Voting Dilemma- Reinforced Not Resolved !!

The world is about to witness one of the most decisive events of this decade- the curious game of numbers played at by the electorate in the largest democratic system in its upcoming General Elections between April-May, 2014. Regarding various scenarios, I had written an article early this year, titled Aamjunta’s Dilemma – whom to Vote in 2014 ?

Let’s quickly take a look at how things have changed since then behind the curtains…At the moment this is what an aamjunta in India still largely perceives of the stage being thus set for the big play.

Congress – Its status remains quite unchanged. The party now and then harps on various vote-bank tactics and has started fielding hugely tainted candidates just to retain constituencies based on caste-based votes or the like. So the aamjunta and their concerns are all still ignored !

BJP – There is no remarkable improvement in its lack-of-leadership /vision status. Moreover, of late it has started absorbing back big corrupt ex-members despite ‘stiff’ opposition from its senior leaders and this may awfully erode its image !

Another word of caution for BJP- the mesmerizing ‘Modi chant’ may not work everywhere as is also evident from some opinion poll trends after the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate’s recent visit to Odisha. The state’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik who has performed enormously, still continues to reign supremacy. Hearing some lines of Mr. Modi’s speeches during this visit, I personally was rather de-motivated let alone being impressed !!

AAP– It entered the scene with lot of promises and hopes but unfortunately, lost a golden chance at performing in Delhi alone. After forming government there, it started indulging in unweighed decision-making and administratively erroneous methods which are definitely not to be sympathized with lack of time in gaining political maturity. With a good intention, at the beginning it rightly raised several issues against corruption but failed to duly pursue or act upon them and impressively conclude a single big task in that regard. Then recorded in public memory are its usual fruitless efforts of conducting dharnas, andolans, etc. and throwing brickbats at the Delhi Police. As a consequence of its inabilities in governance, now it seems to completely lack any definite set of ideologies for the benefit of the nation as a whole and the temperament to accomplish the expectations of the ‘aam aadmi’. It now merely keeps visiting different states to only criticize respective state governments and generate some easy vote-bank tactics for its ‘aam aadmi’ like riding an auto-rickshaw or a local train.

Wish it got back to its original form and then acted thoroughly on core issues !!

Others – Busy calculating or forming alliances and contemplating creation of a Third-Front which can prove more ruinous !

So for many, the dilemma- ‘whom to vote in 2014 ?’ continues…

Aamjunta – what do you say?

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?

Welcoming Telangana and Seemandhra – what lies next ?

With green signal given by the Lok Sabha to the Telangana Bill, creation of the 29th state of India becomes a reality. Now, Andhra Pradesh is divided into two smaller states – Telangana and Seemandhra (the one which opposed the division of Andhra Pradesh). Though there is a sense of pride and victory by some people of Telangana, the general mood of the people of the region, particularly of Seemandhra, and other parts of India is not happy regarding the way this specific bifurcation was handled and new states are being created.

Most surprisingly, the recent developments which came into light are undemocratic and pathetic !

First, six Honourable MPs (Congress) of Seemandhra issued a no-confidence motion against their own party and the government. They were later expelled. But their grievance was never discussed in the parliament. Neither the parties in power nor the parties in opposition bothered to listen to their dissent.

Second, Pepper Spray was used by Mr. L. Rajagopal on 13th February, 2014 which shamed the Indian democracy and Parliamentary system. His act was merely condemned by the political parties and later, he was suspended. However, he had managed to defend his act on live-TV shows and became an over-night hero in his constituency, Vijayawada (Seemandhra).  Many critics of Seemandhra MPs view their opposition to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh only as a means to safeguard their business investments in parts of Telangana, particularly Hyderabad (its supposed capital) and an election tactics. It is widely alleged that the LANCO business unit in Hyderabad of Mr. Rajagopal was bailed-out by a political pact with the UPA government.

