‘Happy’ and ‘Independence’ Day, is it?

On the grand day when  the entire nation is enthralled with feelings of celebration, oozing with patriotism and enjoying a day off, there occurs an incident which questions the entire conceptual privilege around the feeling of being ‘free’ or ‘independent’ in India itself.

I am talking about the gruesome rape of a 12 year old girl in Chandigarh, on her way back home after having attended the Indian ‘Independence Day’ celebrations at her school. Not something new to have happened in our country, but on a day like this when social media, phone texts/ messages  are filled with talks of patriotism, of freedom struggle, there lies an under shadowed reality where the struggle continues. It was in Sector 23 where a man  stopped her, pulled her aside and raped her. He also held a knife to scare the little girl.
Sadly, being a multi-party country, what we are best at are talks, lengthy speeches, but no serious execution. The Union Home Ministry recently held a candle-light march to assert the right to safely access public spaces but where does this end? The march was preceded by nothing but a similar incident just days later.

“According to data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2015, 8,800 cases of rape on children were registered across the country under the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act (POCSO). In 2,227 cases, or 25.3 per cent, the offenders were found to be employers or co-workers”- source: NCRB

These statistics  raise a few questions in mind about How free are we?

Are we free to stroll alone outside our homes?

Are we free to travel alone during the day, let alone night?

The answer is Yes, we are free- but sadly at our own risk! So, what use is this dreaded freedom’ of?

This news neither made me happy nor did it make me feel independent- 70 years down the line, even small children, let alone women, continue to face the same forms of sexual assault and plight which they faced during the British rule and partition.

We indeed are slaves unless freed from crime and the perpetrating criminals. We need to ponder and so do executive, legislature and judiciary- not just for formulations and implementations but also for severe deterrent measures of punishment. By the way, Happy India Independence Day?

 

How much ‘Milk’ to be wasted at this Mahashivratri festival in India?

A print release by the Government suggests- “India ranks first in milk production, accounting for 18.5 per cent of world production, achieving an annual output of 146.3 million tones during 2014-15 as compared to 137.69 million tonnes during 2013-14 recording a growth of 6.26 per cent.”

While milk production is on a steady high, so is milk consumption. Though research suggests a huge disparity between the amount of milk consumed in rural areas and the urban areas, an average consumer in north western states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana spends more than Rs. 500 per month on milk. Undoubtedly, milk is the nation’s favorite since it is not only associated with being a source of nourishment and protein, but also as a means of displaying appreciation and dissent.

GENERIC OBLIVION NEEDS STATISTICAL WAKE UP CALL – TEMPLES AND ACTORS EARLIER, ROADS NOW!

The tradition of offering tonnes of milk to the ‘Shivling’ (during Mahashivratri which is almost on the cards) and other idols of Gods and Goddesses has long been under the baits of discussion. Reports are suggestive of how gallons of milk is wasted in the name of offering it to Gods while millions die of hunger each day. The World Bank estimates India as one of the highest ranking countries in the world in terms of malnutrition statistics.  Another startlingly alarming fact is that 10 million people succumb to death every year, owing to chronic hunger and various other hunger-related diseases. And to put facts under a clearer slate of reasons, 92% of these deaths are a result of hunger prevailing under normal and ‘celebratory’ circumstances of the land of festivals. Only eight percent are the victims of hunger due to calamities such as high-profile earthquakes, floods, droughts and so on.

When temples weren’t enough, we jubliated towards decorating milk on the posters of God-like celebrities such as Rajnikanth just prior to his film release. And still when our obsession with milk didn’t seem enough, we came up with downpour of gallons of milk all across city roads like those of Ahmedabad on 6th July since a bunch of farmers wanted to protest.

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MERE HYPE OR CAN MILK INDEED TREAT MALNUTRITION? 

