The panic button

The panic button

How many of us who were outraged by the Delhi rape case a few months ago remember all the knee jerk promises ‘promised’ by a somewhat panicked  Government. There was of course the new law and fast track courts. Need I remind you that the said case is still in court and no judgement has been pronounced as yet. Then we have the high court, the supreme court and review petitions. I wonder when the perpetrators will get their due. However this post is not about fast track courts and their protracted hearings. No, it is about something most of us and certainly me had forgotten till a magazine remind us of it. I am talking about the Nirbhaya fund, 1000 crore Rs which has been lost in bureaucratic mazes and of course not spent! The Nirbhaya fund was meant in our Finance Minister words to support initiatives by the government and NGOs working towards protecting the dignity and ensuring safety of women in India. The number of rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated on women across the board since is proof of the fact that nothing has been done to ensure safety of women.

The article I refer to is aptly entitled: the still born Nirbhaya fund! The fund is just that: still born. It has gone in the multifarious loops of what the called the Government of India! The Finance Ministry asked for proposals from other ministries and till date have got just three: one about strengthening police stations, the other for repairing women’s hostels and the third one for creating a red panic button on all cell phones. All this if cleared accounts for a mere 150 crores. If my maths are correct there are still 850 in the kitty.

As a citizen, I have no qualms about paying an extra cess for the safety of women. But after reading this article I would not part with a penny if I was given the choice. One ministry is still planning what to do.This is the Women and Child Development Ministry and one would things they are the ones who should come up with a proper plan, yet the proposal they are yet to send is about prevention, by changing mindsets. Wow. Would love to know how that is to be done.

In short the fund lies unused and the few ‘ideas’ mooted make not much sense. The funds will soon be released. As the author of the article says: Released into what is a question that is still, terrifyingly, blowing in the wind.

There is a panic button that needs to be pressed, pressed by people like you and me! We all know that the (in)famous food security is almost through. Will its funds also wait for proposals and mechanisms to be worked out while the poor, just like the women will have to wait for Godot while we remain frozen in silence.

God Men

God Men

I have always despised self professed God Men who play on emotions of gullible people who then follow them blindly. The latest case against one such self styled God Man is a shocker in every which way possible. A young girl, a minor, has alleged that she was molested for 90 minutes by this old man. She gave a detailed account of the incident, something that is not easy for anyone, let alone a young girl and a case was registered as there was prima face evidence. Before anyone alleges that there was no rape, penetration, I would like to remind you that sexual assault in any form is reprehensible and has to be condemned in the harshest way. And if there is sufficient evidence, then the perpetrator, whoever it is, has to be apprehended and arrested. This is what the law of the land says. Many of us may not be aware of it but a law was promulgated last year with the acronym POSCO ( The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences). In this act, sexual assault does not mean penetration alone. That is the law. But in our country, many are above the law in particular these so called God Men as they attract large congregations of people that are easy vote banks.

This commercialisation of religion is probably one of the worst thing to have hit our society. It is a true example of Marx’s assertion on religion being the opium of the masses. We in India are gullible and superstitious to a fault and are willing to accept all aberrations that come our way. Are we not the ones who will drown deities with milk, believe that a God is drinking milk, perform absurd and costly rituals and fall for anything that a priest or a God Man says. I guess that in a religion that was meant to remain oral , the priest or sage had a great social role to play. One would admire these self professed God Men who such large real and virtual audiences to preach sensible things like gender equality, having fewer children, respecting the environment, giving up corrupt ways and so on. But that is not the case at all. These frauds, as that is what they are, are in the God business to enrich themselves, acquire unchallenged power and perform disgusting acts like molesting a child! The person in the news today came under the scanner many times for all the wrong reasons: murder of children, wasting water, advising rape victims to fall of the feet of their rapist and so on. Now if the law applied to him in the same manner as it applies to the ordinary citizen, then one would have no problem. But these God Men have political protection across the board as no one would want to be seen casting aspersions on them lest they loose a large vote bank.

So the case of a child being assaulted is being made into a political conspiracy. I cannot quite understand how a child being assaulted is a conspiracy. Was the poor girl made to say all those horrible things? Some would like us to believe so. What is terribly sad is that the assault of this child has turned into a political slug fest! The perpetrator in robes has still to be arrested. Why has he been given time? Maybe because he wants to threaten the victim and her family to withdraw their case. And by the way what is this absurd nonsense that a summons cannot be served on someone who is meditating?

The question that comes to mind is whether the young girl will get justice? I do not think so.

(to be continued)

Pro India

Pro India

The food bill has been passed! Who could have stalled or voted against a bill for the poor! No political party that aspires to win the upcoming elections. So there was a sort of a debate and sort of assurances and then the bill was passed! I wish bills for women or children got the same treatment.

India is a POOR country and our leaders like to keep it that way! 75% of our village population and 50% of our urban population is officially POOR! Where do we fall I wonder. I guess we are the ones who will have to pay for this in some way or the other. I feel ashamed of the way such figures are brandished after 66 years of Independence. What every one is tom tomming about is that no one will sleep hungry now. 5 kilos of uncooked grain is enough to fill your stomach. The ruling party has fulfilled its promise of eradicating hunger and malnutrition. Why was this done just before elections is far too suspect. This party has been in power for a decade. Was it fair to leave poor hungry for so many years.

