‘Blind Men and An Elephant’ vis-a-vis Current Indian Education System

About ten days ago, we had been to the school where our Domestic Help’s daughter sought admission for the very first time. Located in a by-lane, it is not only devoid of a playground, it is also very cramped even for little ones. For most part of the school time, children are seeing playing on the adjacent lanes and no one bothers, probably because that’s how space is managed and/or the administration is indifferent. Some children aged 10-14 years do not follow the classroom decorum !… And a few are admitted into lower classes, long past their suitable ages though they are not that ‘dumb’; reason- apparently commercial, that is, the school intends to make profits from the extra (unnecessary) years a ‘dumb’ student is made to go through !!… Notwithstanding, most parents put their children on the rolls in such schools because it is convenient to drop-and-pick them on their way to work and these schools also happen to be on a reasonable price-list according to their ‘limited’ affordability.

This by-lane school, without a playground and basic necessities, charges 6200 INR for an L.K.G. kid. More than the knowledge likely to be gained in such an environment, parents should be apprehensive of the hygiene, discipline and basic attitudinal orientations a child is going to learn here to imbibe or desert !! But unfortunately there are many such mushrooming schools in cities, towns and villages, and there seems to be no one to advise these parents who are honest and hard-working but owing to various reasons, not educated (not of formal degrees) to make out certain key differences regarding formal upbringing of children !

The family struggles and aspires- the parents are diligent, eagerly bear all financial hardships and dream to one day, see their children well-placed in the society; and the children spending their days in such schools, unknowingly waste most of their formative years that are never to be recovered. This is one of the most vital factors for a society to be good or bad, for children ultimately form the long future of a nation !!!

Our Cook’s eldest son, aged about 15 years, had to change two schools over the last two years; each admission costing 65000 INR on an average; then there are other expenses too ! But however hard his parents and teachers-at-new-schools now try to discipline him, the required changes are just not coming through !! Probably, his very basic formative years were lost in the unknown by-lanes when he ought to have been sitting under the light of knowledge and beside his Guide (Teacher).

It is indeed very difficult to lead or help a budding youth emerge from such troubled waters. To make matters worse, their parents start fearing a fading dream and non-refundable or non- reimbursable schooling expenses met from hard-earned savings !

We also gathered information regarding management and curriculum of ‘established’ schools of our nephew (city-1), our niece (village) and our friends’ kids (town-1 and town-2); we spoke to a few other parents and guardians too; and additionally, we took a brief look at various initiatives by some NGOs, Government schemes, etc.

Considering the entire Education System to be a giant elephant, my husband is right in analysing its overall present scenario in India-


Someone gets hold of the ear of the elephant and says ‘education is like a big jute dust-pan’; someone hangs by the tail and says ‘its like a small, smooth rope’; someone leans on the legs and says ‘its like a tall pillar’; someone grazes at the belly and says ‘its like a huge wall’; someone sits atop the back and says ‘where’s the pain, its an easy ride’; etc.

But usually, no one looks at the elephant or tries to even realize its presence, let alone providing any substantial financial or logistical assistance !!

So the consequence is that everyone, especially children and youth, continue to suffer because we do not take a HOLISTIC approach to address the issues in the entire system; we try to resolve merely by fits and starts, and a bit here and a bit there… Sometimes, for mere sake of promotions, sometimes for only political gains and sometimes, even without understanding an iota of it !!!

Some parents and guardians send their kids to schools without verifying necessary facts or keep changing schools without really monitoring their children’s progress and reasons for their inadequate performances. In most of these cases, parents and guardians remain all occupied at work during the week and therefore, prefer to simply unwind over the weekend along with family; they just admit their children on school rolls because they do not want to miss out on this ‘prime duty’ towards their children. But after that, the required follow-up usually does not happen !

However, a very few people and organizations still continue to render their noble services borne by a zeal, a thorough understanding and truly dedicated efforts towards uplift of the Education System ! We need ample of such folks and teams…


Well, we spend thousands of crores of INR in election campaigns, day-to-day advertisements and mere social events; then why don’t we do it for completely redefining the Education System in the country ? Isn’t that the best gift we can give to our children, to our nation and to the world at large ?

Wonder when shall modern India rebuild or transform itself to once again become the marvellous hub of Education that it was in the ancient days…… Let’s not forget that there was a great time when the whole world was eager and humble to visit the unparalleled chambers of wisdom at Nalanda, Taxila (now in Pakistan), Vikramsila, Varanasi, Udaygiri, Ratnagiri, Pusphagiri, Kanchipuram, Manyakheta, etc.

Name the Subject and Seek the Master- ancient India had it all to its glory !

Elephant

Indian Space Station – Connect, Engage And Ignite The Space Explorers

A guest post by the team Indian Space Station (ISS), a noble initiative for popularizing space science.

ISS

www.indianspacestation.com

Vision

To create a forum of knowledge, discussion and for the dissemination of news and information for the out worldly science of Space.

Mission

The mission of Indian Space Station (ISS) is to provide budding space enthusiasts every possible kind of information and assistance towards furthering their dreams of travel into the stars. At ISS, we strive to strike a balance between the presentation of theoretical and practical aspects of space technologies, between news and opportunities for students and amateurs and between informative and entertaining aspects of space literature.

