Out in the open

Out in the open

The children you see in this picture belong to Nehru Camp where we have been running a primary centre for over 3 years. Like all children they love to play, laugh, have fun and study. All of them cleared their examinations and have been promoted to the next class and there was great celebrations!

Their joy was short lived as two days ago 1000 shops and homes from the area were razed to the ground to make way for a five foot high wall that will encircle the three slum clusters of the area to hide them from the middle class colonies across the road.

The 2 km wall will encircle the three slum colonies of the area where there are over 10 000 homes. As I read the words of the article my blood ran cold and as I write these words I find it hard to contain my rage and my deep sense of shame as I unfortunately belong to the class of the so called perpetrators of this contemptuous act and my mind cannot but go back to ghettos and yellow stars.

All my life savings have been used to purchase this flat. For 22 years I have lived with the stink from open defecation, and constant over-crowding from blocked roads.” says a resident of a neighbouring flat. “I feel bad for them,” says another whose own domestic help lives in Bhumiheen Camp. “They should be given an alternative home immediately.”

Post the new demolition and the repulsive wall, gutters will now flow directly into homes. Many of you may not know what such slums look like. Though to some of us they may seem an eyesore and an image from hell but they are far from that. They have been homes to people who have come to this city sometimes more than 2 or 3 decades ago. They have been built and nurtured with the same care we give to our homes. The residents are as much citizens of this city as we are and have the same voting rights. They are not aliens from another planet but those who work for us in more ways than one and give us much comfort. They have the same dreams for their children that we have for ours. They hurt, laugh, face problems and celebrate achievements just like we do. The ony difference is that they have been let down by the city’s so called administration and by the total lack of compassion that seems to have become the trademark of this city!

Everyone seems to think that hey should be relocated and given alternative accomodation. Everyone has been feeling that for a long time but what has the administration done? The DDA
claims “The wall is a temporary arrangement to offer protection to flat owners” Protection from what I ask. “It (the wall) should be at least eight foot high, and built either with bricks, or grills and mesh. There should also be fewer outlets” retorts another. “And what if there’s a fire?” asks a slum resident. “It will be much harder to escape if we are contained from all sides.”

I am thoroughly confused and at a complete loss. What are we talking about. Are we not all citizens of a same country, protected by the same constitution and laws. Who are protecting against whom. What is this new caste system that seems to have surreptitiously slinked into our social fabric and whose denominator is money. Is this also applicable to the legal system as the said wall is beeing erected on a High Court order in response to a Public Interest Litigation.

The wall will be completed on may 21st!

What a sad day it will be. Imagine the hurt and anger of the people condemned to live within that wall and the resentment that will take seed in young minds that may turn into violence and despair.

Till now invisible barriers divided the two Indias. With this wall the divide is out in the open.

Look at the children in the picture once again. Do we need to be protected from them?

a quaint tale of two Indias

a quaint tale of two Indias

Yesterday was result day for children across Delhi: the rich and the poor alike. Every parent or guardian went to the school to get the dreaded school report.

Now were your child or mine to stand first in class there would be whoops of joy, hugs, smiles galore and a pat on the back from the teacher not to mention the gifts and treats that would ensue. And one would expect this to be true for all children who stood first.

But that is sadly not the case. Little Rahul, a class V student of the local municipal school and a regular pwhy kid stood first in his class. His simple parents went to school to get his report and instead of being greeted by smiles and kudos for the child, they were admonished by the teacher who said he did not believe that Rahul could top his class. The almost frightened father worn by years of being berated for being poor and deprived simply mumbled that if the teacher felt so he could cut some marks off the child’s report. But the mother could not bare the injustice being meted to her child butted in and said he attended tuition at project why and that is why he had fared well. The teacher grudgingly accepted the situation.

When I heard the story my blood boiled as it often does in such cases. I almost felt like marching to the school and placing a few home truths but past experience has shown that this is not the way to go as the teachers then take it out on the poor kid. So a glass of water it was and a bit of furious pacing to calm me down.

I simply promised myself to seek Rahul and give him a big hug and a small treat.

is this the India we want

is this the India we want

In my last post I had vented some of my thoughts in response to a question I had been asked about feeling helpless at the plight of poor children begging at red lights and other places and of course one had to refer to the ‘two Indias‘ and the widening gap between them.

