What the hell is wrong with us?

Woke up to this news on the front page yesterday! A 35 year old mom feeds her 4 year old and 1 year old daughters rusted nails in their glass of milk, causing them to choke and die. After they die, she sleeps in the same bed as the dead girls for two days, before disposing off the bodies in a nearby well.

Not the kind of story one wants to wake up to on any day. But also not the kind of story one can read and forget! What lead Sunita (the mother) to such a violent crime? Is she truly a ‘heartless’ mother or just severely ‘mentally disturbed’? The story of the ‘killer mother’ made headlines in almost all the papers. One of the local dailies also carried a picture of the father. He had told the newspaper how between him and his three brothers his two daughters were the only ‘girls’ and now the family had no daughters! He blamed Sunita for what had happened accusing her of mental instability saying that she had made an attempt to kill the girls earlier too.

Shocked and intrigued, I read all the following stories on the event. It emerged that

Sunita’s husband and in-laws used to harass her for giving birth to girls.

Her husband worked as a salesman and also got some rental income making approximately 7-8 thousand a month. He spent most of it on alcohol and did not give her any/ enough money for running the home. The police found nothing to eat in her one room home except 200 gm of stinking wheat flour.  The milk she had fed the girls had been ‘borrowed’ from a neighbor. On being asked why she did what she did, Sunita told the police that the girls were always hungry! She could not take it anymore!

Can  Sunita really be blamed for what happened? Isn’t Sunita’s husband responsible for the murders? Though he did not actually feed them the nails, he did not leave much else to feed them with!

Or her in-laws her family and neighbours? Everyone of these was aware of the cruelties that Sunita was undergoing. Could nobody stand up for her?

What about the role of the local administration or government? Why is there no place in our cities and town that a  woman can go to, to get food and shelter for her starving children and  herself?

Or the local police ? In desperate times, shouldn’t a woman like Sunita be able to turn to the police for help? The fact of the matter is that no woman feels safe stepping into a police station! Unless she has a politician or bureaucrat father/ brother/ husband! In all probability if Sunita had taken her complaint of harassment to the police she would have been sent right back. Policemen don’t want to waste their time handling ‘silly domestic matters’! I once met a lady whose second husband was threatening to sleep with her teenage daughter from her first marriage. He was beating her regularly and she was afraid she would not be able to hold him off much longer. When she went to the police, they told her “Has he slept with her till now? Come to us after he does it!” Huh???

Later, as I step out of my home to drop my son to school, we come across a large crowd of school going children. It is a ‘save girls rally’! The local MLA is addressing the children proclaiming loudly that “Girls have as much a right to be born as boys”

All I can think is

Yes! they do Mr MLA, but they also have a right to live after they are born!

If they have to live their lives hiding from filthy stares and groping hands. If they have to live their lives being tortured and hated for no fault of theirs. If they have to live their lives at the mercy of violent and abusive men who treat them like little more than animals. Maybe, just maybe, they are better dead than born!!

My heart goes out to Sunita and to thousands of women like her. Women who are tortured and beaten by their husbands and in-laws to a state that they can no longer think straight. When there seems no way out but to either kill oneself or the ‘unwanted’ children or both!!!

A smaller news in the same paper grabs my attention too. The state has a new Director General of Police. He says his priority is ‘Women’s Safety’. I wish I could believe him. But alas! I have seen too many of them say the same thing for too many years now. I will believe them when I see a change!

mom kills daughters

As of now I just pray. For Sunita, in the jail. And for her innocent daughters. Wherever they are. I hope they understand that even behind this violent-violent act was hidden an unfortunate mother’s endless love!

Teaching: A closer look at the most exalted profession on Teachers Day

Today is Teachers Day

It has become fashionable on days like today to write status messages, forward what’s app notes and other stuff exalting the teaching profession. This is not necessarily bad. Even if it is for a day at least there is some buzz given to the teaching profession once a year. At least there is some acknowledgement to the role they play in forming a society.

Teaching is a profession that is not very sought after in our country (by and large). You won’t see too many upper middle class men saying that they wish to teach. For young women though it is considered an ideal profession as it is ‘convenient’ for the family.
As part of a recent research assignment that involved talking to teachers and students in government schools and colleges about status of teachers. I was disillusioned to find the following:

  • Children of teachers do not wish to be teachers. Most of them opt for civil services, police service, bank service, MBA anything but teaching. It seems that the teaching job is not something they aspire to.
  • Most college students (Both girls and boys) said that teaching would be their last resort. In their words, “If we do not make it anywhere else”.
  • While earlier In-laws would not permit women to work. In today’s times of high prices and higher aspirations, a girl with a B. Ed. degree is the most attractive in the marriage market. During the course of our data collection we heard of instances where daughter in laws were being forced to take up teaching in middle or lower middle class families. In one of the B.ed. colleges we were told about a young woman who had gone into labour but her father in law insisted that she appear for her B.Ed interview before she go to the hospital. In laws seems to love ‘teacher’ daughter in laws because while they earn an additional income they are also conveniently available to do all the household jobs.
  • Teacher morale in Government schools and colleges is very low. While the pay is good, there are few or no incentives for performing better or working harder. Moreover there is political interference that leaves teachers at the mercy of middlemen and MLA’s / MPs who seldom have respect for teachers and often treat their transfers as a means of making money.

