Project Why – Panorama 2012

Project Why – Panorama 2012

2012 is coming to a close. It is time to reflect and ponder about the year gone and ask one’s self as candidly as possible whether we really walked the talk. 2012 was pwhy’s 12th year on the field, more than ample time to make the difference we set out to make more than a decade ago. I will in this post highlight some of the important moments of 2012 and view them in the light of the mission we gave ourselves when it all began. I would also beg your indulgence in case thing are not in chronological order, but isn’t that expected of a project that has always followed its heart.

Project Why has always endeavoured to keep in sync with the reality that surrounds us and put in perspective for the children we nurture. Thus I cannot but begin this narrative with today, a day when a whole nation mourns the death of the  braveheart who suffered the worst form of assault imaginable. Since that terrifying night I have been following the story with horror and dread, more so because the barbaric perpetrators come from the same social strata as the children we teach. This makes our responsibility and task that much more critical and compels us to look back at the gone years and assess the work we have done in a whole new manner. True our mission as stated time and again was and has been to provide quality education support to children from slums and give them the required skills to excel in school and in life. But was our definition of quality education broad enough? We always followed the Delors 4 pillars – learning: to know, to do, to be and to live together. But did we emphasise enough on the ‘live together’? Were we not swayed by the ‘to know’ as every parent across the board is? But it is not the moment to delve on what we cannot change. Today the people want to see a new India, one that is safe for all its citizens, one where every man learns to respect women, where laws are strong and justice delivered. Where little girls are taught how to protect themselves and sex talk is not taboo. Yes we need a change in mindsets as well as laws and mindsets can only be changed one day at a time starting at a young age. So as 2012 ends, we at project why have taken certain resolves.

We strongly believe that one of the best ways to get boys and girls to learn to accept and respect each other is that they grow together. We would like to see all state run schools become coeducational. However till that day comes we have no option but teach boys and girls at different times. However since last week we have decided that on all holidays boys and girls will come together to the project and interact in every way possible. It is heartwarming to see that though there was some reluctance and hesitation, particularly from the boys, within no time the children were working together as pals and chums.

Several workshops on self esteem and gender biases were held along the year. We will ensure that these are held with more often in the new year. We also plan to hold gender bias and sex education workshops for the staff as we realised that coming from traditional backgrounds, they are hesitant and uneasy and need to be taught how to address this issue with children of different ages.

We alas live in a society where the girl child is still in danger and needs to learn to protect herself. Therefore we are launching regular ‘good touch’, ‘bad touch’ classed for all our primary girls. We also plan to have awareness programmes with the parents and hope these will be useful.

The horrific rape that shook all of us was also discussed with the older children. They were then asked to write their feelings. I will share this with you in a subsequent post.

Now let me briefly share the main happenings of the year gone by. As always the children did us proud   and the project why results for all centres and all classes was 100%. Hats off to all children and their teachers. I guess we have by now fulfilled one of our main objectives: to contain drop out, mainstream children and ensure good results.

This year we held several workshops in all our centres: a  work shop on self esteem in our Okhla and Khader centre as we have realised that children from underprivileged homes have poor self esteem. A workshop on the girl child was also held at our Khader centre. A workshop for the teachers of the special section was held in September to introduce new approaches in teaching.

Our main workshop however was a workshop on Right to Education, held with the support of an eminent jurist and that ended in a postcard campaign whereby the children wrote of the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court about the situation in their school. The children were charged up and wrote unabashedly about the violence and abuse by their teachers, the lack of facilities be it toilets or desks, the overcrowding of classes and the poor quality of teaching. These cards were included in a PIL with the judges demanding immediate action. Action was taken but the suspension of 2 teachers named by the student resulted in a huge problem for us as the teachers belonged to Khader village where our centre is located. Our landlord almost threw us out. It is the extremely wise and diplomatic skill of our coordinator Dharmendra that saved us from this explosive situation. Our children were also targeted in school but tempers calmed down and today the schools are functioning a tad better. This was  a lesson for all: bringing change is never easy. It needs courage and staying power.

