The constant questioner

The constant questioner

An SMS this morning from my husband read: I believe you are in the papers today. Congrats! The husband is presently outside India and I wondered how this news had reached him? Some friend I guess. My first reaction was to send him an SMS back asking: good or bad? Good was the reply. I heaved a sigh of relief. It has been a long time since the media came a visiting! Wonder where this came from. A bit of sleuthing around and it transpired that a local tabloid run by a known media group had decided to publish an anniversary special entitled making a difference and honouring fifty individuals who had in their opinion made a difference. I am one of them. I must admit that no one came to visit, but I know remember a phone call from a journo who had once visited us asking me what was new. I must have given her some information. The result: a mishmash of what has been written over and over again with some new elements provided on a phone. The only ray of light was that Manu was mentioned and thus his existence acknowledge in true spirit. I can never forget the debt I owe him. I dedicate this to him!

The article does not say much that is not known. I guess I must feel honoured and humbled to have been selected as one of the 50! I am, undoubtedly. But what caught my attention was the title the journalist had chosen: The constant questioner? Of all things written that was the only words that were relevant. Those three almost innocuous words brought me back to earth. No statistics or successes would ever be enough to allow me to sit back and say: job well done! There is still so much to do. If the mission as it his stated in the article is to provide basic human rights to children in slums, then I have far from succeeded. True the handful or even fistful of children that have realised their dreams because of our presence is a step in the right direction as a constant questioner time has perhaps to look beyond   school success and job skills, to the stark and brutal reality that hits us in the face every single day. This weeks magazines bring to fore the question of safety of our little children in slums. A tiny soul was found brutalised and is now fighting for her life. She had simply gone to the toilet. She lies in the same hospital where a another brutalised child is recovering. I wonder who will heal the scars on their soul.  Another magazine reports on the rampant sexual abuse of children in India. The article is one that we should all read and hang our heads in shame. Imagine 48,838 children raped in just 10 years. Imagine what it means when you are told this staggering figure — which is a National Crimes Record Bureau statistic — is possibly only 25 percent of the actual child rapes going on in the country. And that only 3 percent — a mere 3 percent — of these make it to the police. Imagine what it means when you are told child rapes have seen a chilling 336 percent jump from 2001 to 2011.

Looks like the questionner has to kick herself out of her comfort zone where school results and news of good employment, interspersed with some life saving surgery seem to be enough for a pat on the back. That she should stop complaining about her age, creaking bones and dwindling eye sight and taken the deafening whys that can be heard by one and all. Any self respecting human being who professes to work for children in India cannot afford to stop, not till her last breath.

So help me God!

If you want to read the article, here it is:

it is not in their interest to ensure everyone gets education

it is not in their interest to ensure everyone gets education

It is disturbing that much of what I have often expressed over the past years on this blog is being stated by those one calls experts. How I wish I would have been wrong. In a recent article entitled: Has India lost the XXIst century an educationist writes: “It has not been in the interest of any government to ensure universalisation of education,  why would a government deny its people universal education? Because education gives you access to ideas, rights and opens doors of abilities. Education upsets the status quo and if, as a government, you stay in power by virtue of votebanks that you create and nurture, it is not in your interest to ensure everyone gets education.”

When we began pwhy, I was naive enough to think that all was well in our education system. The things that disturbed me then were the fact that children went to school for half a day and the fact that they had to spend the other half either loitering around (boys) or in household chores (girls). What upset me was that these children had no place to play, no one to help them with their school work etc. I wanted project why to be the place where they could have just that and be children! I imagined pwhy to be a large space with books, toys, games, computers and some teachers to help with the homework and teach them spoken English. I also dreamt of an open space where the children could play. I even dared the large community centre with sprawling grounds that lay vacant and desolate. I was told it was the old labour court that had now shifted. There was even a large auditorium. Time and again the community hall was spruced up and used for a wedding. Once the party over the hall remained littered with used plastic cups and plated till the next wedding or party. We too used that hall for our only two annual day. I also learnt that two rooms were used for sewing classed and for a creche though I never saw any proof of that.