According to experts, carbohydrates, protein, fats and vitamins are the 4 essentials which save us from mal-nourishment. Surprisingly, just 250 ml cup of milk per day contains 8.38 g fat, 11.65 g carbohydrate, 8.3 g protein and is an excellent source of Vitamin B12, has 5% Vitamin A and 29% Calcium. Furthermore, 87% of milk is water and hence a vital indirect source of nutritional solvents.

I can now quite confidently say that my argument is not just another plain one hanging in the thin air, but yes, even a cup of milk per day can facilitate the inherent battle of the internally plagued and malnourished India.

A single metric tonne of milk is equivalent to 1,000,000 ml. This quantity is sufficient enough to feed 4,000 people Below the Poverty Line. Though there isn’t a confirmed statistic on the number of tonnes of milk wasted annually in the name of Mahashivratri season and protests, the fact that there are thousands of huge temples across the country, reassures that the milk wastage is definitely beyond a single unit of metric tonne. Just imagine! How many malnourished children can be treated with this amount? 4,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 or more?

WHAT’S BEEN DONE ISN’T ENOUGH!

In 2014, Madras High Court had passed an order over a PIL that sought to hold the wastage of  milk. The court bench said: “The commodity should be used for the benefit of young children besides offering to the deities.” The bench however, conceded that it could not put restrictions on the rituals under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department.

On the other hand, some are not willing to give up. Care takers of Saketri Shiv Temple in Chandigarh came up with an initiative to utilize the offered milk in 2015.  The officials stated that people usually got milk in pouches. The temple collected these pouches only to distribute after heating the milk. The temple volunteers collected 170 quintals of milk at the rate of Rs 38.35 per kg for offering. About the same quantity of milk is donated by the devotees which comes up to be 350 quintals. Besides this, 60,000 bananas were also arranged for devotees.

Though an impressive step, it hasn’t been replicated by many. The stress must lay on prohibiting the wastage of milk, it can save lives and it has been validated enough. Ours being a progressive society, must save its millions of kids who die of hunger, when its completely in our hands to move beyond our religious obsessions. How progressive is our India where 10 million hungry people die annually? And, how much milk do you plan to offer to idols this Mahashivratri?

Death by Intoxicated Food vs Affordability: An Indian Dilemma

By Naina Sharma

“An Act to consolidate the laws relating to food and to establish the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India for laying down science based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import, to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.” This is the Food Safety and Standards Act of India framed in 2006. An Act dedicated towards ensuring healthier food consumption for people, stands helpless in front of the junk food packets or even the street food stalls serving across the country.

An inquiry by the KABP (Knowledge, Attitudes, Beliefs and Practices) study on food and drug safety in India surveyed 20,719 households from five regions spread over 28 states.
About 13.2 percent households reported that at least one person in each household
suffered from foodborne illness during the previous 15 days of the survey. At
community level 3 percent of the villages surveyed indicated that there was at least one
foodborne disease outbreak in the community during previous one year. It is reported
that distribution (%) of foodborne diseases according to food safety awareness and
practices by region wise (North, South, East, West and North East) indicated that
occurrence of foodborne disease was high in the western region (24.2 percent) from the
nearest region i.e. North East (10.9 percent).

 

The reasons are plentiful. There are innumerable bacterial pathogens which can be commonly found in street eateries. Many of these cause vomiting, diarrhoea, vomiting, appetite loss, typhoid, food poisoning, clostridium perfringens, abdominal cramps and in most severe cases, death. The presence of coliform in surveys conducted across the markets of the Indian Capital (New Delhi) over the past few years, indicate the absence of clean water giving way to unhygienic conditions during the food preparation. 

The fact that 22% of the Indian population lives below its official poverty limit of less than $1.25 dollars a day is quite an alarming peek into the reasons why the slum dwellers are forced to feed on food reminisces dumped as the street garbage. This is a reality which substantiates the reports by WHO (World Health Organization). WHO reports suggest that is mainly African and South-East Asia Regions which have the highest burden of food-borne diseases where 1 in 10 people fall ill every year from eating contaminated food and 4,20,000 die as a consequence.