For the women centre, it was a musical year as they had a western music workshop run by Diya, a young student from Singapore. A group of 8 children were introduced to western music and tried their hand at the guitar, the keyboard and bongos! In January 2012, Praveen one of our extremely talented student, began professional singing classes. His dream is to enter a singing reality show! More power to him.

2012 was also dancing year for the project children. It was decided to run dance workshops for all children, including the special ones.  And even though their performance would not meet  Bolshoi standards, the children had great fun and laughed to their hearts’ content.

We hope to have the children perform somewhere in 2013.

Everyone is invited!

This year it was the Okhla children who had the chance to get behind a camera thanks to the workshop run by one of our summer volunteers. You can see the pictures they took here.

We managed a few outings in spite of paucity of funds. The Govindpuri children went to the Science Museum, the Red Fort, the Children’s Park and India Gate. It was still open to the likes of you and me then. The special children went to Delhi Haat and Lodhi garden.

A group of children from Khader were taken to a movie and to an outing at the mall by some supporters.

As always we celebrated festivals: Republic Day, Independence Day, Gandhi Jayanti, Children’s Day, Diwali, Teacher’s Day, Eid and Xmas. On these days children often put up their own show with dances, exhibitions, speeches and song.

The star this year was undoubtedly our very own Santa.

We also had our share of visitors from all corners of the planet and of course our volunteer who make a huge difference as they bring a little of the world into our planet! We thank all of them warmly!

Some statistics and facts now: we are now a family of 1000! And to say that when we began we were a mere 40! We have a team of 45 and each one of them is precious and deserves to be saluted. The computer centre, library and secondary were shifted around. Secondary classes were started in our Govindpuri centre which now goes to class VII.

We would like to share two very special events.
Preeti from the special section has now been admitted to the Open school and is preparing for class X  and Shamika our special section in charge got the Karamveer Chakra award.

We are proud of you girls!

Our boarding school kids are well and growing by the day. They are good in their studies and participate in many activities: skating, yoga, dancing, music. I wish we could give this opportunity to every child.

Over 200 women completed their sewing and beauty courses this year. many of them have got employment and some of them even opened their own beauty parlours, two of them in the village. More power to you.

Planet Why remained frozen this year. All our efforts came to naught and we are now seriously thinking of alternatives. However our special children and Khader children kept the sustainability light alive.

The special children now make dream catchers that are on sale and our Khader chiildren made beautiful greeting cards that can be purchased on line. We hope these enterprises grow by leaps and bounds.

But all this would not have been possible without those who have believed in us and trusted us through the years. We hope you will continue to help us make a difference. To everyone a big thank you.

Happy 2013.

yes I am dented and painted – and

yes I am dented and painted – and

Yes I, the Indian woman, am dented and painted but not in the manner you politicians think! I am dented – and here I would like to use the verb ‘dent’ in its meaning ‘diminished’- from the very moment I am conceived. Even as I entered my mother’s womb, I knew everyone hoped I was a boy. If it was discovered that I was indeed a girl, I ran the risk of being brutally aborted and my tiny life ended in a pool of blood or a garbage bin. The day I was born, I was greeted with wails and tears and my mother cursed for not having born a son. You see the X Y chromosome story is understood by no one, or I guess they do not wish to understand as how can I boy do anything wrong. In my country giving birth to a child is wrong.

As I grew up I was often bewildered at what I saw. My brother always got what he wanted and I did not. I was often chided and put back to place. My brother got better food and even a better school bag. he even went to a private school while I had to go to the municipal one. I was often made to miss school as there was always something to do t home, and after the birth of my younger sibling, I became a surrogate mother even though I was just 6. I often heard my parents talking about me in disturbing words. Was I really a burden?