That is when I thought that maybe one could suggest to the authorities to use that space ‘intelligently’ and for the benefit of the community: proper creches, a library, computer classes, etc as well as sports for children as the grounds were ample. Of course the powers that be did not want that! Soon after there was a lot of activity. The building was being given a makeover. A few days later there was a big inauguration with delhi’s who’s who! But as always in this land of ours, everything was undercover, behind locked gates. One did peep and saw a huge signboard that had all the possible heads under which one can get funds if one runs a NGO: education, health, HIV AIDS, special needs children and adults, revival of art and craft, you name it and it was there. WOW. It seemed that the organisation was run by one of heirs of an important individual. Well the story was short and bitter. I was told of some horror stories that happened behind those walls where mentally challenged women were kept hidden and abused. And then that do stopped. The building lies unused behind a lock. I guess the said individual has collected all the funds he could and moved on.

This was an aparte that fits in. Let me carry on with my story. The idea of the large space where kids could be kids was soon sacrificed to the alter of a very loud WHY! In tune with my initial dream and because of lack of resources we had begun humbly with spoken English classes for a handful of kids. It was not long before the outrageous and shocking reality of State run schools: little or practically no teaching, overcrowded classes, no drinking water, no toilets, corporal punishment. Still naive, I  attempted  to address the corporal punishment issue with friends in the press and visits to the school. This is circa 2003. I learnt the hard way when I hard that pwhy children where being targeted by the teachers and beaten even more! I beat a quick retreat.

I had however l realised that it was not a happy child centre that we needed, but space to teach as many children as possible. I again tried to seek political help as, many of you may not know this, I had worked for the ruling party and had entrees in many circles, did I wish to use them. The saga of that chapter is told here, should you wish to read it. I do not want to recall the details as they still make my blood boil.

The first incline of the sad yet true reality that the powers that be were not interested in education at all came when local politicos decided to declare ‘war’ on me after they had failed to insidiously try and get a foothold in my organisation. When they knew I would never accept that, they brought the big guns out. Our school that run in an erstwhile pig park that we had cleaned and accepted to share with our porcine friends, far kinder than the human ones, was bulldozed one fine day. We shifted to the roadside and thus began our nomadic existence. But we refused to give up. I had finally understood the game. Mrs B was dangerous because she upset the status quo: she employed teachers from the slums, the very ones who were till then part of the nurtured vote banks, she gave education to slum kids and more than that gave them dreams – the most outrageous one being that of Sanjay, a young gypsy kid born and brought up on the roadside who first became a teacher at pwhy, then acted in a movie and is now an International model recently signed by a well known Agency – something that they felt was dangerous.

They did it all: bad mouthed me in public meetings, accused me of swindling funds, accused me of evangelising because of my short hair, threatened my daughter. But I stood firm and never stopped my work. The only thing I stopped was to seek help from the authorities. They had taught me one thing and I thank them for it: you have to find your own options yourself.

The education system has many aberrations that can only be explained if you are willing to accept the premisse that the state is not interested in giving education to every child in India. The schemes and programmes and rights that are voted at selective times are just an eye wash with a wonderful cherry on the cake: sources of making illegal money. The sound good, fool uneducated people and get them the votes they need. Voila! End of story. Everyone is happy.

What is frightening is that while making all the right noises: right to education, right to whatever, the state is promoting commercialisation of education which is the most dangerous way to go. The recent 25% reservation for poor children is a farce. The really poor parents are unaware of the scheme and totally at a loss to put together the formalities needed, it is the middle class who is taking advantage of it. The difference between the two is: education!

The examples are plenty. Why is 33% still the pass percentage needed to succeed in an examination when it opens no doors. Affordable universities are now seeking 90% and more and in most cases jobs, even in the government want a 50% pass percentage. The recent mushrooming of private universities is proof of the fact that it is a good business proposition and with the phenomenal fees it is only for the rich. Higher studies are not for the poor. Why are state run schools in poor areas run abysmally when the same state runs central schools for its own kids. Every school should be run like a central school. Only then will all children get what has been promised to them in the much heralded Right to Education!

There is a proliferation of second and even third rate institutions that provide degrees in a wide range of subjects. They churn out unemployable graduates. The same article says: some 200 management schools have shut down in the past few years due to poor placement. Of the 1.5 million engineering students in India, over 70 percent are unemployed. The IT sector has also suffered, with 75 percent of graduates going unemployed. Degree holders are being churned out in a factory-like manner by institutions, and there is a genuine skilled manpower crisis for jobs that do exist.

What we need is to relook at the entire education story. We need to impart skills that are needed and not  dreams that will never be fulfilled. We have failed our youth miserably. Will we have the courage to set things right. No. Not as long as political paries need vote banks they can manipulate.