But I  feel a little lost in all this. I am no economist but simply a citizen of India and I cannot understand how we are sometimes told that to be classified as poor you have to be spending less then 32 rs in a city, which makes no one really poor and then you are told almost 70% of us are poor and need subsidised food grain. It all looks Orwellian to me. On the one hand we want to be a ‘super’ power, but on the other hand we are quite happy passing a bill that actually qualifies 3/4 of India as poor.

The question that arises is that keeping in mind our track record in implementing any of the pro poor programmes, one is justified in thinking and even believing that this Bill will go the same way. Many will profit from it, many will misuse it and the really poor will never get anything as they will fall out of the net of complex administrative procedures. If everything was kosher then the ICDS programme launched more than three decades ago should have ensured that every baby born post 1975 should have been healthy! Where the ICDS stopped that is at the age of 6, the midday meal was to take over. We all know the reality. So if we could not run those programmes why should we think that the new bill will eradicate malnutrition. What we need is running something like open soup kitchens for the destitute and providing employment and dignity to the ones we love calling POOR!

The same government passed the Right to Education Bill. What should have ensued is the upgrading of all state run schools to Central school level – also run by the state – and thus having children of all social profiles walk to their school.  Instead, the state decided to ‘reserve’ – how we love that verb – 25% seats in all public and private schools. I work with slum kids and let me tell you none of the kids we know have availed of this reservation as their parents are illiterate, do not have the wherewithal to fulfil all the paper work needed. It is the middle class who can afford to pay for their children who have usurped this reservation for their kids as they know how to make false income certificates, false rent agreement and false everything else that is needed. It would be interesting to do an audit of the social profile of the children who are registered under this category.

So be prepared for surprises when the food security bill is implemented! When will our politicians become pro India

What is wrong with us

What is wrong with us

What is wrong with us, as a nation, as individuals, as a society? Everything I think. Yesterday’s brutal gang rape in Mumbai has such a sad and pathetic sense of deja vu! Nine months or so ago a ‘nation’ was ‘enraged’ at another brutal rape, the Delhi one. And excuse my cynicism but nine months hence the ‘nation’ will again be enraged against another brutal rape in another city. If we as a ‘nation’ a really enraged at brutal rapes, then we should be in a state of perpetual rape as every day women, girls and even babies get raped somewhere in this vast land of ours. But that is not so. I guess we only get enraged when the victim resembles us. A physiotherapist, a photo journalist. Someone we are in sync with. Our ‘rage’ is short lived. Some of us take to the streets, others consigned it to words – me -, yet others go a step further and ask for new laws, new training programmes. The powers that be make empty promises that are never kept but no one is there to ask them why. For instance CCTV were promised, they are yet to be sourced. Fast track courts were set but who defines fast! An old repugnant self professed God man assaults a minor but he will never be caught.

We will write, make some noise and then go back into the safe little boxes we live in. As long as it is not my child, my daughter, my friend we are not willing to see what is happening around us to children, to women to co citizens. Our rulers get away with impunity. They can loot, rape, abuse, threaten and murder, they not only get away but we vote them back to power!

I forgot these rapes make good material for heated debates where we hear the ‘country wants to know’. Which country and above all why do they want to know if they are not going to leave the comfort of their box and dirty their hands.

After 66 years of Independence we are still trying to address and legislate food laws. I would feel embarrassed if I were in a position of power. That 5000 children die every day of malnutrition should be enough to make a whole government resign in shame. But no they are busy debating a law that will give a few kilo of cereals to the ‘poor’.

Schemes to help the door have been voted time and again and never properly implemented. Implement them for God’s sake. Do we really need new ones?

And let us talk of education. It has taken our legislators decades to address the situation. After 66 years we cannot even provide a bench to every school going child in the capital even by running 2 shifts. Can’t our leaders and politicians see this. No they are busy fighting on petty issues. Parliament does not function though its costs lakhs for it run every minute. Grains rot because you cannot store it. Quacks kill as we do not have a proper health programme for the poor.

What do we look like to others. I do not even want to think of it. Let me just share one image that I see regularly these days as I take my husband for treatment to one of the super speciality hospital. Just in front of the super speciality hospital that charges the earth and the moon to treat you is a huge open garbage dump that stinks. If I were administrating that hospital that mints money, I would have done something. But that is who we are: a nation that would keep its home clean and dump the filth in front. We have no civic sense. We are aware of our rights but forget our duties. We have erected walls between the haves and have nots and forget that the two are inter dependent.

We want to show case ourselves as a young nation with immense potential youth power and true in a couple of years we will have 760 million young people, but as was said in a recent article unless we provide this youth bulge with education, employment, health, safety and liberty, we will soon have 706 million extremely pissed-off, marginalised, restless young people on our hands. But unless we get off our back sides, forget petty politics to take brownie points and give these 760 million a good educations and sufficient employment, the frustration of these young souls will translate into crime of all kinds. And when those happen, we will again step out of our homes to join some vigils or the other and get our conversation subject for our next kitty party or page 3 do or a chance to appear on a TV show debate where India wants to know! But 760 million is a tinder box waiting to explode. It is time we did something.