While schemes providing free and healthy meals to the poor is one of the keys to the problem, the numerous deaths of school going children due to intoxicated mid day meals puts a question mark on the credibility of the same. How I wish- food being a basic prerequisite to survival wasn’t something the Below Poverty Line Indian population required to ‘pay’ for to ‘buy’ a living!

This Actor turned into a ‘Gifting Angel’ for Victims

By Naina Sharma

More than 60 soldiers are martyred annually in India as they leave behind their families, mostly unattended. Besides, an average of 300 Indians are victimized by acid attacks. These victims then undergo a difficult life- full of abandonment, accuses, social exclusion, inferiority and societal indifference.

Meanwhile, the recent gestures by Bollywood Actor, Vivek Oberoi have come as a pleasant surprise for the recently martyred soldiers’ families and acid attack victim, Lalita. Vivek Oberoi has ended up gifting flats to the families of the CRPF men killed in last month’s Maoist attacks in Sukma along with another flat to Lalita and her husband.

Out of the 25 flats for the martyrs’ families, 4 have already been allotted to the family members while the registration for the remaining 21 is still underway.  Earlier, it was Actor Akshay Kumar who donated a sum of 9 lakhs each to the families of the 11 CRPF soldiers martyred in Chattisgarh. Apart from this, Vivek Oberoi, the actor who had met acid attack victim Lalita at a social awareness campaign decided to gift her and her husband a flat in Mumbai.

The point is not about donation or gifts alone, but since our Bollywood actors are quite popular and are often treated as ideals and icons, it is their actions which set examples in front of the society for others to follow a pattern. While the youth does follow the Bollywood trends of smoking and fashion, it will be quite delightful to see the society learning from the apathetic side of their favorites.

While the family members of the martyrs are an equivalent warrior in terms of being brave enough to bear the sacrifice of their near ones, acid attack victims (who quite often commit suicide), on the other hand, end up being victims of a social evil for which they aren’t to be blamed. In this light, such gestures are quite an important element to assist the socially deprived people in the society. And quite truly, Vivek Oberoi has indeed turned into an angel in disguise for these people.

 

 

(Inputs from ANI) 

 

Honour Disguises Disgrace as Casteism backs Euphemism

By Naina Sharma

As a child I used to live in a bubble about a surname being something we chose for ourselves just to make our names sound fancy. Never did I know that this very surname which we attach to our identity is a symbol of severance- a symbol, which over the years has created not only divided opinions but led to violence, disputes, murders and more. Last week, three of my mornings started with waking up to the news notifications of murders in 2 different parts of the country. One thing which remained common in these killings was the cause disguised as a death for the sake of ‘Honour’.

A young woman in Telangana, Tummala Swati, 20, dies as she married Amboji Naresh who belonged to a different caste. A choice not approved by the girl’s parents on grounds of caste ultimately led to the demise of the young lady. The very next day, a pregnant woman’s husband gets killed in Jaipur, post one and a half years of marriage. Not to my surprise, the woman blamed her parents for having murdered her husband over dissent on the marriage since the parents were Jats from Rajasthan and Mr. Nayyar belonged to Kerala.

INDIA: A LAND WHERE CASTE DEFINES HONOUR

Deeply plagued by a historic hierarchy of castes divided into 4 major slabs, research suggests that more than 1,000 young people (mostly the ones who opt for inter-caste marriages) in India are doned to death annually in the name of ‘honour’. Research statistics by  National Crime Record Bureau indicates an enormous spike in the incidents of honour killing across the country. Every year there is a more than 700% hike in murders committed for honour. While the figure was 28 in 2014, it has jumped to 251 in 2015.

