And the deafening beat goes on

And the deafening beat goes on

It has been about 5 hours since I wrote my blog about the horrific gang rape and hanging of two young teenagers and my decision to raise my voice against such shameful occurrences till someone finally breaks the deafening silence. Five hours is all it took to be at my post again! Another teenager was gang-raped in the constituency represented by the supremo of the ruling party of the State. She was seventeen. And if that was not enough to get us seething, a rape survivor’s mother was brutally beaten by the father of the rapist because she refused to withdraw the case against his son. This occurred in the constituency of the Chief Minister of the same state, and the son of the aforementioned supremo. No arrest has been made while the woman is battling for her life.

I again want to reiterate that the strong, developed and inclusive India that our new Prime Minister wants to usher cannot begin to see the light of day as long as such horrific incidents continue to happen. Women constitute 49% of the population and if they are not included then India cannot be considered a blessed land!

The Badaun rape case as it seems to be known now seems to have got the attention of one and all. I am not a follower of Antisthenes but a sense of deja vu fills me with despair. I guess sufficient meat to prove my point. What do you say when you hear the Chief Minister of the State where these horrendous rapes have taken place under his watch and in his family stronghold tell a journalist who ask him about the abysmal law and order situation quip: “You’re safe, right? You feel secure?“. Let us not forget that it is the supremo of the same family who said some time back: boys make mistakes. The mistakes he was referring to was rape!

I do not see justice being meted in these circumstances. Some arrests have been made is what the State Government in a report to the centre and the guilty shall be punished. Why do I find this hard to believe?

An article that appeared touches a chord, if not many. It touches upon our reaction to such horrors. I will quote some lines that I found disturbing and yet so true: Sometimes a picture is not worth a thousand words. The photographs of the two Dalit girls, raped and strangled and then left dangling from a mango tree in Badaun have caused a firestorm. On one hand it’s been blasted as the “pornography of rape”. On the other hand, it’s been described as a jolt to wake up a blasé society where rape, especially out in the badlands of UP, is commonplace enough that it does not make front page news anymore. 

There is a point there. We are so inured, so numbed by the never ending horror story of rape that it seems we need to descend ever lower into the pits to be shocked to attention. It’s as if faced with a rape story, the media has to ask the question “What’s new about this one?” Is it a toddler? A foreign tourist? Or now is it the horrific spectacle of these two teenagers hanging from a mango tree while a crowd of villagers including children gawk?

The author ends his article with these terrifying words: If indeed we now need to see the “strange fruit” on our mango trees to be shocked, it begs the question about what kind of people we have become anyway.

These hard hitting words compel us to some serious soul searching. Have we really come down to this or will this photograph be the turning point we so need. Will it at least makes us accept that we have become people who are inured to atrocities as long as they do not touch our own. How many more such horrors will we have to see before we let out the cry that can bring about justice to all girls in our land.

Enough of these band aid and feel good solutions. Sadly our new Minister for women who is a woman herself has gone the usual way. She blames police laxity, and promises to create yet another rape crisis cell. She is also ‘willing’ to ‘recommend’ a CBI enquiry should the parents so wish. Come on what is the willingness and recommendation nonsense. The parents want JUSTICE and want this to never happen to another woman again. We want a Minister who is willing to think out of the box! We are fed up of ‘enquiries’ ‘commissions’ and such other jaded options. We are talking of young girls whose lives were brutally truncated before they even began. The little girl watching the scene must be thinking: is this going to be my fate to?

It is time to take the bull by the horns and to change all that needs to be changed. It is not the purview of one Minister or one department. It is concern of all the 49% of us! We have to get rid of everything that is feudal be it the police, the politicians or the so called feudal lords. We are a democracy. Don’t we love repeating this, so let us be a true one and right every tort.

Let us make these two beautiful girls the turning point and not look back!

It is one of us who could raped.

Music to my ears .. I hope and pray

Music to my ears .. I hope and pray

The new dispensation has fixed its top priorities, ten of them reminding us of the ten commandments! Priority number 2 states: Prioritise education, energy and water. Mr Modi has repeatedly during his campaigns said that the expectations of the education system remain to be fulfilled. This is music to my ears as I have always propounded that only quality education for all will help bring about the India’s of our dreams.

I have my take on education and state with conviction as for the last almost decade and a half I have been up close and personal with what goes in the name of education in our capital city. I have often written about this but feel that few take heed of my rants and raves. But I will soldier on stubbornly in the hope that I am heard.

