Feb 122014

My column in the DNA on 26th December 2013

And one more year comes to a close. As the years pass, it seems like each year is ending more rapidly than the previous one, jam-packed with events that come like a barrage of missiles at the unsuspecting population. This year has been no different — awe-inspiring events and stomach-churning brutality competed for headlines. There were people whose loss made us feel bereft, and there were those who we wished to see hanged. Like every year, the headline for this could read “the best of times, the worst of times”, but that cliché is so well worn, that it would be tragic to dust it out and use it again.   In these plethora of events — the good, the bad, and the ugly — that made it to our headlines, I am going to filter out the depressing, the mind-numbing and the savage ones — and look at my top five events and personalities for the year.

Justice Verma Commission report: The end of 2012 saw the death of the young woman savagely attacked, raped and brutalised by a gang of men, out for a joyride and ‘good time’. For some reason, among all the brutal and bloody rapes and murders that take place in this country, this one awoke the conscience of India. Women and men poured out onto the streets not just to protest this death, but also to ask for an India where they, their families and friends could lead a life of relative safety and security. The culmination of that protest was the appointment of the Justice Verma Committee to look into amendments to the criminal laws that dealt with violence against women in general, and sexual violence against women in particular. In addition to looking at rape, the committee also looked at other forms of sexual violence — stalking, acid attacks, marital rape, sexual harassment at the workplace, khap panchayats and honour killings, child sex abuse, trafficking and more. But it was not just the  proposed amendments to the law that made the Justice Verma Commission Report extraordinary. Its sterling achievement was drawing up The Bill of Rights for Women. If even a fraction of them come to pass in my lifetime, it would be a tremendous achievement for the Indian Society.  Parliamentarians diluted some of the recommendations during the passage of The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013, but it is a start.

Mangalayan: The smallest, lightest, most cost-effective spacecraft is on its way to Mars. And it is completely made in India — a testament to Indian scientific progress, ingenuity and, dare one say, jugaad. The naysayers were many — it can’t take off, it won’t leave the orbit, it is a waste of time, energy and effort; what about sanitation? But the scientists at ISRO persisted with the dream of having a Mars Mission and triumphed over all negativity.  When it enters Mars’ orbit — and here I evoke the power of positive thinking — it would place the Indian mark on the planet. The rationale that a country like India with its myriad developmental issues should not spend money on luxuries such as space exploration is often heard, especially in international media. But, can India deny future generations the advantages of at least a fledgling space programme? I would believe the answer is ‘no’.

The triumph of the outsider: Two major political shifts have taken place in India this year — and they both have two do with the outsider surmounting all odds to rise to the top. The two men could not be more unalike, but they have managed to catch the imagination of their political constituencies and are setting the agenda for political discourse — Narendra Modi, the BJP’s PM candidate, and Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the Aam Aadmi Party and Delhi’s CM-designate. Love them or hate them, one thing is clear: you cannot ignore them. And, you cannot take away from the sheer dint of hard work, perseverance, vision and personal charisma that attract people to their ways of thinking. In a political system bound by traditional courtesies, family ties and used to incremental improvements, Modi and Kejriwal have come from outside the system and shaken it up. It gives hope to people that they don’t have to know someone, or be related to someone to make it big.

Sachin Tendulkar retiring: When Sachin Tendulkar’s last match was played in Mumbai, and when he walked back to the pavilion for the last time, there were tough, grown-ups who were in tears.  I would think that 50 per cent of India cannot remember an Indian cricket team in which Tendulkar was not present. And if Indians could unite on anything, it was that Tendulkar is their favourite hero. And we got together to give him a farewell like no other. Inspiring because nice guys sometimes finish so far ahead of the rest, and with so much grace and decency that it feels good.

Nelson Mandela’s long walk to the stars: When Nelson Mandela died, I posted on Facebook that it felt personal, like a very dear and loved member of my family had died. The response to that one statement was huge — those who responded seem to feel the same.  For a man who started life believing in violent means to achieve ends, and then transformed himself into a symbol of peace and reconciliation, Mandela appealed to that part of us that celebrates all that is good and noble.His funeral in South Africa became a celebration of his life. What more could one ask of a life well-lived?

