Apr 242012
 

As a kid the mother used to have issues with me eating healthy stuff. (she claims she still does). For mom, healthy food included beetroot curry (ugh), carrot sambhar (double ugh), and some equally horrendous concoctions. Needless to say i used to protest. quite vocally at that. But the one thing I never did (and never do) is waste food. There were two reasons for that.

The first was, and this is where parents cause severe trauma to their kids :D , the story of Annapurna – the Goddess of food. Annapurna, loves, so the story my mother told me, feeding children. If children did not’ like the food she ‘created’ and provided, and waste it, she would be heart broken. She would then sit by the banks of the river and sob. And when that happens there will be no food for anyone. This image of the goddess crying was so overwhelming, I ate every terrible green that landed on my plate.

The second was, and used when i went past the stage of being impacted by Goddesses crying, the story of starving children. You can’t waste food, my mother would say,  think of all the starving children in India. That worked for a good two decades or more. One fine day I grew up. When my mother had cooked something obnoxious -boiled doodhi with basic tadka – i rebelled. Said No. I want tasty food. She said, think of all the starving kids in India (i was 33 or so) … and then the cookie crumbled, the tube light came on, conciousness dawned, and I asked he “if i ate the damn thing, how will they eat it”.

This morning, as news filtered in of the successful Agni V launch I had a sense of deja vu. The murmurs began.  I almost expect an issue long rant from Arundathi Roy – shouldn’t India be feeding her poor? Yes, of course. There are no questions about providing food security for the most disadvantaged. But, IMO physical security is equally important. The best periods of growth have been in an era of peace and stability.

But just because you won’t test launch the Agni or not launch satellites doesn’t mean you will feed more people. The two are linked the way everything is linked. But, is there a linkage between spending on science and tech and hunger? Are people going hungry because India is spending on moon missions and ballistic missiles?  Is hunger about lack of money or is it something else ? People aren’t going hungry because there is no food.

People are starving because the PDS system, storage facilities and the supply chain is wonky. NO matter how many curbs you put on expenditure on technology and defence, our people will still starve unless that is fixed. It is glamorous to bleed one’s heart over the cost of scientific R&D, but curtailing it will no more impact hunger, than me eating that terrible doodhi…

Bleeding hearts are needed, but leaky brains are quite something else…

Agni - courtesy NYT  

Apr 242012
 

…with all due respects to Marquez. :D

Decline and fall of civilisation can be seen best in West Bengal. In 200 years you move froma Raja Ram Mohan Roy driven enlightenment to Mamata Banerjee driven idiocracy. From arresting cartoonists, to painting the city blue, from moving Pakistan to sharing a border with Bangladesh to inexplicable bitchfits when things don’t go her way, Mamata has been a source of amusement for that part of India that doesn’t have to live or do business in West Bengal.

Amul, as usual, gets it right

There is an online exhbition of Mamata cartoons here

Apr 242012
 

My column in today’s DNA

Determination.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009, known simply as the RTE, came a century after Gopal Krishna Gokhale made an impassioned plea to the Imperial Legislative Council for introducing Free and Compulsory Primary Education in India. He said,  “the state should accept in this country the same responsibility in regard to mass education that the government of most civilized countries are already discharging and that a well considered scheme should be drawn up and adhered to till it is carried out.. The well being of millions upon millions of children who are waiting to be brought under the influence education depends upon it…”

 

Nine decades after this speech, the Right to Education became a fundamental right, and a 100 years later the Government of India delivered the Act that allowed for Universal Public Education. The Act mandated that education not only be provided byGovernmentSchool, but also that 25% of all seats in every school inIndiabe reserved for children from economically weak sections. Needless to say, private schools had an objection and challenged the Act. Last week the Supreme Court upheld the law, but exempted unaided minority schools from the ambit of the law.

 

Naturally there has been a debate about the SC ruling. Many are fuming about the restriction of economic choice of private schools and an assault on the right to do business, others are aghast that their children will be studying with the children of their servants, and there is outrage that minority appeasement is being followed by exempting unaided minority schools from following this law.

 

The first thing to remember is that education, especially school education inIndiais not a business. It is not supposed to be run on the principles that govern a business – namely profit. Private Schools, across, the country  are by a myriad of charitable public trusts. The trusts receive land from the government at low or no cost  and are supposed to, by law, reserve seats for economically weak classes. Much the same as hospitals that are built on land granted by the government. Neither do. If a SC ruling is needed to ensure that these ‘charitable trusts’ are forced to honour the letter and spirit of their contracts, then so be it.

 

For those who are having kittens at the prospect of their children studying with the children of ‘servants’, they will get over it. It was probably the same reaction people had  when the British Raj mandated that all Indians of all castes had access to schools paid for by the Government., or that white families had in the Southern States of theUSAwhen the Government mandated the end of segregation in schools. The coming together of children from all backgrounds is going to do them all good. The children will possibly take to it a lot better than their parents.

 

The second, equally important thing to remember is that minority does not mean religious minority. It can mean any minority – religious, linguistic or indeed a sect. Many  quality schools in cities fall under this category. What the SC has done has exempted, in addition to religious schools run by unaided trusts,  some of the best schools from being part of the RTE. And this exemption is discrimination. This needs to be challenged because the law of the land applies to all, and there is no such thing as unaided. Trusts are given a wide range of tax exemptions on their activities- and it can be argued that these constitute aid by the tax payer.  It also needs to be repealed because you will have a slew of educational trusts applying for minority status, defeating the purpose of the law.

 

If you look beyond the cities, across states, private schools have begun providing school education. This means schools run by Trusts, and usually those Trusts run by politicians. They were granted this to enable the state to provide better education for children. In many cases these trusts have taken over the infrastructure of existing government schools with the promise of providing better quality of education to the students. Should these not be required to provide free education to economically disadvantaged ?

 

Finally, the problem is not with either the RTE or the SC ruling. The problem is with a Governmental hypocrisy that decrees profit in education to be a ‘sin’.  Maybe, parents and schools should lobby the Supreme Court for allowing businesses to run schools on the principles that govern good business. Not allowing businesses to run schools and perpetuating this sham of ‘charitable trusts’ will stunt RTE for the right to receive education will be best fulfilled when there is a corresponding right to provide education.