corporator for a day

Bharti Dhondge is a name that rings no bells and yet she will go down in history as the woman who became corporator for a day in the Municipal Corporation of Bombay! It took this woman five years to fight and win a legal battle whereby she challenged the validity of the caste certificate of her opponent. She won a day before new elections were declared, hence the one-day-crown. She now hopes to get a ticket from her party but that is another story.

To may this might seem a irrelevant incident but in fact it is not as it questions the whole matter of caste certificates. In a recent socio economic survey of pwhy we realised that over 80% of our kids belong to some reserved categories or the other. Needless to say not one has the required document to prove it and most of them are actually embarrassed and even aggressive when asked to spell out their caste.

Something is not wrong in a land where the politics of reservation has been heralded as pro poor and held as harbinger of justice for all. It does not take a rocket scientist to conclude that its success depends on ensuring that each and everyone falling within the category should be in possession of the required proof of his or her identity. It would seem logical that the onus of giving id proofs should lie with the law makers and enforcers themselves.

Nothing is farther away from reality as we discovered lately. Obtaining a simple caste certificate is a herculean task. Actually it s an impossible one. The powers that be have ensured that. No simple, unconnected, poor individual can meet the complex prerequisites. Where will the poor should find two class I gazetted officers willing to sign his form?

On the other hand, getting a fake certificate seems to be much easier as is proved by the Bharti Dhonge case. All you need is to know the right person and have sufficient funds to pay the price.

For the policy like the reservation policy to be relevant, the sine qua non condition has to be the issuance of documentary evidence by the state to each and every person falling within that category. Anything short of that is suspect.

One can now understand why our political masters insist upon not excluding the creamy layer. Were that to be, there would be no takers left for the reservations goodies!

Once again this brings to fore the fact that to redress many of the problems that plague our society, it is necessary to take the bull by the horns. In this case rather than demonstrate on the streets and only give more fuel to the politicians to divide society, maybe one should start a campaign to ensure that caste and class identity are issued to each and every one and empower the have nots to stand in line for every benefit doled out.

for a handful of spinach…

Have you ever wondered how much a handful of spinach costs? A few coins on a market place, a little more in a fancy store… and a few leaves picked up in a field would not be missed by its owner.

Not quite. In a remote village in the state of Bihar a little 10 year old girl lost three fingers as she dared to pick a few spinach leaves from a field. Before you express indignation let me simply add that the little Khushboo is a dalit and the owner belongs to a higher caste! And if that was not enough the girl and her father are too scared to open their mouths.

At times like these I am left speechless as nothing one can say can even begin to explain this horrific equation: a few leaves of spinach = three little fingers! I hang my head in shame as I try and look for the beginning of an answer that would explain this..

One has heard ad nauseum about the reservation issue that is threatening to destroy our social fabric. One is led to believe that the creamy layer of the so called lower castes will hog up all our place in the sun. But nothing can make up for the three tiny fingers cut off in a fit of rage for a few leaves that may have just wilted and rotten had they not been plucked.

Why did little Khushboo commit that offence? Was it to ensure that her family would not go hungry, was it because she could not bear to see her mom beaten by a defeated and helpless father, was it because it had been so long since she had tasted the freshness of a green vegetable. This is something no one will know as the little girl will keep her secret locked away inside her.

When someone decided to divide human beings into what is known as castes, I am sure that the reason was not to give one caste the licence to snip off fingers. So we before we battle about the right of one caste to accede to higher learning, maybe we would address the question of Khushboo’s finger and take on the responsibility of their loss. Khushboo’s fingers, Priyanka’s life are just two examples of the countless tragedies that some of our own suffer because they were born in the wrong caste.

It is not reservation or affirmative action that will right his wrong. Neither is it the few fleeting expression of indignation that cross our minds as we see or hear such stories. We need to go deep within ourselves and to see what made us lose our human compassion down the line, what hubristic demon took possession of us and made us lose all sense of reality. What gave us the right to treat another fellow being in such a barbaric manner.

Khushoo’s fingers will heal and her father may have to pay a few more rupees to find a man for this child. The perpetrator may or may not be caught. At best he will spend a few days in jail as all he took away were three little fingers. And all of us will move on with our lives till the next tale of horror jolts us back into momentary compassion.

a very special xmas gift

a very special xmas gift

Xmas has always been a time of joy and giving, of cheer and even miracles. As you grow up you stop believing in Santa, but there is always the anticipation of finding out what the little packets around the tree contain.

