Thursday, 12 February 2009

Clash of cultures?

Check out the following item:

GULMARG: Angry crowds blocked the main road to Gulmarg on Sunday as massive protests continued to rock the north Kashmir resort town and adjoining areas, a day after police detained a Swedish skier for hurting Muslim religious sentiments.
Henz Patrick, in his 30s, was detained after locals protested that he was using a ski slider with Quranic verses inscribed on it.
While grand mufti Bashir-ud-din's call for forgiving the Swede — the Mufti met Patrick late ON Sunday evening — led to the blockade being lifted, the protests have spread to Srinagar.
On Sunday morning, rumours that Patrick was part of an Israeli-led skiing group particularly inflamed passions. Raising anti-Israel slogans, angry people blocked the main road to Gulmarg at Tangmarg for several hours.
A police officer said some protesters gathered outside the famed Gulmarg Gandola, Asia's highest and longest cable car project, leading to suspension of its operations for some time.
In his statement, Patrick said his wife, an Arab from Qatar, had given him a good luck sticker with Quranic inscriptions, which is the first 'Kalima' of the scripture. It was this sticker pasted on his slider that kicked up a ruckus. Patrick said he there was no malicious intent on his part.
What does it show? A big disconnect. The man meant well. He pasted the sticker, given to him by a woman he loved on an item he valued.
But look at the reaction. Why did that happen? For in the east, anything that we hold important, or should I say holy, is not displayed on our feet, or put on something we step on.
The skier apologised and all was forgiven.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

More than a meal

By Shree Venkatram

The future of India lies in the health of her children. The latest Human Development Report shows that 47 per cent children are underweight. Over 34 per cent of Indians live on less than Rs 40 a day. The mid-day meal (MDM) scheme is thus a necessity. It is an investment the country makes in the health of its children. But unfortunately, the government’s implementation of the scheme leaves much to be desired in most parts of the country.

Recently, some of our young MPs — keen to understand the malnutrition situation in the country — made jaunts to a few states. Meanwhile, there was a hare-brained suggestion from some quarters to replace a fresh MDM with packed food — like biscuits. Our leaders feel that by doing away with the hot meal,they would be stemming the corruption found to be associated with the programme. It is akin to killing a person because of an ailing organ. It would be funny, if it were not appalling, to see how ignorant some of our leaders are of a government scheme working well in some parts of the country. The advocates of packed meals should visit some villages in Tamil Nadu to see for themselves what a fresh, hot meal can do. The formula adopted by those schools running a successful MDM scheme leaves little room for corruption and has dramatically improved the quality of the meal.

What is this magic remedy? It is the involvement of the mothers of the children in the MDM programme. Along with the teachers, they have a say in the purchase and storage of the food items. The mothers’ group of each school selects from among themselves those who will cook and serve the meals. The cooking is done on the school premises and they ensure that each child gets a hot meal of rice, sambhar and greens or koottu (mixed vegetables). The child carries a plate to school and after eating, washes and takes it home to bring it again the next day.

The scheme is working so well that the balanced nutritious meal comes for (hold your breath) just Rs 5 a day for each child. Tamil Nadu has an MDM committee, which has drawn up a weekly menu, providing for variety and ensuring that the children get balanced nutritious meals. The involvement of the mothers in the meal programme has had many positive spin-offs. Their presence on the school premises and the constant and regular monitoring by the state authorities ensure that teachers do not absent themselves from work and classes are run on a regular basis. The INDUS project launched by the Indian government in 21 districts of the country to eliminate child labour has found that involving mothers in the MDM programme has brought the children into schools faster than any other scheme. In districts with high instances of child labour like Virudhunagar and Namakkal for example, involving the mothers has promoted teacher-parent interaction, thus benefiting the child. In some areas, NGOs have joined hands with the government in running special schools for mainstreaming child labourers. Some of them have managed to raise additional resources so that each child can be given a glass of milk or a mid-morning snack. In some of these special schools, an afternoon snack in the form of a cup of groundnuts, cooked beans or Bengal gram has been introduced providing an additional helping of much-needed protein. The mothers involved in the cooking programme are given a monthly stipend, which goes into augmenting the household income. Another big plus is that children from different religions and castes eat food cooked and served from a common pot. They sit together, breaking bread, and caste barriers. So let us hand over the reins of the MDM programme elsewhere in the country too to the mothers. They will ensure that their children get adequate nutrition and also attend school regularly. At stake is much more than a mid-day meal scheme.
The writer is a consultant with the International Labour Organisation.