We need many more goons

We need many more goons

We need many more goons in this country! Don’t get me wrong. I do not mean the goons we normally think of. Let me elucidate. The last few posts on this blog have been grim to say the least and filled with a sense of deep hopelessness. But they only reflected what is going on around us day after day after day. As I wrote these wretched accounts my heart yearned for something positive to brighten things and rekindle hope. My prayers seemed to have been heard when I stumbled upon an article entitled ‘doctoring a revolution‘ and discovered Dr Punyabrata Goon.

Dr Goon provides in this land of exploitative health care, a different brand of care which he aptly calls: humanist care! It is not free or charitable but comes at a price people can afford. Instead of expensive and often unnecessary tests often advised in order to get a commission, Dr Goon has trained assistants that take time and listen to each and every patient. This reminds one of the good old family doctor, a vanishes species in our time and age. Then the patient meets the Doctor who is all smiles, takes his time  to chat with his patient.

Dr Goon is probably one of the rare doctors who fully follows the Hippocratic oath he took. For him medicine is meant to improve society. True he has his committed political preferences. he fights for injustice and takes on the mightiest. His hospital only prescribes generic medicines! I urge you to read this article.

Though Dr Goon candidly says: Surgery is a really romantic thing,You get to go into the operating theatre and come out a hero. But this isn’t what I want to do anymore. There is so much one can do with a rational system of allopathic treatment, to my mind he is a real hero, the kind we need desperately in our country where money seems to be the only mantra.

I salute him!

death penalty or not

death penalty or not

The debate for the death penalty for rapists rages on. It was disturbing to see on the latest TV debates that anyone who tended to disagree with the death penalty found her/himself shouted down. Nothing revolts me more than sexual child abuse and I would like to see all child abusers hung in public or subjected to the worst kind of torture like scaphism, and even that seems too kind! But when you take a little time and think many questions come to mind. Why do men abuse small children? What makes them do so? And most of all how can we prevent this evil? Screaming for the death penalty cannot act as the deterrent we seek. More so with the way the legal system functions in India and wily lawyers operate. We have a startling example of this in the case of the trial of the men accused in the December gang rape case.

In today’s news we heard about the confession of the man who raped the 5 year old last week. It transpires that the accused was drinking and watching porn on the mobile phone of a friend. They spotted the child, lured her with chocolate and too her to their room and took turns raping her. They then tried to kill her and believing her dead fled! What made this men act as beasts? The alcohol? The porn? And what made them chose a 5 year old as prey? Her vulnerability? Her accessibility? Her innocence? Or to quote from Shobha De’s article Vaginas are for violating, the fact that she had a vagina and that in our country to be born with a vagina is provocation enough.

So how do we protect our little girls. A young girl writing about the incident states: I know people who have since placed curfew hours for their daughters, and some have even appointed bodyguards for their security, even my own father. Yes, in our land the rich will be protected but the poor will remain unsafe and vulnerable unless we do something. The richest man in India will now get Z category protection as he has received threats. This is galling but expected. In our very city there is only one police officer for 450 citizens while 45000 are on VIP security duty! So obviously little girls who get abducted are found after days at end. Imagine if the police had acted efficiently, the little rape survivor would not have had to endure the brutality she was subjected to. So I pose the question again: how do we protect our little girls or should I say poor little girls as we have seen how the rich have found their solution. This is a matter for deep thought but what comes to mind is that first and foremost  little girl, and boys also as they too are prey for predators, have to be taught as early as possible the first sex education lesson: good touch and bad touch! Here the child is not only taught about which part of the bodies no one can touch, but also to scream loud and share the incident with someone she/he trusts. But  here also there are catches: the first is that abuse often happens within the family and should the child be courageous enough to share she/he will encounter the elephant in the room: honour; honour that far too often makes the trusted one your biggest enemy. So maybe parents  and family should be sensitised  and taught their priorities. Easier said than done as this happens even in educated homes. But it is a step we should take.

Rich children attend day care, pre school, Montessori school etc and are rarely or rather never left alone. You know the drill! Poor slum kids whose parents work are often left on their own. Remember, free education begins at age 6. The state run creches are abysmal and few. Mothers often leave their little ones under the watch of some ‘uncle’ or the other, a person the child learns to trust. Then comes school. The least said the better. Let us just remind ourselves of the fact that in Delhi children go to school for half a day. The rest of the day is often spent on the street. So to keep our children safe it is imperative to run the ICDS programme as it should be run and provide every child an enabling environment while her/his parents are at work. This is how we can keep our children safe.

