Glimpses of India – from the Eyes of an Aamjunta

Boarding the Train

It was almost 2.00 pm, I started journey home from my room. As usual this time also I forgot to carry one of my bags. Forgetting things in the last moment is becoming a usual habit in me. Something or the other … I forget to carry at the last moment 😦 , no matter who accompanies me and how long or short the journey is. Have faced many problems due to this forgetfulness. I sincerely hoped if I could manage this trip without that bag. Luckily, I did not forget to carry my last minute shopping item.

It was getting late for a Local train journey to Dadar and so decided to call for a taxi. I am privileged to own the tel. no of “Vijay taxi wala”. He reached dot on time and was waiting downstairs. I was carrying my laptop with me. In the main-gate (of IIT Bombay), the security guard was supposed to stop any vehicle and ask whether any one is carrying any electronic item as per the security rules. But that did not happen here (that was not the first time also). No one asked me and no one stopped my taxi. Even though I was ready with my gate pass, I was expecting the security guard to follow the minimum security measures. But no one bothered to inquiry. They hardly ask any one carrying any thing; just mute spectators in most of the cases. But, at times certainly harass people to show their power and to score a point. Unarmed, unprepared and indifferent security force of IIT Bombay 😦

Anyway, managed to reach Dadar before time. Konark Express, Train No. 1019, my train and home for the next 37 hours was scheduled at 3.10 pm from CST. But, I decided to board the train from Dadar at 3.25 pm to save some time. Vijay could manage to drop me within 35 minutes as there was hardly any traffic at that time (quite unusual in Mumbai). I entered Dadar Station through Platform No. 6. I was expecting huge police presence in the station after the incident of 26/11 in Mumbai. Yes, traces of police presence were there, but could not find their preparedness and alertness.

My ticket was in RAC and therefore I had to check before boarding whether the ticket was confirmed. Asked the police officer sitting at the enquiry counter to guide me to the place where boarding charts are put. After asking him 3 times, he answered my query with a sign language and pointed his finger towards the notice board in Platform No. 5. I was relieved to see my name in the confirmed tickets list. Tough to travel by RAC for 37 hours without a sleeper berth. Anyway, was lucky this time. My serial number was the last in confirmation, though it was the last berth of the coach. I just thanked my starts and made some telephone calls to friends and relatives to inform them that my ticket was confirmed. Train was on time and I boarded the train.

Train Journey – A Mini-India

My berth number was B3-64. Already two people were sitting in 63/64 by the time I reached there. Both of them were claiming that they have 63 – RAC! Interestingly, some one else came in and too claimed that his seat no is 63. Three persons for the same seat!! 🙂 Could not believe. With the help of the PNR number verification from a BSNL Mobile, they could resolve the seat problem. Two of them had RAC, and the other person was having W/L ticket only. The wait-listed person could not believe how come his seat had not got confirmed, when he had already booked his tickets 25days ago. This gentleman was W/L number 1 whereas the other gentleman was W/L 36! The other gentleman could manage to confirm his ticket through some VIP quota, even though he bought the ticket at the last minute, leaving the other guy with W/L-1. Looks like aamjunta suffers every where, no one listens.

By the time the seat confusion got resolved, TT had verified our e-tickets and the train had reached Kalyan. A new drama was unfolding related to ticket buying and selling. Seat no. 59/B-3 was still vacant. The lady who booked the ticket did not show up. Every one was eying that seat. In principle that seat should go to the person with the lowest RAC. But, I wondered … will the TT allot that seat without taking a single pie? The person seating in B3-63 with RAC started buttering the TT and literally begged for berth no. 59. He did not hesitate to bribe the TT too, opened his wallet and gave two one hundred notes to him. And the TT… thanked his stars, took those with a smile …. his first income of the day. I thought when we are talking and gossiping against corruption and corrupt practices, we forget to include ourselves in the list of culprits. Both bribers and bribe takers are equally responsible.