Teaching is not just a profession but a ‘calling’. It is in no way ‘lesser’ than a doctor or an engineer from IIT. It requires hard work and inexhaustible patience. It requires a loving heart and a desire to help, everyone!
Our ancient texts give ‘guru’ the highest position, putting a guru even before god. Sadly, but in the harsh modern world apart from a few elite institutions this is no longer the case. The profession has been mired – on the inside by teachers who do not really do justice to their work and on the outside by materialistic culture that puts money and power above everything else, even a ‘guru’.
There is an urgent need to correct this situation. A teacher who does not find dignity and take pride in his or her work is not going to be able to produce a generation that builds India into a superpower. Let us save our teachers, lets return them their respect, dignity and pride. Lets treat them with the reverence they truly deserve because in their hands lies our future.


PS: I also feel a bit piqued by messages and forwards that seem to suggest that all of us as mothers etc are teachers and thus the day is for all of us. I feel (maybe unjustifiably) that this attempt to widen the definition of a teacher somehow undermines what they do. All of us look after our children when they are ill do we send each other messages on Doctors day? A teacher is someone who has taken on the burden to b a guide to children who are complete strangers to him/ her. That is the beauty of it. To do this tiring, often ‘thankless’ job day in and day out for little people who are demanding/ often selfish/ and in no way related to you. Who will not in all probability bring you any extra reward or laurels, who will not take care of you when you are old and infirm , who will not take forward your family name. in short it is a labour of love. ‘Selfless’ love. Lets leave Teachers Day  for them and not attempt to partake of their glory. We have our ‘Mothers days’ and ‘Fathers days’ and all the days in between

A Village woman cooking courtesy www.theguardian.com

To the Women of My World – On Women’s Day

Their veil of ‘protection’

forcibly keeps out ‘our’ light

darkening our worlds

Against all odds

we dream

The shackles of ‘tradition’

stifle us

authoritatively dictating our lives

Against all odds

we breathe

The menacing shroud of  ignorance

violently wrapped around us

entangles us

not allowing escape

Against all odds

we hope

The fear of reprimand

ties us down

intimidating us to  tow the line

Against all odds

we assert

The danger

of being mutilated, burned, violated, killed

scares us

smothering us to silence

Against all odds

we speak out

The violence we face everyday

intimidates us

terrorizing us to tears

Against all odds

we smile

The world

we were born into

stands against us

up in arms to defeat us

Against all odds

we survive.

‘Women’ of the world and specially the women of my country, whose woes I know more intimately. Everyday in our lives is a struggle. one day for us is not enough. Lets pledge to claim the year!

Reading Material

Two day old baby found in the garbage dump near the municipal hospital. So far no one has come forth to claim her.

Eight year old girl raped by father.

Thirteen year old girl kidnapped on her way back from school.

Nineteen year old commits suicide. Found hanging by the fan in her hostel room.

Twenty one year old woman becomes victim of acid attack by a jaded lover. Suffers 87 percent burns.

Twenty seven-year old newly wed brought dead to hospital. Parents suspect foul play.

Fifteen year old accuses “god-man” of sexual abuse. Situation volatile as “followers” gather to show  support.

Twenty seven-year old dies in the government hospital from uncontrolled bleeding after childbirth. Family alleges negligence by doctor on duty.

Middle aged widow accuses the local MP of rape. Alleges she is being threatened by the police to withdraw her complaint.

Headlines ?

reading material courtesy blog.helium.com

reading material courtesy blog.helium.com

Just Our Everyday Reading Material ………..

