the (mis)rule of law

Champa may soon lose her home, one she has lived in since she was a very tiny girl. Champa lives at the ill famed transit camp with her mother who works in homes as a maid.

For the past few days Champa has not been able to comprehend why her mom has not gone to work. She normally leaves at 6 am, even locking Champa out. Champa cannot comprehend why everyone is shouting and cluttering the street. All this is disturbing and unsettling.

What Champa is witnessing from the confines of her simple mind is actually a plight that is befalling many residents in India’s capital city. The transit camp, as its name implies, is land that was given to slum dwellers two decades ago, when they were moved out of an upmarket location. At that time one wonders whether anyone understood what transit meant, or whether the authorities gave them a specified time frame. Over the years this camp turned into a vibrant and crowded colony, with multi floored structures where rooms were given out on rent. Greed and false promises of regularisation made by local politicians looking for votes lent a sense of false permanence and some original allottees even sold out their plots.

For the past year or so this long forgotten colony once at the edge of the city, came back into the limelight as authorities rediscovered the meaning of transit. Since many an attempt to seal or raise it have been made, each met with the understandable anger of the residents aptly supported by some local politico or the other resulting in the usual drama of protests and arrests.

But this time for reasons yet unknown it seems that this colony will be destroyed and thousands of men,women and children will yet again be rendered homeless notwithstanding their ration card or voter’s ID that proudly displays a transit camp address. This time it seems that the game is over and no amount of palm greasing or political support will help.

The transit camp issue brings to light one of the worst ailment that plague our social fabric. Whereas we all know that the rule of law must prevail, laws are never respected at the initial moment but allowed to be circumvented endlessly till all avenues are explored regardless of the human factor but propelled by the greed of one and all. As a society we have to be made to understand that laws need to be respected from the time they are promulgated.

Champa’s case is poignant. If her home is relocated she loses not only her home, but also the safety and protection of pwhy where she spends the only happy moments of a very sad life.

I’m explaining a few things

Once again I borrow the title of one of my favourite Neruda poems. The need for this post is based on a call from a dear friend and supporter who was a bit perplexed at what what happening at project why. I guess his doubt came from the posts like this one, and could have given the impression that we were stopping our activities as they stood today.

Far from that, project why as it stands today- 2 early education programmes, 4 primary education programmes, 1 day care for special children, 1 secondary programme and 1 computer centre – is thriving and will continue to do so as long as no outside factors come its way.

The thoughts shared on several blogs of late about planet why was because of some issues that one cannot afford to play down. One is the likelihood of seeing many of the slums we work in relocated prior to the Commonwealth games coupled with the sometimes incomprehensible sealing laws; the other is the need to plan a long term sustainability effort that is in tune with the demands of the market forces and in consonance with our abilities and skill, and last but not the least is the long term responsibility we have towards some of our more fragile wards in the light of a quasi absence of state run residential programmes for such forsaken souls.

Keeping in mind the possibility of seeing our nine centres scattered one fie day we have also begun a gentle transfer of power which began with an unlikely gift I asked my staff. The idea was to make them aware of their own capabilities and then teach them slowly how to manage and administer their own centres. This would come useful if and when our centres are dispersed in many directions as part of the Delhi shining campaign.

The sustainability issue I presume is self-evident as one has to set pwhy on a long time auto pilot course some day. I would also enable us to widen our activities and reach out to more children

both sides now – the sustainability factor

How to sustain project why is a question that has been haunting me for some time now, I guess time waits for no one and the writing is on the wall! It is a question many have raised, some gently others even brutally. I must confess that I spend many hours thinking about valid options and reviewing past mistakes.

The list of ideas that did not work is daunting: we made candles, jewels, painted T shirts, pots and more of the same and sold them at charity bazaars. We gathered pongamia seeds from he numerous trees around, milled oil and made soaps; we made eco-friendly shopping bags; we even made chocolates but soon saw that none of these could ever bring us the funds required to run pwhy.

And as each idea failed, lessons were learnt. It became clear that we could not match the competition. Moreover the complex legislations related to some products like soaps and food items were wrought with red tape. And finally marketing any product required huge investment. The final blow was the sealing laws that put an end to any small business idea we may have had.