The article first appeared in The Times of India

Saturday, 7 February 2009

When the media neglects

The Media on dowry

The Media seems totally disinterested in the issue of dowy. Though dowry has such a vital hold on the lives of Indian families, the media finds no time or place for it.

As a chronicler of contemporary society, the amount of time and space the media gives to an issue shows what it feels is important. When dowry is off its radar, the impression given is that it is not important.

It is only when an 'event' like the Nisha Sharma case happens, that the there is a rush of storites. But now there is silence again....

Should an event be the only point of reference for the journalist? Can't she or he see a story in the way life is lived?

The new face of dowry

by Shree Venkatram

Dowry: Age-Old Tradition or Contemporary Cruelty?

Three years after Gudiya's marriage, Bina is still repaying the Rs 30,000 ($660)she took as loan to buy her daughter's dowry. When Gudiya left for her marital home, she took with her: a double bed, an almirah (traditional Indian wooden chest), a dressing table, a TV, a washing machine, utensils, gold jewelry and a suitcase full of new clothes for her and her in-laws.
But in the slum where she lives, Bina does not even have a bed, let alone a washing machine. However, she had to give one to her daughter’s in-laws when they demanded it. The total expenditure for the wedding was over Rs one lakh approximately $2,230), 33 times the amount of money Bina makes per month as a housemaid in Delhi. The amount includes Rs 70,000, ($1,550) all that she and her carpenter husband had saved over the course of 15 years. Bina has already started worrying about finding funds for her second daughter,Babina’s, wedding. “Who will marry her without dowry?” she asks. And so the family will eat only one meal a day and cut down on other necessities so that three years from now, when Babina is 20, there will be some money available.
Even in poor homes, marriage expenses can run into several hundred thousands of rupees. In better-off homes, dowry might include a car, furniture and furnishings for a new home, expensive jewels, and a wedding feast for several hundred friends and relatives in a five-star hotel.
The monetary hardship that dowry brings can be directly linked to the astonishingly skewed female to male ratio (in some districts, there are as few as 800 females to every 1,000 males). In many cases, the birth of a daughter is a fate to be avoided at all costs; foeticide and infanticide are all too prevalent. Families who do raise their female children spend just the bare minimum on her education and often neglect her health needs; money must be saved for her dowry, whatever the cost.
At one time, dowry was only practiced by upper caste Hindus who gave gifts of clothes and jewelry to their daughter at the time of her wedding. The movable property, perceived as her share from her natal home, was made available to her when she left for her marital home. The in-laws welcomed her with gifts that were to match what she had received from her parents; this was to show equality in status. Gifts were also exchanged between members of the two families to cement their ties.
In Bangalore, Three to Four Newly Married Women Die Every Day
But over time, especially in the last three to four decades, a practice that once signified paternal love, has become ugly, vicious, and deadly. Thousands of young women have been tortured and murdered at the hands of husbands and in-laws, greedy for unearned wealth in the form of dowry. Official records in the South Indian city of Bangalore show three to four newly married women die unnatural deaths every day. In the capital city of Delhi, Ms. Vimla Mehra, Joint Commissioner of Police, Crime Against Women Cell, says she received over 8,000 complaints from women in 2003, a majority of them related to dowry.
Although a law passed in 1961 forbidding the dowry system, there have been hardly any convictions since that time. Young women who did not bring dowry up to the husband and in-laws’ satisfaction were tortured until their parents gave into the demands. Many women were, and are, driven to suicide. A sinister and rising trend is newly married women dying after catching fire from kitchen stoves. These deaths are being passed off as accidents or suicides, leaving the husband free to marry again and get more dowry. Under pressure from women’s groups, amendments to the law were made in 1983 and 1986, broadening the definition of cruelty, putting the onus on the accused, and providing for a minimum of seven years of imprisonment for dowry murder.
But laws have proved ineffective and dowry’s stranglehold on Indian society has only become stronger now that tribal and matrilineal communities, who previously never gave dowry, are adopting the custom. “It is truly a secular custom now,” comments Brinda Karat, president of the All-India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA.
According to a recent extensive study, dowry has spread in the length and breadth of the country. Bina may be a Christian, and her daughter may have married in a church, but when it came to putting together the dowry, there is no difference between Bina and her Hindu neighbors or the Muslim families living in her slum cluster.
Feminists, social activists, and reformers are truly alarmed. Breaking the practice is proving extremely tough. While on one hand they work at educating the girl child and providing for inheritance rights for women, century old customs prove difficult to break. There have been instances of women who got married without dowry being denied any right to property in their natal home by their parents. Take Geeta, for example. She got married without dowry to a man of her choice. Before his death, her father willed his entire property to her two brothers, giving her no share.
On the other hand, rising materialism, consumption, and advertising power continue to boost the practice of dowry. It is seen as a get-rich-quick facility exploited by the groom’s family. Goods the groom’s family have seen and desired, but not been able to afford, are demanded from the girl’s side.
Marriage is big business in India—estimated to be a Rs 50 billion (about $1.1 billion). A mega mall, devoted to the business of marriage, is coming up in a Delhi suburb, Gurgoan. Delhi recently saw a couple of fairs at luxury hotels that sold lavish 16-course wedding dinners, luxury cruises and honeymoons abroad,exorbitant designer wear and jewelry at mind-boggling prices. Is it the new face of dowry?
First published in

