Another form of gender bias #GivingTuesday#India

girlphoneAn interesting article appeared in the Wall Street Journal recently. It is entitled: Why the Vast Majority of Women in India Will Never Own a Smartphone. The emerging new middle class will purchase all sorts of things ranging from washing machines to even air conditioners but would not buy a smart phoneA for their daughters. The fear is a love marriage, something unacceptable to many families. Patriarchy supersedes technology.

Statistics are glaring: 114 million more men own cellphones than women. Once again women are denied the benefit of one of the greatest technological leap of our times. Smartphones are not just love machines; they have become an essential tool in our day and age and more than that are a great social leveller. They can help learn, increase skills, communicate better and above all increase their safety when they are out of the homes. But the fear is so deep seated that in rural areas village councils bar unmarried girls from possessing a cellphone.

The whole matter lies on the skewed view of placing the family’s honour on the tender shoulders of the girl child. An aberration!

Even those meant to protect us are quick to blame the woman for crimes like rape and even the ubiquitous cellphone as was the case a few years ago. when a police officer said: western culture, mobile phones and lack of entertainment as reasons for rape. Still trying to decipher the meaning of these words.

The question that begs to be asked is why is no one willing to address the cause and take measures to eradicate it. The bandaid solutions that are too often proffered are always steeped in gender bias. It takes two to tango, but in these cases only one is reprimanded.

From the day she is born, the girl child is treated differently at every step. She has one reason to celebrate at least she is not one that was killed in the womb as is sometimes the case. From the day she is born her life is decided by the men of the families she will ‘belong’ to: father, brother, husband and in her twilight years son and so are her choices.

Today it is the smartphone. God knows what it will be tomorrow.

In 2005 a letter was written to a girl who died in the in the womb. It ended wit these words:

Who are you: a statistic in the records of the hospital, a pain in the heart of many that will slowly fade away, a regret, a topic of discussions with its share of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’… I do not know..

To me you are the little girl who refused to be born in a world that she felt was not worthy of her… a child who took her one and only independent decision..

And we abide by it…

 

 

 

 

The seven vegetable pizza #GivingTuesday#India

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Way back in December 2007 we celebrated Xmas at the women centre. One of our resident at the women shelter was Christian and she told us about the cakes her mom made and we ordered many for the party. Sophie one of our volunteers wanted a full scale celebration so there was a Xmas tree and all other decorations as well as pictures of Santa and gifts of course.

The children however were not Christians but mostly Muslims with a scattering of Hindus and it was left to me to make the link that would make sense to the kids. The kids got it as they always do: treats! Ladoos on Hindu days, vermicelli pudding on Muslim day and cakes at Xmas. As simple as that.

Festivals are about food.

Recently I was shown another side of the religious food story courtesy a wonderful volunteer of Indian origin who has always lived away from this land but whose family has followed traditions by simply adapting them. In their community you eat seven vegetables on Diwali. The hitch is that no one really likes a vegetable curry. What do you do? You take your kids’ favourite food and adapt it: enter the seven vegetable pizza, the family’s answer to traditions.

To me it was more than a ‘story’ that brings a huge smile to one’s face. This pizza held the true essence of the Hinduism I was brought up in and which embraces all and adapts to any situation.

Maybe we will have a seven vegetable pizza for Diwali this year!

Thank you Viren!

What Bob Dylan meant to our generation #ThrowbackThursday

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The news of Bob Dylan getting the Nobel Prize for Literature was one of the best news coming my way in a long time. For those of us who were young and impressionable in the sixties Bob Dylan was an intrinsic part of our lives.

I write this slightly personal note today as I want young people to know how deeply we were influenced by song and poetry and how important it was to us. Let us call it serendipity, but a few hours before I heard the news I was telling a young man how ‘dating’ in our time meant sitting in a park reading poetry or singing Dylan songs. In those days music was heard on turntables and the more you liked a record, the more scratched it became but who cared. Those vinyls in their soon tattered covers were our prize possessions.

