As Delhi chokes #GivingTuesday#India

As Delhi chokes #GivingTuesday#India

Delhi is facing a critical health crisis. The pollution rate is alarming. It is believed to be off the charts. Some call the city a ‘gas chamber‘. Experts suggest evacuating the city. But is this a viable option for the millions who live here/

The causes are many from  burning  crop residue in neighbouring states to industrial emissions to cars and construction dust.

This happens every year and every year panic sets in and short term measures are taken. But then winds blow and take the dust away. The problem is forgotten till it hits again a year later. Memory is short.

We are in the midst of a crisis and witnessing the short term measures: schools are closed for three days, trucks have been stopped from plying and people have been told to stay indoors. Closing schools may be an option for children from better homes, they can sit in their room with air purifiers, but what about children from slums who live close to polluting factories and whose homes are dark and insalubrious and so small that you can barely stand. Such children have no option but play outside in the haze and dust. Where else can they go.

With schools closed, many of the younger children will miss their midday meal something they look forward to! But notwithstanding this, it is certain that slum children will breathe in more toxic air while schools are closed. But does any one care?

And come to think of it, do we really care about the environment or do we too only react in times of crises by blaming the government and demanding remedial measures.

The sad reality is that when there is no crises each one of us is a big polluter. How many of us will take public transport? Far from that, in rich Delhi people of a same family got to the same wedding in different cars! How many of us do not use plastic, segregate garbage, do not litter, save water and so on. Not any is any. So are we not all at least a little responsible for the mess we are in?

Is it not time that we take action and commit to play our part in saving the environment.

In the land of silence and raised eyebrows #GivingTuesday#India

In the land of silence and raised eyebrows #GivingTuesday#India

Came across an interesting article on the need of sex education in India. Sex education is a highly controversial topic as for some it is seen as offensive to Indian values, and concerns that it might lead to risky sexual behaviour and promiscuity. What its detractors do not understand is that it is quite the opposite. UNESCO defines sexuality education as one that  “provides opportunities to… build decision-making, communication and risk reduction skills about many aspects of sexuality…. encompasses the full range of information, skills and values to enable young people to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights and to make decisions about their health and sexuality”.

Wonder why those who oppose it do not see the situation on the ground with rape, teenage pregnancies and sexual abuse on the rise in a alarming manner.

Adolescents need to be taught age appropriate sexual behaviour or else they will be unable to reign in the raging hormones. If not in homes, then the only alternative is in schools. Some feel erroneously that if there is sexual education everyone will only talk of sex. But that is not true. Sexual education is about knowing your body and its changes, about understanding consent, about learning to interact with the opposite sex.

One cannot be prudish about this.

A very pertinent spoof was made on what would sex education look like in our patriarchal society.

It is so true. We are even afraid of mouthing words like sex!

At project why we have regular workshops on adolescent issues. We feel these are an intrinsic part of growing u in today’s world where teenagers and even tweens have access to unrestricted internet via the smart phone. Teaching age appropriate behaviour is an absolute must. Gender equality has to be taught albeit in our patriarchal society.

Sex education has several benefits:

1. It can help students understand that attraction to the opposite sex is a biological phenomenon.

2. It can do away with the taboo and stigma surrounding sex.

3. It can educate children on health issues related to sex and lower the rates of teenage pregnancy.

4. It can prevent gender and sex related injuries and violence.

5. It can enhance the psychological, sexual and reproductive health of students.

But the Government is even weary of using the word ‘sex’ in any programme on adolescent issues. Some feel it is against vedic values, and a top cop even said it would increase the number of rapes.

Sex education is taken seriously in many countries.

In Holland ‘Lentekriebels’, a government subsidised programme for children aged between four and twelve, is carried out every year. Under this programme, children are taught about relationships, sexuality, the act of cuddling, friendship and also about new born babies.

In Denmark children are made aware of what sex is in a very simple and clinical way. They even have picture books for little children to understand the process of having safe sex. The process is explained factually through cartoon-like graphics.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education  (CSE)is much more than sex education: It covers the physical, biological, psychological and social aspects of a person’s being and sexuality. It covers issues like bodily changes and differences, and relationships with other youngsters, teachers, and society at large, to discussing important social issues like bullying, abuse, infections, and breakups. And yes, it also provides information about sex along with the importance of consent and safety, all in age and stage appropriate terms.

Efforts are being made by the Government but civil society has to back it up.  2017, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched the Saathiya resource kit for young people. It is a progressive approach and covers six important adolexent issue: nutrition, sexual and reproductive health, non-communicable diseases, substance misuse, injuries and violence (including gender based violence) and mental health. However it relies on peer educators and an app and thus cannot reach every adolescent.

CSE is essential to help a child navigate through puberty to adulthood, more so in a country where questions are met with silence or raised eyebrows.

 

 

Startling and shocking numbers #GivingTuesday#India

Startling and shocking numbers #GivingTuesday#India

A recent report from theInternational Food Policy Research Institute states that “India is ranked 100th out of 119 countries”. The indicators used are : undernourishment, child mortality, child wasting and child stunting.

The statistics of 5000 children under 5, dying of malnutrition related issues remains unchanged. I have lost count of the number of times I have written about this. 5000 children a day, that is almost 4 children every minute. It is a statistic that should shock us but sadly it does not. We have become inured I guess, or is it that it is not our children who die @4/minute.