Third, and the most surprising thing is the complete blackout of the debates in the Lok Sabha. It was never seen since the live telecast of Parliament proceedings began in 1996. Hon’ble Speaker says  – it was a technical glitch; BJP says – first, we were unaware of it, then admits it was a “technical glitch”, and then blames it was a “tactical glitch”; Congress – as usual does not say any thing (even the Union Home Minister refused to comment on the blackout) and the rest call it as the “murder” of democracy or stage walkouts. What surprises the aamjunta is the way the Bill was presented and passed; there was no proper debate, no discussion, no clear plan of action for Seemandhra or Telangana, and above all no consideration on the fall-out of this Bill !! Whom should we blame, only the party in power – UPA (Congress in particular)  or the opposition (BJP in particular) or both ? Don’t we see that both of them have tried to use this sensitive and controversial Bill to earn more seats in the next general elections ? It is just “hunger and abuse of power” – both so destructive in nature, especially in the context of a multi-cultural and multi-lingual country like India !

This actually frustrates the common man of this country. Unfortunately, we probably have no option but to elect one of them (Congress or BJP or coalitions led by them) in the future, as the alternatives including Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Third-Front can prove to be more disastrous for this country !!

What would follow are perhaps – Bandhs (strikes) in Seemandhra and other parts of India, fights between various groups of  Andhra Pradesh and Delhi, debates on television and in newspaper columns, and increase in demands for creation of new states in other parts of the country – Koshala in Odisha, Vidarbha in Maharashtra, Harit Pradesh in Uttar Pradesh, Bundelkhand in central India, and Gorkha Land in the east /north-east ! This does not stop there; as it did not stop with the creation of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Goa.

The Pandora’s Box is opened now with many political compulsions, strikes, acts of hate, and various other possibilities including elections and re-elections !

If we analyse the impact of creation of smaller states, we can certainly find two major points – (i) smaller states boost regional parties which are definitely not a healthy sign for a democracy like India and (ii) smaller states bring political instability as in Jharkhand and Goa – 8 Chief Minsters in last 10 years (9  governments in last 13 years) in Jharkhand, and 14 governments in 15 years between 1990 and 2005 in Goa !! The instability can be frequently created by regional parties, especially in a coalition type of government.

Other than the above major points, smaller states give rise to further intolerance, regionalism and selfish motives, which sometimes hinder the growth of India as a whole, and complicate the inter-state relations and distribution of resources – water, mining, dams, power, etc. Likewise, administration and delegation of executive tasks may take a back seat. In this light, one should take thorough note of the detailed analysis in the arduous Srikrishna Committee Report.

Further, such divisions of states in cacophony can also highly complicate the internal security with many neighbours as observed from New Delhi and NCR. Many fear that the anti-Maoist steps being carried out jointly by Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattishgarh, etc. may also get diluted.

As I have mentioned in one of my previous article, the way we are creating smaller states with the above motives and intentions, an European Union model is not ruled out in India in the future – with one or two major partners (states) and many smaller partners (states) with political and financial instability.

Aamjunta needs to awake, arise and take the centre-stage as a voter, implementer, jurist, lawyer, businessman, student, teacher, social activist and others – for, by and of India. We need to go beyond the selfish intention of small states and think of an united India only, without which our existence will be at stake.

It is now obvious that the selfish political parties will instigate us on the differences in languages, religions and region-specific development. But the choice is ours; whether or not to fall in their line !

Aamjunta – what do you say and how do you react ?

Chanakya’s  (370–283 BC) “akhanda Bharat” (undivided India) is becoming “khanda Bharat” (divided India) !!  “Uttistha Bharata” (Arise India) !!!

Jai Hind…

Other articles on Regional Politics in India:

1. Regional Political Parties – danger to Democracy and India?

2. Yes to Telangana – Opening of the Pandora’s Box or another European Union !!

Alternative Public Transport in India – an Introspection

As a child, I hardly played with dolls or soft-toys; they don’t impress me even now. Rather I was always fascinated with motors, particularly cars. Later it became my hobby to collect such images (including jeeps, fighter-crafts, yachts and ships) and often I used to list the cars and jeeps that I would own some day…… 🙂

But with the ever increasing numbers (of both human-beings and vehicles) and pollution, at the core of my heart, I now hesitate to own a car or use it UNLESS the distance to be travelled is
– long or
– wearisome or
– amidst a rough weather or
– during an emergency or
– through deserted areas or
– made at nightfall or
– taken by parents-with-kids, the ill and the elderly.