Dylan was more than a song to listen. His poignant and hard hitting words use to lead to heated debates that moulded  our pliable minds and the adults we became were definitely influenced by this incredible poet.

What is amazing though is that hearing his words today, half a century later are still as meaningful as they were then.

In those days we believed we could remake the world into a happy and peaceful and it was the age of the flower children and the hippies on a soul journey. That did not happen.

Today the world is the antithesis of what we had dreamt. And never before have Dylan’s words rung more true.

 

 

Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Bob Dylan 1963

 

 

Warriors of Air #GivingTuesday#India

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Don’t go by the picture! These kids are the luckiest as they live on the bank of the river in the middle of green vegetable patches and breathe good clean air, or at least the best available in our capital city.

For the others the invisible bars of polluted air are slowly appearing and will soon incarcerate us all for the months to come.

You guessed right! Air pollution is on its way. WHO has  just confirmed that Delhi’s air is the worst of all megacities. Fine particulate matter is already four times more than what is acceptable.

That the situation is critical is obvious but to put matter in perspective here is a fact: India’s capital was the only megacity to record a PM10 level above 200 µg/m³, exceeding the WHO air quality standard of 20 µg/m³ by more than 900 per cent.

The monsoons have gone and with it blue sky and breathable air. For the past few days a grey lid covers the city and no, its is not rain clouds. In some areas farmers have begun to set harvested fields on fire, construction sites are thriving  and in a few days festive celebrations will begin and firecrackers will burst with impunity. And then as winter comes small fires will be lit to keep warm, more fields will be set on fire, cars will rev in the traffic and the smoke of industrial chimneys will add to the toxic cocktail. And we will be breathing this air as we have no choice.

Or do we?

We all know that the air is polluted, that water is scarce and so on but how many of us take any remedial measures. The rich will buy air purifiers and soon the poor will too as  prices are coming done. Market forces!

Is it not time to stop looking for bad aid solutions and do something for mother Nature.

Easier said than done as the fight is somewhat skewed. Talk of firecrackers and it is all brought down to mores and tradition, and what about the fire to warm yourself. When you live on the street then that is the only way you can beat the biting cold. For farmers it is easier to set fire on the land than painstakingly pullout old roots.

Air pollution has dangerous effects on humans, animals and plants. It leads to heart and lung disease, global warming, acid rain and more. Children are the most affected. Children from urban slums suffer the most as they rarely take a break and get to breathe clean air.

The problem with the solutions are that they require life style changes that many are not willing to adopt: take the bus or the metro instead of your car, switch off lights and appliances you are not using.

Some measures are impossible because of no availability of safe infrastructure. One would love to walk but where are the pedestrian walks, one could cycle to work but where are the cycle tracks. It is said that if water is sprayed regularly on roads and construction sites there would be a change in the air quality, but this again is Catch 22 itself as water is scarce and precious.

Most of these solutions are not in our hand as they involve government and administration.

At Project Why we believe that the first thing is to make children aware of the critical situation that exists and then inform them about the ways to curb air pollution so that even if they cannot do things they can become Warriors of Air.

Some of the steps they can participate in are: segregation of garbage. asking their families not to take motorbikes for short distance errands, learn to recycle and reuse, convert garbage into compost, switch off lights, etc.

Let us not forget that it is children who suffer the most. 4.4 million children in Delhi already have irreversible lung damage. So if not for us we have to think of the children and their tomorrow.

It is only when we ALL accept to become Warriors of Air that things will change.

 

Learning to…#GivingTuesday#India

dscn2565Two weeks ago, two class XII students murdered their teacher. The reason: he expelled one of them for poor attendance. Rage, anger, frustration? Nothing can condone violence of this kind and the boys will face the law.

The question that begs to be asked, though few will, is: who is responsible for this brutality and the answer may not be as easy as one would like to believe.

