Whose knell does the budget toll

Whose knell does the budget toll

For the past days every one had been talking about budget 2015. Is it pro rich; pro poor? I do not know and frankly do not care. We have learnt over the decades to deal with each budget and carry on our lives as best we can. We accept with cynicism the new projects and programmes knowing that they will never be truly implemented but simply make some richer. The cynicism is always tinted with a dash of sadness as some of the said programmes, schemes or whatever else they are called could make the much needed difference for those who have learnt to survive with courage and dignity. I have been privy to some instances when schemes meant for a particular beneficiary never reach the said beneficiary as there is always some administrative hitch. Or simply because the said beneficiary does not have the means to pay the bribe. So budget time for me is just another day, week or month.

This year however my blood ran cold when I was told that the Finance Minister had slashed the school education budget by a whopping 10% and allocated more funds to higher education. I could hear the door slam shut in he face of this little girl and millions like her who are waiting to enter the gates of a school. The budgetary shift from school to higher education tolls the knell of the dreams of millions of poor children in India for whom state run schools are the only hope. I agree with a commentator who said: “Government, according to me, should have focused more on school sector and allowed more private play in higher education. In that count, its a missed opportunity”.

Most, if not all, of the project why children, attend state run schools as this is the only option they have. Their families do not have the means to get them enrolled in a quality i.e public school. In spite of all the talk of ending corruption, most private schools demand a cash contribution that is never acknowledged, and then you need to pay the actual fees which are quite substantial during admission as you need to pay all sort of development and other one time charges. I know of two examples where the bribe or donation was 15K in one school and 20 in the other and the admission fee was 25K in one and a whopping 60 in the other. How can a parent who ears the minimum wage afford these fees. And tough he or she is aware of the difference of quality in s state run and public school, he knows he has no option.

By not addressing the issue of improving the quality of ALL state run schools, the government has ensured that children like the little girl in the picture will never be able to accede to the higher education that is now getting a shot in the arm. Poor child, it will be nothing short of a miracle if she finishes school. And even if she does, she will need have the marks required to enter an affordable institution of higher learning. Those are reserved for children from better homes. Children like her will have to wait for the day when some kind soul in the right position decided to make every single school in the land  a centre of excellence.

Will that happen? Only the God of Lesser Children knows.

The length of a life time

The length of a life time

Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime wrote Herbert Ward. We tend to forget that too easily. When we hear of a little girl being sexually abused and even raped we are rearing to ensure that the perp gets punished. Most of the time he gets away with some years behind bars, ready to resume his predatory forays, hunting for the next tiny victim. The victim or as we prefer the use of the word ‘survivor’ is left to figure out the rest of her lifetime.

A few days ago, two little cousins, aged 3, where raped by a 50 year old neighbour. They had been invited to his house by his daughter-in-law, who  for reasons unknown, left them there. The perp, who was it is said drunk, assaulted and allegedly raped them.

This story does not make headlines for long. Children never make headlines for long. They are not vote banks and thus faraway from the minds of politicians. They are often poor so their families cannot influence your careers, so they are the lowest priority for law enforcers. Children are voiceless and depend on adults to present their case and adults can easily be influenced.

Imagine the trauma these babies, as babies they are, went through. They had been invited to play and maybe had hoped for a treat. Instead they were violated. I do not have the guts or nerves to try and imagine what they were subjected to and how they gathered their bruised body, torn clothes and  themselves up and walked back home. I cannot begin to imagine how they found the words to explain to their parents what happened. Thankfully their families believed them and the man was arrested. They may not have had the appropriate words to share their story, but their mind, body and soul are seared for life with the agony and pain of what they experienced on that fateful afternoon. And this terrifying memory will cast a shadow that they will drag for their entire life.

I cannot understand what makes men rape babies. Is it simply because litte girls have vaginas that can be violated with impunity. Rape it is said is a power game. Only a coward would exercise his power on innocent children. It is sickening.

This is not an isolated case. Children are sexually abused all the time and left to figure out their coping strategies alone, as best as they can. There are no caring parents, sensitive counsellors or understanding elders to help them through. When we hear of such aberrations we make the appropriate clucks and move on to the next news item, more so because we know this would not happen to one of ours. The tiny victims though will remember their ordeal till they breathe their last. The accused may get away or at best spend some time in the clink. When he is free again, he may get drunk and abuse some other child. There is nothing to stop him.

Every one talks of women safety. Of late the big thing is religious freedom. When will our rulers express their horror on the rape of poor children and take the appropriate measures. Never or surely not in the near future as to truly address this situation, the first step one needs to take is to allow sex education in homes and schools. But come on, how can that happen. There are too many bigots and zealots who are against the word ‘sex’! But imagine if these little angels had been taught ‘good touch, bad touch’!  Maybe they could have run away or screamed. But in our hypocritical and sanctimonious society one does not mention such things, so teaching then is anathema. When will someone garner the courage to stand up and demand age appropriate sex education. How many more children will have to suffer at the hands of sick predators before someone says enough! It is time we woke up from our slumber.