Through the year we consume all that is going wrong with the world as news. Maybe as the year comes to an end, it is time to introspect and pick out the good — the events that will stay with us in years to come. The events that we will think and smile wistfully about.

Goodbye 2013. Happy 2014.

Apr 012010

There is a time to talk about how this Fundamental Right can be implemented better. And, there is a time to celebrate the fact that it is a fundamental right !

For now, i will feel good about the fact that a system cares enough to make this a Fundamental Right !

One of the things that you notice when you travel into India, is that communities that have traditionally been deprived formal education, bend over backwards to ensure that their children get educated. Often this is a daily struggle.

Can I Come In ?
a child outside a balwadi in Udgir, Maharashtra – waiting to get into school. The child is from a Dalit family and faced discrimination in the main school. Dalit women set up a SHG and from their profits set up a school where their children can learn without discrimination.

Pardhi School

This is the Pardhi school – the yellow plastic bag in the foreground contains all the educational material. Pardhis are a tribe in India who traditionally hunted for a living. However, in a more modern setup with the kings owning land – Pardhi’s were declared as criminals – hunting from the kings’ land. Ostracized they began to survive through minor crimes – poaching, making away with livestock and so on. Very often caste, class and social systems ensured that the Pardhi’s could not assimilate with main stream society, and their dependance on crime increased. The British Raj declared the Pardhi’s to be criminal tribes.

Post independence the term cirminal was dropped and attempts were made to bring the tribe in line with mainstream society. However, it hasn’t been easy. Even today the police will look for a Pardhi at the first hint of a crime. Villages don’t want Pardhi’s settling down near them – because of their past. Many settle illegaly on Forest Land and their settlements are torn down at regular intervals. All this leaves the children in dire straits. A nomadic lifes tyle is not condusive to education, and social ostracization means that they are wary of going to the local schools. NGO’s have set up a number of projects that help educate Pardhi children, Using volunteers it ensures that basic education skills are imparted to these children.

Hopefully, the fundamental right to education means that getting access to education is no longer a struggle. Now, all that remains is to put the teachers and infrastructure in place ! Given that this is now a Fundamental Right citizens can be more empowered to demand the supply of education in their neighbourhood…. What i would like to see now is a military like campaign that drafts teachers to give the new law a leg up. Maybe the State can start with those who have retired over the last 10 years and see if they can teach again !

It is not often that one has the opportunity to laud the Government – here is one. Well done !

Jan 212009

The New Year has been good. I haven’t had a single day off :)
January started with me traveling to Shimla for a shoot. The story is that of communities – and how they understand, appreciate and prepare to beat the effects of natural hazards.

Shimla lies in an earthquake prone zone. The last earthquake struck a century ago. Experts predict one any time now. Also, parts of the state face cloudbursts, landslides, floods etal. We worked with all aspects of the system – from the individual household to the state machinery with the NGO acting as a bridge, a catalyst, educators and as sensitizers . It is nice to see the system at work.

two shot

two children at a school that is being retrofitted to make it earthquake proof.

I finished the documentary “Lessons that Matter” that charted post Tsunami long term rehabilitation in 3 countries. In Damniyamgama village in the Kalutura district of Sri Lanka, rehabilitation took the form of an eco-village that is built on age old traditions of living in peace with nature and the surroundings and self sufficiency. In the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India – this was in the form of Swayam – a micro credit programme that sought to break the cycle of dependency that is created after a disaster. In Banda Aceh, Indonesia – the initiative came with a Tsunami Resource Centre – that resolved to train future generations to survive hazards.

The Crew - dealing with kids
At the Sarvodaya Eco Village, Damniyamgama, Sri Lanka. Children at the pre primary schoo.

I will have detailed posts on each of these soon… but , i am actually running. We travel to Balasur in Orissa tomorrow to tell the story of how communities are gearing up to prepare for cyclones.

And Finally,
Jhing Chik Jhing Cogito TV’s first Marathi feature film is progressing through post production. We are all terribly excited about it. Saw the first cut on Sunday. It was good. it hasn’t been dubbed yet, the music isn’t on yet, the tranists are not yet done — yet it holds. Bharat Jadhav is brilliant and so is Chinmay Kambli. murmurs of Cannes have begun.