What we do at ISS?

Some of the important activities of ISS are as follows:

  • To interact with the researcher scholars from across the world to understand their research problems and the proposed solutions at the abstract level. We believe that the space domain is the only field which is truly multidisciplinary which could use solutions from every field to make its technology to advance. These interviews also provide an opportunity to the student/research community to get acquainted with the current state of the art research going on across the world. You could visit here to know the type of research problems that have been captured so far.

  • To interact with the eminent space experts from the industry and the academia around the world and to get their opinion on future of space science, space technology and exploration, etc. In addition, these interviews also serve as a guidance for the student/research community as most of the questions are relevant to them. You could visit here to know the eminent people who have been interviewed on ISS.

  • To keep a track of every major achievement from the student/research community. We bring those people on the ISS platform to talk about their achievements through various articles. These articles serve as a motivation for other people to take up the similar initiatives. Please visit here to know more about it.

  • To conduct workshops/competitions at regular intervals with focus on involving more people in this space revolution rather for a profit. Some of the workshops are CanSat leadership training program, High altitude ballooning competition/training, telescope making, etc. Please visit here to know our current work in this direction.

  • To ignite and inspire the school students as well by conducting events like space related drawing competition, space essay competition, cartoon explaining the various space concepts etc. Please visit here to know our current initiative on this.

  • To provide an opportunity for the students through the intern-ship program. In these intern-ship, they contribute to science education improvement by identifying local talent or issues. In addition, their work is being published in the form of white papers summarizing various information related to space field. Please visit here to know more about it.

  • To provide stipend to the talented and bright for a limited period of time. This is another way to keep them motivated to do better work and research.

  • To review some of the important books related to space domain. The idea here is to let the audience know these great books written by the eminent space experts. You could visit here to know more about it.

  • One of the best medium to see the future technologies is through movies. We do review science movies on a regular basis to identify the technologies shown in them and feasibility of its realization in the coming days. We also talk about the current developments so far related to those technologies. Please visit here to know more.

  • To provide information on the various institutes in India which provides different programs to pursue a career in space domain. You could visit ISS to know more about this.

  • To provide information on available scholarships program across the world for the students to support their education in basic science and space domain. You could visit here to know more about this initiative.

  • To write about the important science and space related workshops happening across the world. In addition, we do provide articles related to career guidance. We also guide the students who contact us through ISS platform. Please visit here to know more about it.

Achievements

  • After working close to 6 years on this initiative, Indian Space Station name is quite familiar among the student community and even with some of the best space experts and scientists from around the world.

  • Indian Space Station name is also quite familiar with the publisher due to their honest review of various science related books.

  • First of a kind BalloonSat competition is being held for the undergraduate and graduate students in India in close collaboration with Antariksha Labs.

  • Successfully conducted an essay competition for the school student to ignite their creativity and imagination.

  • On-going drawing competition for the school students in tribute to Mangalyaan, India’s first Mars mission. The competition is well received by the students and there is a huge response in every month.

  • A new kind of workshop is in progress to give a hands-on experience in designing and launching a model satellite to every student in India.

  • Developed an expertise in high altitude ballooning missions in close collaboration with Antariksha Labs. This service will be offered to interested people.

  • Unique opportunity is being provided to the students to get better exposure to space field through our intern-ship, stipend programs and student ambassador programs.

  • Regular career guidance from ISS team to the students who contact us to know about various opportunities and avenues related to space field.

What next from ISS?

In the next few years, we have plans-

  • To conduct the space workshops in every college in India to motivate and ignite them to work on space related projects which is both exciting and equally challenging. We believe that the student skill set could improve significantly by working in these multi-disciplinary space projects.

  • To develop in-house products related related to small and large scale, small scale propulsion systems, products targeted at the farmers/rural area to make effective use of satellite technology etc. Our ultimate goal is revolutionize the private space industry in India. We have collaborated with Antariksha Labs (www.antarikshalabs.in) to realize this goal.

  • To create a venture capitalist division which will fund the research work privately to the deserving students, faculties and experts. These research will be time-bounded and there will be an accountability. The idea is to generate a pool of patents by utilizing the vast talent available in India.

  • and many more ambitious proposals in pipeline.

Aamjunta – your contribution to this noble initiative will be the game changer in India’s education system and future of young India.

 

The Chaste of Liberty

Last week, it was reported that the Maulanas in Aligarh (India) are opposing burqas that are trendy with laces, studs, gems, etc. Reason – they fear it will ‘attract the attention’ and ’embolden’ the evil-eyed people !

Many ordinary persons, social or religious organisations and celebrities have also held similar views in the recent past.

Well, I think statements as these are not baseless in view of certain present circumstances as long as they mean to protect women in unknown zones (physical or social) or when they go out alone in places lacking proper gender awareness.

Many may not agree with my opinion but I would still request them to take a look at my reasons, even briefly.

In this regard, I would first of all like to make a small but very appreciative note on my recent observations of some foreign tourists (mostly westerners) visiting south-India. I found everyone of them to abide by certain directions, probably issued from their respective Embassies, in their attire. They all wore traditional Indian dresses and cast a very lasting impression on the native folks by respecting their values.