We had to find a minimum or no investment and high return option. That is when I stumbled upon the idea of the one -rupee-a day option. It seemed such a doable one as one thought that it would not be difficult to convince people to part with such a tiny sum. One become bold enough to believe that even the community would part with that tiny amount. But reality struck soon enough as one laboured on. People did not come forward. Or those who did, just did it once and forgot. And yet like you hold on to a special child, this option never left me though it did not bring the desired result.

Slowly planet why came to seed. And yet it again looked doable provided one found the funds to set it up. Many have warmed up to the idea but the investment is huge.

As I write these words I am reminded of the lyrics of a Neil Diamond song:

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall.
I really don’t know life at all.

Somehow the sustainability options of planet why are two sides of a spectrum: either we find a huge number of people and ask them to part with a tiny amout of money over a long period of time, or we find a huge amout of money and create our own way of finding money.

Tht is the dilemena one faces!

project stats – budget 2006

Our new budget for 2007 – 2008 is on line. Normally a budget is not something you blog on. However project why has reached a stage where in a case of force majeure it has become necessary to review and reinvent.

The Damocles sword of the now (in)famous sealing laws hangs on our head. The not so elusive year 2010 is just round the corner and it would be foolish to think that slums will remain where they are. On the other hand the promise of building flats for slum dwellers in situ is at best only for a chosen few, if not a another political sop. The likelihood of slums being once again pushed to the edge of the city seems more like a reality waiting to happen.

Thinking that project why could remain as it is for years to come is unwise. The sensible option is to start planning for the future while keeping within the spirit of project why.

We now have 10 working modules in 7 locations. Our first step would be to empower the staff in each of these 10 module to take on their management. Hence we have asked them to prepare individual budgets and maintain daily accounts. We know that we will have to hold their hand for some time but in the ultimate analysis they will one day be able to handle their work independently and thus run their programmes in whatever location they find themwelves in. Pwhy then becomes the validating organisation that would seek funds. It would also have a training and monitoring role.

On the other hand we still have some children and adults that would need us on a lifelong basis. These are not those we sought but those that landed in our existence. Planet why is what we have considered as a viable option as it would also enable us to raise on our funds in the future. This is also a imperative as we cannot expect funders to support us for ever.

Budget 2006 includes a new programme that we have called community outreach. This was done as it was felt that education alone could not bring about the kind of change we dreamt of. Awareness on issues like RTI and environment (water, plastic menace etc) are important factors that need to be taught to both parents and children. Moreover the need for health and hygiene awareness needs also to be addressed. We are happy to share that after 7 gruelling years we have finally been accepted by the community and approached by local doctors and other community leaders for joint programmes. This is a major breakthrough in our effort to bridge the gap between various sections of the community. Moreove this programe will also try and address various social issues that plague the community.

2007 looks like being a year of transformation and remodeling. We are awre that it will throw up many new challenges but we hope to meet them with success.

electoral results

The verdict is out in the municipal election. The party in power was routed, or almost as most of Delhi, or let us say the 43 odd % who went out to vote seemed to blame the party in power for all their woes ranging from the sealing drive to the lack of civic amenities.

Our municipal ward saw an interesting contest reflecting once again the maturity of the voter. The fight was between two candidates: one the person in power for two terms and the other a rebel of sorts backed financially by the one ‘who did not get the ticket’ or in terms of symbols the fight was between the hand and the engine!

The engine was carefully selected and belonged to Bihar as a vast majority of the slum dwellers – the normal hand vote bank – are from that state. An aggressive campaign ensued where every ploy in the book was used: cajoling, bribing, threatening… you name it, they did it.

Our well seasoned voters excelled themselves in paying lip service and partaking of all goodies offered but never failed to mention that Mr engine had always been against the poor, the slum dweller, the street vendor and had many a time voiced that dislike in no uncertain terms.

On the other hand they remembered Mr hand who in spite of everything was always there for them. Come election day and they excersised their right to vote with intelligence and brought Mr hand back even when most of the city did not. For them it was a municipal election and hence they wanted a person who would help them. It was not a time to back caste, creed or even a larger ideology.

Grapes went sour for Mr engine who fumed, ranted and raved. But to no avail. Many had come to me with a smug smile and shared that they hand voted for Mr hand in spite of what they had been saying, as ultimately it was their decision and their right.

tale of two Indias..

As winter sets in in India’s capital city, once again we get reminded of the existence of 2 Indias. While one is busy preparing for highly westernised festivities, the other is huddled around makeshift fires simply trying to survive.