In the mean while our train had reached Pune, I was dozing off in the upper berth. With a big suitcase, a young girl in her late twenties entered our compartment. Pushed her suitcase under the seat, tried to occupy the seat no. 59, which was already assigned to some one else. She could not believe that her seat was allocated to some one else 🙂 . She started arguing with the TT and the commuter. After realizing her mistake (booking from one station (CST) and boarding from a far-off station (Pune)) she became distraught and composed, but had to finally accept. She requested the TT at least to allow her to board the train and to share the seat with the other gentleman who was occupying seat no. 63 in RAC. She could manage to convince the person and shared the seat.

In the mean time a couple of plain cloth police men came and inquired with many of us and checked our luggages. May be the bombings in the trains and other places in India are the reasons for this checking. But, I did not find a single police man afterwards, in the next 30 hours of my journey. What kind of security measure then? Couple of my co-passengers (including ladies) were software engineers working in Pune. To spend their boring train journey, they were ready with many things, at least some 10 different type of snacks, all the meals of train’s catering and most interestingly they had enough bettle (paan) leafs and all masalas (jurda, kimam, katha, supari.. etc.). Each of them are experts in making the bettle pack and in eating those. Amazing scenes. There was another co-passenger who had a RAC ticket and started narrating his links and connections with big politicians of Mumbai and his lunch/dinner parties with the IPS/IAS officers and the ministers in Mumbai. He did not leave a single stone unturned to boast of his greatness. I did not understand one thing, if he had all the connections then how come he could not manage to get a confirmed seat? May be Laluji ki raj me kuchh gadbad hai 🙂

Home Sweet Home

Train journey was cool, though a bit boring. I reached Bhubaneswar on time – at 4.35 am. My brother was there to receive me. Once I reached there, I found myself at home. The care and concern of my brother, home made food of my bhabhi and the love of my sweet nephew — what else I wanted? The Bhubaneswar which I had carried in my memory and that which I was seeing were completely different. Nowadays, it has grown like any other city in India. But, on the flip side as an outsider in my own homeland, I could witness rash drive of young (kids some times) students and unemployed mass, the effect of liquor on our society, eve-teasing, showiness and artificial smiles of relatives and friends. Tough to accept 😦 I stayed for a day at Bhubaneswar, visited couple of my relatives and friends in the evening, did a little bit shopping for my nephew and niece. I was meeting them after a gap of 18 months, longest gap so far. I knew my parents were eagerly waiting for me in my village…. I got at least 15 calls on that day with only one question: “when are you coming?” “Come at that time, do not bring this and that”… etc., and etc…

Once I reached home (village), I felt like the king of that place 🙂 . Very happy… I started showing all the photos of my last China visit, and was telling the stories of my success/failure, life, future to my parents. Suddenly I realized that I forgot to bring the Umbrella which I carried for my father. I left that in the bus, forgot completely…I felt very very bad. The umbrella was an amazing and unique piece, many people were interested to take that… but, I was adamant that it was meant for my father…. I tried my best to follow the bus, enquired with the driver through some of my relatives, but could not trace it. Felt very low as I was too much attached to the umbrella and carried a lot of dreams to present it with love to my father.

Small Incidents of Big India

I stayed hardly for 4 days at home. These four days I was completely cut off from the rest of the world. There were important calls which I was expecting on my MTNL roaming cell. But alas… MTNL and BSNL had problems, my roaming phone was half of the time struggling to find and register itself with BSNL. More than 90% of the time, its signal was down, and the rest 10%, frequent call droppings, one sided voice, bad signal quality …. I was pissed off with their services. How come these so called basic service providers (largest telecom. operators in India) do not maintain the basic quality in their services? Nobody was listening to my complaints, they were not even accepting their fault. In fact, even now after a month of my coming back from home the service and signal is extremely poor. Other users also are facing similar problems. Had it been in USA or other European countries, the operators would have been sued for service failure. I had to struggle a lot to call my friends in Mumbai for updates.