Chinmay Kambli & Arti More – Jhing Chik Jhing

Bharat Jadhav, Manasi Juvekar, Chinmay Kambli & Aarti More – Jhing Chik Jhing

Dilip Prabhavalkar in Jhing Chik Jhing

Hopefully the rest of the year should be like this :)

Nov 152007

It is not just [tag]Narendra Modi[/tag] who stands in the dock. The [tag]Communist Party of India[/tag] (Marxist) has just joined the ranks of those who use terror to subjugate their own people. The Chief Minister, [tag]Buddhadeb Bhattacharya[/tag] has been as callous as Modi when discussing the violence in Nandigram:

”I stick to that. Some people are trying to project that the violence was started by CPI-M workers. Last 11 months, the Bhoomi Uchched Pratirodh Committee, the Trinamool Congress and the Maoists were creating violence with arms. And last two-three days, CPI-M workers had paid them back in their own coin,”

I can just see the next session of Parliament….. the BJP will shout Nandigram, the CPI(M) will shout Gujarat …. and in the melee that ensues nothing will get done, and no one will get justice…..

When you see images, and testimonies… and the sheer terror in the eyes of those on camera, you wonder at the State and its stupidity…. Why is the Indian Government chasing people into the arms of the Naxals?

For all those who have been screaming about Mumbai being Shanghai and other such non-sense…. please remember this is how the Chinese State acquires land…When Chinese methods are applied in [tag]India[/tag], what we will get is [tag]Nandigram[/tag]……

This also brings me to another question….

Why is it that agrarian land is being set aside for SEZ’s?Look at it from the tax payers point of view … we have subsidised the land, we have subsidised infrastructure to reach this land, we have subsidised practically everything that goes to make the land prosperous…. and now, all this is being handed over to business & industry. And we are going to subsidise the farmers moving out and industry moving in…..

Won’t it be more sensible to look at unproductive areas and set up SEZ’s there — the SEZ’s will bring in roads, infrastructure, employment and what not…. What is the purpose of putting up SEZ’s in already over crowded locales….

Development never happens overnight, and I am not sure that what ever is happening in the name of development is going to bear fruits in the long run…..

Oct 192007

[tag]James Watson[/tag] seems to have been infected with the Prince Phillip Syndrome – this is a syndrome when otherwise intelligent men open their mouth in public and plunge head long into it…..

It is also sad to see once brilliant men, instead of evolving with society and new thoughts — remaining fossilzed in the past especially in areas of society and culture. These sort of views on matters of society are the social sciences equivalent of those who think that the universe was created over one week…

Sure we are all racially different – and we have different core abilities based on geography, history, culture, etal….. But, i would think that it would be more a function of ‘social & locational’ factors than genes.For example – a kid growing up at 18000 ft, who sprints 10 km to school everyday is probably going to have a great chance of being a marathon runner, but take that same child and put him in Mumbai and send him to school 10 minutes away walking — it is highly likely that he will be an asthmatic wreck in 10 years. But the same asthmatic kid in Mumbai may learn to speak four languages simultaneously while the kid in the village at 18,000 feet may just be comfortable in one language. …As with linguistic abilities or physical abilities, the same with intellectual abilities — if i am living to survive, then my survival skills will be honed, if survival and comfort is assured, then i will develop other skills… including academic etal…

Maybe, and his ilk will be better of figuring whether it is race that makes the powerful nations & corporations interfere in the affairs of African countries, perpetuating civil war across the board….. or is it pure selfishness….And maybe, just maybe, if this question is answered and peace comes to the continent as a whole… and children can grow up without drought, civil war, rape, hunger, poverty, destruction and a constant battle to survive…. then maybe, we can figure whether it is nature, nurture or third thing…..At this point of time you cannot compare someone living in peace with basic physical & emotional security taken care of…..with someone who isn’t….. It is basic bad science… be it social science or physical science.

Also read: wired — The Science & Assumptions behind Watson’s views on Blacks

Scientific American — on Won a Nobel, Go Nuts and on James Watson’s Greatest Hits..