Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Take acid attacks seriously - they are worse than murder

I was very dismayed to read Annu Mukherjee's story in the Hindustan Times today. The young woman had surmounted many hurdles to make a decent life for herself and her brother. The acid attackers not only snatched away her means to a livelihood, disfigured and blinded her, but threw her into facing a lonely tragic life. Her brother, who she was was supporting had to stop his studies.  What was extremely heart wrenching was that the attackers also took away Annu's ability to cry. Her eyes have been so disfigured that tears do not come anymore.

And  what was the punishment the attackers got? Five years in jail and a Rs 1,60,000 fine. Today they are roaming free. An inadequate punishment for disfiguring a woman for life, blinding her, snatching away her identity and only source of income, leaving her to a life of penury and loneliness.

The attackers should have been behind bars for life. For they are extremely dangerous to be let out in society. Now that they have been freed, they should be made to contribute towards her medical and living expenses. Fifty per cent of what Meena Khan and her brother earn should go to Annu till she is in a position to support herself by opening the dance school she wants. What do you say?

Earlier post: An acid attack is wrose than murder for it makes life a living hell

And this news item  -

SC curbs acid sale, orders more money for victims

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Serving a poison free meal to our children

The Bihar midday meal tragedy in which over 20 children died after consuming a meal laced with pesticide prepared in their school brings home many well known facts -

1. The facilities in majority of our government run schools are so poor, be it classroom itself, the playground, or the quality of teachers, that it is a crime to call it a school.
2. Providing some sub standard grain and hoping the health of the children improves is a fallacy. Borne out by the fact that even after years of the midday meal scheme, large proportions of Indian children are undernourished, underweight and stunted.
3. The communities these schools serve are so poor and disempowered that they cannot demand their rights to a nourishing, hygienically cooked meal for their children.
4. Therefore, when there are no proper utensils for cooking, or storage, or adequate rations, there is no protest from them or a demand for what is their right.
5. The persons who are enstrusted with the job of preparing the meal get no training in hygiene. India's poor are forced to live in extremely unhygenic conditions and being illiterate and uneducated, they often do not know how such conditions impact their health. In the Bihar case, the person who put the oil in the pesticide container, probably did not realise that pesticide can kill. Probably the person did not know that pesticide should be stored away from food.
And when the children protested over the taste and look of the food cooked, the principal forced them to eat saying nothing could be wrong as the oil had come from her husband's shop.

A question that bothers is why was a pesticide container kept next to the school rations in the first place?

The Bihar government is planning to paint the midday meal safety norms on the walls. Would that help? What happens if the cook is illiterate?
What would help is -

A course in basic hygiene and food storage.

Regular checks by a monitoring team, which should be the members from the community whose children study in the school, or the Village Health and
Sanitation committee or an equivalent local body in the urban areas.

Something that has been seen to work, to improve the standard of the food cooked and served is the involvement of the mothers of the school-going children, be it in procurement, storage and cooking of the rations. It has worked in many parts of Tamil Nadu and I wrote about it three years ago when I saw the state's midday meal programme.

If it can work there, it should work in other states including Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh, home to many midday meal scandals. But for that the 'control' or to use a politically correct word 'management' of the scheme should be in the hands of the parents. The government's role should be of a provider and facilitator, the parents and a teacher representative would be the implementators -- lifting of the rations provided only if they meet a certain quality,  preparing and serving  of the meals. 

More on -
India's midday meal programme
WHO had asked India to ban toxin that killed children

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