The gruesome Nirbhaya incident in December-2012 led to some modifications in India’s rape law. Even then, numerous such cases of either rape or molestation or eve-teasing or brutal murder after a sexual assault or acid-attacks have been reported. Sometimes it appears as if these occurrences have rather increased exponentially, like a severely infectious or viral disease ! To add salt to the diabolic wounds, age of the victim or the offender seems to be no more restricted to the country’s present definition of an adult, that is, a biological age.

With regard to rising rape cases, a year back, the Supreme Court of India had asked the Delhi Police to find out the root-cause of such brutal incidents happening every day even in the capital of India. Many psychiatrists like Dr. Nimish G. Desai are of the opinion that rapists are not mentally ill but attribute sexual perversions or psychopathic behaviour to them due to rapidly changing and non-monitored social mechanisms. They recommend institutionalization of gender studies wherein such people of inherent or acquired violent behaviour and/or having feelings of disengagement from society (work or family) can be identified and reared towards a positive direction before they commit such an offence.

In this context, let us delve into a bit more analysis. We all know that nudity is a form of both ancient and modern art expressed as any gender type, and it continues to be unblemished in some regions or societies. It is unblemished with regard to gender studies and characteristics of art itself. There it is accepted and appreciated as a normal, genteel perception. Now here is the sharp contrast. In other regions, a fearsome trend persists or has emerged of late – women (yes, mostly women and young girls) in attire like tight-fitted outfits, jeans, flashy tops, kurtis or even salwar-suits, are being watched with lustful glare. It happens anywhere, at any time and at any age in a society that is not well-versed with gender-related chapters. Formal education, high social status or financial riches are not always a dissuasion to check grossly misconstrued sexual desires. Rather some people’s disengagement from society combined with their lack of awareness of gender studies can turn out to be extremely distressful for others, as rightly cautioned by psychiatrists.

Now consider juveniles and how susceptible they are to committing crimes, the degree of which is comparable to that done by adults. In this post-modern age, juveniles, almost everywhere find quickly streaming information and easily accessible hi-end gadgets. These gadgets are often provided to the young generation either by unsuspecting parents to make them merely happy or by irresponsible parents to promote through the gifted devices a sign of their proud possession or affordability in the neighbourhood. With swiftly changing times, today children are more intelligent and smart enough to use these gadgets, irrespective of whether the usage is right or wrong. If both the parents are working, then there is hardly any one at home to guard against its misuses; and this may further worsen matters. Sometimes, family woes stir the mud in already troubled waters. Unless duly checked, it is possible that the unwanted or violent behavioural trends of juveniles would continue to get perpetrated across their peers or younger groups.

Perhaps, the same logic would apply for potential eve-teasers, molesters, acid-attackers and other type of abusers or violence instigators, abettors or perpetrators.

And obviously, with rising crimes the already feeble police:public and the judge:public ratios will also further deteriorate, thus delaying justice !

Now let’s explore two of our crucial roles in a society that is not only waiting to get adequate lessons in gender studies but having to already confront frequent crimes ridden with sexual components.

First and foremost of all, we must sensibly regulate or restrain certain type of entertainment and media channels, both print and electronic. Films and documentaries should be more censored, very strictly categorized according to various age groups and then distributed with immense precautionary measures. Particularly, women, young girls and eunuchs depicted on reels or magazines must always be shown in a respectable manner; it should not bear the slightest hint of any vulgarity or obscenity just for maximizing commercial profits. Here I want to highlight a very important point – where gender studies profusely lag, mindless projection of any sensual element for promoting modernity or liberalism, or for gaining commercial goals, further exposes the ‘aam aurat’ (ordinary women) and the eunuchs to sexual glares, pounces and pats !! Instances in an elite society may be rare but the ‘aam aurat’ generally bears the bigger brunt. Surely, there are other factors to be reasoned out but the one of mindless projections is definitely very crucial. Such projections can have an immediate negative impact on the minds of both the adult men and young boys; more severely, if they are disengaged from their family, friends or work-place and/or are already associated with anti-social elements or unhealthy environments like taking banned drugs. When every day we get to hear numerous crimes against women, then as responsible citizens, should we not check certain filming or broadcastings ? By preventing thus, we can help a meek society to muster fortitude, act and practically care for preserving the dignity of its weaker sexes.

Secondly, comes our role as parents or guardians or teachers of the current generation of children. It is a gradual effort. Right from an early age, we must educate them on various aspects of gender, and teach them to dress, converse and behave as suited to our culture and society, that is, where we live. Wearing full-length attire (whether oriental or occidental) should not make us a judge in our own minds even; we are not supposed to be labelled traditional or modern merely by our clothes or appearances. The terms are antonyms but it is wise to interpret them such that adhering to one outweighs the other according to relevant occasions. We should thus adequately put bridle on what we wear and appreciate. We should not fall into any sort of crazy rat-race. Our matured thoughts must do the smart talk and walk. Young boys and girls must be taught to equally respect each other and accommodate their issues. Gone are the outdated ways of gender-based barriers and patriarchal dominance ensnared by attitudinal issues!