Otherwise on an average course, like many I too believe that Bicycles, Trams and Tongas (also solar-powered vehicles) can be a great reliever of our city traffic woes ! These also drastically reduce instances of accidents !!! Moreover, while Bicycling is a good exercise, Trams and Tongas cast a very aesthetic and classic look. Further, both children and adults learn to appreciate the service of horses pulling a Tonga (or of camels pulling certain type of Carts), thus ultimately becoming compassionate towards these creatures.

Consider India’s IT-hub, Bangalore. The new Metro Rail services here are still like a joy-ride; even after so many years of planning and construction activities, it is limited to few spots only. The rate of completion is extremely slow compared to the growth of the city in terms of extension of areas, increase in commercial centres and population. Moreover, the city is blemished with half-laid flyovers, subways, dug soil, pot-holes, etc., which only add to further inconveniences of the citizens, particularly in the rainy season.

Moreover, presently only a few spots are merely planned (i.e. yet to be implemented) for dedicated Bicycle lanes and zones. These lanes must be at a standard height and evenly laid. Then remains the much arduous task of designing, building and maintaining efficient parking areas and abating public nuisance !! The city authorities have also reserved a good future proposal of charging vacant seats in private vehicles plying on the road to check increase in number of cars.

If Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi can progress well in enhancing public transport, then why cannot Bangalore or other cities ? Where are the loop-holes ?

A recent international study shows Kolkata to be the most progressive city in India, when it comes to public transport. Apart from the usual Trains, it has a wonderful Metro Rail service. The intermediate public transport system comprises of variety of Buses, age-old Trams, Taxis, Auto-rickshaws and Rickshaws.

I think collaborations with Japan, Singapore and some European countries can help us a lot in this regard; they already have excellent public transport systems in place along with proper usage of smart-cards.

Mushkeel Hai Par Namoomkeen Nahi‘ (difficult but not impossible) – especially when one seriously thinks about decreasing or preventing current levels of pollution, and conserving the atmosphere, land as well as other natural resources for our future folks, and implementing stricter law and order to literally pave a smooth way ! Whether directly or indirectly, does not all these take care of several big and significant social parameters ?

Hence, it is famously said that a progressive or developed nation is one where citizens are able to mostly use a good public transport system. From my personal observation during a three-month stay in an European country, I found its citizens to travel to work on all the days of the week by availing the public transport system. Even the super-rich drove their Lamborghinis only on weekends or holidays, or on special occasions. Inspiring, indeed !

Back at home, we have a long way to go. The obstacles are all not because of the huge population or inadequate infrastructure or financial deficiencies but primarily, we have to collectively change our attitude in this regard. Elucidating this point, it simply means that if my neighbour buys a car today then I should not fall into a rat-race of owning one similar or of higher price; rather I must explore ways or continue to use the public transport system best available to me and also encourage others in the society to do so by citing the above mentioned reasons. Likewise, I must actively participate in promoting or developing such a transport system that is supported by the administration of the city or town I reside. In short, my gratefulness towards Mother Earth and concern for the future generations must be carefully set on a much higher level than my vanity to flaunt my riches; I must remember ‘the dust from where I sprang’.

Wonder if we can get to see this picture in most Indian cities in our lifetime…!

Aamjunta – what do you say?

Delightful Diwali but… NO crackers, Please !!

Over the years in the Indian subcontinent, we have celebrated Deepavali or Diwali by lighting clay lamps and bursting fire-crackers to drive away evil spirits.

Now, let’s reflect from a different but existing interpretation from our ancient holy texts. It is the festival of lights, which signifies a “consciousness of the Inner Light- the Atma” dispelling ignorance and also generating compassion for all beings.

Looking at things around in this age, one can observe with a little insight that any unmeasured or unconsidered practice of bursting fire-crackers can fatally harm, aggravate and disturb four major cases of life on Earth –

1. already high levels of pollution
2. conditions of ailing people (particularly, the heart-ached or migraine-affected)
3. the common man living on the streets or slums, or awfully needing to rush his/her child, aged-parents, spouse, relative, friend to the hospital
4. creatures living on the ground or underground

Many of us have ourselves confronted these situations or watched others helplessly struggling against it. Is not it then our responsibility to check the way we celebrate Diwali and also educate the younger generations?