Let me share another child story. This one has left me stunned. It appears with the title: Woman Denied a Break to Feed Six-Month-Old Baby, He Dies. You read right: a woman labourer was not allowed the time needed to breasted her baby! The child had been crying for hours before he cried his last. This woman had been working for the same contractor for 10 long years, toiling from day to night. Will someone pay for this death or will it just be another poor child buried by his mother who left a feeding bottle next to his tiny grave.

It is time we woke up.

Not a country for women

Not a country for women

I want you to look at this picture. Look at the smiles of these beautiful children basking in the warm winter sun in a park. Nothing great one would think as children are meant to smile, and play and roll in the grass, safe and carefree. If you look a little more carefully you will see that some are undoubtedly children but other seem much older. You would be right. Some are indeed what we call adults and even middle aged.

This our special section on an outing to Lodhi Gardens and some are indeed not children but to me they are and always be my special kids. Some have been with is since the day we opened this section way back in 2002. Some are mentally challenged, some are physically challenged and some are both. They are the loveliest bunch of souls you would ever find and deserve to be loved, cared for and above all  live in an enabling environment where they are safe and respected. That is what we give endeavour to give them at least for a few hours a day and that is what I had hoped to give them long term when I was conceived of Planet Why in my mind: it was to be a safe haven for them.

Never has the relevance of Planet Why been as crucial as today.

A week ago a young mentally challenged woman left her home to never see it again. What happened to her is nothing of short of a nightmare. She was raped and subjected to the worst humiliation imaginable before she was murdered. You will need to brace yourself before you read her ordeal. The doctor who performed her autopsy said that he had never seen such brutality. “He said two stones were inserted into the slain woman’s anus. “Her face was eaten by animals; her lungs and heart were found missing. Also, her skull had fractured and there were injury marks on both her thighs and chest.

Her family had reported her missing the very day she left home but no one cared. You see she had everything against her: she was a girl; she was poor, she was mentally challenged and she was a migrant. She was less than human.

In December 2013 another brutal rape happened in Delhi. Laws mere enacted, promises made as always. But nothing had changed and neither will it change as long as women are considered lesser beings by one and all in this country and more so by political leaders and law enforcers.

Today we should hang our head in shame. But don’t we every time such horrors happen? And then we forget till the next outrage comes our way. How long will this happen. Is it not time we begin to ask ourselves what has made us such a brutal and uncaring lot.

This is not a country for women and certainly not one for women who are poor and mentally challenged. 

What next.. Anjali

What next.. Anjali

A dear friend and supporter who lives in Paris sent me an email today. Like all Parisians he is still under the shock of last week’s tragic events. He, like all else in that city and probably the world over, are asking the deafening question: what next. I do not want to be world-weary or pessimistic but how many times have we asked ourselves this question, collectively and individually. After 9/11, 26/11, the 16 Decembers 2014 Peshawar slaughter of children, the December 16 2012 gang rape in Delhi, the umpteen beheading by ISIS, the unaccountable rapes of children, the honour killings, the Boko Haram massacre, the 8 year old little girl turned into a human bomb. The list is endless. And each time we ask ourselves what next? But the question remains a question. And we remain mute and catatonic. How many more horrors will have to be committed before we are jolted out of our inertia and garner the courage to read the writing on the wall and look within ourselves to see what we have done wrong to allow our world to reach where it has! Our holier than thou attitude has to change. But when!

You may be wondering why I added the name Anjali to the title of this blog and why the picture I have chosen illustrate this blog is blurred. Anjali is a little girl I met two days ago, but Anjali is also the face of those we have conveniently been forgotten and blurred out of our hearts, minds and lives.

I met Anjali on Tuesday January 13th 2015 after I completed my vow at the Kalkaji temple. She was eating a plate of food at a hawker’s cart. She had a beautiful face and endearing eyes, though the colour of her hair and her puny size were glaring and disturbing proof of her being malnourished. I do not know what made me stop and ask her her name and hesitantly if she went to school. She proudly answered that she was in class IV of the Government Primary School in B Block Kalkaji. Knowing the reality of how school functions and how useless education is without support, I asked her if she went for tuition and the answer was: no.

I did not ask Anjali what her parents did. They could be the professional beggars that earn a living in all temples across the land or one of the hawkers that proliferate in such places. What mattered was that in her case, her parents had sent her to school. This was priceless. I asked her if there many like her who lived in the temple vicinity and went to school and did not go for tuition and the answer was yes. I decided that we needed to do something and enquired from the food stall owner if they could find space for us to help these kids. Come on if we have the space all that was needed was a teacher. The process, you guessed right, has begun.