This post is written in response to today’s prompt on “daily post” – “Reading Material”

Just A Rhyme

When I was a little child

barely five

I got a slap

the first one of my life

my mom was raving mad at me

servants are like our family

you never speak with them badly

he is more than your dad’s age

apologize immediately and don’t ever disrespect

so what if he works for you

ordering him around, will never do

after she had properly admonished me

she bent down to touch Mohan ‘kaka’s’  feet

I lost my mum soon after that

but I never forgot that slap

and the lesson that went with it

I pass it on to my kids

as their late ‘ nani’s‘  precious gift

As I grew up and saw the world

the more I watched the more I learned

there’s a special lesson that comes to my mind

the one I learned at a traffic light

of begging rackets I had heard many  tales

to give or not, doubts  always assailed

one day, a car just ahead of me

rolled down  its window in the  afternoon  heat

I watched as all the beggars ran

to get their packs of ‘Parle G’

the packets were opened with such glee

even before the light turned green

since then  ‘gur’ ,  biscuits or small bottles of milk

by my side  you will always find

From elders we learn all the time

but there’s a special lesson of life

that I have learned from my child

once as I picked veggies with ‘K’ by my side

he tugged at me with all his might

mom, can I too have some greens

of course I said extremely pleased

you can take what you need

promptly he picked a bunch of  spinach  leaves

and proceeded to the other side of the street

there sat an aging cow

‘K’ kept his bundle at her side

I could only smile with pride

stray animals now I make sure to feed

whether ‘K’ is or not with me

These are some lessons that I have learned

by watching others who are sensitive and  concerned

they have helped me be a better human being

I hope this silly  rhyme

will help them reach many more like me.

Kaka:A respectful term for older men

nani: Maternal grandmother

Gur: An unrefined healthier form of sugar. Rich in Iron, often used as a sweet treat for children.

I am sharing what ‘I Saw and I Learnt‘ at BlogAdda.com in association with DoRight.in.

picture courtesy newindianexpress.com

Bhaag India Bhaag!

I watched “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” yesterday. A lot has been said about the movie itself, the story line, the direction, the music and Farhan Akhtar’s performance. Most of it is correct. Its a stellar film. But after watching the movie what I brought back from it was a feeling of despair.

Are you surprised? Despair,  from a movie that’s suppose to be about hope, and following ones dreams and achieving the impossible!

Despair, because the movie captures correctly the faults of our system. The godforsaken conditions in which our athletes train. The ‘trivial things, that most of India fights to achieve everyday (A glass of milk and two eggs!!!)

Milkha’s story is set in 1960’s. But the sad truth is it seems relevant even today. In fifty years , we have been able to come up with many misleading slogans like ‘India shining’ and ‘Incredible India’ but we haven’t been able to come up with policies that bring real progress. (At least not the kind that goes beyond fancy statistics).  The coat of glossy paint that clever politicians have painted with help of overpaid PR  agencies comes off with the merest of a scratch, to reveal our naked, ugly underbelly.

If things continue the way they are the time is not far when India will become a black hole no one wishes to look at. Already most of our ‘well educated’ ‘ promising’ youngsters flee the country at the first chance they get.  They cluck and make all the right noises each time they visit “We miss India, the culture, the festivals  etc. etc.” But one doesn’t see many of them returning. A lot is being said about the reversing trend of expats coming back home. My humble submission is that barring a few, most of them have returned due to the  economic slowdown or negative visa policies in host countries, not because India has become more appealing. The day the slowdown reverses and visas become available again most of them  won’t bat an eyelid before hopping on to the next plane back to their ‘civilized’ western worlds. Where tap water is ‘safe’ and the bulb lights up each time you flick on the switch.

I for one don’t blame them. You get only one life. Who wants to lead it running from one office to another to get an electric connection, paying bribes to gutkha chewing babus for documents that are every citizen’s right by birth? Who wishes to open the newspaper every day to read even gorier tales of  corruption, rapes, murders, that never get solved. Or the horrible heart wrenching stories of mothers who throw their babies to death because they are unable to feed them. Or wait in trepidation every night to see if their loved ones make it back home from the death trap we call roads.

India is seething with rage. Anybody whose head is not buried in the soils of vested interest can see that.

I know we started with very little. I know Britishers sucked us dry. I know we have a very large population. But honestly! I know too that those are just excuses. After more than sixty five years we should be banned from using them. Other countries with lesser resources have managed to turn around. Why can’t we? Each time one wishes to take an honest stock of our country’s progress. The few achievements that we have made are brought out and paraded. Implication being that since we have achieved  “secularism (have we?), being the “world’s largest democracy’, so on and so forth….we should be exempted from other measuring standards.

I am a mother. If my child does well in one subject and fails at other three year after year, am I to pat him on the back and say “Very good son at least you have done well in one. You can continue to fail in others” Or am I going to tell him that since he is obviously capable, he must make an effort to improve his grades in other subjects too. Indians too are not dumb! They are hard working, intelligent, resourceful people. Our huge population is not a burden it’s a capital. Or could be if we allowed it to be.