Let us care a little for Mother Earth and ALL beings living on it. Human beings are the highest kind of intelligent animals here. Therefore, as long as it is within our control, we should avoid killing or hurting even lower and weaker life forms; we should rather strive to protect them.  FOREMOST, we can surely try and make things Safe, Secured and Clean !!! That would in fact bring us closest to attaining the real “ananda” or “rejoice of the Inner Light”…

Lets make it a festival of lights for all; not festival of darkness for some !

Wishing everyone a truly Delightful Diwali.

Aamjunta – what do you say?

Eunuch or ‘Hijra’ – the third sex in India

Before delving into our current title, I would like to make a small note on three important (re-)defined terms which I came across reliable sources in the internet: Gender, Gender Equality and Gender Mainstreaming.

Gender: Prior to John Money’s work in 1955, the word “gender” was commonly used to refer to grammatical categories only. Gradually, as various sociological contexts were understood or emerged, this term also evolved in its definition. It now assimilates the aspects of biological sex (i.e., male or female or inter-sex), social roles (as the Hijra of India and Pakistan) or gender identity. In simple terms, it distinguishes between masculinity and feminity in a broader socio-cultural context which is also time-specific. The socio-cultural contexts include considerations for class, race, ethnic group, age and poverty level.

Gender Equality: It means that rights, needs, interests, resources, responsibilities, protection and opportunities (including decision-making) must be equal for all, irrespective of their sex or socio-cultural diversity. The United Nations Millennium Project that aims to end world poverty by 2015 claims that no society can develop in a “sustainable” manner unless it is modelled on gender equality.

Gender Mainstreaming: It is the process of integrating a gender perspective into all policies, legislations, programmes and activities in political, societal and economic spheres, at all levels, to transform that which generates or perpetuates gender inequality. Therefore, the ultimate aim of this socialisation process is to achieve gender equality.

Now, coming to the topic…

The eunuch or Hijra (in Hindi) is usually considered as a social stigma in India. Though the concept of “third sex” or “tritiya prakriti” exists in India from its ancient era, it was formally recognized in India in 1994. At present, “third sex” is being recognized in India with an option to identify them as “Eunuch (E)” on Passports and on certain other documents. However, it is yet to be accommodated fully in all other departments. Though there are efforts seen within and outside the Government to grant the basic civil rights to the eunuchs, it is still discriminatory in many cases. For example, in 2003, the Election Commission of India did not allow eunuchs to vote, unless they identified themselves either as male or female. In 2009, three eunuchs were not allowed to contest election, citing the very same rule- male or female.

The discrimination towards eunuchs is not new in modern India. During the British Raj, authorities attempted to eradicate eunuchs, citing them as a breach of public decency. Eunuchs were labelled as criminal tribe and were placed under the Criminals Tribe Act, 1871. They were subjected to compulsory registration, monitoring and stigmatized. However, on a positive note, independent India de-notified this in 1952; still the century-old stigma continues which labels the Hijra only as a social role and not as a “third sex”.

For their survival, the Hijras have developed a secret language called Hijra Farsi, which has a sentence structure loosely based on Urdu and a unique vocabulary of at least thousand words. Beyond the Urdu-Hindi speaking areas of the Indian subcontinent, this vocabulary is still used by the Hijra community within their own native languages.

On a socio-economic analysis, eunuchs in India live at the margins of the society, with a derogatory reference to the term Hijra. Hijras are not defined by specific sexual orientation, but rather by renouncing sexuality altogether. Many believe that their sexual energy is transformed into sacred powers. For this very reason, the Hijras were employed in royal houses and during ‘hom’ (a Hindu ritual of making holy offerings) in the past. Until even a few years back, the Hijras were invited by rich families /landlords to distribute sweets and clothes to the poor during festivals or bless a bride on the day of her wedding. But in reality – Hijras are today often self-employed as prostitutes for survival reasons.