Similarly, social or official guidelines must be adhered to by all groups of gender in corporates and other social gatherings. These are awfully necessary safeguards in our very own interests.

Well, now consider the provisions and protection sought under law. If enforced properly, it can take a tougher stand against mere violators of law and criminals. But it should not be just to punish them or deter potential offenders. It should also be because children witnessing depictions in any form of media or offences in society, that has sexual components or differential roles of man and woman, imbibe an awful sense of gender inequality at a tender age, and it would in all probability remain with them life-long or worse still, may find their yet scurrilous or violent vent in some form of anonymity at a later stage !! Moreover, changing rules should be in accordance with the definition of gender, the attributed social patterns of which are changeable over time. Hence, it needs thorough discussions and debates and cannot be simply listed over-night.

Nevertheless, law is definitely one of the greatest tools of social transformation. But legal reforms must be supported by an efficient administration, institutionalization of gender studies, holistic understanding of other socio-economic issues by the people of the land, their active participation in large numbers in associated programmes and awareness generation by a responsible media. Without all of us realizing these various aspects and acting in a co-ordinated manner, it would be quite impossible to root out the causes of such diabolical crimes and prevent these in some present societies.

As a well-known Indian columnist has aptly remarked yesterday in a leading newspaper- ‘Empowerment doesn’t work without maturity‘ !!!

Aamjunta – what do you say?

Special Category Status of Indian States – Recent Developments

This is a topic on and off the Indian political radar, now particularly as the General Elections are scheduled in the summer of 2014.

Currently, India has 11 ‘special category’ status states. They are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. It is usually given to states which have distinct features like international boundaries, hilly terrains, special environmental issues, different socio-economic patterns and where infrastructural investments or public services are very difficult to be implemented. And most of these states bear a large tribal or economically backward population.

The country’s apex decision making body National Development Council headed by the Prime Minister and all the Chief Ministers and Union Cabinet Ministers on board, is the competent authority to grant ‘special category’ status to a state based on a set of criteria as per the Gadgil formula. This formula was evolved in 1969 by Dr. D. R. Gadgil, the social scientist and first critic of the Indian Planning Commission. Since then, the formula has been applied, modified and re-applied because of various reasons (statistical or changing social indicators, political, financial, etc.) and in various ways.

The states which enjoy the ‘special category’ status are given 90 per cent grant as assistance for externally aided projects. For the general category states, there is usually no grant and resources flow to states as back-to-back loans.

In March-2013, Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had remarked “Whoever empathises with and helps backward states will come to power in Delhi“. In May-2013, the Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said that a high-level sub-committee would be constituted under the then Chief Economic Advisor to Government of India, Raghuram Rajan (now the Governor of Reserve Bank of India) in order to determine the criteria of backwardness of a state. Further, Mr. Chidambaram added “… going by whatever information that I have, Bihar will certainly qualify under the new criteria”. Assuming that the Minister rightfully pre-possessed some good data about Centre’s likely financial assistance, tax-waivers and performance-linked-incentives, I believe it were apt if the statement was made by him with certainty but only after the criteria of backwardness was re-defined. Otherwise, the statement still leaves behind a gap that may rather mean that the criteria be re-set so as to accommodate Bihar in the ‘special category’ status !

Anyhow, this gesture by the Congress-led UPA Government was interpreted as a sign of wooing Mr. Nitish Kumar away from his alliance with the Opposition party, BJP and gaining his party, the JD(U)’s support. From the aamjunta, there was hardly any amount of noticeable discussion on this deal just focussing on Bihar’s genuine needs.

In August-2013, the expert committee under Mr. Raghuram Rajan identified 10 parameters for a new Composite Development Index for the allocation of Central funds to backward states. The new index considers the rating of states on the basis of their distance from the national average on parameters including poverty rate, consumption, education, health, female literacy, urbanization, household amenities, connectivity, financial inclusion and share of SCs/STs (Scheduled Castes /Scheduled Tribes) in total population. Some states like Bihar have also insisted on the inclusion of per capita energy consumption as a measure of development. Overall, if this new index rates Bihar as a backward state, then it will definitely do the same for Odisha and few other states as well.

It has been reported that ‘while Bihar was given Rs 12,500 crore as part of a special development plan, Odisha’s eight Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput (KBK) districts, more backward than many of Bihar’s districts, should have received an allocation in the same proportion’. As the discussions and rallies were being held by various groups seeking the ‘special category’ status for Odisha, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia cited the state’s stable finances and “sound indicators of fiscal deficit, outstanding liabilities and interest payments” as reasons for non-consideration !!

Being born and brought up in Odisha, I can vouch that while the state is rich in many natural resources and abounds in several industrial potentialities, it is economically backward due to meagre or non-sustained patronage from New Delhi. Odisha dramatically boosts the national treasury through trade in various minerals and industries namely coal, iron-ore, bauxite, manganese, power, steel, railways, shipping, commercial ports, fishery, agriculture, art, craft and tourism. One of the most significant DRDOs of the country – testing of missiles, is based in this state only.

There are at least 32 primitive tribal groups (the state has 22.8% tribal population, higher than the 8.6% national average) and according to the Planning Commission, about 155 lakh people in the state are suffering from acute poverty. The literacy rate is low and infant mortality rate high. Health and sanitation issues have just started getting mobilized towards a better future. Only then, would come the next arduous task of strengthening the education sector.