My blood boils each time a young one rattles off that India is poor because it is overpopulated. Or when the elite tut tut over the “ignorant” villagers who won’t send their children to schools. I get mad every time the dinner table conversation turns to blaming the economically disadvantaged for their conservative practices like using quacks, having too many children, keeping women at home. And I get specially angry when the economically and socially disadvantaged are touted as being ‘untrustworthy’ ,  ‘thieves’ ‘murderers’ or born ‘liars’.

I have faith in the innate goodness of people. I believe people don’t wish to  kill/ loot/ steal (barring a few anomalies, most of them in politics). Most People just wish to lead a safe, secure and happy life. They wish to step out of the vicious cycle of poverty or illiteracy or poor health that they are trapped in. Most of them only wish to make their future better than their present.

Give them an honest chance to do so and if its reasonable considering their past experiences,  current beliefs and present circumstances, they will take it.  Those of us with access to better education, newer opportunities are constantly moving forward. But some of those who don’t see a feasible honest way out of their ‘miserable’ lives  may resort to crime. It is our job to stop this from happening by providing everyone with an honest opportunity to improve the quality of their lives.

I also have an objection with people who believe that the poor or illiterate need to be counseled or convinced to make lifestyle changes that are truly better for them. I believe if we want to get women into the workforce , we must make work spaces and public spaces safe for them. We must equip these spaces properly, ensure that women in workforce get treated fairly. Make sure there is a system that takes care of their household jobs. And then lets see if women don’t step out of their homes.

We want children to study. We must ensure that the schools are run well. That the education that is  imparted is relevant and has the ability to turn their lives for the better. That it’s the kind of place where you or me would gladly send our own off springs. I guarantee you, regardless of how ‘ignorant’ or ‘backward’ the area is, children will flock.

We want people to stop using quacks or neglecting their healths. We must  ensure clean, dignified, modern health services at the hospitals. Then let’s see who doesn’t avail of them.

If the services we provide are good. No other sops are necessary.

Bottom line,  people want to change their lives for the better. They want to realize their full potential. They want to be productive.

If only the governments would stop distributing us inedible one rupee grains, coarse free uniforms, poisoned mid day meals  and start giving us our rights!

India is sick. Its suffering from the worst kind of ailments. One food security bill will not change anything.

Along with other concerned citizens I implore Sonia Gandhi/ Rahul Gandhi/ Narendra Modi or whoever the heck claims to or dreams of leading this country.

Do something! Take action! Change now!

Milkha Singh ran himself out of his life of poverty and obscurity. Our pants are on fire too and if we don’t take charge now, we will burn to a  gruesome death.  It’s time we shook ourselves out of our stupor. Its time for us to start running.

Bhaag India Bhaag!

picture courtesy newindianexpress.com

picture courtesy newindianexpress.com

The Fortune Teller – A story

The Fortune Teller

I hold her hand firmly. Its’ calloused. I use my thumb to rub the palm as if I am creasing out the lines, so as to read them better. I am waiting for the epiphany to hit me. In the meanwhile I look a little closer. I discreetly push back the long sleeve of her kaftan a little. I see a red tell-tale mark on her wrist. Caused by a slash of a sharp object, maybe a knife at the vein! And then it comes to me. Everything, in a flash!

In the vision she looks fresh-faced and young. I see her as she sneaks out of her home. I even hear the howl of one of the street dogs that doze in the lane where she lives, as she closes the noisy Iron gate behind her. She stops at the end of the street and looks back at her home of 17 years, and hesitates, almost turning back.  The man holding her hand whispers lovingly in her ears.  He puts his finger under her chin and tilts her face up, so it’s lit by the glow of the street lamp. I see her eyes. They are filled with tears. But there is also hope and trust in them.  

I see her eyes again. This time, they are in a dark, dingy room. The hope and trust are gone. They have been replaced by fear and pain, as he tears into her violently. I hear the abuses he flings at her. Feel the slaps he rains on her.

Another flash. I see her eyes once again. They look vacant now, devoid of any feelings. I hear their laughter and the smirks as he calls her a whore and throws her at them.  I feel the hands as they maul her pouncing on her like a pack of dogs on a piece of flesh.  I shudder!

Like the trailer of a movie the story of this girl’s life plays in front of my eyes. It still startles me, this “Gift”. The gift, that reveals to me, the lives of complete strangers. From The PA system a measured voice announces the arrival of the train to Somalpur. The chaos around us increases. The girl gets restless. She looks apprehensively at every face on the platform. I know she is worried he may be there. I let go of her hand. I already know everything I need to. She is waiting for my prediction. I look into her eyes and say “Daughter you are doing the right thing. Don’t give up. God will take care of you”

It’s the kind of gibberish fortune tellers and horoscope readers tell people all the time. But I hope it gives her courage. She nods at me, in a gesture of thanks. Thrusts a crumpled five rupee note in my hand and hurries off towards the train.