This morning Dharmendra met food stall owner and was shown a room that lay empty in the day as the inmates of this space only came back in the evening. The room was perfect to hold classes for 30 children or so but that was the least of the problem. In the course of the conversation with the hawker, it transpired that most of the children in the area were to put it as best I can, free spirits, and would not be easily amenable to serious studying. Some did go to school, lured by the midday meal and the fact that nothing really happened in class. You could easily slumber your way through. What we were offering meant work, and work was anathema to them. Dharmendra, the ever wise one, suggested that  we needed to come up with an altogether different approach. They had to be ‘seduced’ into learning. No mean task.

You may be wondering how and why Anjali fits in my what next story.

It takes two to tango and no extremist group can ever survive if they do not have hands to do their dirty work. And where do they find these hands? In vulnerable and abandoned children like Anjali who can be seduced easily; children that have been forsaken or at best treated like second or nth class citizens by society. They exist every where and if we do look within us with a modicum of honesty we realise that the one thing that has happened is the widening of the gap between the haves and have nots. But unlike yonder times where feudal ways ruled the roost and every one had their stations in life well defined, today the dream machine that is communication and television to name just two, has crossed the invisible barriers and the erstwhile dreams of a few, are now the dreams of all. What a perfect target for all those with wily and venal agendas. You just have to become a merchant of dreams and then when your prey is seduced, anything is possible.

I am not saying that this is the only reason for all the ills we are seeing, but it is certainly one.

The other would be undoubtedly the fact that we have allowed religion to cross the threshold of our homes and be hijacked by politicians and megalomaniacs. The cocktail is heady and terrifying. We have ample proof of that fact.

You wonder why I have said that we need to look at ourselves. That is because not only has the gap between rich and poor widened, but the former have perfected the art of looking away. Compassion is no more one of the virtues we follow; neither is tolerance.

As I have often said, and will continue saying: we have to learn to look with our hearts.

Musings on a cold New Year morning

Musings on a cold New Year morning

Woke up early as I always do! I think it has been ages since one one partook in New Year eve frolics that keep you awake till the wee hours and then have you get up in a haze on the first day of the year. For quite some time now the husband and I have celebrated New Year eve by tucking ourselves under warm quilts and enjoying a gourmet meal. The quilt is de rigeur in a city where temperatures take a dip at the drop of a hat and when you have a room on the top floor with umpteen windows that are badly insulated and cold cement floors, then you have follow a rather ungainly dress code or warm jammies and thick woollen socks. The husband even dons a woollen cap but I have not quite given it to that! A gourmet meal in bed does mean me having to pop out from the warmth of the bed and dash three flight down to the kitchen to prep and get the next course, but I do not complain. To the recluse like me it is far better than noisy party with nonsensical alcohol driven conversations. To the teetotaller it is quite a nightmare. Anyway all this means that January 1, is a day just like any other.

At some point in the morning I do pick up the newspaper and glean throughout it, and I did so today as any other day. Two articles caught my attention. The first one was entitled: Stop forced begging by children says HC, and the other Shivering Delhi makes its Gods snug. The two articles once again bought to the fore much of what I feel is wrong in India.

The plight of children begging has riled me no end and actually the first avatar of project why was an effort to stop children begging. It was a naive approach of trying to get an insensitive and heartless city to stop giving money to children and give them nutritive biscuits instead hoping that the market force that makes begging a good business enterprise would fail if biscuits replaced coins! Though we had elaborated a sound plan, it never took off as one did not manage to convince people to change from coins to cookie! I have time and again shared my despair at the callous acceptance of children begging by society across the board: be they individuals, administrators, politicians or anything else. It is almost as if the fact that a child knocks at you car window and solicits a coin was part of the city’s decor. You may or may not roll down your window and hand over a coin, put not because of compassion but as a way to rid yourself of nuisance. How many of us ask themselves the question as to why in a country where education is a constitutional right is a child allowed to bed? And that is our attitude vis-a-vis child labour and other aberrations. Have you ever bothered to call the child welfare people when we see a child employed in a friend or neighbours home? hell no! We all want to remain politically correct and are never willing to to step out of the box.

One should be outraged at the sight of a single child begging or working and not only outraged but willing to do something to remedy to the situation. We leave it to NGOs and then bask in the glory of an Indian Nobel prize winner who had the guts to do the right thing.

Why should some rare concerned soul need to knock at the doors of Justice right a wrong we all see and ignore. Once again the High Court has expressed concern over forced begging by children. Why should it be the Courts that need direct the State to create facilities for proper education of children who are found begging. Are not all the children the responsibility of the State, a State that taxes us with alacrity in the name of education. If we quietly play an education cess each time we eat out, should we also not get indignant each time a little hand taps at our window. But then that means having a conscience and some compassion, the two Cs that seem to be in permanent abstentia.