This is India a land where extreme situations are now jaded realities. Today’s news bulletin was a stark reminder if that. While the first item was about 5 districts of Maharashtra a stone’s throw away from India’s buzzing commercial capital Mumbai, battling famine the other was about the latest fad in that very city: home delivered meals for our canine friends!

What was disturbing about the first item was that while the District Magistrate had declared a state of famine, higher authorities have simply deferred their decision till January 15th. I wish hey also had a recipe for deferring the pangs of hunger felt each day by any normal human being. This famine was caused by excessive rains that washed away and destroyed the paddy crop of the poor farmers of that region. The next crop is many moons away.

Our land has many ways of explaining such occurrences, the favourite being karma. Suffering is directly proportionate to the good deeds you have done in the past. However what about some investment in insuring your future? True that come winter we receive some phone calls offering blankets or warm clothes, but that is in no way sufficient. The problem is endemic and the solution need to be long term.

If the two Indias have to coexist that bridges of understanding need to be built. It is only if they both prosper that our land will be safe in the future. This is something we do not seem to understand as has been amply proved by the quasi total absence of funding from our own city. Maybe it is a way of blanking out reality, an attempt to wish something away by not acknowledging its existence.

Such an attitude is bound to have dramatic consequences. The recent sealing of shops has resulted in loss of employment and more is on the anvil. One must not forget that desperation and hunger can lead to extreme actions as one has seen with the swelling numbers of farmer’s suicide. It can also lean to crime in cities and threaten us all.

The writing is in on the wall, maybe it is time we took our blinkers off…

the cotton carder

I happened to be standing at the gate when the cotton carder went by. Hearing the high pitched sound of his carding bow was a Proustian experience as it brought back a flood of long-forgotten memories.

There was a time when you could plan your day with almost clockwork precision just by listening to he sounds of the passing hawkers. There use to be many in our street: the vegetable and fruit vendors, the cobbler, the kabariwalahs the best recycling man ever. There was the man repairing jewels, the one who sharpened your knives and even one to clean your ears. Not to forget the toy vendor, the ice cream seller and so many more, each with their own calls that brought the street alive. Some were perennial, others seasonal, but to many like us they became familiar faces that were part and parcel of our lives.

Today there but a few, particularly in up market areas where forbidding gates with placards barring entry to hawkers have sounded their death knell. And with it the end of many small jobs that fed families and many trades that will soon be forgotten, trades that often use to be passed on from father to son.

I recently spent time with a shopkeeper friend whose shop came under the sealing hammer and who will move on the a mall miles away. His shop sold a medley of items; a great place to buy that gift one often remembered at the last moment. Over the years one had established a relationship with him and his family, seen the son get married and witness the birth of the grand child. Many recipes, and pieces of advise were shared, not forgetting the cups of tea! As I left the shop, my precious packet tucked under m arm, I realised that it would people of my generation who would feel the loss the most. The shopkeeper will find a new life in his squeaky clean mall, and will soon have a new clientele; for him it is a matter of survival. But we, the middle-aged middle-class middle everything individual will find ourselves disorientated.
I do not see myself trudging to an impersonal mall miles away for that gift. An appropriate amount of money in an envelope would have to do.

A was filled with sadness as I saw that one more chapter of our lives was ending. We had no option but to adapt as best we could and we would ultimately. But as I looked at the face of the brave cotton carder, now aged and tired, hoping that someone would stop him, I imagined the numerous evenings when he would have returned empty handed and his family would have slept hungry. At his age he had no other option and had had to fight the advent of polyfill quilts alone and bravely.

In our rush to embrace modern ways, do we realise the price that needs to be paid.

a promotion for nanhe


It has been along time since one has written a blog about pwhy children. Somehow the sombre mood and events of the past few weeks had hijacked much of these posts.

But while the city was being held to ransom by the sealing saga and numerous bhands, life did not stop for an instant on planet why. We have had some new admission and one of them was little Himanshu in the creche.
Himanshu and his younger sister are orphans being brought up by their aunt. Right from day one Himanshu seemed a little different and unlike his sister who took to her new friends like a fish to water, Himanshu remained withdrawn, locked in his world, banging his head occasionally or sitting in a corner.