It is often noticed that without any major employment opportunity and social acceptance, eunuchs in general get their income by begging, sex-work, working as escorts, performing ceremonies, etc. Study conducted by Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka in 2003, is an eye-opener in many forms. Without any social acceptance and with the discrimination in health-care, education, employment, income, housing, legal and social justice, etc., eunuchs in India are forced to live in sub-standard conditions and in inhuman life style. With a eunuch population of 10 lakh or more, and with such little efforts, the acceptance of the “third sex” in the Indian main stream is a dream that may not be fulfilled at all in the near future. Unless a comprehensive civil rights legislation is enacted to offer eunuchs the same protection and rights as guaranteed to the two other forms of biological sex i.e. male and female, nothing can be expected from the society.

The religious India however treats the Hijras in a different form – the bahuchara mata in Gujarat, a form of ardha-nari-swar (Lord Shiva and Parvati) and the aravanis in Tamil Nadu. On a different note, beginning 2006, eunuchs were engaged to accompany Patna city revenue officials to collect unpaid taxes, receiving a 4-percent commission. India’s first eunuch legislator, 40-year-old Shabnam Maushi joined the mainstream politics in the state of Madhya Pradesh in the year 2000. The success story of Shabnam Maushi has encouraged other eunuchs in India, resulting in more of their participation in Indian politics and policy-making as Mayors, Legislators, Councillors, etc. But surely, more remains to be achieved for them in any advanced civil society.

Moreover, as Gender Mainstreaming is gaining momentum in India, we should therefore no more ignore the eunuch or Hijra… but respectfully treat them and work for their well-being at par with every other strata in our society.

Aamjunta – What do you say?

Socialism in India – Some Ground Realities

A guest article by a fellow aamjunta

Implementation of socialism – whatever be its form or type – without properly educating (not just formal Degrees) the targeted audience, will always be a disaster anywhere in this world !!

I am now of the opinion that Socialism, whatsoever be the form or type, would be perhaps unwise to implement to the fullest extent in our country.

I have always tried to the best of my capacity, to extend all possible help and uphold fair treatment towards the section of Domestic Workers – during childhood under the guidance of my parents, then during working years in a self-motivated way and now, with more inspiration and support from my family-in-law. Irrespective of the communities and cities they come from, I find most of these people get disoriented from work at some point of time. Then they suddenly become highly ungrateful, rude or may be even disloyal to any extent !

I don’t buy the argument that disparity in wealth is the reason. Here are my observations regarding this point.

This section of people I am particularly talking about were initially in poverty and they have been through lot of struggle. Some of these families now control agricultural plots and/or produces. When they stepped out seeking work, there was no sign of disengagement from society, no resentment or a rebellious tone. They were rather focussed, sincere and polite. Hope bloomed in their lives in the form of better employment, they toiled and they prospered; they were able to send their kids to standard schools and colleges. They could avail most of the welfare schemes launched by the respective governments. In general, their living standards improved.

But almost all of them, at one point, still seem to lose their base… their humble connection to the soil or rather say, roots. They think they have become mega-haves, and it does not matter whether their achievements were by right or lucky charm or some sort of vote-bank politics or by their hard efforts.

This year, the Indian festival of Teej (Gowri Habba /Tay /Bali Trutiya) was on a Sunday, followed by Ganesh Chaturthi the next day. Our Cook had obtained an approved Leave for both the occasions, mainly to observe fasting. I also agreed to accommodate her preparing our dinner for Tuesday on the same day morning as she expressed her desire to celebrate her younger son’s birthday in the evening. The same schedule was also supposed to be repeated on Friday for her elder son. I also offered her half-duty on both these ‘birthday’ occasions so that she could make it early to her household and prepare well. Even Saturday’s ‘rotiz‘ (Indian bread) at dinner were agreed to be made during the day time, if it was not possible to do so in the evening.

All these, assuming traffic and unpredictable rain while her festival-shopping would be on. Things looked fine till Saturday late afternoon when I became doubtful… I called her up to ensure that she comes in the evening to at least make the ‘rotiz‘ for dinner. This especially because all the three ‘tavaas‘ (flat pans) in my kitchen got seasoned as per her expertise, including the non-stick ones which were reduced to raw pieces of iron plates – I just could not further manage making ‘rotiz‘ using them !