Strongly supported by a tradition of In-Caste Marriages and Caste based hierarchy, staunch followers of the Indian traditions define honour through the realms of caste. A layman would describe caste as a social tag. But a stringent follower of caste system would define it as a symbol of pride. For them, it means insensitive categorization. For example, an illiterate Brahmin would be a better candidate for marrying a girl as compared to an excessively educated OBC. We must not ignore this sick mentality as it continues to plague the country. The deaths owing to ‘honour killings’ are now 60% greater than deaths due to terrorism if compared over the past few years. The most prominent states which witness this evil frequently are Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh where UP  alone has a count of 900 honour killings annually. The fact that more than 90% of the couples opt for or are rather forced to go for arranged marriage (based on castes) suggests that there are just 10% families which favour inter caste weddings. Thanks to the matrimonial columns which have extensively promoted within castre weddings, inter- caste marriages have seemingly attained the status of being a social crime.

FORCED MARRIAGES: A SUBSTITUTE TO ‘HONOUR’ KILLING?

The maximum cases of honour killing have been reported in the most populated state of the country, Uttar Pradesh. However, what is devastating is that forced marriages are considered as an alternative solution to avoid honour killing. So, in most cases there does exist a choice on the part of the victim to either get married forcefully or lose their lives. In a country which is the largest democracy of the world, the will of most of the people is sacrificed in the name of deep old tradition of caste system.

However, there are intertwined complexities as forced marriages are convoluted with honour killings. On one hand, marriage is forced on an individual to save honour, and on the other hand, women can be killed as well for rejecting a marriage fixed against her consent and rather willing to marry a partner who is unacceptable to her family.

POLITICAL AND JUDICIAL STANCE

The Indian Law has a perplexed stance on honour killings. At present,honour killing falls under the Section 302 of IPC. Most of the honour killing cases are not broadly tried as murder. For the same reason, many a times questions have been raised in the parliament over the current laws related to honour killing. Recently (post honour killings in UP and Telangana), it was Jharna Das Baidya, CPI(M) member from Tripura who wished to question if falling in love was a “big crime” in India. She further stated that the northeast hardly witnessed such incidents which is an evidence of education being an important factor in curbing the crime. Baidya urged the government to bring a specific law that deals with stringent provisions in case of honour killing offenders.

If one looks at the Supreme Court rulings of the past, the problem shouldn’t have aggravated to the current level in the first place. In the year 2006 itself, the SC ruled that,”inter caste marriages lay in the national interest as they would destroy the caste system”. The SC also believes that there is nothing honourable in the acts of honour killing and that they depict feudal mindedness which must be subject to severe punishment. With shame killings being an epidemic equal to other crimes in the country,there lies a dire need to give special status to the examination of honour killings where the cause preceding the murder must be taken up as the actual murder instead.

I come from a family where not just inter- caste but inter- religion weddings have also taken place for a simple reason that our pride lies in the human and not in his/her caste. For a country which is secular and has a constitution which describes no discrimination on the basis of caste,creed or religion in Article 14,our honour must then lie in freedom, happiness, individual accomplishments and not in barbaric vigilante will euphemised by the the ethnological taboo around caste.

Here is where Nature and Children smile at the same time!

Ever heard of Recycled Playgrounds for the Homeless?

India is ‘home’ to a minimum of 100 million ‘homeless’ children. Yes, you heard it right! Statistics of the lastly conducted research by UNICEF in 2003 suggests that about a 100 million street children all across the globe out of which 11 million live in India. At the same time, this approximation can also be considered as a clear under estimation. In a country where millions of children are hungry on the streets, it is almost a dream to give them an acceptable ground to play alone, let alone education.

Floating Garbage: A trampoline? 

Not only does the floating garbage all across the country spread diseases and environmental hazards, the fact that millions of children try and find merry in the dirt is highly shameful for us as a nation. For many years, the Nullah garbage pile on the rear side of Taj Mahal in Agra, was reported to be a heap of garbage which drains waste into the river Ganga. The slum toddlers, however, this waste is a spongy trampoline to play and do jumping jacks on.