Today we shifted him to the special section so that our very efficient team would assess him. As soon as he entered the room, Himanshu suddenly felt at home. He smiled, and settled down as if he belonged.

After some time, he decided to sit by Nanhe and soon rested his head on Nanhe’s lap a broad smile on his face. Nanhe of course rose to the occasion suddenly as this was the first time in his life that he felt responsible for someone.

We all watched in silence as this was a huge moment for us all.

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thirty four to one

I asked my old acquaintance Mishraji why our local DDA market had so many cars parked in front. Mishraji and I go back a long time, when he worked at a provision store in M block market GK1 and I shopped there for my daily needs. That was about 25 years ago!

Today Mishraji works the local chemist in the DDA market the store he worked in then is now a lingerie boutique!

“behanji, did you know that there were 34 provisions stores in M block market in those days, now there is only one, so the many residents of diverse blocks in GK 1 come to the two provision shops here”, was Mishraji’s answer.

A zany thought crossed my mind: will they one day seal this tiny complex because of traffic snarls!

Thinking back I do remember many such stores; they all disappeared giving way to showrooms that sell jewellery, fancy shoes, fancy apparel, sports goods, crystal ware and more of the same. And shoppers comes from across the city and even across the country, in their cars and create those terrible traffic jams.

This blog is not about rules and the breaking of them. It is an epitaph to days gone by, days that remain forgotten memories in the now tired heads of the likes of Mishraji and I. With malls, and showrooms the bond that existed between the shopkeeper and the client is gone and in its place is a business like exchange. I guess one has to move with time but some of us still long for the days when things were different.

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where small is not beautiful…

Welcome to the land where small is not beautiful..

Wonder what I am getting at?

Two recent news items caught my eye. One pertains to sealing and its effect of small traders, and the other on the proposed amendment to regulate foreign donation to NGOs. In both cases the big fish will get away but the small will suffer and ultimately die.

Keeping an eye on nefarious activities is understandable but believing that those who engage in such activities will not find other ways of doing so is naive.

Those who are engaged in trying to make a difference by reaching out to the many who have been let down – children, women – know how difficult it is to get help from within the country. Somehow the word NGO is circumspect and viewed with extreme suspicion and disdain, making people like us wary of even using it to identify one’s self. True that it unfortunately conjures in the minds of people the image of huge organisations with large budgets and heavy administrative setups . It is also true that many are just that. Now with the added scare of NGOs being used to fund terror, mistrust will grow.

The flip side that there are some people who set up projects with an honest approach and are engaged in good work. The flip side is also is that funds normally come from across the seas, where even our kin become more charitable.

I spent the first years of pwhy trying to get support from friends, relatives, school buddies of spouse etc watching personal funds whither as very little was forthcoming. Everyone always had a good excuse, one more ludicrous than the other. Must add that what I sought was tiny, something people would flitter away in an evening. I even came up with my one rupee a day pitch, thinking that what I was asking was actually so tiny that it became invisible. But to no avail. Then our famous FCRA got cleared and the same story was sent out on the net reaching people I did not know.

Distance makes the heart larger I should say as I was overwhelmed by the support that came from young students and professionals over and above friends that I had known for long. The sums were not big, as many took the rupee-a-day option that translated into a tiny 8 dollars a year. But we survived month after month and year after year. We survived and hundreds of kids did not drop out, 20 different kids spent a few hours a day laughing and being loved, 30 people got employment and could feed their families, 7 hearts got repaired..

Now with the new law that will soon come to force, we may lose much of this support. Not because we are dishonest or dubious but because meeting the requirements will deprive us of the spontaneous support of small donors who often react to appeals from the heart. Moreover, the new law also states that a tab will be kept on whether or not the money is used for development. This will open the doors to witch hunting, settling of personal scores not to forget new avenues for under the table payments as who defines what development is!

For organisation like ours who do not believe in corpus funds and think that money given for a cause should be used as soon as possible, any blocking of funds to answer queries would mean no money for the next month. For organisation like ours which have very restricted small administrations, a point appreciated by our donors, it may mean increasing that budget to meet the new requirements. It alsomeans retructuring our donor base in a way that may jar with what we believe in.

But above all it will mean losing the warmth and spontaneity that characterised pwhy as its number of supporters grew across countries and lived the joy and angst of our little effort with us.

Small is not beautiful in our land!

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