 Two Days Later

I am sitting at my usual corner by the staircase, watching people as they come into the station. A man wearing a Blue striped shirt and jeans walks in. I recognize the face instantly. He is carrying a small red bag in his hand. He looks severe. His phone rings. “No you don’t do anything. I will deal with that bitch myself. I will show her what it means to run away from me”.

When the train to Somalpur is announced, a crowd gathers at platform no. 8. The mournful sound of the train horn is heard much before the train itself becomes visible. Men and women stand at the edge of the platform craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the train as it rolls into the station. As the engine makes its appearance all hell breaks loose.  Coolies push at trolleys, men drag bags, women straddle babies. They all mill together in hectic activity.

pic for blog fortune teller

Two days later (Picture courtesy justaboutanythingandeverything.blogspot.com )

Later no one is able to tell how exactly the man lost his balance and fell in front of the train.  Many of them claim to hear his scream over the din of the train engine. Some think he purposefully threw himself under the train.  A few wonder if he had been pushed. Most people just wish the mauled body of the man wearing the Blue striped shirt is removed from the tracks quickly so they can be on their way.

I sit in my usual corner, my eyes closed. I know the stretcher will arrive soon. The body will be carried away. The train will leave after the “unavoidable delay”. Tomorrow’s newspaper may carry a small news item about the accident. If it does I will cut a clipping and keep it.  I open the dirty sack I use as a pillow at night and take out a stash of yellowed newspaper clippings. I like to pore over them sometimes.

Woman – Just Look at the sky


look at the sky

no matter what they say

that’s where you belong

let your spirit soar

your ambitions fly

your fertility is a gift

don’t allow it to become a chain

that binds your dreams

take pride in it

flaunt it, savor it

but don’t let anyone else

own it

you are capable

of chalking your own paths

of making your own decisions

leading your own life

your ability to love is a boon

Don’t let it become a bane

to love is to give

but also to take

put others first if you must

but be aware of the stakes

and know always

that there is a choice

a choice that’s yours alone to make

don’t let anyone tell you

there is no other way


you are a river

you cut your own course

you are the wind

no one tells you where not to blow

you are the mountain

unrelenting, majestic and bold


be fearless

there is nowhere you can’t tread

and if ever

the task daunts you

if ever you feel restrained

just look at the sky

no matter what they say

that’s where you belong

you will surely find the way

Tomorrow is Eighth March. the day we in India, celebrate as women’s day. In the last 66 years of independence, Indian Women have taken great strides. Many of us have managed to step out of the confines of our homes  and carved out a niche for ourselves in the social and political sphere. Many others have stayed within their homes and still managed to fuel revolution and bring about change.  There has been immense positive change. But much more remains to be achieved.  Ours is a society in transition. Days like this are reminders of the direction this change needs to take.

Happy Women’s day everyone!

Weekly Photo Challenge – “Lost in Details” – Finding My ‘Special’ Shine –

Today I had an incredible experience!

Past few weeks I’ve being going through life on auto mode. I wake, I work, I eat, I work some more and at the end of the day I sleep. I usually like to go through life full force, cramming as much as I can into every second. Friends, family, work, play, writing….. But lately, everything seemed to have lost its sheen. I still continued to go through the motions but the spark went missing.

And then Today I found it again! In the most unexpected way.

A social service club I am a part of had an event in a school for the mentally challenged. I  agreed (not very enthusiastically! I may add) to go along. The school a small one with only 25 children was housed in a single room building. There was a neat well-kept garden outside. The head teacher received us warmly and introduced us to the children and their parents.

Whenever I meet the parents of a special child, I am at a loss for words. I know it’s fashionable to say stuff like “Oh they are such a blessing” or “They are so special” (Which they undoubtedly are!) But  in today’s time when everyone is so besotted with perfection-  perfect scores, perfect looks, perfect children… I can’t help thinking “Yes! They are special. But where is the space for them?”

Back in the times when we still lived in villages, and aspirations were simpler. At least there was more acceptance of these children. Their lives were not much different from those of the ‘normal’ children. Like all other children they too loitered in the fields, played make-believe games, stole mangoes and tamarind and watched the world go by. Agriculture was the main stay and as adults most of these children could be gainfully employed on the family fields. But in today’s hectic city lives, the gap between them and the ‘normal’ has increased. In today’s times of “Little Champs” and “Young maestros”, the divide between ‘normal’ and ‘special’ has become vast. The mechanized, office based livelihoods available in our cities today, don’t have much room for their ‘special-ness’. And every time I have spoken to the parent of a ‘special’ child I have heard the same fear. “What will happen to my child after I am gone?” Who will look after her/him? Who will take care of him? How will he survive?