From Polluted Landfills to Recycled Playgrounds

But to our surprise, there are a few educated people in the country who have thought of making these children lead a happier childhood. play in grounds and that too, in an ecological way.  A bunch of IITians in the country used scrap tyres to build a playground and a recreation space for the underprivileged and poor children in Bengaluru.  The company named Anthill Creations has effectively completed 9 projects in more than 3 cities across the nation.

Statistics suggest that India generates tonnes of waste tyres on an annual basis, which when dumped into the landfills, or burnt otherwise, add to the environmental pollutants. since they cannot be easily decomposed and are unbreakable in the longer run. Therefore, the smart and educated IITians specifically stressed on using these tyres to build recreation spaces for the underprivileged toddlers. Their company, seeks to re-use and recycle the tyre waste to build playgrounds where hundreds of children find joy, away from fancy and posh parks. What could be better than making Children and Nature smile at the same time? 

How the Elder India lives…a reality check

By Naina Sharma

AN INCIDENT FOLLOWED BY INVESTIGATION

“Always respect the elderly” – a constant reminder by my parents, flashed across my mind as I saw an abusive incident along the roadside. An old rickshaw-puller was slapped by a young boy for having hit his car by mistake. Before I could act and move out of the cab, signals hit the green light and police held the young lad. This incident not only shook me but also raised a plethora of questions in my mind. Why did a man as old as him need to work ? Can’t we avoid elder abuse since it continues to plague the our very own country?

Meanwhile, the visual of the man’s apologetic face and joined hands didn’t seem to leave my mind. As my cab dropped me to my flat, I decided to call one of the doctors I knew in the capital. I asked Dr. Sudeep about the total cases of continued physical elder abuse that he handled in the 4 years of his practice. His reply was a confused figure of 4 or 5. For a doctor who handles 50 patients in a day, this came to me as a shock. It indicated, how elders are prohibited from seeking medical help if harmed during abuse. “The cause of injuries are generally kept hidden by sons and daughter- in-laws, never letting the us know what the truth could be”, said the doctor. He also stated that the primary responsibility of the hospital is to treat the patient and the second step is to inform the police in case of an elder abuse suspect. Out of the 4 victims he treated, none agreed on filing a case against the abuser due to reasons such as dependence on children for money and shelter or simply because they still didn’t want their children to face legal trouble. The ratio of elder abuse victim to other patients (per annum) for Dr. Sudeep came out to be 1:18,000. Hence the ratio for an average of all doctors in India is only going to be worse. The analysis was quite contrary to the government research statistics of 34% elders being brutally abused in the country, indicating a clear gap between physical abuse and help sought.

The next day, I went to seek solutions and attended an interactive session at a Senior Citizen Forum, a welfare organization in the Indian capital. I spoke to its founder Mrs. Gaba as well as a few senior citizens. The forum catered to approximately 300 elders from Delhi NCR as its members. 70% of them had been abandoned by their children living abroad and the rest were females who were widows. Also, many worked despite being old since they got no money from children. Clearly, the reasons of neglect were distinct and forms of abuse complex- such as verbal, emotional, economic and physical. The welfare forum organized entertainment events along with health related and other interactive sessions to substitute care which the senior citizens never received from their children.

ELDER INDIA’S SAD REALITY? 

Let us go through some upsetting but true facts.  Out of a population of 100 million old people, 39% of them suffer from ill-treatment. And only 5% report the incidents. Also, most of the old women are misused in more ways than one. However, the sad fact remains that majority of the abuse comes from family members. Now, how shameful is that? Though, majority of the youth I am surrounded with today is willing to take direct action again elder abuse, we have a long way to go. Drastic changes are required on personal as well as social levels along with government investigations to bring smile to those who once taught us to laugh. 

 

(Image Courtesy: Asian Express Newspaper)