The debate that is raging now only addresses the situation after the abuse has been committed. I entirely agree with the need for police reforms, judicial reforms etc but why should a child be violated.

There is another gigantic elephant in the room that needs to be addressed head on. Just as we want to keep pour children safe, we need address the question that is indeed disturbing: why does a man become a rapist? And I am not interested in the aberrations thrown at us each time a rape occurs. And anyway how can a two year old or a 5 year old entice a man.

I would like to look at the profile of the perpetrator and see what went wrong. We must learn to accept that the perp was once a child and was not born a rapist. It is the environment that made him so. We all know about the state of reform homes. But there is a period in the life of that child which brought him to the reform home: the situation in his family, the school he dropped out from, the company he kept, the temptations that he encountered, the peer pressure and so on. The total lack of love, understanding, role models. The broken dreams and aspirations. And then when does commit that first crime the terror of a reform home. It is time we looked at these problems and started making amends for the way we treat our children.

I will end this post by sharing with you an experience we are all living at project why as I write these words. For the past 3 weeks or so we have 3 very special volunteers at pwhy: a special educator and two young boys aged 15 who are juvenile delinquents from France. These boys have stolen, peddled drugs and come from broken and dysfunctional families. They are now under state custody. As part of their rehab programme they have been brought to India for 3 months. The idea is to make them see worse conditions than the ones they know and put them through the toughest boot camp possible. They spent a month traveling across India in buses, tractors and even bullock carts. When they fell out of line and needed to be punished their educator made them walk 30 km on 4 bananas. They are difficult boys but no one is willing to give up on them. The experiment may or may not work, but at least one would have tried.

We leave our children to their own device and then go up in arms when they turn into criminals. It is time we accepted responsibility the state of affairs.

The death penalty will not solve issues.

Think about it!

Some thoughts….

Some thoughts….

I spent a sleepless night early this week. Images of the little girl lying in a hospital after having been violated in the most bestial way possible kept flashing through my mind. She is just six months older than my own grandchild. I woke up feeling sick, ashamed and hopeless. Before turning off the lights I had watched the many ‘talk shows’ where hastily gathered ‘specialists’ were analysing and commenting upon the barbaric act aptly prompted by anchors. In one such programme, only one visibly moved participant, asked the question that begged to be asked, one concerning the innocent victim and her morrows. Everyone seemed more interested in the behaviour of the police, the silence of those in power, the death penalty and more of the same.

Let me tell you one thing loud and clear, even if by the waving of a magical wand, everything could be made the way we wanted, nothing can or will change for the five year old.

The three terrifying days she spent locked up and brutalised have scarred her forever. Child abuse is the most heinous of crimes as it is almost always perpetrated by someone the child trust, and that breach of trust destroys your life for ever. The reason why I am so deeply disturbed is that this child is just like the children who come to us everyday, children who live in overcrowded spaces and where ‘uncles’ of all shades and hues abound. No one ever tells these children about predators and abusers.

Let me tell you a true story of a girl just like the one who lies today on hospital bed. When we began our work over a decade ago, I used to drop in each and every class regularly. The afternoon class was one of young girls between the ages of 8 and 12. Though the class was tiny and crowded, one young girl who must have been 10 or 11 years old, always sat alone, in a corner, outside the group. I let it pass initially but the image disturbed me. I decided to find out what was the cause of this child being marginalised. To my horror I found out that she had been raped by her neighbour when she was 5 year old. She had been raped and brutalised and her genitalia lacerated. The had to undergo many surgeries and is scarred for like. On the other hand,the perp was arrested and served a two year sentence. he now roams free. The child however has been branded as the ‘one who was raped’ and thus needs to be shunned. Parents ask their children not to befriend her or play with her. She too has been ‘condemned’ to a very perverse kind of solitary confinement. On the way she lost her self esteem and sense of worthiness. We tried very hard to work with her and build her self confidence. We urged her to attend our Karate classed and she was top of the class. Sadly, her mother died and her father left the city and went to their village. She must be twenty now. We do not know what happened to her. I hope and pray she is well. But that is just wishful thinking as even the smallest of child abuse scars a soul and a life forever.

