblings as the mother works; some parents have jobs that are nomadic in nature. Take the case of this little imp. This picture was taken circa 2003. She was one the brightest kids I have ever met and was an avid learner. However she left us soon after this picture was taken as her father worked with contractors and moved on. While in our area, they lived on the roadside like many labour do. Her father was a drunk and a gambler and her mother who must have been married at a very young age was abused by her husband. The little girl must be 15 or 16 now. Maybe she has been married off as is often the case. But the fact is that her education was truncated because of the nature of her father’s job and the unavailability of any school for such children. If her parents are forced into community service, how will they eat. And how do you solve the problem of all the beggar children. There has to be a way.

So let us get back to a roadmap for our children who we are agreed upon cannot wait. Hence we need a ‘band aid’ solution while lofty programmes are drafted and implemented. I can only talk of Delhi as I have first hand knowledge of the ground reality. Maybe a first step would be to redress whatever shortcomings there are in schools. The picture you see is real. The desks were too big so rather than cit the legs, kids were made to study standing! You may find it funny but to me it is the saddest picture and the example of the callousness and insensitivity of those in charge. So let us have an audit of schools and sort everything that can be sorted out now so that today’s children benefit. Most of the State run schools are in tents or single storied building. More tents could be erected while new floors are made. The speed at which builders erect private buildings is mind blowing. Maybe the same zeal should be applied to schools.

There are many things that can be done now. The question I ask myself is whether this hands down approach will be taken or whether everything will be lost in dreams of larger goals that may or may not be met, while children study standing or cramped in classes where they can barely breathe.

These children who remain voiceless, would like the Prime Minister to know that they cannot wait!

And the winner is…..

And the winner is… we all know who. Curtains have fallen on the biggest reality show ever and one must admit the silence that follows is nothing short of defeaning even if during the past months we have been wanting all the din to end. Come on, let us be honest we had got used to the show, in spite of us, as no matter where you went, what time of the it was, which channel you switched on you were greeted by the next episode of the great Indian tamasha: Election 2014. And even if one may never admit it in public, one has surreptitiously watched all the channels derided by all! Now that is all over, though channels will still try and stretch the last steps of Government forming to the maximum, come Tuesday things will have to settle down and the new formation allowed to deliver. I do hope that every step of theirs will not be dissected and taken apart to increase viewership and hence TRPs. One needs to give them time to discharge their mandate. That is what common sense says.

But I guess the media will always find something to badger you with day in and day out, the latest being the new episode of the AAP soap. Government should govern and opposition should oppose sensibly if we want the country to prosper. The nit picking that we see far too often is not in the interest of anyone.

I do not know if I am for or against, though I know I am pro a strong Government that acts and a CEO that communicates! For the rest only time will tell. I pray that lumpen elements which exist across the board will be kept in check and that every action or utterance will not be viewed with the ‘secular’ angle. This secularism bogey has to stop.

The social media is replete with Letters to the PM, mine included! These offer suggestions or express fears. I hope someone in the entourage of the new PM will look at them as many have positive inputs that come from the 125 crore people he has often mentioned. This morning I was surprised to see An open letter to everyone writing open letters to Modi on my Facebook page. It makes interesting reading if you keep an open mind. The only part I object to is putting all NGOs in one basket and branding them as corrupt. I agree that there are such organisations but want to say that there are people like us who do our bit to make India a better place dipping into our meagre pockets should the need arise. Not all NGOs want to keep people downtrodden,  endangered,  marginalised and victimised. We work because Governments have failed in the past and because children cannot wait for things to happen, they have to helped now, tomorrow is too late for them. I, more than anyone else would like to see my work made redundant today but I am not wearing blinkers and I know that there is a long road to travel before we see no child out of school. For this not only do we need a strong and honest Government, but also an awakening of the like of us with our education and privileges, who should express our outrage loud and clear when we see something that disturbs us: a child begging for instance or working in your neighbour’s home.

I hope our new PM will not surround himself with a bunch of people acting like his eyes and ears. I hope the voice of simple Indians who care for India will reach him. In the days of the Internet and social media ably aided by Aunty Google that should not be a problem.