While at village, I came across with some interesting facts. My father was narrating to me about the Rs 2/- per Kg rice scheme introduced by Orissa Govt to help the needy. Initially when I heard about this I was thrilled and was very happy that the Govt is helping the poor; the common man. But my happiness was short lived. Looks like Rs 2/- per Kg rice is the biggest problem at this moment. Most of the people who are availing the scheme are becoming very lazy. Many of them are not working for more that 4/5 days in a month. Reason, a day’s earning is sufficient for their livelihood of a month.. 50 kg of rice (Rs 100/- is the daily wages) and the other 2/3 days’ work is sufficient for the rest. More than 70% people are not working, not ploughing their land even… why to spend time and money, when they have free food at their door step? The question that came to my mind… is that Rs 2/- per Kg rice scheme for the benefit of the country? Are we doing justice to the tax payers’ money? Why is the govt playing with the country’s future? For vote shake? For power? Election is around, and many parties are committing Rs 2/- or Rs 3/- per Kg rice. My frustration became serious, when I came to know the names of BPL (Bellow Poverty Line) card holders… many rich people of that area are having BPL cards, they get those rice in Rs 2/- per Kg and sell that in Rs 20/- Kg in the market. Pathetic attitude.

During my short stay, I visited couple of Govt. and Private schools, couple of Engineering colleges. What I saw there and what I experienced was pathetic. The condition of the education system and commercialization of basic services in many parts of Orissa (in India too) is something which is of serious concern. Engineering education is a big business there. In the name of charity, people just do business and exploit. They also spend huge amount for bribing the authorities (be it state education board or national education board) to get the accreditations. The common man suffers everywhere… their land is being sold at a cheap price to these institutes, their kids are not getting quality education, they pay heavy price as donations and fees for education, and they do not get their full salary. No one is interested to send their wards to Govt. run schools. Every one is interested in English medium schools. But the English medium schools charge heavily as fees and donations, make interviews of the parents and the kids . My nephew was asked for his Class I admission : Name two Chief Ministers in India who were married in the same day?. Neither the Govt rulings nor the court directives stop them from blatant commercialization. Not only that the quality of teachers they have are very poor. Many of them are under paid too. With this kind of education, where do we see our future? I could not visualize…

Corruption, attitude problem, politics, castism… everything is corroding this country and the common man. Unless the common man does some thing and realizes that he/she has to be aware and do things to help himself/herself who else can save? It is late, but not too late. Still there is time to shape the country, to guide the youth and to channelize the taxpayers’ money.

Aamjunta it is your turn now.

Qualitative Expansion of Indian Education System – Need for a Strong and Better India

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.

M. K. Gandhi

Even after 60 years of independence “Education for all and 100% literacy” is still a dream in India; though the present country wide average literacy rate is around 60%, it is actually less than 50% in many parts of India. The youth literacy rate is around 71% in India, whereas it is around 99% in neighbouring China. We will have to accept the truth that we still lack in terms of basic education and literacy as compared to many other countries. Not only is quantity affecting, with this percentage of literacy bringing development to the door step of every Indian is difficult. When the illiterate common [hu]man does not understand and does not know the schemes drafted for him/her, then how do we expect (re)action from her/him?

Our first and foremost goal should be to start with providing basic education to all. This needs proper planning at the apex level. But, by drafting the schemes at parliament or at the planning commission level, our responsibilities do not get over. In fact responsibility means — to complete the process and implement the scheme at the ground level; by involving the mass in the process of education and development and by expanding the base of education.

Expanding the reach of the present educational system is crucial. Basic education should reach every single child of our country. Making all children go to school, not just enrolling them (we have 96% of enrolment of children at present), and teach through innovative means is the key in this direction. These measures can not only help us increase the percentage of literacy, but also can increase the quality of our life in general. This will also create a position for the economically weaker strata of our society to understand the schemes designed for them. Various studies show that there are people in India who are still untouched by the modern society; modern education system has not reached them, forget about sanitary condition and health care. But, what have we done in this direction? How serious we are in our endeavour?