It is a fact that Odisha does not have an international border but some analysts are of the opinion that the 480 km coastal line can be treated as a substitute. This gets pronounced considering massive environmental factors like the Paradip cyclone, 1999 and the recent Phailin cyclone, 2013 hitting the state from across the vast Bay of Bengal, the waters of which are known to whirl some of the most dreadful tropical storms and cyclones ! This coastal line, if not guarded properly, is also vulnerable to illegal trades and anti-social activities, including infiltration.

Though the present BJD government led by Chief Minister Mr. Naveen Pattnaik has taken good measures towards developing some areas of the state, much of the state funds are spent either in administration or repayment of huge Central loans; therefore, it is not adequate in helping all the economically affected people and developing remote areas. Inadequate solutions and non-uniform development of a region, both are largely detrimental to the inclusive concept of growth. A sustained development model, as also envisaged by world-bodies, can gradually come into the picture only at a later stage.

The demand for ‘special category’ status for Odisha was first raised in 1979, but successive governments at the Centre have not paid heed. On one occasion, Mr. Naveen Patnaik has led a 30-member delegation comprising Odisha ministers, BJD MPs and MLAs to President Mr. Pranab Mukherjee. They have submitted a memorandum and one crore signatures collected from the state voicing their concerns and demands. But any noticeable step is yet to be taken by the Central government.

Last week, the state of Seemandhra (earlier part of high-ranked Andhra Pradesh) has been granted ‘special category’ status by the Centre, as quickly as it was curved out. Whereas states like Odisha and Bihar, whose demands have been far more justifiable and long-standing, still continue to be ignored. These type of callous decisions quite seem to be linked to political bias, appeasement tactics and ploys for vote-banks. Ultimately, the citizens suffer ! One better ranked region steadily rises up the development ladder; whereas other regions, in actual needs, may still continue to falter, under-perform and remain almost stagnant for years. This undoubtedly leads to  undesirable issues of inter-state migration or over-populated urban areas where people from low-ranked states flock in search of employment and social upliftment !! Thus, it is negatively cumulative in effect.

So, when is any Central government going to think cogently and channelize the available resources in a proper direction for the long-neglected states ? In fact, not only should it provide the necessary financial grants to economically backward states but also assist them with proper and timely guidance through various advisory bodies or committees working successfully in various parts of the country. This shall expedite development in these low-ranked states and be one of the ways to compensate faster for all the years of neglected work. No Central Government should ever make the blunder of political discrimination (for vote-banks, rivalry, etc.) among states because that will create a huge social mess in the long run !

Aamjunta – What do you say ?

Similar article by aamjunta – Odisha Assam mein hai na!

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) – A Necessity in India !!

There are arguments and counter-arguments on FDI or Foreign Direct Investment in India in the Parliament, in election rallies, in TV-debates, in newspaper articles, in general strikes in the country or Bharat Bandhs… There are obvious fears by the farmers, retailers, small-scale manufacturers, and the common man on the effect of FDI in India. Some say that FDI in India will bring major Multi National Companies (MNCs) in India which will abolish small-scale retailers and businessman. There are arguments saying that the MNCs will have a monopoly in the market resulting in a sharp rise in price of items in India. Further, there is also a fear that the country’s security – both internal and external, will be at stake due to the involvement of MNCs in Telecom, Internet, Aviation, Infrastructure, Retail, Healthcare, Insurance, etc.

Not that all the above arguments against FDI are invalid. However, with a positive mindset, we can certainly overcome such apprehensions. This can certainly be done by bringing reforms in our Judicial system, and by resetting a stronger regulator like the Competition Commission in the line of Election Commission of India or Auditor General of India. Moreover, Vigilance Commission has to be more responsive and aggressive in its activities. Along with these, the concept of Lokpal needs to be operational in India and the nature of functioning of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) needs to be completely autonomous in this regard. And of course, the public (consumers) must be aware, prompt and pursuant with regard to issues and their solutions ! With a proper check-and-balance policy implemented, we can  certainly reap benefits from FDI in India. In the current economic scenario – stiff rise in corruption, lack of accountability and transparency – FDI seems to be the right answer and is a dire necessity in India.

Here are some reasons favouring FDI in India…

It is really surprising to know that only 2-3% Indians pay Income tax. Does this figure say that the income of 97-98% Indians are less than the taxable limit (INR 2 Lakh/year) ?? A serious doubt. There are many reasons to it. The first and foremost is the lack of transparency and lack of accountability in our financial transactions – be it in income or expenditure. People prefer cash transaction over card or cheque while buying any item in India. Starting from a kirana shop (local general store) to a jewellery shop, everybody prefers cash transaction and giving and taking a bill /receipt is mostly discouraged. Some feel it is a taboo to ask for a bill, and some think ‘why to pay tax and take a bill’ ? But have you ever wondered that in not asking for a bill /receipt, who is getting benefited – the customers or the aamjunta ?!? ‘No’ – they are the losers only !!!