Yesterday once again a story was aired on TV aptly named the Real Face of India. The story began thus: In the state of Andhra Pradesh, there is a swanky international airport, a controversial one, and on the other side, there are school students taking their board examinations in knee deep water. One would be justified in thinking it was a joke of some kind but sadly no! The pictures actually showed children giving their Board examinations with their feet in water! And if that was not enough in another school kids were made to write their examinations in a pitch dark room by candlelight! In a country where the marks you obtain decide your future I wonder what would happen to these children.

I also wonder if this is the India we hoped for. One where some are reaching the sky while others are being pushed into deeper holes. Talking of holes one cannot but think of the little Vandana who fell into a 45 feet pit and was rescued only 28 hours later. The question that one needs to ask is why was a bore well left gaping and who was responsible.

But it does not end there. Young Rinky brutally thrashed by her teacher for having chosen another tutor dies in hospital this morning after long months of agony. Wonder who will pay for this death.

Yesterday Roshni who works at our women centre, has seven children and barely survives, told us that the reason she had put her daughters into a private school – read teaching shop – because they did not have birth certificates – the poor woman did not know that an affidavit would have solve the situation – had also to send them for tuition to the class teacher. I wonder if they would have met the same fate had she refused to do so.

Is this the India we want for our children: one where corporal punishment is the order of the day one where an insensitive administration forgets to cover the holes they have dug, one where children have to write their destiny defining examination in the dark or in water!

Yesterday TV channels were all praise for the Army team that rescued little Vandana. We salute them too but is it not ironical that soldiers have to be called to cover up messes made by the so called administration? Who will hold the administration responsible.

Yesterday again TV channels vented their anger on Rinky’s death and demanded answers from the faceless, heartless and soulless administration. Many luminaries joined the show and every one agreed that education stinks, that children are innocent targets, that teaching is now a simple commercial activity – but does one beat one’s customer -. One anchor was honest enough to say that the nation will express its outrage and anger for a day or so till the next news comes to hog the limelight. Ominous words they were as while Rinky’s pyre still smoldered the same channel had to – TRP obliges – shift Rinky’s story from its lead to replace it by the very juicy interview of a cricket biggie caught in a net of corruption.

The children of India – oops I should say the children of one India – have been let down by each and every one. Whereas the constitution guarantees them free education, schools run by the government are in an abysmal state and children are brutally beaten each and every day in all schools.

Vulnerable children are beaten mercilessly as a nation watches and does nothing.

Where are we going…

Is this the India we want

everything is a great question…

everything is a great question…

Creation is a manifestation of the one’s many ideas… every idea one step away from being alone… The meaning is for us to discover. Creation is only a stimulus. All we have to do is respond. And respond well. Everything is a great question waiting for a great answer.” Al Raines

These words dropped quietly into my inbox this morning. A quote from a just published book appropriately called Soul Search Engine. Prophetic words for one who spent the night searching for answers and wishing for sibylline insight.

Project Why has, over the past 8 years, sprung a string of questions needing answers and we have have to their best of our ability attempted to find the appropriate ones. Some have been easy, some more demanding and some even troubling. Yet each one has been portent of a stronger will, a greater manifestation, and each no matter how difficult or seemingly impossible has found a relevant answer.

The past weeks have been a roller coaster ride where dreams and reality have somehow taken a life of their own and left us all breathless and bewildered. We find ourselves with more than we visualised and planned. The foster care programme was not part of our original plans. And yet when it come our way we somehow knew it was to be. No matter how huge or daunting there was something compelling us to embrace it. It was a great question that required us to find a great answer.

From the instant we decided to once again walk the road less or actually never traveled, we have been faced with a deluge of adverse reactions, some biting , some more gentle; some steeped in cynicism, some simply seasoned with caution. This of course led us to try and assess the situation in the hope of discovering the true cause of such a backlash.

What we are trying to do is simply give a few children a chance to a better morrow. It was time to delve further and find out the reality. Somehow the situation was akin to the one I had faced many years ago when the apparently harmless work I was doing had led to a vicious attack from local powers that be. At first I had been perplexed and at a loss to explain matters. I was only attempting to educate slum children. I understood later that the real reason for the onslaught was that I had dared disturbed the existing social fabric and what was held against me was that I had empowered people particularly by giving teaching jobs to people who were meant to do menial ones.