We spend just 3.5% of our GDP on education, way below China’s 8%. Is that enough to increase the reach of the education to all?

On a finer level of introspection – the numbers of schools we have in India are not enough. The quality of education is not there. English medium education is still considered as a status symbol confined to the cities only. In the name of free primary education, wasting of taxpayers’ money is enormous. Education for girl child is still a far-fetched dream and is not encouraged even in the civilized sections of our society. Facility for the students at the school level is also not that encouraging. Many schools do not have even the basic infrastructure; no chair, no table, no toilets and even no roof.

The mid-day meal programme, which is the main attraction for kids to come to school in many parts of India, is not properly implemented. In some places, the program gets disrupted by corrupt practices of hoarding and stealing. We need to overcome these problems through various corrective actions in terms of opening more quality schools for all not just for a set of people and making the authorities accountable. Moreover, the call for awareness should not be confined to vision books or newspaper articles or to statements in the parliament only. It needs implementation through whatever means possible.

To attract more children to school, not only we need to motivate the kids and their parents, but also need to create social awareness. For that we need quality people around in the form of teachers. But, unfortunately we face serious shortage of quality teachers. Not that we do not have quality people, but the attitude of many of us towards teaching is extremely negative. Teaching is not considered as a career at the first hand.

The salary structure for the teachers is not at all encouraging. In the name of Sarvasikshya Abhijan (“Education for All”), new teachers are getting appointed with a monthly remuneration of Rs 600/- (i.e., Rs 20/- per day) at the primary school level, which is even less than the monthly remuneration of unskilled labourers. Even then, many people apply for a single teaching post, not because they all are interested, but because of the rampant unemployment in the society.

Even if we succeed in bringing more students to school, we are not in a position to motivate them for higher education. Percentages of drop-outs at and after school are very high. For instance, the percentage of drop-out students is about 40% at the primary level. Only over 33% high school students complete graduation. This has to be looked into seriously. Unfortunately, we do not have planned guidance system/schemes to tackle the drop-out problem. For the growth of the country, we need trained man power, be it trained labour or trained farmers or trained educators or the intellectual class with a research base.

Unless, we stop the drop-outs at or after school, and provide education to all through corrective and affirmative actions, where do we get the required manpower?

College education is also necessary for growth. But, in India, college education is not that accessible to all. Even if it is accessible, the quality of education is not as good as compared to that of other developed countries. Technical education is still a far cry for the common man. The present form of college education does not ensure any form of employment opportunity in most of the cases.

In the recent past, in the name of software boom, we have opened many engineering colleges. But, by opening engineering colleges only a country does not succeed. We need infrastructure, laboratory facilities and quality instructors to teach. Couple of years back in the name of expanding education we had allowed mushrooming of universities and colleges in many parts of India and have compromised on the quality of education.

Honourable Supreme Court’s ruling in recognizing the institutes and maintaining the basic quality should be taken seriously. We have also to remember that unless proper mechanism and quality is maintained in both the teaching and the taught, the system will crumble. Educating the educators is more important at this point than educating the student. Even though there are schemes in research places, such as Quality Improvement Programme (QIP) or study leave, the output is not visible. Caution and quality measures are definitely required in this direction.

The other important challenge of Indian education system is conversion of undergraduates into graduate studies or research. Even though the number of graduates which India produces per year is six to eight times higher than that of countries like USA produce in a year, the retention of graduates for higher studies leading to doctoral studies is very less in India. This needs to be looked upon with urgency. High conversion rate of graduate to doctoral is important. More number of doctoral students should be enrolled into the system and people will opt for doctoral studies, if the programme is encouraged with higher fellowship, better facilities for research and other infrastructures. This requires emphasis on research by the society and by government.

However, the doctoral research programme should not be misunderstood with time bound degree. It has a different requirement and philosophy. Continuous research can be done, only if one’s basic requirements are fulfilled. One has to remember that at the age of 30s (average age of doctoral students in India); the equation is different, very hard to ask for a financial help from parents. Hence, financial help is a must, if we are really serious for research as an imperative for development of the nation and our researchers as national assets.