With direct and organized marketing which will mainly result out of FDI, the financial transactions will be mostly transparent and will be accounted for. Payments will be mostly in online mode. This will not only improve the tax scenario in India but also curtail huge corruption in India. Poor customers will not be cheated… and even if they are cheated, with a valid bill /receipt, necessary complaints can be conveniently filed in the Consumer Court. The investigation process will also become  easy and quick as everything would be duly accounted.

In India, we have the wide concept of “Middle-Man” or “Agent” or “Broker”, who always demands his/her share in every deal; sometimes even more than the actual cost of the product or service, without actually doing any thing or adding any value to it. The concept of direct marketing is hardly available in India, especially in Agriculture, Medicine, Grocery and Household items, etc. Surprisingly, there are many middle-men involved in the process – from the farmer to the consumer, from the factory-worker to the customer, from the laboratory-technician to the patient, and from the poor manufacturer (workmen) to the average consumers. This not only increases the price of the items but also encourages hoarding, corruption, unethical practices in business, unfair trade dealings, and above all the big bug i.e. inflation.

As per a study commissioned by the World Bank, farmers in India hardly get anything more than 12-15% of the price consumers pay at the retail outlet for Agricultural products. The reasons being –  (i) lack of education or awareness (ii) poor infrastructure (machinery) (iii) poor storage system (more than 25% food-grains are wasted in India today due to poor storage system) (iv) poor transport (e.g. non-urbanized roads leading from the agricultural fields to the towns) (v) middle-man (market-domination). With direct marketing as expected because of FDI in agriculture, the involvement of middle-man will be minimized in the process. Both the farmer and the consumer will be benefited largely – quantitatively and qualitatively. Direct sell by the farmers to organized retailers can render them a profit about 60% higher than that via ‘mandi‘ (a big un-organized wholesale /retail market in India) or the middle-man ! This will also check inflation of food items. Moreover, FDI will also ensure adequate storage facilities for food items, improve infrastructure scientifically and transportation facilities.

Like Agriculture, Retailing in India also requires FDI and organized marketing. The quality of the products will be improved and at the same time the price of the retail items will reduce severely. Moreover, it will also generate employment in India. With India’s traditional family system, culture, population and needs, the small retailers will also remain fully functional… but with enhanced accountability – in services and products. It will create a healthy atmosphere for a sustained competitive market.

Other than Agriculture and Retail, FDI will also benefit India to improve its Telecom penetration, Internet affordability, etc. At present, Broadband Services are mainly available in cities only. With better infrastructure and technology, it can be expanded to villages or rural areas at a lesser cost. Growth of Telecom and Internet in India will lead to better Governance, Healthcare, Insurance, Education, etc. This will ensure more and more participation of the common man in day-to-day services or the Public Services of the government. All services can be improved and a better lifestyle can be provided to the common man.

With FDI in Healthcare and Insurance, better care facilities can be provided at a lesser cost in the villages and expert advices can also be effectively delivered through e-health programs. Cost of Medicines will also come down drastically, if the system of generic medicines is adopted in India. In any case, with no middle-man involved, the prices of medicines can be brought down at least by 15-20%. Awareness for insurance schemes – be it life insurance or crop insurance or health insurance – will also greatly benefit the people in general.

What we need is very simple – accountable and transparent services at a better price with growth-oriented policies; create more jobs and provide better services. Political parties – ruling or opposition – must explore maturity levels in understanding the various issues by discussing and debating these in the Parliament, and not on the streets and election rallies ! Nation-wide or state-level strikes must be discouraged outrightly as these activities often spread the wrong message to the unaware folks. Parliament can introduce or change Laws and Institutions such that things can be improved to a larger extent in the interest of the common man.

Many may differ regarding the implementation, policy and the limits of FDI in various sectors. But if FDI brings organized market, with accountability and transparency, then it should be definitely welcomed in India, without any politics.

Recently (May,2013), the Supreme Court of India has aptly remarked that ‘Consumer is King‘ !!!

So, let the consumer decide…

Aamjunta – what do you say ?

Mid-day (Midday) Meals in India – a Challenging Task !

With all the recent tragedies and controversies associated with the Mid-day (Midday) Meal Scheme in Bihar, Odisha, UP, MP, Chattishgarh and other states, many like me must be wondering whether there is a need to re-look at the effectiveness of the scheme and/or whether this program should be stopped altogether. Some say that these are just isolated incidents that happen at times (random theory) and some like Chief Minister (Bihar) Nitish Kumar say that there is a conspiracy behind these incidents !

The ‘mid-day meal in schools’ programme in India that started in 1960 had the main objectives of protecting children against hunger and increasing school-enrolment and/or attendance. Other than these main objectives, mid-day meal programme had also aimed to achieve equality or social harmony among children of various classes and castes, and to provide employment to the unprivileged women. Though the key objectives are still valid in the changed scenario of today’s world, the promotion of social harmony or equality is still a myth !

It is true that there are many points to be discussed, many issues to be solved and many things to be proved or disproved by the Government, by the Officials, by the Media and by the so-called social Intellectuals and human-rights Activists…

Instead of going to the mode of another commentary, let me narrate my own experiences on the mid-day meal scheme.