My xmas gift came a day earlier and in the most unexpected way. I had gone to fetch Utpal from his boarding school and attend his PTA! His teacher handed me his result and as I read it I realised that this was undoubtedly the most beautiful Xmas present one could get.

57/60 were he marks he got and an appreciation that included the word ‘excellent’. To some, my reaction would seem silly as Utpal is only 4+, but those who know him and have followed the journey of his life, this piece of paper is much more.

What a story of survival it has been. Barely 9 months ago Utpal had lost everything that makes a child secure and safe to the demon of alcohol. He had no home, no mom, no extended family and no support. Previous to that fateful day in April 2006, he had survived third degree burns and lived a life where each evening meal and night’s sleep depended on whether his mom had tippled nor not. Strange visitors, descents by cops and drunken brawls were usual occurrences.

When we found a school that would take him, there was an initial resistance: Utpal did not fit any mold, did not have the appropriate labels and social origins. But a young director took on the challenge and we waited with bated breath.

Six months and two school terms later, Utpal showed us what survivors are made of: he has a great support network in school ranging from the gently forbidding gatekeeper, to the class XII students and includes the hostel staff, the kitchen staff and even the principal. He still had one more point to prove, the one that rebuffs all the divisive policies that are kept on the boiler by dubious agendas and bear names like reservations or affirmative action. In the right environment, and with a peer group that cut across social and economic backgrounds, little Utpal topped his class in an English medium boarding school.

I have always said that the answer to India’s is a common school where children of all origins would learn together and from each other. Then each child just like little Utpal, will have the ability to make his place in the sun. It is not by creating a parallel school system, or by handing out a few seats and a few grace marks to humbler children that we will solve the now suspect education for all dream.

Utpal was an ideal candidate for begging at a red light. Drunk parents, a nicely scalded body and yet and incredibly beautiful face, and endearing ways. A little help from Mr God , and lots of help from friends who held on to our dream with us, made it possible for little Utpal to vindicate project why.

As I hold his result sheet in my hand, I stand very tall and believe in miracles!

merry xmas to all!

of quotas, castes and reservations

of quotas, castes and reservations


We just have completed a socio-economic survey of all the pwhy children. Among the questions asked were the place of origin, education of parents and caste. We wanted to validate what we knew intuitively: more than 80% of our kids belonged to some reserved category or the other and none of the families had any certificate proving the same nor any knowledge of the now (in)famous reservation policy.

I write this post on the day the day the OBC reservation bill will be tabled in its original form despite the recommendation of the committee on keeping out the creamy layer, or at least giving them preference. Needless to say that none of our children belong to any creamy layer!

Many questions come to mind, but the one thing that stands out is that these kids can never get to any of the reserved seats. There are many reasons for that. First and foremost the likelihood of their finishing school is bleak. Even if they do, they will never get the certificate required to prove their social origin as the administrative requirements are impossible to meet. To name just one: forms need to be attested by two class I gazetted officer. I wonder how my poor parents would find one let alone two!

But something even deeper came to light while the survey was being one. People were very reluctant to reveal their caste and almost ashamed. Many hide behind generics like chaudhury and others append a high caste to their trade so we had rajput nais (barbers).

We spent time telling them about reservations and other benefits and finally did manage to get the information. Needless to say they were all eager to know how they could get a certificate and more than willing to do so. Some even said that if what we said was true, then they needed to pay more attention to the education of their kids..

I had begun this post saying that the reservation bill would be tabled today. Imagine my surprise when I heard that it had already been passed. Gone were the dissenting voices, the left and right issues all political parties had united to protect their vote banks. Foolish me to have felt surprised, every one was acting their part. Never mind the violence that might ensue, the deepaks that will lie in hospital unattended as young Indians take to the street..

A few weeks back a TV channel had canned a programme where many pwhy parents were caught on camera expressing their total ignorance of reservation policies. Somehow the story was never aired.. In it I had said that no young Indian with a heart and conscience would grudge reservation if it went to poor and disadvantaged children. What they resented was when those having had the same if not a better education and life got seats on a preferred system.