With the opening of new IITs, IIITs, IIMs and many colleges in the country, care needs to be taken to attract quality researchers in the form of students and faculties. The faculty crunch needs to be tackled with highest priority and research needs to be emphasized with seriousness. However, encouraging the youth to opt for teaching and/or research is not exhibitive. We have to remember that the well-being of researchers will definitely have direct impact on the growth of the nation.

If we need 10% GDP growth, we have to give importance to value based education and encourage youth for opting a career in research and teaching.

The other major problem which we are facing is caste based reservation policy. Yes, we introduced caste based reservation as a corrective measure, but there are people from various unreserved-castes who are underprivileged and are backward too. They have still not come at-par with their other fellow Indians. It is our responsibility too to bring them to the main stream, to bring them to the mass, to include them in the nation building. But, why to politicize that? Why to make caste as the only factor for reservation? In fact, with caste based reservation we too support casteism and further divide the society adding fuel to the age old caste based divisions. Many have already availed the reservation and have joined the mainstream. Should we give further reservations to them?

Let the people who are really underprivileged and need reservation avail this opportunity, irrespective of the caste and religion. This will expand our reach and include the mass. A serious discussion and brainstorming is required on this issue.

Many of us still do not understand the rationality of reservation at higher education level and that too after 60 years of independence based on some old data-base. Simply political! When we do not give as much opportunity as required to the unprivileged at the school level and bring them even to secondary school level, what is the rationality of reservation at higher education? Instead of giving reservation at the higher education, let us give opportunity to them and prepare them at the primary school level, at higher secondary level and at the under-graduation level.

By stopping the drop-outs at the school level and bringing them to higher education level, we can reach the mass in a more effective way, which will have definitely have better impact than having reservation or quota system in higher education. We have to understand the need of quality in higher education along with the quantity.

On a slightly different note, there were concerns and differences in the recent past due to reservation at the private sectors. Most of the private sectors are opposing the caste based reservation at their places. To survive in a competitive market, should they be not given a fair chance to decide their own action and whom should they hire? Instead, the private sector be encouraged and directed to provide resources for better school and other facilities at least till the higher secondary level. Let them also participate in the nation building process by supporting the education system. There can be a similar project like the Governments directing the major telecom operators to provide basic services in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharastra and Rajasthan, which is definitely a success in India. Similar schemes can be duplicated in the education sector too.

With all my arguments, I however do not discount the level of planning or vision at the highest levels. Yes, we need planning, but that is not a big problem in India. With planning commissions, ministries, development boards, knowledge commissions, we can at the least hope for better plans.

But, what about implementation? Many will not deny that we lack in implementation skills. For better and quick implementation, let there be an independent survey by a group comprising representatives from NGOs, Governments and Private sectors. Let there be collaboration between these agencies for the implementation part along with the Government machinery. But most significantly, the common man should be a part of the implementation.

To conclude, let us pledge to bring more children to school, control the drop-outs and encourage teaching and research with quality and quantity for a better and strong India.

Jai Hind.

(Article earlier submitted as an essay to a competition hosted by National Knowledge Commission)

Slumdog Millionaire and its Colonial Connections

Hit British film Slumdog Millionaire has won the top prize at the Academy Awards, winning eight Oscars including best director and best picture”. Headline, BBC News, 23rd Feb, 2009.

While the entire Los Angles was playing the tunes of Jai Ho, it was welcomed with mixed response and feelings of pride, joy, frustration, ego and identity crisis in India.

If writing the screenplay, directing and producing the movie by Britishers qualify enough to be called a British movie, then it is not appropriate. The movie is an adoption of the award-wining novel “Q & A” of Indian author and diplomat Vikas Swarup. Not only that, the heart of the movie is based on the slum life of Mumbai, the very own city of India. The crew, the cast and the location, the theme, the life… all are Indian. What else is needed to call this as an Indian movie then?