I studied in a village school in the early eighties. Those days, government schools were the only mode of schooling in many parts of India (a few private English-medium schools, mostly managed by Christian Missionaries were there in the cities). We had three Teachers only to teach five classes/standards, each class/standard having 50-60 students. Teaching curriculum was definitely exhaustive those days. Other than teaching, duties such as preparing voter-lists, census, checking village sanitation, etc., were day-to-day activities of our Teachers.

Like many other schools, we too had mid-day meal programme, though not regularly. There was only one item – wheat kheer (porridge). We used to bring our own utensils from home and assist our Teachers in cooking the meals, cleaning the utensils and bringing the stocks from the local Block or Panchayat office; never received the full-quota – as these offices reserved their shares !

No external help or cook was appointed for this programme.

Every student was asked to bring some firewood from his/her home for the cooking (now I realize, that in fact, it was a punishable offence). I remember, some of my class-mates used to steal firewood from their neighbour’s backyards to avoid harassment in the school.

Since there was no tube-well in the school premises, we used to walk at least 2 km (to and fro) to bring drinking and cooking water; a very tough job during the hot summer and the rainy season.

I still remember… There were some broken-wheat supplied by the government for the programme; at least half of the stock used to go to the Teachers’ homes directly for their own use – like making sweets or feeding their cows ! Oil and Salt were also supplied; more than half of the oil was used at the feasts and for preparing snacks during the School Sub-Inspector’s visit or Village Committee’s visit to the school.

And the quality of the wheat was sometimes horrible; worms were almost certain and it was an every day affair. To handle the mid-day meals in schools, Village Workers and CDPOs (Child Development Project Officers) were appointed by the government. It is true that these officials used to visit school for inspections followed by a grand feast and a holiday for all of us. But these officials also had their shares in the mid-day meal programme !! We or our parents did not know whom to complain ?!? It was therefore hardly discussed even in casual get-together of our parents or guardians.

Speaking about social harmony and equality – there were high differentiations among the students based on castes (at least religion was not involved in our school) even while preparing food, bringing water and eating those meals. This ill trend reportedly continues in some schools even today !!!!

The mid-day meal program has continued for years… worsening day- by-day. For some, it is a business; for some, it is a mode of earning; and for some, it is just a single meal in the whole day !!

Taxpayers’ money is being regularly spent on such a programme, whose effectiveness is much debatable and it is still not made clear who is accountable for these tragedies; no proper monitoring system is yet in place ! There is definitely a huge lack of administration and accountability in this. Officials or Social-Workers, even when enabled with sufficient power, seem to fall short in carrying out or meting their responsibilities, and taking initiatives to prevent mid-day meal tragedies. There is an indifferent attitude in most of the cases – no one is really bothered. And the blame-game goes on as usual…

But is the government only to be blamed ? We too are responsible in many roles as – parents, teachers, village committee members, Sarpanchs, ward-members, officials, social observers, social activists, etc. We have been sleeping on the mega loopholes for years, even though we knew it was meant for our innocent little buds !!

Aamjunta – what do you think? It is time for you to act too…

Maoist Menace in India and Aamjunta

The recent kidnap and hostage drama of the district collector of Malkangiri (Odisha), Er. R. Vineel Krishna and Jr. Engineer Pabitra Majhi has once again opened the Pandora’s box of democracy and governance in India. It is unfortunate that the Maoists had targeted Er. Krishna who has been working effectively and honestly for the Tribals of Malkangiri and that to, after the inauguration of electricity connection to a village after 63 years of India’s independence. On a serious note, this incident once again has proved the lack of coordination between the police and the civil administration. However, on a positive note, the kidnap drama has initiated food for thought among the Tribals for whom the Maosits are working (claiming!), the Politicians – both at the Center and at the States, the Government machinery, the Intellectuals – both anti-Maoists and the sympathizers, and the aamjunta like you and me. If some one carefully observes the reaction of people of Odisha and that of the people of Malkangiri in particular, then certainly one can understand the concern, love and respect of the people for the Collector who has been working selflessly there. In addition, it has increased the frustration of the people against Maoists and their day-to-day interference on public life – by killing, blocking roads, kidnapping and using tactic of bomb-blasts. Overall, the episode of 9-days rather seems to be a positive development. Moreover, it is a learning experience for the Government, corrupt Politicians, Maoists and the Intellectuals.

Killing and kidnapping by the Maoists is not new. They have done this before during their Nayagarh (Odisha) attack in the fateful night of 15th Feb 2008 and other instances. They took the entire town by surprise and nearby villages in their captive for hours, killing policemen mercilessly. Their action on that fateful night and the killing at Nayagarh, Nuagaon and Dasapalla on their way to Phulbani jungles is very much similar to that of Talibans in Afganistan during their march towards Kabul in late 1990s and early 2000. This is just barbaric; no one can justify this kind of barbaric activities. Who gave them the rights to kill innocent people just because they supported the system in place? Interestingly, their leader Mr. Sabysachi Panda under whose leadership Nayagarh attack was hatched, was a local BJD leader before joining Maoists. His father Mr. Ramesh Panda was a long time MLA of Ranpur in Nayagarh. With this kind of background if he does not feel to be a part of the system, then there are many other ways in which he can take part and motivate the people for their rights. Taking the Maoist ideology is not at all the right way. He should have taken a positive clue from the Praja Andolan of Ranpur (to which he belongs) during the independence struggle of India.