She did not respond to my three calls, though paced at good intervals. Thankfully somehow, my fourth call was received amidst hullabaloo of many busy bees (kids). Thinking that she might be shopping for the festival, I went on to ask her “when are you coming today evening ?… its fine even if you come at 10:30” (11:00 PM being her last slot and by her own suitable choice). Without any hesitation or an iota of guiltiness, she promptly replied “kyaaa Didi, ek din nahi khane se nahi chalega ???… aap bhi vrat kar lijiye naa !” (“Didi (an address to an elder sister in many Indian languages), can’t you skip meal for a day… you too can observe a fast !”)

I lost my cool for a few seconds. Not because I was bent upon having ‘rotiz‘ at dinner but the reason was that my generosity seemed to be unhesitatingly taken for a ride !! My granting extra Leaves or spontaneously agreeing to let my palate chew cold ‘rotiz‘ were not the only signs of free-handedness towards someone whose labour I equally respected like mine or anybody from the upper echelons of the society; there have been considerable ones- small and big, over the months.

Managing to quickly gather myself, I said “aap bhi ek kam kijiye- yahan aake khana banaiyye aur kuch khaa lijiye…ek din vrat rakh kar kya milega !” (“you too do one thing- come here, cook and do eat something…what would you gain by fasting just for a single day!”)

She perhaps understood the sarcasm. She then muttered that she would make it in the evening, which of course she did, though much reluctantly. And as if I was the person responsible for the incomplete cleaning activities in regard with the festival at her house !

I am sure all of us keep facing these type of situations in our daily lives in India- big or trivial…

These are not just isolated incidences. As I am preparing to launch my ideas and goals to improve lives of such classes of people in our society, these incidences in fact de-motivate me, weaken me. I am stuck with such confusion that it sometimes make me ponder for days if I am doing justice to all the other strata by attempting to uplift the plight of these folks… would I be really helping these under-privileged people in bettering their lives or simply fuelling their recklessness, vanity and ego ? Is the improvement in their financial and social conditions teaching them some sort of defiance in the wrong context ? Would this dwarf trend one day grow up into a big giant ?

These people are known to stir the most touchy heart-to-heart conversations, be the protagonists of almost all the famous writers and poets of the world, subjects of famous revolutions, real strength of kings and emperors, nature’s most admired children….. Now, where is that wonderful emotion gone ? Why these type of lackadaisicalness from the same folks ?!

These type of indifferent attitude and lack of work ethics is not limited to the  un-organized sector as illustrated above. Therefore, I do not see how moulding an un-organized sector into an organized one can help promote simple affairs of the heart ! And we are perhaps concerned more about those values and less about scheduled performances routinely guided by brains.

So, is it the absence of education (the intellectual or emotional wealth) in their families and communities ?

Perhaps, socialism minus education will always act in the negative direction. It will perturb the society even more. It is quite similar to saying that power corrupts without sanity !!! In the realistic world, it would be perhaps wiser to have two groups- one, that of educated and financially privileged people and the other, of rustic simpletons toiling hard, than to form a society based on all equal terms for every strata BUT minus the most effective factor of progress- education, whether of formal degrees or of moral lessons !

Its high time to quickly check Maslow’s pyramid vis-a-vis education, and may be along with a few other factors recommended by social scientists, psychiatrists, social activists, government authorities and other stakeholders. This is very much required, at least, in the present Indian scenario !

Aamjunta — what do you think ?

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…

Drifting Spirits

Whether it is Amarnath Yatra or Haj or any other pilgrimage, a few concerns have always bothered some of us !!

It is a fact that at some point in life, even some atheists among us tend to become extremely religious or try to take a spiritual discourse. This is a natural thing. Therefore, I am not at all opposed to such sentiments or pilgrimages. But linked to it, there are some concerns regarding Safety of the public and strength or mobilization of the Forces which must be primarily addressed.

Nothing should gain priority or significance to these two aspects.

Religion or such holy belief is only a way to realize or connect to God- whatever be the name. It is not universal. There may be some religions in the world still unknown to us. When compared to other religions or beliefs, some seem so simple or have such less followers that it may cast a doubt on its spiritual pursuit or existence even; these also tend to be forcibly preached in all possible ways.

Yet, religious fervour cannot be more than the awareness of public safety and a sense of national security. Because in its very essence, no successful religion has ever ignored such concerns of humanity and patriotism, and still claimed spiritual connection with the Almighty- that’s just not possible. Every page of history also proves this fact.