Whether you call it as Indian movie or British film, wining Oscars by the Indians or the Britishers for their talents is encouraging. For the Indian Cinema, wining Oscars will definitely add a new chapter to its success story. If you say that was the success of Indian art, then it was the success of the British business model too, which got clicked at the time of recession. They came, shot the people and their life with a limited budget, made huge money out of that and sold the “piece of art” to the world with an Indian tag. It was the conglomeration of the “piece of art” and the business model, which brought the glamour of red carpet for some thing made out of the story of a slum.

Many criticized the movie, saying that it portrayed the ugly side of Indian slums and sold the lives of the poor (garibi) to the rich. They are not completely wrong though. But then, showing poor (garibi) is not anything new. Many have done that in the past. Then, why should they be blamed only? When our very own people do not do any thing for the slums,  what do we expect from movie makers who are in a way “art capitalists”. In fact, these movie makers are at least contributing to the economy by giving jobs to the slum dwellers either as an actor/actress or part of the support system, while shooting the cinema in the slum locality. Making of such movies too create social awareness among the mass.

To be honest, Garibi Hatao, or Garibi Bhagao are phrases coined for the sake of ballot politics in the name of social equality, for the sake of discussions in political circles and for the sake of publishing research papers by scholars and intellectuals. These are age old practices in India. The word garibi is being exploited by the politicians, political thinkers, the intellectuals, the researchers and the cinematographers. But, do these people really want garibi bhagao? I doubt! Both garib and garibi exist in its complete essence.

Some argue that the film is just an art, and there is no relation between garibi and the movie. But, it is not true. The movie is of course mixed with the emotion and the identity of the mass. More over, garibi is not an Indian phenomenon only. It is there in every part of the world. Then, why do you exploit garibi with Indian tag at the international arena for the sake of art or money?

Through a different perspective, if you analyze the pre- and post-days of the release of the movie, then you can find some connections between the movie with the colonial world. Even though  colonialism in terms of British Empire had disappeared long back, a new form of colonialism has started in the form of social divisions of poor and rich, higher caste and loser caste. Be it showing the slums of Mumbai to the western world in the name of art, or making a movie on the life of slum dwellers, or adopting a novel written by a “post-colonial” writer, a link is present every where (directly or indirectly) with colonialism. The plot of the movie is also an out come of the social imbalance created by the colonial world.

In a literary perspective, this movie is just a show case of the “post- colonial”  life and era. It is  the story of the oppressed and the oppressor, the ruled and the ruler and the difference of the poor and the rich. In the name of art, culture and  literature, it is just an exploitation of the mass. Almost all Indians went crazy when the child-stars of Slumdog returned home from Oscar ceremonies. But like the hunch in the movie that how can a slum “dog” be a millionaire, in real life too the lives of little kids like Azhradduin (Jamal) and Rubina (Lathika) have changed forever, for good or worse only time can say. Azharuddin has been reportedly beaten up and manhandled by his father for the sake of money and glamour. These people are still staying in slums — but they no longer belong to their “origin” and neither are they accepted in the so called “glamour classes” of our society. They might be pitied upon, shown as “art-pieces” in more film festivals and treated as “museum-creatures”, but only few might think that they are “human-beings” having a right to lead “normal” lives. They are doubly colonized: (a) By their own society/country which only lives on “breaking news” ; (b) by the “art-connoisseurs” of the world ready to make business out of their plight.Unless this is understood and taken care of, many such Slumdog Millionaires will be re-produced in different parts of the world — in the name of showing  life, and art,   staking the identity of a nation, of a city and a section of people.

The question arises; do we want that to happen and to repeat? Do we want ever to see the slums? Or do we want to change the life of the underprivileged? The choice is yours, and you have to write your own fortune and create your own destiny, whether to be called as slumdogs or millionaires.

Aamjunta, just think over it.

Jai ho!

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