Education in the other half of the city, the one the previous dispensation even hid behind giant placards during the infamous Commonwealth Games , is nothing but a sad and now jaded joke played year after year on millions of voiceless and helpless children. Though the city has large earmarked plots for schools, the ‘schools’ built on them can vary from enabling to forbidding. While some have adequate buildings others have one storied barracks with asbestos sheets and yet others have tents and classes in the open. This in a city with varied and often inclement weather. Some have desks often broken and splintered making them dangerous for children, some even have desks that are too high for the students who learn standing. I guess getting someone to cut the legs is an administrative procedure that may take ages! Toilets and drinking water facilities are also of diverse degree: from adequate to non-existent. A toilet without a door is a no no for a young girl you will agree. Where there are ‘playgrounds’ these are often unusable and dangerous. The husband recently was willing to upgrade the grounds of the school next ground and get coaches and equipment but was met with the hydra headed monster of red tape even though he was not asking for a penny and was creating the facility solely for the children of the school.

I could go on and on but I guess you get the picture. But there is more. After 67 years of Independence we have not been capable of building sufficient schools for the children of the capital and hence the same building is used in two shifts and our boys go to school in the afternoon when we all know capacities are diminished. And if that was enough, classes are overcrowded. In some cases there are over 120 kids in a class. This is mostly the case with girls, are even illiterate parents have now understood that the state run schools are not up to the mark so send their ‘sons’ to the myriad of private schools that have mushroomed to fill the gap.

In this situation the abysmal pass percentage of 33% and the no fail policy till class VIII is a no fail policy for large numbers of drop outs post class VIII drop outs that sometimes can barely read and write.

I would urge our new Education Minister to please hike up the pass percentage to 50% as elsewhere in the world and to reframe the no fail policy in a way that it ensures that a child moves on to the next class only if he has mastered the curriculum of the class s/he is in. Whatever the reason for lowering the pass percentage – I was told it was to increase the number of ‘graduates’ to access funds – it is absolutely detrimental to the child and no one has the right to play with any child’s future. I cannot begin to count the number of kids we have salvaged from these conditions, kids who have not only passed but become toppers.

The children of India deserve better and I hope our new PM and Education Minister will stand by them. They have waited for far too long!

jus primae noctis

jus primae noctis

This picture is not from some old western. Nor is it a shot from a movie set in medieval days. This is a picture that was taken a week ago,  214 kilometres from where I sit and write. It is making world headline news and simple Googling for the words – cousins – rape – India – will show you how the story has been picked across land and seas. I normally do not like putting such pictures up but this time I felt the need to do so. It is high time we garner the courage to look straight at this horrific picture and have the guts to hand our heads in shame more so because, we are today on a high after the elections and rearing to make India count. Sorry, but until we ensure that no such horror happens we cannot aspire to that dream.

As you can see, the picture is of two girls hanging on a tree. They were so hung after being gang raped. The girls were Dalit – low caste – and the perpetrator of this heinous crime belonged to a higher caste. This reminds one the jus primae noctis an alleged legal right allowing the lord of a medieval estate to take the virginity of his serfs’ maiden daughters. It is yet again of the assertion of feudal lord to assert their old on the weaker communities. The police as always did nothing till the villagers refusing to hand over the bodies forced the administration to book the constables who had refused to act. Ultimately the guilty were ‘booked’ but the girls aged 14 and 15 were no more. As usual local politicians spouted empty words, the Government ‘promised’ action and the Central Government ‘sought’ a report from the State Government. The toothless Women’s Commission has also sought a report.

If you visit our new Prime Minister’s website and leave a ‘message’ you will, after an initial acknowledgment, get a response in a day or two.  The message says:

India is a blessed land, known for its glorious culture. It is our land that has shown the way to the world time and again. Today, we need to once again ignite the lamp of progress that will take our nation to greater heights and I believe together we can.

Once again I thank you for your wishes and I seek your support and participation in our endeavour to create a strong, developed and inclusive India.

When you see the picture above, the words make no sense. How can you be strong, developed and inclusive if revolting incidents like the one recounted above continue with impunity. How can you quote your past glory when the present is outrageous. And these are not isolated incidents. Far from that.