Imagine my surprise when as I grew a little older, I who loved playing on the street with other children, of being told that I had to remain in the house. It was not only my mother or father who scolded me, but even my younger brother, the very child I had carried on my hip for so long, never complaining. If I laughed too loud I was told to tone down as ‘girls’ were not meant to behave this way. If I peered out the window my brother pulled my braid and told me to ‘behave’. I never figured out what I was doing wrong as others laughed and peered out of windows.

I soon learnt one indubitable truth: a girl was controlled by a male – father, brother and the elusive husband that loomed large from the very moment I began understanding things. Time and again I saw my father abusing my mother in every way possible and saw her keep quiet or at best shed a few tears. I felt a boiling rage inside me and wondered why my mother did not react. Slowly I understood that this was the way things were and we as girls had no other choice but to comply. As my brothers grew older I even saw them abusing mother. I realised that we women were diminished in more ways than one.

If I was lucky I would escape the groping and harassment that many suffer within the confines of the so called safety of my home. It could be an uncle, a neighbour or even a friend. If I did gather the courage to speak up, then I was likely to be introduced to the deafening code of silence that is invoked in such cases by the very one who gave you life. That is when another stifling word was added to my vocabulary: ‘izzat’ – honour- ! I suddenly became the repository of the honour of my family even it I was the one who had been damaged and taken advantage of. I had to bear a shame I could not fathom. That is when I realised that we women had to live a double life and put of a show for the world to see. That is the day I knew that we dented women also had to be painted. Painted in the shades of patriarchy and its biased and baffling mores. I learnt to slowly reconcile myself to my station in life.

In spite of missing many classes to tend to chores at home, in spite of not being given the tuition so easily proffered to my male siblings or the books I needed, I studied hard and passed all my examinations. I guess it was the attraction of extra money that made my male handlers accept I take up a job. I was over the moon as it was a step to the freedom I so longed for. I stepped out of the house on that first day with a song in my heart and a head filled with dreams. How was I to know that another set of men would appear and remind me once again that I was just a woman in a world that belonged to men. The journey to my workplace made me open to sneers, lude remarks, groping and misplaced gestures. I learnt to make myself as small as I could and hope that I would reach my destination safe. Anger boiled inside me but I learnt to control it, in a way all women learn to in this land. That is also part of the paint job. If God forbid, something would have happened, I knew what awaited me. The ‘izzat’ scenario again from my very own, and had I gone over that then more abuse at the hand of law keepers and justice givers. If a woman is raped, she has to accept to be raped over and over again and even then she never gets justice.

Had I met a boy and fallen in love like every girl has the right to, I ran the risk of being killed by my own father or brother again in the name of ‘izzat’. So if I did fall in love, I knew it could only be covertly, till the day the men in my family found the next man to hand me over to. But those few days of love would be my silent rebellion and my few moments of freedom.

One fine day I will be told to get ready and look my best as a boy was coming to see me. Once again I could not but realise that I was a mere object. Should the boy like me, then I was to be hitched to him with a great relief from my family. Their duty was over, the burden passed on. Thank God the ‘izzat’ was intact.

Life would have come full circle. I would get pregnant and so conditioned was I, that I too would wish for a boy. I too would be chided for giving birth to a girl. I too would bear the abuse of my husband. I too would curtail the freedom of my daughter, buy a better school bag for my son and so on. I too would one day teach my daughter her place as a dented and painted object in a land where we venerate Goddesses.

RIP dear child….may your death not be in vain

Rest in peace dear child.. you whose name we do not know but who has become our very own.
I know you are in a much better place, a place where you can roam free and safe, a place where you can walk at night without fear, a place where you can soar free and see all your dreams come true. A place worthy of your spirit and courage. Rest in peace sweetheart we were not worthy of you.

We salute your courage to fight the most horrific ordeal and some out of it alive; we salute your desire to live in spite of all odds. But it was not to be. Did you give up or did you know deep in your soul that it would ultimately futile as things never truly change. Maybe you are the wiser than us all.