Not only Nayagarh or Malkangiri, Maoists are very active in various parts of other states like Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh. The numerous killings at Dantewada or the land mine attack on Chandrababu Naidu’s convoy, or the sabotage of train lines leading to numerous accidents or kidnapping police men, doctors, engineers can never justify their means of struggle.

On an ideological view, the socialistic aim of the Maoisim or Naxalism might be right, but the means of their struggle cannot be justified. Violence, killing people – be the policemen or the aamjunta, just to show strength, calling frequent bandhs and stopping the development activities in the tribal areas cannot be justified as right paths to achieve a socialistic society. These only delay the development process ! Moreover, the Maoists have failed to notice some of the substantial work undertaken for the upliftment of the tribals by some honest men of the land.

Violence alone can never solve their issue; history has proved again and again – in Arab, in Sri Lanka, in Libya, in Myanmar and in many parts of India too. Contrary to that, peaceful struggle with human base and mass agitation can definitely uproot the corrupt government and the officials. It has happened in India in 1947, in Bangladesh in 1971, in South Africa in 1990s and very recently, in Egypt. However, peaceful struggle does not mean to keep silent all the time and to be a silent spectator to all misdeeds of the government; it should be a strong and honest opposition with human base. One has to remember that if the common man can make the government, then it can definitely throw the government out of power.

If development of people is the core issue of Maoist movement, then we need to look at it from all angles – from the Government’s angle, from the NGOs’ perspective and from the people’s view. One will not disagree to the fact that most of the regions where Maoists are active are mostly undeveloped – no road, no education, no sanitation, no electricity and no development for the last 60 years. But, who is responsible for this?….. Only the Government and babus? How can you discount the indifference of the aamjunta of those regions for decades? And how can you discount the politicians of those regions and let them go scot-free for ages? Are not they accountable? Of course, they are… Then why are we silent on that? Moreover, it is not that funds have not been sanctioned for development, rather sanctioned funds have been siphoned to foreign banks, luxury estates, villas and flats in cities. A very small fraction of the sanctioned amount actually reaches there, and some times money also returns without being duly spent.

In addition to funds, Government also encourages its employees by giving extra remuneration for working in those remote areas. But how many of them have worked and how many of them are working? Most of them never go there; the teachers, the doctors, the engineers and even the VC of the Central University works from Bhubaneswar (citing an example in Odisha). All of these are open secrets. It is a collective failure of aamjunta and a conspiracy or callousness of corrupt babus, politicians and greedy middle-men.

It is late, but better late than never. The development programmes have started as evident from the trips of Collector Er. Krishna. Most of the development programmes are directly monitored by officials, the political leadership has realized its mistake and aamjunta of those regions are vigilant. Then why anymore the killing and kidnapping drama? Let every one fight for the common goal – development and continuous development. Let the law of the country takes its own stand – to punish or to reward; we can definitely be a part of the system and expedite the development process. If the babus and politicians are corrupt, then we should be blamed first; we only made them corrupt for our “chalta hai” attitude. Can we stop bribing, start using RTIs, file PILs and keep an eye on our development programmes? Every one should be answerable, and we need to change the method of our opposition and struggle.

The other major change required in this area is the communication of this part with the rest of the world. Other things will come automatically – be that education, sanitation or electricity. Road blocking, bandhs and life-threats will only delay the development process. There is a need for drastic change in the education system in those areas. Remember – education can bring all changes in life as in Chanakya’s era or in Bangabandhu’s era or in Mahatma’s era; history repeats every time.

In addition to all these, there is a strong need of robust reformations in the State defense mechanisms of the Maoist-hit regions. Policemen should also be very well-equipped with modern arms and ammunitions, technology and information system; not with out-dated guns or batons  only as seen in many parts of this region (note: Most of the policemen posted in Maoist regions even do not always keep arms and ammunition with them, and they are advised informally to keep safe of their own.). Medics and para-medics must reach them promptly. Good rewards, citations and recognitions at public ceremonies must be duly commissioned as a salutation of their acts of bravery and priceless sacrifices in protecting the lives of the aamjunta.

As for the surrendered-Maoists, proper rehabilitation centers must be set-up and the State must find suitable employment for them.

The media and the aamjunta have very crucial roles to play in the system, right from creating social awareness and motivating people to guard against an otherwise corrupt and ungrateful system.

Very sensibly and collectively, let us stop politicians, bureaucrats, miscreants, middle-men and goons from hijacking the entire development programme of the land. At this stage, our internal malices, stigmas, and huge corruption with the public funds are menacingly large to enable us to stand as an united India against any external aggression/threat, or to take further leaps towards even pursuing a world-class economy. Its high time for all of us to act in a matured manner… There’s absolutely no more space left for any dilly-dally! Unless we realize and take care of ourselves, no one can do any thing for us. It is an wakeup call for the aamjunta and then the rest.

Jai Hind!

Note: For the benefit/reference of interested readers, this article is a sequel to “Odisha Assam me Hai na!“, an article published by aamjunta.

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