No matter what the supporters of Prime Minister Modi say, his task is not an easy one. People are expecting miracles and no one can conjure them in the given situation where the rot is so deep. In my very humble opinion, one that comes with a decade and a half of working and learning from the other India, I would suggest looking at what is in existence and bringing short term solutions. For instance a simple audit of schools in the capital can at least ensure desks for children, drinking water, toilets with doors and so on. That is a beginning. A visit to the anganwadis (creches run by the State) could entail working weighing machines, proper nutrition, visits by doctors etc. Such small interventions would be visible and keep hope afloat.

I would also humbly beg the new incumbents to have a look at primary education in India which seems to have not given the results expected. In my mind the no fail policy till class VII can be a good thing in well run schools but in State schools it translates into children in grades IV, V even VII who can barely read. We have had many such children and are proud to say that all of them have made up and some are even topping their classes. It does not take a miracle to ensure this. And also I would urge the new functionaries to do away with the 33% pass percentage and increase it to 50% as that is the minimum required to get simple jobs. Why do we want our children to be 33% educated! To me it is a matter of shame. And believe me this is important as the Principal of a Senior Secondary school told me that as the pass percentage is 33% they only cover 40% of the curriculum. This in response to one of my militant visits to know why the syllabus was not fully covered.

If we want to change India, we have to change its poorest and that means quality education for all. It also means altering the curriculum and including vocational studies as early as class VII. Every child is not academically inclined and so if s/he were to leave school with a certificate as well as skill knowledge, her/his chances of employment would grow exponentially. The skills should be selected keeping the market forces in mind: tailoring, beauty training, plumbing, staff for retail outlets, etc. That would bring the real change we all seek.

The show is over and the winner is and should be India. That is what we voted for.

Woman

As I mentioned in my previous blog  I have not been out on my bi weekly peregrinations for a week, as my man was away so food becomes the least of my concern. I guess it is a counterpoint to the obsessive food management needed for Ranjan. I  cannot count the number of tomato sandwiches I have gulped in the past week. Anyway, one of the shops I go to is in Mehar Chand Market. We normally take the Sewa Nagar flyover and imagine my surprise when I saw a big new display board on a house stating: HINDU MAHILA SANGATTHAN – apologies for my photographic skills which are abysmal -. A simple translation would be Hindu Women’s Association I guess. Anyway the board was not there last week I promise. Is this a precursor for things to come, I hope not.

As I travelled along to my destination, my mind decided to wander in another direction. The words on the sign stated Hindu woman and I began asking myself what is a Hindu woman compared to another woman. Be you Hindu, Muslim, Christian or atheist you are before all else woman, the other half, the often denigrated one. You are considered a burden as you have to be wedded at any cost. You are the misplaced repository of the honour of the family and that entails all kind of injustices. You are denied a voice and can be used and abused at will. If you are born in a poor family, whatever your faith, you may be denied an education, given a different diet than your male sibling, married off as soon as possible. In your husband’s home you are under the yoke of the mother-in-law who is the same be she Hindu or of another faith. You will be derided should you not bear a son, no matter X or Y chromosomes. Actually this happens also in educated homes.

You are not safe on the street, not safe in your home environment, not safe anywhere if you do not have a male protector be it your father, brother, husband or son and that happens in all families. You are taught to hate the other without any plausible reason. As a little girl you play the same games, and as you grow up like the same songs, movies, actors and so on. You have similar dreams and feel the same pain when they come crashing.

You feel the same pain when you give birth to a child and cry the same tears when you lose a dear one. The blood you shed every month is red, and the one that flows when you hurt yourself is red to. The colour of your blood or your tears cannot tell me your religion.

In this election we have seen attempts at polarisation and heard the word secular again ad nauseoum. For electoral gains politicians use religion to divide but this time it looks like it did not quite work. I see a glimmer of hope in our beating this monster out of our lives and hope that signs like the one in the picture is an exception to the rule.

For me secularism means respecting all religions as this was what I was taught by my parents. I grew up in lands of different faiths. A friend of another religion meant that many more festivals to celebrate together and that many more goodies to eat. It also meant praying in different places of worship as my parents never stopped me from going to a church or a mosque or a synagogue. I am lucky that this was many decades ago when communalism and extremism had not raised their ugly heads.

The women of India face the same problems and need the same solutions. What differs is more the social strata they come or whether they live in cities or villages. They all need water, food and toilets. There is no Hindu or Muslim in these matters.

I hope our new masters will remember that we are just women.