You came to this city to fulfill your dreams. We as a city let you so terribly down. You went that fateful evening to see a film with a friend. You went to see a film that was about surviving all odds, did you know that you would be faced with the worst nightmare barely a few moments later. I cannot begin to imagine what you went through when you were aggressed in the most revolting way but I know that even if you were humiliated in the most debasing way, and yet I know that the perpetrators were never able to violate your spirit and soul. That remained yours, and yours alone. We salute you little braveheart who today stands taller than us all.

Today we hang our heads in shame for not having been there for you.

We hang our heads in shame for every time we were made aware of an aberration perpetrated on any woman and simply moved on after a few clucks of false pity. We hang our heads in shame for simply having looked at rape and violations as statistics, disturbing yes, but not worthy of our intervention.
We hang our heads in shame for every time we have silently witnessed a woman being slandered and abused, be it in our homes or outside. Every time we have chosen to adopt the code of silence in the name of honour, reputation or simply misplaced morality. We hang our heads in shame for having kept silent each time a girl was killed; be it in the womb or because she wanted to life life on her all terms.

We have much to ask forgiveness for.

Will you forgive our apathy and indifference. Will you forgive us to have remained deaf and dumb when we should have screamed loud. Will your forgive us for not having raised our voice when we needed to. Will you forgive us for having made a mockery of democracy and not expressing our horror and distress each time we saw injustice being done.

Your terrible ordeal did move us out of our apathy. Somehow it touches us in a way we had never been touched before. That is perhaps we intuitively felt you were one of us. But will your forgive us for not having felt the same anger and outrage when others had suffered the same plight. Maybe if we had you would have been with us.

While you lay in the ICU fighting for every breath, we did not always look good. Will you forgive those who made the most insensitive remarks, some coming from those in power, those made to protect us, those we are meant to trust. Many young people like you faced the brutality of those who should have been in the streets that night and come to your help. How can I explain to you why it took days for those who rule us to make come out and mumble words of concern that sounded so empty. Will your forgive those who thought they should indulge in self praise rather than address the harsh truths that stared us in the face. While you lay in your hospital bed, other women were violated and abused. The horror does not stop. I do not know if ever will.

While you lay stripped of your clothes but not your dignity in the dead of night and in bitter cold, many watched and did nothing. Can you forgive their indifference. I cannot and will not and wonder sadly whether all the people who came out in your support will at least now reach out to anyone in distress. Why is it that I find it difficult to believe they would.

They say you are the turning point that will bring change. I hope this happens but somehow find it difficult to believe. Everyone wants the perpetrators punished. But will that ensure that such horror does not happen again?

You fought bravely and your spirit has given us the courage to go on and ensure that you did not die in vain. Everyone of us is responsible for your death. We need to look within ourselves with honesty and accept our wrong doing and see what we can do.

Today darling child we salute you and beg your forgiveness.

May your death not be in vain.

We as a country hang our heads in shame.

Rest in peace beautiful one. You live in our hearts and will so forever.

Theek nahin hai –  It is not OK

Theek nahin hai – It is not OK

Since last week concerned citizens, students, women, children, senior citizens gathered around India gate and then decided to move towards Rashtrapati Bhavan to voice their anger, concern, hurt, indignation and outrage at the horrific incident that occurred a few days ago and at the increased insecurity for women in the city. They wanted to be heard. They wanted to be reassured. They wanted harsher laws for crime against women. They wanted to share their angst with those they elected. And that is why they approached the hallowed gates of our first citizen and meet him. After some persuasion a small group was allowed to meet  one of the President’s men. They were informed of the protocol regulations and told to seek an appointment. My question is why could the President not meet these kids! Was the situation not important enough to break protocol. It was not.  The letter the kids wrote hurriedly and with hope; it must be still lying on some table along the protocol journey.