This extreme action should compel us to look at reality in the face. The two boys were school going and had studied hard enough to reach class XII. They were not one of the (ill)famed dropouts.

That any child would resort to such abhorrent violence must lead us to look at the present education system and social environment our young live in particularly in urban slums. This post is not meant to justify the act but prevent it in days to come as violence and aggression are an intrinsic part of the DNA of underprivileged children.

Education is undoubtedly the one tool that shapes mind and thus life. School should be an enabling environment where every child blooms according to her or his capabilities and talent. Education goes far beyond three Rs.

At Project Why we have always believed in Jacques Delors definition of education, namely his four pillars of learning: learning to learn, to do, to be and to live with others. Sadly education as we know it stops at the first.

One of the reasons of setting up Project Why was to address a unnatural reality: the half day school system whereby boys go to school post lunch. The school is for girls in the morning. Boys are left to their own device as their homes are tiny and so the street becomes their realm. With no quality parental control they are left to themselves. Bunking school becomes easy and as they grow the transformation between child and bad element is bound to happen. What we forget is that we are a part of the terrible mutation.

That they should be aggressive and even violent is again to be expected. Child physical abuse is rampant in both homes and school and becomes the only tool they know. No one talks to them or asks them their point of view. Communication is one-way from adult to child and they have no voice. So where do they learn to be and live with others.

We once asked a group of secondary students who were regularly beaten in their school what was the one thing they would change if given a chance and ALL of us would have bet our bottom dollar that the answer would be physical abuse. We were astounded when they told us that they would give the child a chance to explain himself before beating him. Beating was par to the course. What they wanted his a voice.

Children need to be heard. Children need to be recognised as individuals. Children need to be respected. Their talents need to be discovered and honed. They need to be given means to vent their anger and emotions. If the two boys who now will spend years in a brutal jail had been taught better then three lives would have been saved.

It is time we took responsibility and acted. Education reforms are needed but again they have to be the right ones, the kind that helps every child to grow to her or his full potential.

 

All television is educational television. The question is: what is it teaching? #GivingTuesday#India

All television is educational television. The question is: what is it teaching? wrote Nicholas Johnson.

Television is the most ubiquitous object as it breaks all social barriers and finds its way in every nook and corner of the land. Satellite dishes dot the most unlikely roof tops from crowded slums to the thatch homes of the agricultural labour tending to vegetable fields.

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No matter how poor you are, TV is always something you will find money for. Nicholas Johnson is right in saying that all TV is educational but then what does it teach today?

In the times of 24 hours and innumerable channels there is a lot on offer. In tiny homes with a sole TV there is not much scope for parental or any kind of control. The preferred programmes are undoubtedly the plethora of soap operas that seem to have taken the place of the weekly movie outing that was once affordable. Today the big cinema halls with different ticket rates have been replaced by multiplexes where you pay the same for front or back row.

In yore years the back row was for the dating couples and the front row for what was know as the whistling viewers. Post movie day there was a week of processing what you had seen. And in yore years again Bollywood movies did have a social message. Gone are the days of tear jerkers!

Soap operas are family dramas that are a far cry from the reality of those who view them in slums. Nothing resembles the harsh reality of survival. They do provide a much needed escape but where escape is good once in a while, it can be nefarious when resorted to constantly.

Then there are cartoons that are often seen by children after much negotiation and even violent arguments. Some are innocuous but others can be violent.

There are  movie  channels, reality shows, music channels and even educational channels. Common to each is the clever interspersion of ads. No wonder that you find the most upmarket products in the poorest of homes as these are available in affordable pouches.

Many young slum kids learn their dancing and dress sense from the box. Not a bad thing some would say.

But too much of anything can be dangerous and when there is no control of any kind danger lurks in every image.

At Project Why we try and put things in perspective. The only means to do so is to give every child that comes to us the freedom to share her/his thoughts and desires with us allowing us to help her process it rationally. It is all about open communication.

TV or for that matter any information source is educational provided it is backed by processing and understanding.