Friday, 6 February 2009


Had a lot of problem locating my blog. It just disappeared. Found it after a lot of difficulty. Does this happen often?

Sunday, 1 February 2009

The condom chant

I was happy to read the following newsitem:
Condom ringtone launched in India (published at the end of this post)

As a development communicator, I find it is very difficult to get people to change their attitudes. How do you go about it? One way is to make the uncomfortable, the taboo subject or word part of everyday vacabulary, make it commonplace.
I was happy to see the condom and the parrot ad on TV. It is done with a sense of fun and I am so glad that they put the sari clad mami in.
When I started out in journalism, way back in the late Seventies, the chief reporter, (now they call the breed Metro Editor) threw a fit when I used the word 'rape' in a news report. He struck it out and wrote "outraged a woman's modesty". I objected. "The phrase in no way states what the word 'rape' does," I told him. He said, "Our's is a respectable paper, we do not use words like that!" Even in the late Seventies and early Eighties, Delhi saw a number of incidents of rape. and everytime I reported on a case I used the word 'rape'. He finally stopped crossing it out!

Sexual harassment was referred to as 'eve-teasing', a terrible expression that masks the enormity of the crime and the way a woman feels when she is sexually harassed. I am glad to see that the terrible phrases have been knocked off from our vocabulary and reportage. Let us say it the way it is. A condom is a part of adult life. Let us behave like adults. Now all I wait for is: A R Rehman to set music to a song on condoms in a Bollywood tamasha. That would proclaim our ultimate comfort level.

Condom ringtone launched in India
August 2008:A cellphone ringtone that chants "condom, condom!" has been launched in India to promote safe sex and tackle the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic. The "condom a cappella" has been designed to break down Indians' reluctance to discuss condom use and to make wearing a condom more acceptable. Organisers of the campaign, funded by the foundation set up by Microsoft mogul Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, hope the ringtone will become a craze among young Indians. About 2.5 million people live with HIV in India, said the BBC World Service Trust, the charity behind the ringtone, which was released this month. It can be downloaded at "Ringtones have become such personal statements that a specially created condom ringtone seemed just the right way of combining a practical message with a fun approach," said Radharani Mitra, creative director of the BBC World Service Trust. "The idea is to tackle the inhibitions and taboos that can be associated with condoms." India is the world's fastest-growing mobile telephone market with 270 million users according to the latest official figures, up 57 percent in just one year. — AFP

This bride had guts

This happened in August 2008 in Chennai. It is an interesting story and I liked the woman's guts. The man lacked them completely. Why couldn't he stand up to his parents?
Techie forges HIV+ve report to escape knot
His parents found him a suitable girl, but he was already in love with another. As the wedding date was fixed, he found an unusual way to prevent the marriage by producing a fake medical report which said he was HIV positive. What he didn't expect was that he would end up behind the bars for cheating the girl. Ashok Nagar all women police on Friday arrested Satish, a 28-year-old MBA graduate working in a software company in TIDEL park, and slapped cases under Sections 420 (cheating) and 4 (1) of Prevention of Women Harassment Act. Initial inquiries revealed that right from his college days, Satish has been in love with a girl, who is now working in the US. He kept the affair a secret and agreed to marry the girl form Jafferkhanpet his parents found for him. The couple got engaged and their marriage was fixed for the first week of September. Satish, a resident of Mugalivakkam near Porur, apparently had a change of mind and decided to call off the marriage. He visited the girl's parents last week and broke down, telling them that he was HIV positive. He gave them a lab report 'confirming' his status. Not entirely convinced, the girl's family later called up the lab, which denied having issued such a report to Satish. They said the logo on the report was a fake one. When the girl's parents called up, Satish stuck to his version. Inquiries with friends revealed Satish's affair and the bride filed a complaint of cheating. Satish then offered to go ahead with the marriage, but the bride turned it down and told the police to pursue the case.,_.___
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