Can’t read, Can’t write, Can’t count

Can’t read, Can’t write, Can’t count

Can’t read, Can’t write, Can’t count. The Empty promise of Primary Education in India is the topic selected by a leading weekly to mark the 66th Independence Day of India. Haven’t read all of it yet as I want to do so slowly and with responsibility but I am grateful to this weekly with a conscience to have chosen this not so TRP worthy subject to mark an important day! After 66 years we as nation have not understood that is education and EDUCATION alone that can change India. Just ask yourself what makes the real difference between you and the woman who cleans your house. The answer is simple: your ability to read and write and speak good English and count of course!  Your savoir faire, your manners, your behaviour are all bye products of your education. The first article poses the question that begs to be asked: in spite of ‘adequate’ funding, statistics are frightening. The Education imparted is state run schools is so bad that five years from now over half the children in rural India will be in private schools. Enrolling children is not enough it is what and how they are taught that matters. It is time posits the article to stop patting ourselves on the back for statistics that mean nothing, and admit that there are systemic failures that need to be addressed with honesty.

I remember telling a bunch of Lohar (gypsy blacksmith) kids  that they had to dream big, and if they did they would be able to fulfil their dream. In those days we taught them on an empty piece of land behind their roadside camp and amongst the kids was Sanjay (wearing a yellow shirt in the pic). I do not know what his dream was that day but let me tell you he made it big. After a stint as a project why teacher he found his wings (with a little help) and now walks the ramp for high fashion designers in India and Paris. What he got from us is education of course, but also the chance to meet people from other countries, to gain confidence, speak English and dream! This memory came back to me when I read a line of the article.  What do we tell a child who dreams of being a pilot and knows that school is the only way to achieve that dream but hates school because she is violently punished whenever she makes a mistake by her overworked, overstressed teacher? The answer is simply I do not know! And the author goes on to say, and I second him fully:  We are creating generations of children aching with aspiration but left unequipped by their schooling to realise that aspiration. Imagine the frustration. There is a time bomb ticking and God help us when it explodes! It is time we all woke up to the reality and did something. maybe the first thing would be to read the articles in this issue.

For the past 13 years we have been working in the field, trying to reach out to as many children as possible and ensuring that their years in school are not wasted. Let me tell you you do not need large amounts of money or super skills or even infrastructure to make a difference. In the past 13 years we have taught in a pig park, in a reclaimed garbage dump (we still do), between two houses as you can see in the picture and in every space possible. Our teachers do not have teaching degrees. Some are even drop outs not because they lacked capacity but often because of early marriages. Some of our teachers are pwhy alumni. What they lack in certificates they make up in large measure in motivation, understanding and passion for their work. All that needs to be said is that in the past 12 years no child has failed any examination and many pwhy children top their respective classes. What is sad is that my own peers do not reach out and help us with the funds we so need to carry on and if possible widen our outreach.

Let us be real. Children cannot wait for things to fall in place and be perfect. Children are growing by the minute and for them time is of the essence. The magazine is replete with articles about people doing a great job, but that is not the answer. I too could claim doing a great job but is a drop in the ocean. The response of the powers that me is wishy washy as usual. You can judge for yourself. You can also judge for yourself how behind our children are:  50 percent of kids between the age of 6 and 14 in government schools couldn’t read, write or do arithmetic at any reasonable level. Frightening isn’t it? One of the solutions proposed is to define small concrete goals and meet them. Others feel it is important to use the money sensibly and according to the needs. I laughed and cried at the same time when I read these lines: My favourite is a school without a building that was asked to buy fire safety equipment with grant money. But, of course, there was no building, so they bought the equipment and asked the shopkeeper to keep it until such time they were able to erect one. I am particularly in sync with this view as I have always asked my donors to trust me and leave it to us to decide how the money is best spent.

All the above sounds logical, but absurd when we realise that we are debating this after 66 years of Independence. The magazine has a series of articles on what philanthropists are doing, or what individuals are organisations are doing. Every one is worth a read. But the problem is huge and such voices and deeds are drops in the ocean. There are also articles highlighting the problems faced by one and all: children, parents and teachers. Each one of them are valid and show that our whole education system needs to be re-looked at.

There are some issues that I have often highlighted and that I would like to reiterate. One is that we must stop the farce of retaining 33% as a pass percentage for any examination. This sets the course of mediocrity and shuts many doors for children who would have spend or should I say wasted 12 years in school. The next one is to change the approach the State seems to have taken. Instead of privatising education and ‘reserving’ some seats for ‘poor’ child, seats often hijacked by the middle class as the poor do not have the knowledge and often documents required to secure a place for their children, the State should take on its constitutional responsibility and make every state run school a centre for excellence so that it attracts a mix of social profiles. And last but not the least, we should not only accept but encourage that our driver’s kid shares a bench with ours!