The crowd were swelling and the mood angry. Kids are kids and the young are known to be in a hurry. They are not like our antediluvian politicians. They fretted and got restless. They pushed and shoved like the young do. A simple meeting would have calmed things down. But instead they got hit by water canons in the cold, had tear gas lobbed at them in scores and even got lathi charged – a preferred show of power of our cops – and pushed back. No one came to meet them or talk to them. Their anger rose and more water and tears were sent their way. And as the news spread on Live TV, angered people joined the groundswell and sadly many lumpen elements. The mood got angry.

It was a spontaneous crowd, the kind one has never seen. It was not a protest organised by a political party where people are paid to come. Here every single protesters felt the anger and the hurt. It was perhaps for the first time that we saw true democracy where the electors wanted answers. No one in power recognised this reality. Had they done so, the events that ensued.

In the late evening the Home Minister finally address a press conference. We were subjected to believe it or not praise for the police! Praise for those who had earlier used water cannons and tear gas shells! Then we were given the vapid platitudes we normally get when any aberrations occur: setting up for commissions, empty promises and more of the same. And that is not all: we were told that the minister himself and his second in command had 3 daughters and thus felt the pain and anguish of us all. Who are you kidding. First of all nothing would ever happen to YOUR daughters as they come under the hallowed and super protected category of VIPs. And had it ever happened, god forbid as this should never happen to any one, the rapists would have been killed in a convenient encounter. We were also introduced to a new concept, one that is unacceptable: the gradation of rape. There are rapes, rare rapes and rarest of the rare rapes. Believe me Mr Minister every rape is and should be considered rarest of the rare as it is the most cowardly, heinous, ugly, disgusting, despicable crime.

The day ended. The protesters were angry, the authorities felt smug.

What the young were looking for was their statesmen and leaders. For the first time young Indians – students, professionals – concerned parents, and simple citizens had come out on the streets to express their anger and hurt. For years we have born stoically all the aberrations thrust upon us. We have turned a blind eye to issues like gross corruption, poor governance and arrogant behaviour. We have waited as patiently as we could to see laws enacted and waited helplessly to see them implemented. We have paid our taxes and have reconciled ourselves to poor amenities. We even performed our civic duty by voting every time we had to.

 Saturday the 22nd of December 2012 was a red letter day for us, simple Indians. It was the day we wanted to see our Leaders and share our pain. It was a day when we still believed in them. It was a day that comes just once. Our leaders did not see the writing on the wall. How wonderful it would have been if our First Citizen broke protocol and accepted to meet a few young Indians. How healing it would have been if our CM had come and sat with the young protesters. How uplifting it would have been if one of the younger politicians has broken all rules and come and met the very people who make them leaders. Then all the ugly incidents that ensued would not have happened.

One may wonder why this rape incident struck such a chord in the hearts of so many when so many rapes and other aberration occur. It was probably the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The story of the young woman so brutally raped was the catalyst that made us scream ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

The next day genuine protesters were back. Some had even spent the night despite the cold. But the police swung into action and pushed everyone out of India Gate and surrounding areas. However how far can you push people. They had to be let in. Protests continued. Against the rapists but also against the cop’s behaviour. Sadly lumpen elements joined the show and very ugly scenes ensued. The brutality of the police was shocking: women, young students, senior citizens – no one was spared. It was vicious, barbaric, more so as the main issue that was being addressed was the safety of women. Need I say more.

The next day the entire India Gate area was shit to Indians. Even morning walkers were not allowed in. An alternate place has been given and young people are still protesting. But there are less people. I guess many parents must have not allowed their girls to join in after the terrible events of the previous day.