Rather than celebrate the hope that seems to be the flavour of the day, I hang my head in shame for my silence and my total helplessness. I hang my head in shame for our collective muteness and apathy.

We need to stop limiting our rants and raves to what we feel affects us and resort to guilty silence when the crime is perpetrated on people who we consider outsiders. Last year we somehow found our voices when the young woman was brutally raped in a bus in the capital. True a woman who went to see an English movie in a mall sort of made it to our ‘kind’ and the fear became real. But how do two little village girls in a remote area get our sympathy and make us take the cudgels for them.

The two teenagers were Indians just like you and me, they are constitutional rights just like you and me, they had dreams and hopes just like all teenagers even if theirs were somewhat different. The humiliation, pain and horror they felt whilst being raped was the same we would feel if it were to happen to us. The terror they must have experienced when they knew they were dying was no different from the one we would feel. I can go on endlessly. They were someone’s daughter, granddaughter, sister, friend.! And yet no one helped them in their distress, even those who are paid to do so. On the other hand they became willing partners in the crime.

Our December 2012 rants and raves did not amount to much. Rapes have not stopped and the perpetrators are still alive, but even their walking to the gallows would not make a difference to the crime rate. Our voice has to rise each time such an aberration occurs and we should not keep silent till the time they stop. I urge you all to do so in whatever way you feel comfortable with.

I hope our new Government gives the attention needed to these crimes as they mar the image of India in a way we cannot wish away.

degree or no degree.. that is the question

degree or no degree.. that is the question

The latest polemic in town is the issue of our new Education Minister not having a degree, the hallowed piece of paper that opens doors in India. To me is it is absolutely a non issue and will elucidate my take as we go on. However it has become a free for all that may just boomerang on the initiator! It is the question of the day on some channel, and has created a TwitterStorm so let us try and see which side we stand on.

For the past decade and more I have had ample proof that degrees and certificates mean nothing on their own. I am well placed as for the past that many years I have been working with a bunch of great people who have no degrees or certificates but are doing jobs that I challenge anyone to do. I am taking of my staff at project why which was selected after an intuitive decision of mine to source all my staff from within the community. I needed ‘teachers’ to ‘teach’ kids from class I onwards. Now the community where I was on the prowl had scant degree holders and had this been an imperative in my search I would have found no one. I knew what I was looking for and also what I wanted from them: passion, dedication, motivation and the desire to learn. I realised many women had some education that had often been stopped in the tracks because of marriage; I also found some very bright souls that had ‘dropped’ out of school not because they lacked ability but because of some decision of illiterate and over caring parents. The feisty woman who heads a large part of project why is one such kid. When she came to me she had been taken out of school by her doting mother who did not want her daughter to go back to school after she was severely punished for being a few days late in paying her fees. The young girl had been made to stand in the sun and had subsequently fainted. Today she has certificates and degrees more for form then anything else and runs the project with great aplomb! This kid, as kid she was when I met her, is an indubitable proof of the fact that common sense laced with a passion to learn can move mountains.

My other co-ordinator may have had a degree but that was not why I selected him. I selected him because when I first met him and discussed some social issues, I was amazed at how alike was our thinking processes, our values and our approach to social issues. I decided that I needed him by my side and have never regretted what one may call my impulsive decision. He runs my women and children centre with tact and flexibility and has a solved many a thorny issues that even I couldn’t have.

Both these wonderful souls have been my guides and given me not only support but the best advise I could have hoped for and unable me to grow project why to what it is today. Without them I would have stumbled, fallen and even failed. Yet they do not have swanky degrees, do not speak the Queen’s  English or have the ‘profile’ that is usually sought for such posts. What they have in ample measure is compassion, understanding, street smartness and belief in what we do. I could not have asked for more.

The team my two stalwarts lead is also partly  degree less or possesses degrees that have no value at all as is the case in India where 33% is still the passmark to graduate. It is sad that our education has come to this. I have had young men with BAs and even MAs from other States and the street worthiness of these degrees is nil. Actually they more often than not, prove a hindrance as in many cases it gives the ‘graduate’  a sense of false superiority. We have had such young men who have ‘refused’ to work under a woman coordinator with less education. Obviously we bid them a hasty farewell. But that is the exception to the rule. Team project why is five star and as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, kids they have taught have never failed and some are now gainfully employed. As I write these words I just got a call that one of our students has secured 96% in his XII class! I am waiting with bated breath for all the results though I know it beforehand. My kids have never failed me. All this, with teachers who have scant certificates!