Let us consider the major pilgrimages of Uttarakhand- Amarnath, Badrinath, Kedarnath.

It is a treacherous terrain, and the rainy season further adds to its woes and makes it terribly unfriendly. First of all- the people, then the religious leaders, and the government should be very careful about such pilgrimages. The meteorological department may advise against a bad weather but no doubt, the initiative and go-ahead of pilgrimages always comes from the three classes I just mentioned. Such programs must be strictly limited to the summer months, however less counts of pilgrims turn up. Because a huge disaster like the recent one, causes not only loss of lives but also lot many inconveniences across societies. Some are not that candid.

The foremost of them being the burden on our already drained Forces. They are as such deficient in personnel with respect to the number, variety and quality of tasks they have to shoulder- foiling infiltration bids, counter-terrorism activities, watching the borders 24/7 right from Siachen to Kanya Kumari, serving as Commandos, building infrastructure in harsh terrains, some civilian utility jobs requiring military expertise, etc., etc. Even if a kid falls into a bore-well pit, the Army is called. Internally, they too deal with Maoism and other criminal activities daily. It has been gnawing at our roots since long. Our men, women, kids and environment- nothing is safe now.

Unfortunately, we also do not have enough of Police forces and the much needed infrastructure to address the ongoing issues. The state has failed to empower the Forces both in terms of number and might for various reasons, notably among it are huge corruption and red-tapeism. The Forces undergo a hard training and notwithstanding facilities or allowances, take home less salary than the white-collared jobs. During any crisis, they are the ones to first bear the bullets and their families are also awfully affected. Well, some may argue on the very selfless nature of their jobs.

But… when it is possible, why can we not avoid such unnecessary burden on our Forces and call for priceless sacrifices ?

In my opinion, spiritual realization or any similar enlightenment can be attained in other ways also. For example, helping the poor is a service to mankind and hence, a service or reverence to the Almighty. Howsoever ardent I might be, I cannot justify myself in unnecessarily straining our Forces (or unduely risking other people’s lives) because I have to be at Amarnath to “see” God or fulfil the final religious mission of my life. This especially, when my society needs their assistance much more than I do…when my country’s porous borders need to be guarded by them day and night, without the blinking of an eye…when and where I know I cannot practically help them in any way irrespective of nature’s whims.

This becomes crucial to consider that till date, we do not have a robust national defence strategy whether or not under a single command. How do we then quickly mobilize our Forces (on massive civilian duty) if there is an urgent demand on the borders ?

Therefore, it is my sincere request to aamjunta to consider such issues while opting for a pilgrimage. In this ultra-modern era, we are supposed to be aware of the climate, the routes, the political situation at a place, the possibility of such a journey, the probability of a disaster, the repercussions, etc. In a comparatively good situation, there may not be constraints. The pilgrimages shall be smooth. But thinking about the boiling situations in which we are caught, then at least, let us re-instate our Forces in an indirect way by choosing a safer path. It may be a charitable work or a visit to a holy shrine nearby.

Let us – keep it simple; focus on the Almighty and our spiritual quest; serve the society; strengthen our Motherland.

What are your views aamjunta ?

Little things, Big values

When you visit a friend having a kid, its usual to carry a chocolate for the little one… But its disappointing to hear some parents remark rudely at that very instance of gifting (sometimes as early as when you have just hinted that there’s a chocolate for the kid in your bag or pocket or hand) – “hum chocolate NAHI khaate (we don’t eat chocolates)… /we DON’T like chocolates… /arreyyy, aapne KYUU laya ye sab, already itna problems chal raha hai uske dnaath ko leke (WHY have you bought all these, we are already troubled with the kid’s tooth)” !

Well, we (guests) are aware that the child may not ultimately have it owing to tooth or some digestion issues. But the host (parents of the child) needs to know and also teach the child why and how to refrain from the gift temporarily or whatsoever, and never to disregard the guest’s affection.