The Home Minister spoke again. According to him every demand has been acceded to. I guess he is in sync with the powers that be: commission set, empty promises spouted. He also insulted our intelligence by trying to make us believe that the unruly happenings were politically instigated. A terrible sense of deja vu! He has missed the point though as this time we are protesting against this very attitude. When asked by a reporter why no one from the government did not go and meet the young people on the first day he was  horrified: how can they come and meet us. It has to be the other way! He missed the point again: this is the attitude we are protesting against: the VIP culture, the disconnect between those we elected and us. We were also subjected to more platitudes. The Congress President and the heir in waiting missed a golden opportunity to reach out to the very people who could have made all the difference in 2014. Now it is too late. Nothing you door say can make us forget the terrible images of December 23rd 2012.

And finally when the Prime Minister did finally condescende to speak to the nation, a blooper or Freudian slip said it all. It was all a show.

We need statesmen and leaders. Till then nothing is theek hai!

We have cried for far too long

If there was an Oscar for insensitivity, I am certain Delhi Police would have won it hands down! It was a huge shock to hear, on the much awaited press conference of the Delhi Police Commissioner and the Home secretary, praise for the police for having cracked the case so speedily. Just allow me a moment as I am unable to contain my anger and need to gather my racing thoughts…

That was not all. We were then subject almost ad nauseum to a string of meaningless and somewhat galling  statistics: how many buses were impounded post the incident, how many tinted windows were checked, how many charge sheets were registered in the past year, how many rapes occurred last year, this year.. and when the figure for this year happened to be higher the PC was quick to assign the increase to population increase and/or increase of women coming forward to register cases. Who are you kidding. It looked like a PR exercise aimed at whitewashing a police that has lost all credibility. Sorry Sir it did nor work! Your blowing your own bugle sounded terribly false. And then the stats that you threw at us were pathetic.

First of all the measures announced seemed to be based on the premise that a similar incident may occur again. God forbid! That is not what all our anger is about. Our anger is about all the abuse that women go through every time they step out of their homes and whatever their caste, creed and age. I would like to draw your attention on the latest rapes in the city: a 3 year old in her play school and a 40 year old mother of 4 in her home. So forget about your tinted windows and your check on illegal buses figures and talk about facts. Come to think of it, if all your cops have been doing for the past day or so is check tinted windows no wonder rapes continue. God help us all! The Home secretary repeated use of the words ‘brilliant’ and ‘outstanding’ to commend the police was galling, to say the least. The police failed that young woman that night. This is a sad reality. And by the way the tinted windows should have been checked 6 months ago following a supreme court order. Why was it not then when as according you it took just a day to check so many.

We have been promised a safe Delhi but in the same breath been told that all bars etc will have to close at 1am. Cannot figure this one. Our CM was on the box too. She told us that she hated Delhi being called the Rape Capital. So do we. Please do something. We do not want to hear again ad nauseum that you are not in charge of the police. If that is a deterrent to things goings right, let us do something. Crying on national TV does not cut ice. We are past tears. We have cried for far too long. Our tears have dried up and been replaced by anger and rage. PR exercises and tears cannot begin to heal our hurt.

We need better laws. Actually we need better implementation of existing laws too. We need a sensitive police. None of us feel comfortable walking into a police station. Come to think of it, we are leered at there more than anywhere else. And we all know the power of money where cops are concerned. Maybe it is time to set the cop house in order. Charity begins at home, does it not! Maybe the recruitment policy should be looked. I am told from the horse’s mouth that you have to pay lacs of rupees to get recruited. No wonder you then need to make up the loss through bribes collected.

The CM has announced  the setting up of a round the clock control room for women in distress. One then needs to define distress. Do we call the number each time we are groped or given a once over. I do not see how it works.

Everyone is crying death for the culprits though the cops have said they would go for life imprisonment. True a harsh punishment will go a long way in bringing some healing to the survivor, her family and perhaps even us. But will it stop rape? Will it stop harassment? I do not think so. It is time we look within ourselves, within our homes and  towards society and see where we have gone wrong with all the honesty that we can muster, even if we do not look good. How do we treat women; how are we treated by those near to us; how are we treated in our work place and above all why accept such treatment. Are we ready to take this journey and truly try to find long term solutions? I wish I knew the answer. Do you?