Last week a 11 year old died of hunger!  Some administrative glitch The blame game is on. Soon politicians will jump in the fray but the bottom line is that a child died because she had no food. Her family was stripped of their ration card and the little they were entitled to.

I once again revisit all that I have written about malnutrition. I cannot but recall the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?”. Does anyone remember them today?

The Bill introduced in Parliament few years ago with the mission to ensure no one goes hungry seems to have fizzled out. Schemes to help the poor are multiple and seem to add that feel good quotient but do nothing on the ground. The spectre of malnutrition looms large. And statistics remain the same: 43.5% of children are underweight; 50% of children’s death are attributed to malnutrition, 46 per cent of all children below the age of three are too small for their age, 47 per cent are underweight and at least 16 per cent are wasted; anaemia affects 74 per cent of children under the age of three, more than 90 per cent of adolescent girls and 50 per cent of women.

What do we do? Continue wasting food?

Peek into your garbage bin and ask yourself how many of the things you have thrown are still edible. Look a the your plate at the next party, wedding you go and see if it is empty before you put it down. Next time you are asked by your pandit to offer milk to the goods, ask yourself if that very God would not feel more propitiated if you offered it to a child?

Will we ever light a candle for these 5000 children we lose every day?

When will the horror of malnutrition move us out of our apathy.

Will we ever sing a requiem for these kids?

 

And the drop outs go on #GivingTuesday#India

And the drop outs go on #GivingTuesday#India


This graph appeared in a recent newspaper. It makes for interesting reading as to the situation of school drop outs in India. For us at Project Why, its is of prime importance as our primary mission has been to contain school drop outs something we have done quite successfully over the past decade and a half. The other facet of our work has been our relentless effort to mainstream as many children as possible. We must have pushed back hundreds of children to school.

Our work continues.

However seeing statistics like these makes us weary and a tad sad. What held true in 2000 still occurs 14 years later. Nothing seems to change for one end of the spectrum while on the other we witness proliferation of new swanky schools. The school business only thrives for some, the others remain in the dark.

Girls drop out for the same reasons year after year and we can almost say generation after generation: distance of school from home, marriage, engaged in domestic activities, financial constraints, lack of interest etc. Some of these reasons are akin to those we face as we often have to persuade families to allow their girls to study.

Boys too drop out for the same reasons as those mentioned: to help the family finances or simply by lack of interest. One needs to remember that children from poorer backgrounds rarely get marks allowing them to pursue higher studies in affordable institutions. Joining the work force is often their only option.

Containing school drop outs remains a challenge even after 17 years of our existence. At times it seems like a Sisyphean task! But as I always held when faced with the daunting task ahead, even one drop out contained  is worth every effort put in.

 

 

Kamala – An unsung woman of substance

Kamala – An unsung woman of substance

Kamala Goburdhun née Sinha 15 October 1917 – 13 June 1990

It is Kamala’s centenary today. It will be celebrated in the centre that is named after her and where two of her most cherished ideals are pursued: education and women’s empowerment. It will be a low key affair, a far cry from the loud and impressive centenary celebration of her better half a few years ago. A tribute to who she was: discrete while being strong, opting for the behind the scenes role as that is where she could truly colour the whole show.

She left this world 27 years ago but has never failed to guide me in every thing I have done, just as she did when she was alive. I feel her presence around me with every breath I take.

I am often asked why I decided to set up Project Why. There are many reasons, but one is undoubtedly the lessons learnt at Kamala’s knee. These were cameos of her life that she shared candidly leaving them to seep through my heart slowly, knowing that they would reach their destination one day. The destination was Project Why.

Kamala’s education was nothing short of a saga worthy of being brought to life in a TV soap! Kamala was the eldest child of a freedom fighter and in many ways his favourite. When the first girls school opened the town she lived in, she was rearing to join. Her father indulged her thinking that a few years of schooling would be a good thing. He never knew he had opened the floodgates.

Kamala had two formidable allies in her quest for education: her mom and her paternal grand mom both women way beyond their times. To ‘tame’ the freedom fighter they would use his own weapon: hunger strikes! So when Kamala wanted to study beyond primary school and the father was reluctant out came the big guns: Kamala went on a hunger strike! The two ladies would stand with forlorn faces just as the father sat down to eat and needless to say, he would relent. Sometimes it took more than a day but Kamala was fed at night by her two supporters. Hence she studied all the way to her matriculation. I guess my grandfather thought it would stop there as there were no institutions for higher studies in her city. But he did not know his women. Up came another hunger strike, this time a little longer, but permission was given to go to BHU in Varanasi to do her BA. Then would come an MA and LLB but by that time her father had surrendered totally.

Kamala also convinced her father that she would not marry unless India became independent. She did not want to give birth to a slave child. Life as a old maid was a better option.

So what would this tiny feisty educated young woman do? The unthinkable! Women’s equality is something she believed in fiercely and she knew that was her calling. She wanted to do something meaningful. After long discussions with her freedom fighter father she decided to work for the British so that she could ensure that war widows of WW II got their pensions, a pension that was often usurped by some male member of the family. This meant that she would have to leave her home and live alone in Delhi.  Kamala drove a truck into the remotest villages of Uttar Pradesh and ensured that the young widows got their due. While in the village Kamala would talk to the women on several issues life hygiene, child marriage and girl’s education. All this when women her age were already mothers of many.

Kamala knew how to make a difference. She had the courage to stand for what she felt was right and never shirked from walking the road less travelled.

That is what I try to do to honour her memory.

I miss you Mama!