Before I end this post I must mention one more person who proved beyond doubt that diplomas and certificates are not needed when you have a mission. Somewhere circa 1998 I had to make a decision that, though incomprehensible to most, was the only one I could make if I were to be worthy of being a mother. I decided to withdraw my younger daughter from school as I knew it was destroying her spirit. This wonderful kid had told me when she was 9 that she knew what she wanted to do in life: care for people with disabilities. I nudged her as gently as I could and as far as I could down the conventional line of diplomas and degrees. She played the game to the best of her ability but there was a moment when we both knew we had reached the end of the line. Even if I had the whole world against me, I knew that I had done the right thing for my child. She began training with autistic children at the age of 15 and has never looked  back. Today she handles the special children of project why with élan and confidence and has years of experience that no one can match. She is to the manor born!

Over the past years I have had the opportunity of testing some candidates with so called degrees. We had an MBA from one of the new universities that love blowing their bugle and come at a heavy price. I was shocked by the total lack of skills of this young man who barely could write a mail in proper English or for that matter handle any of the tasks assigned to him independently. I am glad he found a job as he did not meet our criteria.

We have also had a few persons with certificates in special education but sadly they have not met our standards as they lacked the compassion and common sense approach that is needed when you deal with students with diverse disabilities and varied ages. In a way I am glad that they too found greener pastures. Come to think of it, the ones who have stayed on came with no degree in special education but with their heart in the right place.

So to me degrees and super degrees do not matter; what matters is how you perform on the ground and more than that how you tackle challenges. Our new education minister may turn out to be a better one than someone armed with Doctorates and Post Doctorates. I am sure she will master in thinking out of the box and come up with the solutions our children urgently and desperately need. She comes with a fresh mind and the desire to prove her detractors wrong.

Why oh Y

Why oh Y

In India’s capital city which is in celebration mood with the arrival of a new government, a man killed his wife and two daughters aged 2 and 6 months. Their crime? Well the former had not given him a son, and instead born two girls that also needed to be killed. The man and his mother had tortured the poor woman for her inability to ‘produce’ a son and of course for not having brought enough dowry. But let us forget the dowry issue but get back to sex determination saga. To have a boy you need the Y chromosome and that is something a woman DOES NOT HAVE. So she can never be responsible for the child not being a boy.This is a scientific fact and unless we petition to God to change things, this will remain a reality. This was discovered in 1905 by Nettie Stevens who realised that sex determination is due to the presence and absence of the Y chromosome. Women do not have it so how can they be held responsible for something they do not possess biologically.

However it seems to have been traditionally held that women were the ones who determined sex, and  over the ages, women have suffered the worst humiliation for producing girls. In some cases, like the one   cited above, a woman had to pay the ultimate price for something she is completely innocent of. What happened to the innocent until proved guilty!

I have been nurturing the dream of another project, this one named project Y that rhymes with, as my grandson would say as he is into rhyming words, Why! I wonder why, whether it is in biology curricula or sex education, this fact is not made crystal clear. Even to children one could easily say: papa provides the seed and mama the place for the seed to grow. Now whether the seed is an apple or an orange depends on papa. If little boys and little girls were told that at an early age, then the millions of women would not have to suffer a cruel fate.

I know such a project can only work if it is done on a large scale by the State machinery on the lines of an earlier family planning programme initiated many decades ago when catchy slogans appeared everywhere: Ham do, hamare do – we are two, we have two -. I have been thinking of a slogan but my      copywriting skills are not the best. So if somebody can come up with one, it would be great.

As I said this is mammoth task, one that large international agencies should have adopted long ago. To my mind, it would also bring a perceptible change to the number of children born, while of course freeing women from a ‘crime’ they are innocent of.

But who will bell the cat or even cats I should say? That is the question. In our country sex is taboo and considered ‘wrong’, though it is the basis of creation. Hence sex education is defiled by some fringe elements who want to ‘protect’ the honour and tradition of the land. But it is time we talked about it and if the word S** is offensive, then find one that suits your misplaced values, but it is really time we talked about it unabashedly. How can we as a nation, hold our head high when a woman is murdered with her two young children because she gave birth to them!

Will the new Government which has the numbers look at this problem with honesty and courage so that no woman has to ever pay the ultimate price for bringing a little girl into this world.