In a country like India. Where 70 percent people still live below the poverty line. Where the state machinery has failed to deliver meaningful education and basic health facilities to even its ‘normal’ citizens. What hope of a secure future do these children have?

I remember well the first case I was assigned as a student social worker with a school for physically and mentally challenged children (That’s what they were called then!) in Bombay. I was asked to visit an ‘uncooperative’ mother. I was told “she doesn’t take the child to the therapist for appointments.” When I reached her home – a small cramped hut located in the middle of a filthy slum near Bandra. The lady was making chapatis on a kerosene stove, two young almost naked children stood next to her and a baby hung by her breast. Needless to say, I didn’t end up delivering my reprimand. She gratefully accepted my offer to take the child for her appointments.  “It’s not that I don’t want to take her didi but it takes up the whole day and I have to go to work too.” she said.

  A child with special needs requires additional resources. Besides financial resources, these children also require more supervision, time and patience. Unfortunately a great number of these children are born in families that don’t have enough to fulfill even the basic necessities. The already limited resources of these families are severely stretched by the presence of a ‘special’ child. These families need and should be provided adequate financial, psychological and emotional support.

The Indian government does support establishing and running of ‘special’ schools. But the number of these schools is grossly inadequate. Many of them are not properly equipped to provide the various therapies these children require. And there is also the fear that confining these children to ‘special’ schools may reduce their interaction with ‘normal’ children and cause social exclusion.  The focus thus, even in ‘special’ schools is on ‘mainstreaming’. By mainstreaming they mean pulling these children out of ‘special’ schools and absorbing them in regular schools. I don’t deny the need to mainstream and yet each time I approached a school for mainstreaming these children. I felt like I was abandoning them. Very few schools have ramp access or toilets to accommodate wheel chairs.  Children, even teachers were not sensitized towards these children. Often calling them names and staring rudely. It’s no wonder that the children themselves never looked forward to being mainstreamed. Mainstreaming was just another word for ‘adjusting’ . Adjusting, to a world that was designed to exclude them.

I have always felt that the solution may lie in the attitude. If for instance instead of focusing on ‘mainstreaming the children we begin to focus on ‘specialising the schools’.  We start to equip our ‘normal’ schools with facilities needed for ‘special’ children, both infra structural and attitudinal. As the schools adapt we can declare them as ‘regular schools with specialized facilities’. A special child crosses over many internal barriers to reach a normal school. The least we can do is ensure that when they do reach there they are welcomed with open arms.

I remember a conversation I once had with a young physically challenged man. He couldn’t walk and had to use a wheelchair to get around. He belonged to a well to do family and his parents managed to get him educated in the best of institutions in India. But he said that the first time he felt truly ‘accepted’ was when he went to an American university to pursue his Post Graduation studies. The university had researched on his particular kind of disability and modified his assigned accommodation according to his needs without any instructions to do so, even before he reached. His eyes filled with tears when he said “For the first time in my life I felt able not disabled”.

Our entire educational system is designed for the average, The average child is who we are concerned about. But an average child is a mathematical myth. An average child doesn’t really exist. Each child is unique. In our quest to treat all children as same we beat out their uniqueness till they fit into our pigeon-hole of the ‘average child’.

But I am digressing. As I am prone to doing each time I reflect upon the state of our children and our educational system. The post was about regaining my lost fervor. And that’s what I wish to share with you.

So here we were, six well turned out ladies from a social welfare group. After, dropping our ‘normal’ children in city’s most expensive schools. We had come here to meet these children and their parents, most of them from poor economic backgrounds.  Most of these children were mentally challenged, many suffering from border line retardation. Quite a few of them had an odd gait, held their head in an unusual tilt. A few of them could not walk without support. The principal informed us as we reached that the children had prepared a cultural program for us.

When we walked in, we were surrounded by bright eyes and happy smiles. The children were dressed gaily. There was a buzz in the air as CDs were collected and mikes were  set up. Cheerful banter was being exchanged. Mothers fussed over their wards as proud dads clicked pictures. When the program began, we were struck by the pure joy that these children brought to their performances. There was none of the self-consciousness that one associates with stage programs among normal children. The steps didn’t matter, there was no obsession over coordination or ‘getting it right’. Unchained by the expectations to be ‘perfect’ these children danced with abandon. They danced for themselves. And in doing so they made the experience memorable for us.

No matter how hard their life is there is a beauty in it. That one can’t help admiring. Their lack of ambition and self-consciousness makes one wistful, almost envious.  Their innocence and ability to derive joy in the smallest of things makes one look around at the world with renewed wonder. Their unabashed joy rubs off on everyone, even my world-weary soul. And I find myself smiling. The world no matter how selfish and brutal is still a wonderful place. I find myself thinking “The key lies in not getting lost in the details of living. Instead we need to  just slow down and enjoy the ride”

At the end of the program, we hand out the prizes. The children beam, the parents look on proudly. The warm glow I feel in my heart brightens me from inside adding sheen to my every thought. As I leave there is a spring in my step and  I get the feeling that I received the biggest prize of all!!