Stigmatising a victim of child abuse is par for the course in the sick society we live in, where honour has some very strange meaning. I know of a girl who was molested when she was 12 by a close family member. Far from the standing for the child, the family of the perp went in damage control to protect him at whatever cost, even that of branding the 12 year old has having lose moral character. This happened in a so called educated family. I shudder to think what will happen to the little girl who comes from a poor family.

I shudder to think about the scars seared on this child’s body and soul. She was confined for three 3 days with a sadistic, bestial, perverted, brutal creature who used and abused every part of her tender body, without food and water and then left alone to die. I wonder where she got the strength to scream and be heard. How cannot even begin to imagine her pain, her total incomprehension of what was happening to her. As all paedophiles, this man too must have played the game of seduction turning to a waking nightmare. No punishment is too severe for men like this. I have no words to express what I would like to see done to him. Yes he has been arrested but if we are to go by precedent, I mean the five rapists who abused and killed a young woman in the prime of her life last December, maybe this one also will suddenly get the urge of studying in Jail!

There are crimes and crimes. Sexual assaulting a child is a crime that deserves no sympathy. They may not take a life away in the true sense of the word, but they condemn an innocent soul to a life where she dies a thousand deaths all through her life.

Once again, people are on the street. Some demanding the  resignation of those entrusted in the maintenance of law, some are asking for death for the rapist. These are either knee jerk or extreme reactions. If the death of one rapist could deter rapist forever, I would echo the demand loud and clear. And let us not be naive and believe that I new cop can change the reality on the ground.

The protests we witnessed yesterday gave me a sense of jaded deja vu. There was a new political party screaming the loudest and playing out is own agenda. I guess they fared quite well. There was the token presence of Opposition groups, students groups. They screamed and shouted. The police was restrained, the water canons present. Arrests were made. But somehow to me it seemed all futile.

In December those of us who had taken to the street may have felt that we had the power to maybe bring change. What was asked then was safety for women. Statistics prove the contrary. We asked for new laws and fell for the wily game played by our rulers. We got new laws but the incident of the little 5 year old shows that nothing has changed on the ground. The callous behaviour of the police is the best example we can ask for. I completely agree that laws should be stringent and swiftly dispensed. For that we need reforms in all our institutions and ensure that laws are respected and implemented.

But what a civilised society should aim at, is prevention of such heinous crimes.

The brutal rape of the little year old should make us think deeply. It always takes two to tango, and sadly at least two to rape. In the case of the rape of children, one of the victim, is a child from an underprivileged background ( I am not even delving into child abuse in homes as in those we know happen across social strata ) and the rapist who is also often from the same social background. Young children living in slums are very vulnerable. The systems created to protect and nurture them are a farce. The so called state run creches under the ICDS programmes are non-existent or pathetic. They are often simply a good way for politicians to favour their proteges, be it in giving jobs or contracts for nutrition. Children under six are often left on their own in slums and thus good prey for predators. Mothers need to work to survive. All the promises of creches and daycares have never been kept. I think a first step would be to ensure that children are safe all the time. The sad reality that we have witnessed in the recent past is that children get raped even within the four walls of schools. Moreover in crowded slums people live in close proximity and uncles of all shades abound. Children easily trust neighbours and a chocolate is all it takes to catch the innocent prey. It is time that the state thought of setting up quality habitat for the underprivileged rather than allowing slums to be set up to create grateful vote banks. I was absolutely appalled when I discovered many years ago that Lohars (gypsies) who camped on the main road had voter’s identity cards!

As a child grows up, it is time to go to school. I have time and again written about the state of schools in Delhi. They are the exact opposite of what an enabling environment should be. First and foremost schools run in two shifts. It is a sad reflection on a Government that it is enable to build sufficient schools for its children. Children should go to school in the morning. But for the boys in Delhi school begins at 1 and carried on till 6pm. In the mornings they are left to themselves. Idle mind; Devil’s playground goes the saying.

 How true it is. It is time we took a serious look at the education system. Otherwise we will continue breeding potential criminals. But here again there seems to be a sinister game at play. An educationist recently said: “It has not been in the interest of any government to ensure universalisation of education. Why would a government deny its people universal education? Because education gives you access to ideas, rights and opens doors of abilities. Education upsets the status quo and if, as a government, you stay in power by virtue of votebanks that you create and nurture, it is not in your interest to ensure everyone gets education.”

The real culprit in all matters seems to be the vote bank policy and corruption. It is well entrenched. Be it habitat for the poor, education, health, nutrition… all that can keep the illiterate seduced and prone to manipulation.