Once again by giving hope to a few children of a Lesser God we were again guilty of the same deadly sin. One did not disturbed existing patterns. To have the audacity to do so was anathema to everyone. In a land where society has been divided in every which way possible, comfort zones have been created and we have all sunk into them, this is part of our atavistic fears. What is troubling is that this attitude is prevalent not only with the illiterate multitude, but even with the likes of us who are supposedly educated. There are things good for us, and things good for them. My child had the right to an IIT whereas their children can only reach the portals of a Polytechnic. What is even more disturbing is that in spite of the apparent economic and social growth of our land, the disparity between them and us has grown with quantum leaps, part of a tacit covenant.

Thus any attempt, no matter how tiny and infinitesimal at truly bridging the gap is bound to be met with strong resistance. Sadly few will have the honesty and courage to accept this fact and will find a host of reasons to explain their reticence: too much money spend for too few, money that could be used for a large number and so on. One will just have to find the right words to counter the attacks and maybe gently lead them to some honest soul searching.

That much for the biting and cynical detractors, but we also need to address the fears and apprehensions of the gentle critics urging us to caution. And I must confess that at the initial stages I was one of them. It is easy to help children the way we have done for years. Giving them a few hours of sound learning and happy moments and seeing them go back to their homes is a safe option. But when one takes the step of wrenching a child from one world and taking them to another, the equation changes. We are not talking of a few hours but of long years, each with its set of challenges. And even though we can sit and plan to the minutest detail, there is no guarantee that things will go our way. We may hope and think and pray that things go well, they may also go wrong and it is essential that we build safety nets at each step to counter them. What me must never forget is that each child that comes our way becomes our responsibility one that we have to fulfill all the way finding the best solution to every problem that may appear.

The easy way could be to once again find a via media, a solution that would assuage the situation and allow us to sink back in our comfort zones but can we actually do so now. It is once again a matter of some serious soul searching!

yet another tale of two Indias.

It was half an hour past midnight, half an hour into the 2008. A young ice cream vendor was braving the bitter cold in the hope of making a few more rupees and maybe set the tone for the New Year. A short distance away another man took the wheel of his car after partying and many drinks and sped to maybe another bash. In a case of Jungian synchronicity their paths met as the speeding car crashed into the ice cream cart. The ice candy man died; the other a journalist is out on bail.

Deaths occur everyday on Delhi streets. Yet what makes this case poignant is that the past week has been replete with warnings on drinking and driving particularly on New Year’s ever which has somewhat is a night with license to drink! That the man was a journalist is even more frightening. One would like to believe that education makes the world a safer place to live in but reality points to the opposite.

I wonder what it is that makes seemingly sensible people act with a total lack of responsibility? Is it arrogance or cockiness; is it total disregard for the other particularly when he or she belongs to the other side of the fence? Questions that do not seem to have obvious answers.

And yet one needs to find them!

an oath gone awry

an oath gone awry

Shubhum was operated upon for a congenital heart problem on Monday 17th December, the latest inmate of our heartFix hotel He is doing well and should be back home soon.

Shubhum came to us in May 2007 and should have been operated upon in September but for reasons that defy logic and the Hippocratic oath, the backlog of the All India Institute of Medical Science was such that the poor child’s operation kept being pushed away. Who cared that his family was poor, that each time he came from his native village his father, a humble tea stall owner, had to shut his tiny business and incur huge expenses.

Hubris had taken over a place of healing and a battle of egos was more important than the lives of poor people. Strange that the people involved in this tussle were bound by that sacred oath.

It was in September 2003 that Raju our first inmate was operated upon. Somehow at that time things were different and we had all been impressed by the quality of care and the spirit of the doctor. Then with each surgery things seemed to deteriorate albeit in an imperceptible manner at first, till the politicians stepped in and revived the reservation issue and all oaths went awry as the streets burned. And then as if one thing was not enough a clash of personalities nailed the coffin. Strikes and more strikes as simple hurting people suffered.

This is endemic insidious rot gnawing at our social fabric as we continue our frenetic race towards development and growth forgetting that no growth can sustain itself unless it reaches every nook and corner of our land.

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