Some may suggest getting dry-fruits, cookies, fruits, etc. Well, if chocos can dent the teeth, so will cookies & dry-fruits ! Moreover, plain chocos will melt away and not sit in the tooth-cavities; dry-fruits will doubly harm by way of grinding and sitting in the cavities. 🙂  A kid may not realize to clean it or clean it at the earliest ! As for fruits – kids will simply throw it away for obvious reasons, and parents would not have a role to play here- good or bad. Because the kid itself is in denial mode. We are talking of a situation in which the kid is in acceptance mode and the parents are in a denial mode on the same stuff. Afterwards, some people may also comment “bachche ke liye kuch bhi nahi laye, wo kya fruits khaate hain (the guests didn’t get anything for our kids; do kids like fruits) ?” 🙂  Moreover, many people can’t afford fruits nowadays- this, as I am considering all classes in our society. The option of fruits is a healthy suggestion though. But without chocolates, there can be no melting mazaa (fun) ! 🙂

A similar situation happens when you present sweets and discover someone is diabetic or extremely calorie-conscious !! Guests usually arrive with something namkeen (salty snacks) in addition, if they know beforehand about the diabetic condition. Irrespective of the namkeen, the sweets can always be refrigerated to be eaten moderately or tasted and offered to other visitors. How does it matter as long as the generosity of guests serves the purpose of the host for whom they have after all cared this way !!

However, such giving away of “presented” gifts, whether or not to refrain from it, should not be immediate or outright. I remember that I had once been to a friend’s kid’s birthday party. Since I had a busy day and could not go to any mall to buy anything special, I opted for a big multi-variety chocolate product of a leading brand that I luckily found in a bakery on my way. I was already late for the party and on reaching, I found that there were several games going on. For one of these, three prizes were enthusiastically declared by the gorgeous hostess. When it was over, I was surprised to observe, unintended though, that the first prize given was nonchalantly drawn from the heap of gifts by her. And unfortunately it was ‘my chocolate gift’, which now appeared as if it was a mere trash among the other items that were rather big and colourfully wrapped in sparkling papers. I thought to myself, what a meaningless Namaste welcomed us !! Such parties always have games and a good hostess must not overlook the arrangement of prizes or return-gifts. Some time back, I and another friend happened to discuss a similar topic. He was of the opinion that some hosts do it that way not because they are indifferent to the guests or gifts but because that’s an economical way of hosting the party to the fullest extent ! 😦

The other callous ways of some hosts are when the item becomes sort of a flying-disc or football or lies simply unattended even after you have left the place. If you have been very sincere and keen about the gift while purchasing or if its an expensive one, then while leaving the doorstep of the host, even a faint glimpse of it will literally bleed your heart… “hai Ram, bekaar mein uthaake layee main (Oh God, got this for no reason)… /kyuu laya main isko idhar (why did I get it here at all)… ?!?”  Too late, boss… 🙂

Whether it is chocolates, cookies, dry-fruits, fruits, sweets, namkeen, a dress or colour pencils- the point is on knowing and also teaching the child how to say a polite ‘no’ and never to hurt the guest’s sentiments; it is immaterial what the guest presents as long as it suits the occasion ! As parents, we should not be over-protective or egoistic; rather we should educate children to respect the society as a whole. Such aspects, in the long run, will definitely help the budding generation to understand the older ones and to care for them, no matter what their rank or status is.

So folks, isn’t it better and decent on part of all parents to teach the child with a smile rather something like “say- thank you Aunty /Uncle b-u-t… we will relish it later… /I will have it when I grow up a bit… /I would be able to enjoy it after I am through my tooth or digestion issues…” ? And then actually show the kid to store it in a refrigerator to be either eaten later or offered to someone else. If the gift is a non-edible type, then also a similar step can be taught. For example, a dress whose colour you don’t like or which is under-size for the kid, can be either exchanged at the shop with approval of the guest or in case that is not possible, donated to someone needy. Till then, it should be properly kept in the wardrobe. That way, the kid also learns how not to waste things or how to bring under-utilized stuff to better usage.

It may seem trivial to us, the so-called grown-ups. But these things can have a big implication on the EQ of children as they gradually learn life’s ways and then mature into adults one fine day ! Why expect their sense and sensibilities to bloom over-night ?!!? Let’s nurture it right from now on, whether it is a small or a big thing…..

What do you suggest, aamjunta… ?

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