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Blueprint for change – making a difference!

5:30 a:m

I  wake up, just as the alarm goes off. Quickly choking its shrill voice lest it disturb Arjun, my husband. We both had a late night yesterday at Preeti’s place. I quickly freshening up, and head to the kitchen to whip up our ‘dabbas’. I work in a school and have to leave home by 7:30. At 6 :30 just as I have finished packing Arjun’s dabba the bell rings and I open it to let my maid in. Shanti has worked for me since the past five years. She is a hardworking young lady a mother of two girls. As I let her in today, is obvious that she has been crying. What happened I ask her. “ what else mem saab! He beat me again last night”

‘Why?” I asked

“Does there need to be a reason mem saab? Because he drank too much. Because I have two daughters. Because the younger one is not well and I wanted some money to show her to the doctor”

“But you earn yourself! Why do you need money from him?”

We talk as I rustle up a breakfast from Arjun. Some aloo parathas, they are his favorite. Arjun leaves for office at 10:00 and I like to leave him a breakfast. I am angry, at men like Shanti’s husband who are irresponsible and violent.

“He takes away everything I earn. The little that I manage to hold on to gets spent on buying food and vegetables”

Shanti says as she cleans up last night’s utensils. As I finish morning’s cooking I make tea for Arjun and me and  carry it with a newspaper to the bedroom.

“Tea” I say smiling!

He murmurs incoherently and sleeps again.

“Get up” I say going into the bathroom for my bath.

When I come out after tying my saree, almost ready to leave for school, Arjun has still not woken up. I sit down on the bed and gently nudge him awake. I take my cup of tea and sit down next to him.

“When will you ever learn to make tea properly?” says Arjun

“What happened? Is something wrong? ” I say

“ No nothing Its awful like usual” he snaps

“I will just make it again. Maybe it got cold”. I return my cup of unfinished tea back to the tray and head out to the kitchen.

“Don’t bother! It will be terrible again” he retorts

My eyes fill up with tears. I want to say something to defend myself. Something about mutual respect and appreciation but I know where that will lead. There is no time to argue. Much simpler to remain quiet. I go to the kitchen remake the tea . Check his breakfast and lunch tiffin are in order and dash off to school.

Shanti make sure sahib eats his breakfast and carries his lunch box to office”

7:55 a:m

Driving to school, I reflect on my life. I am an epitome of successful career woman. But in the ways that matter is my relationship with my husband any different from Shanti’s? True, there is no physical violence. But is that a result of well cultivated images or actual difference in the natures of our relationships?

I shrug off these negative thoughts. I am getting late and its necessary to focus on the driving. I have almost reached but it is taking forever to get to the school gate. there is a long line of cars carrying children in front of me. Many of these are vans, their windows rolled down and blaring music. Others are cars being driven by harried mothers or fathers or crisply dressed drivers. In either case the movement is slow, as drivers look for appropriate parking spots to park their vehicles and drop off the students. I honk, even though I know it’s no use.  I am in-charge of the assembly today and I can’t afford to be late.  even in my nervousness I can’t help reminiscing about the time I came to this school myself as a student. My brother and I rode our cycles to school. Other friends from our colony cycled too and it was easily the best time of our day.

5 p:m

“Why don’t children cycle to school anymore?” I ask my friend,  a mother of two young wonderful children. As we set out for our evening walk. “What? Cycle to school?” “ Have you seen the state of the city’s traffic? ” “I wouldn’t feel safe sending my children to school on a cycle. When I was a child, my sister and I took the school bus. Some of my strongest friendships were formed in the school bus”

“But most schools don’t run them any more. All we have are vans plied by private drivers that the school administration has no control over. Many of them are young and rash and frankly quite unsafe” She says

I can’t disagree with that. As we finish our walk and hit the main road to head back home  four young boys cross us on their motorbikes. They slow down as they come close to us. One of them whistles another passes a lewd comment, and the others laugh. When my friend and I shoot them an angry look. They rev up their motorbikes and take off. Billowing a cloud of smoke from their exhaust pipes right onto  our faces.

My friend and I are disgusted.”What is it with these young boys?” ” Why can’t they pass a woman by any woman of any age without making cheap cat calls”


Above I’ve given you a capsule of an average day of not only my life but of  the life of thousands of other  middle class educated  women in India. There are many problems we face every day. Discrimination at work,  corruption, red tape, etc. But I will limit my essay today to the five problems brought forth in the events recounted above.