I still stand by that. Sadly that is not to be as the creamy layer has been included. The only way to fight this is for civil society to take a pro-active role and start a movement whereby all those who fall into reserved categories get the required certificates as a right and not a favour, and that their children get quality education so that they can stand in line for the seats that have been kept for them. A kind of a jail bharo movement where the numbers are so staggering that the administration and law makers are forced to think of alternatives.

If the powers that be want to divide India, then before we unite it again, maybe division has to be taken to an absurd end so that law makers realise that it is in their own interest to see unite it again.

This may seem ludicrous today, but give it a thought, it is just a matter of bringing things full circle

sometimes you wonder why…

sometimes you wonder why…


project why came into being to try and answer some of the innumerable whys that stare us in the face demanding answers. the answers however remain elusive and bring more questions and as you carry on you realise that apparently simple questions lead to deeper and more existential ones.

Little Deepak was no 8 in our open heart surgery saga. When he came to us we were already ‘old hands’ or so we wanted to believe. Raising the required funds was done in a jiffy and we even got a date for him, as by now we had established our own little network in the hospital. So all seemed to be on sched!

Not quite, the month was June 2006 and the place AIIMS. What should have been a hop. skip and jump race, turned out to be the longest obstacle race one has ever seen, and which even today is not over. Deepak is back in hospital with and overload of pleural fluid again.

Deepak’s battle has not just been a medical one. His tiny broken heart has been a witness to much what is wrong with our land: the reservation issue that has been unabashedly used to fulfill dark agendas, violent strikes that finally affect innocent beings, lack of adequate medical facilities that delay cases, abysmal urban habitat for the poor that make recovery difficult (deepak’s home is never kissed by sunlight), not to mention things like unemployment and lack of resources.

What Deepak had in abundance was love and care from his family and maybe that is what has seen him trough. Looking at this picture that was taken just a week back, you would not imagine his ordeal. But his battle is not over as even when this one is over, another one will begin: that of surviving in today’s India when the cards seem to be loaded against him in spite of his being protected by the same constitutional rights as any other child.

And so you find yourself staring at new whys, scary ones as you know there are no real answers, at least at this moment..

welcome back our world !

welcome back our world !


Deepak has a brand new heart or rather has got his broken heart fixed. A huge T shaped scars is ample proof of that.

We first met Deepak almost 5 months ago when he was 8 months old. He needed heart surgery but his family did not have the required money. We raised it with the help of some kind hearts and believed that in a matter of days or at most weeks all would be well.

But that was not to be. What should have a simple walk to the OT turned out to be an obstacle race in today’s India. Deepak first encountered the hydra headed monster called reservation. any a times we was turned away from the portals of the most prestigious hospital in our country.

His tired body gave up once and his heart even stopped beating but his will to live was formidable. He came back to life again but the battle was not over, a huge abdominal abscess delayed the procedure again.

Last week D day finally dawned and his surgery was performed with success and soon he will be back to his little home and ready to start a new life.

I wonder what life has in store for him? His family is poor and illiterate. His father barely earns enough to keep the family going and his mom and granny stay at home. The one huge asset they have is a bond of love and are a close knit family.

We will slowly tiptoe out of his life, and then Deepak will be on his own. For a long time I wondered about his future as I more than anyone else know how much we have let our children down, particularly those who live on the other side of the impregnable yet invisible fence.

Deepak will soon find out that life is not fair, that the images he will see on TV – the family has one of course – are not meant for him. As he grows and starts going to school – the municipal one for sure – and may not become a drop out statistic if he is still around and come to pwhy. On the way he will see many ugly realities: reservation, caste division, child labour, unemployment and more. The god who heard his mom’s prayer and gave him this new hart will have to work overtime to protect and guide him at every step of life.

When I watch the news I am horrified to see that with obsessive regularity every day, some news we are ‘treated’ to some news item that confirms that life is not alright for our children. Yesterday we heard about the young slum kid who won a national yoga competition but found no one to sponsor his trip to the international meet in Italy.

Laws that protect children are broken with rare impunity, tender bodies are raped, used and abused. And we just emit of few chuckles of sympathy and carry on with our lives.

But each image robs me a few minutes of my sleep each night and urges me to do something more. I feel ashamed at my inability to reach out and help.

How can I say welcome back to our world Deepak..