Today the High Court of the City has reminded us of children and their rights. Will anyone hear is any body’s guess? Will it be part of any body’s New Year resolution list?

The other article may see ludicrous. With the city under a bitter cold spell, guess who is being smothered in woollies: The Gods! This is not a joke. For the past days the citizens of Delhi have been wrapping them up in woollens like anxious parents. What I am asking about is the stone idols. Shawls, cardigans and mufflers are the latest offerings and the idols and in one temple the deities are clad in woollens from top to toe. Hinduism is anthropomorphic but this is rather over the top. I wish the same ‘devotees’ gave the woollens to children and homeless people who sleep in the open in this biting cold and even die.

Religion is the flavour of the day. We have the sudden spurt of conversions, the tom-tomming of Hinduism, the absurd self styled God Men who rape and castrate, the one that has been shut in a freezer and whose followers await his resuscitation and even one who calls himself love charger and has turned himself into a rockstar. And now our stone Gods who not only feel hungry 24/7 and need to be fed but also feel cold and need to be smothered in woollens.

Why is it that we do not feel the same way about the children who beg in the streets and sleep under the sky. They too feel hungry and cold 24/7 and need our concern. Will 2015 be the year we finally have the courage to open the eyes of our heart.

Children have the right to be fed, the have the right to shelter, they have the right to education, they have right to play and laugh. They have a right to a childhood. I wonder who hijacked theirs?

and the rapes go on…

and the rapes go on…

And the rapes go on.. mercilessly.. unabashedly… with impunity. Ages vary.. it could be a one year old or a sixty year old with everything in between… all you need is a vagina! The latest that has hit the news big is the rape of a 25 year old who was raped by the taxi driver meant to drive her home safely. And like each and every time, the knee jerk reactions are spot on: ban the cab company, ban all the cab companies. As if that would help. If one were to take this ludicrous logic to its absurd end then as the man was a repeat offender one should ban the judicial system that set him free and as he was in possession of a character certificate issued by the police, then ban the police! And then why not just ban men altogether. Or better still as has been often suggested: ban women from dressing as they like, going where they like, drinking what they like and so on.

Statistics show that on an average 92 women are raped every day in India and 4 in Delhi. This is simply 92 too many! According to a psychologist many taxi drivers were migrants from less-developed areas where patriarchal attitudes remain prevalent and were not accustomed to seeing women out alone late at night or dressed differently. The same was said about the perpetrators of the heinous Nirbhaya rape. And what about the cops who treat victims as perpetrators and blame the way women dress for the rape they have come to report. I guess they too are patriarchal just like those who favour honour killing. And what about the politicians who seem to sing the same tune.

But that is not all. Instead of being outraged by the fact that a woman was raped, many seem to think that she should not have fallen asleep, or her friends should have made sure she get home and so on. But a rape is a rape and cannot be acceptable under any circumstance. And anyway if the said lady was according to some ‘careless’, how does this argument hold in the case of the rape children where it is always someone you trust that violates your innocence.

I read a recent article that looks at the recent rape from the point of view of the perp.The author quotes studies wherein it is stated that of lack of sexual functionality could be one of the dysfunctions perceived by the offender, to make up for which, rape becomes a tool of power reassurance. Till date we have looked at rape from the victim’s role as it is always assumed that rape is about sex. In the case of the recent rape, the author opines that the woman contrasts his own self perceived inadequacies that included a life of crime, a mediocre background in academics and a job of a taxi driver, generally considered less than ideal. What if he could dominate her? That would be the ultimate power reassurance tool for him! So of if it did not happen this time, the stage was set for a potential rape in the future.

The same author goes on to make another point this time about law enforcement. He quotes Douglas, who in his book Anatomy of Motive, who posits that sex offenders (who are different from ordinary men who rape in specific contexts, such as war, where their actions are attributable to the specific source of stress in their life, like say, the theatre of war) start off small, with crimes like voyeurism and depending upon the consequences they have to face, escalate into bigger crimes like sexual assault. So in the case of the cab driver, had the authorities done their job, this rape could have been prevented. But in a land were boys will be boys, and a plethora of family members are ready to jump at the defence of a boy who has committed an offence not realising the floodgates it can open, a lot still needs to be done. And let us not forget that the men who normally investigate these crimes belong to the ‘boys will be boys’ fraternity. What is needed is to sensitise police to the gravity of even the smallest offence against women. Only then can we hope to have things change.

The problem seems to be a disconnect between the way women have evolved and the moralistic and patriarchal attitude that still prevails. No one seems to be doing anything about bridging that gap. And yet until that is done, nothing will or can change. Men have to be taught to respect women but in a society like ours, where gender biases begin at home how does one begin to bring about change.

Talk of sex education and everyone is ready to slaughter you. But unless we take the bull by its horns, how can we ever tame it.