Problem number one:

Though most women my class will tell you that problem number one is finding efficient maids. I think problem number one is creating a safety network for maids like Shanti. These women toil all their lives. Put in longer hours than any of us ‘working women’. Yet they are not entitled to any health insurance, life insurance or pension. They have no formal system of saving, no ‘social security net’  they can rely on, in time of distress. Though the government can and must do more to ensure that all working people whether employed in the formal or the informal sector have access to medical insurance and pension. As an employer I can make a change.  I can find out more about the various governmental and private insurance schemes available and sign up to ensure that my maid gets health/ life insurance. Sure, it will cost me some extra money but the satisfaction I derive will be worth it.

Problem number two:

Almost all of us agree that the problem of violence against women is rampant in our country. Many of my friends have often recounted  gory tales about their maids, washer women, malish walis,  bartan walis, who are routinely beaten up by their husbands. What can they or I do to end this violence? There are no easy solutions to this problem. Steeped as it is, within the structure of our society that considers women inferior to men.

What  you and I can do is speak up. The tendency to keep silent creates a vicious circle in which the abuser thinks it is okay to beat up his wife. Next time Shanti complains of being beaten. Instead of simply tut-tutting and  expressing my sympathy.  I will takeout the time to meet her husband. I will try to speak to him about the violence and tell him  it is not acceptable for him to hit her. I can also meet Shanti’s in-laws or women from her neighborhood and ask them to stand up for her. I can offer her my home as a shelter if she needs it.

Problem number three:

It is not true that violence exists only in lower working class families. Violence both – mental and physical are very much present within our homes too. While we easily acknowledge and speak about the violence to others. There is a culture of silence, that keeps us,  educated middle/ upper class women quiet about our own experiences with violence. It is always easier to buy peace by keeping quiet.

We  have to begin to stand up for ourselves. Next time our spouses/ in-laws/ families are disrespectful or insensitive to us. We must respect ourselves enough to demand that we be treated better or have the courage to walk out.  I am an educated independent career woman. I know I am capable of managing my finances and my life myself. I don’t need to stay with a man at the cost of my self-respect.  The fear that binds me is the fear of society. I won’t let this nameless fear hold me back from living my life as I wish to. In the same tune, next time I come across an independent woman living on her own I will not make assumptions about her character.

Problem number four

Eve teasing! Why is it than not only men but even boys feel it is their birthright to make cat calls at every woman they see. Boys when alone do not usually misbehave but the minute they are with their friends they think it is manly to tease women/ girls.

Talking about grown ups around me. I am struck more and more by how biased and misinformed people are about people different from themselves. People are petrified of Muslims, apathetic about economically disadvantaged ,  and the men are complete insensitive to women’s issues. These are people who are very ‘well educated’, most of them with respectable professional degrees. One can’t help wondering how they managed to complete 18 to 22 years within the education system and still missed the basics.

The recent Delhi rape case brought forth a lot of discussion about changing the way men thought and behaved.  I have come to believe that gender sensitivity is a matter of an attitude/ a perspective and the place to impart that perspective is at school. I think we lay too much stress on academic achievements and don’t touch upon inculcating a sensitive humane personality.I feel it is imperative that we speak about gender and social equity with children at school. Talking about gender should be about developing an understanding of society’s assigned gender roles and expectations. It should include talking with children about what they consider ‘manly’ or ‘womanly’ thing to do. We need to break these constraining role models handed over by society so that our future generation is not tied up with this false sense of macho-ism and femininity.

I propose to start from home. To talk to the children around me about gender and social equity. I also propose to approach the school next door  to talk with students there about gender and concepts of equity. I envisage “Talking gender and social equity” as a short course – two to three weeks to be conducted with school children as a part of their curriculum. The course would have exercises that would encourage children to reflect on socially constructed  roles and expectations. I am imagining a kind of capsule learning programme that can spark children’s sensitivity. The program would be adapted to different ages and can  be repeated a couple of times during a child’s school life.

Problem number five 

Traffic and road safety. Though this is unrelated to the problems discussed above. It is a very real problem that most of urban India faces today. We need to urgently address this issue or else it will become impossible to survive in our cities which are choking up with car fumes. The most important step will be to create good quality public transport systems. Though that is the work of the government and we can not undertake that on a personal level. We can still take some steps that will help in addressing this problem. We can raise our voices in our children’s schools or in the schools we teach that at least these schools provide good quality, efficient and safe transport facilities to the students. Next time we speak to a local MLA, or go to vote, we need to raise the issue of public transport. If we as voters demand better public transport most probably we will get it.

This post is a part of Weekend contest at BlogAdda.com in association with Chanakya’s new manifesto