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‘No point in sensationalising’

10 Mar


Crime PatrolDastak, that airs twice a week in a late night slot, has not only completed over 52 weeks in the top 10 chart, but has also become the No 1 show this week. According to the ratings issued by TAM India, the official record keeper for TV viewing in the country, the two-part  episode aired on last Friday and Saturday on Sony Entertainment, showcasing the recent ‘Baby Falak’ case in Delhi and the associated human trafficking issue, scored 6.8 points, leaving popular dailies behind.

Host Anoop Soni gives credit to the show’s director Subramaniam and to the creative and research team that consciously cut down the graphic representation of crimes. “The ratings are overwhelming. But they also point out that we have an ever-increasing audience base, and have to be more cautious about the way we discuss a case study,” he says, adding, “There’s no point in sensationalising. The idea is to narrate a story in a humane manner and understand what leads to a particular crime and how it could have been averted.”

Anoop, who only shoots anchor links for the show, prefers to read the entire screenplay to connect with a story. He also reads newspapers and magazines thoroughly and passes on cases to the show’s two-member research team for consideration. “We can’t end crimes, but circumstances that lead to punishable offences can be changed,” says the actor-anchor, who remembers receiving great feedback for a series on female foeticide cases in India.   “There are thousands of cases we’d like to highlight alongside the role that cops play in cracking them. And trust me, there’s a large chunk of the audience that’s not tuning in for voyeuristic pleasure.”

Crime Patrol’s first season aired from May 2003 to March 2006, followed by season two that ran from January 2010 to June 2010. The third season started in September 2010 and ended in December 2010. The current season flagged off on April 29, 2011. Director Subramaniam, the brain and creative force behind the show, doesn’t know if this season will ever end.

“We’re trying to keep the show newsy. At the same time, we’re trying to keep the grossness levels low because we don’t want to show gruesome crimes too graphically,” he reasons. “We had thought we’d get a little break between these cases. But the good feedback won’t let us do that anytime soon.”


The declining sex ratio

20 Feb

Missing social agenda in Haryana politics

THE data released recently by the Director General Health Services, Haryana, paints a grim picture. An unfathomable ignominy is reflected by the figures. Of the 6.5 lakh registered pregnancies in the state in 2009, only 5.39 lakh delivered baby. In the prevailing social environment, surely, a logical contemplation would imply that a large number of missing pregnancies may have been terminated for the desire to have a male child.

The consequences are perceptible, 17 out of 21 districts in the state (till October 2010) experienced substantial decline in sex ratio at the time of birth in comparison to 2009 figures. This parameter of gender discrimination has shown an alarming declining trend during the last two years.During the current year, there were 838 girls born in comparison to 1000 boys. A cursory look at the worst performing districts — Rewari, Ambala, Kurukshetra, Faridabad and Jhajjar — would suffice to conclude that female foeticide and gender discrimination continue to be rampant all across geographical and cultural precincts in the state.

The statistics provided by National family Health Survey – III also clearly show that the ill-effects of gender discrimination are gripping the state. It reveals that in Haryana 42 per cent (0-3 age group) children are under weight, 27 per cent women have body mass index below normal and 56.5 per cent ever married women are anaemic.

A recent survey conducted by the state government under the Indira Bal Sawasthya Yojana revealed that about 64 per cent (6-11 age group) children are anaemic. Worse, the magnitude of the indicators of poor health of women and children has swollen over the period of time.

The state also does not provide a safe and secure living space to women either. The Tata Strategic Management Group based on the data on gender ratio and crime against women (National Crime Bureau, 2006 and 2007) has computed female security index (FSI) for all districts in the country. Not surprisingly, 17 out of 21 districts in Haryana have been rated among the worst FSI districts of India.Among the other districts, three fell in the category of bad and only one district provided average security to women.

The social security for women has also thinned down substantially in the wake of increasing incidence of gruesome murders of young women and men in the name of family or clan ‘honour’. The women, who dared not to follow the socially acceptable behaviour, perceived to have lost their chastity or displayed courage to choose their life partners in contravention of the reigning social order have to bear the brunt in the form of violence, coercion and killing.

There are numerous examples in the state where the medieval mindset of the people and its corollary institutions like the khap panchayats has directly or indirectly precipitated situations leading to the cold blooded murder of young women and men for defying the assumed sacrosanct and age-old established value system. Successive governments in the state led by different political parties have rarely responded politically to the grievous social issues. They have often taken them as administrative challenges and responded by launching various social welfare schemes through the state administration.Some of these schemes launched in recent years may have caught the imagination of people as well, particularly in the districts headed by socially committed and conscious officers. But the empty and hollow slogans for saving girl child like, chhori nahin bachaoge to bahu kahan se laoge (if you would not save the girl child, where would you bring the bride from?) merely reflect the poverty of thought behind the much-hyped social schemes.

Such appeals and slogans clearly reflect a sexist and chauvinist overtone and give an impression that the girl child must be saved to serve the male-dominated society.

The schema of social development hardly figures in the political agenda of main political parties in Haryana. This is a disturbing trend in a state where the level of social development is lower than most of sub-Saharan countries.Ironically, even in the 21st century, the dominant political view perceives and justifies the Haryana society being governed by the conventions of patriarchy – a system of social structure and practices that values male gender roles and devalues female gender roles. It declines to visualise that the perpetuation and accentuation of gender prejudice in modern human society amounts to social degradation.

The political parties in the state with the lone exception of the left have displayed opportunism while confronting social issues emanating from reigning social order. They often take shelter behind the social traditions and values. It has been reflected through the public debate on the issues of amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act to ban same-gotra and same-village marriages and enactment of laws on honour killings in the state in 2010.

The main Opposition party, the Indian National Lok Dal, has openly advocated the amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act to appease the vast majority of rural masses engrossed in caste and sub-caste nostalgia. The present ruling party in the state, the Congress, continues dithering on the issue of amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act.

The Congress does not favour enactment of legislation on honour killings either. This despite the fact that during the recent period the state has been the epicentre of the spate of brutal killings of youth for the so-called prestige of castes or clans.

There is an organic link between the continuing social underdevelopment and the nature of political discourse in the state. Despite taking a leap economically, the state remains socially backward as its ruling elites are keeping aloft the medieval social ethos and their functional forum, khap panchayats, to maintain their political hegemony.

The writer is Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, Haryana

Banning corporal punishment in schools

25 Jun


The La Martiniere School for Boys has decided to ban corporal punishment after Rouvanjit Rawla, a student, committed suicide allegedly because of a disciplinary beating. This landmark decision has certainly changed the status quo for an institute that once prided itself for refusing to spare the rod.

The cane wielding teachers and dministrators will now be forced to stand empty-handed before their disciples—armed only with their teaching skills to make the students behave well in class and to help them to get good results. This will be somewhat unusual for most teachers who rely on brute force to make the students fall in line. With the armour taken away, some of them might now be feeling like defenseless sheep surrounded by a pack of wolves.

For teachers who relied exclusively on fear tactics or physical abuse as their disciplining tools of choice, a good amount of concern might be warranted. The rules of the game have changed with both sides fully aware of the implications. The more rambunctious children will likely test the boundaries and the patience of their teachers, knowing fully well that there’s not much that they can do if they crossed the line. But while it is unlikely that all hell will break loose when the classes resume (I’d like to give the majority of children the benefit of the doubt), it is perhaps a good time to take a closer look at why kids misbehave in the first place, how the wrong approaches to discipline can result in extreme measures such as suicide, and what can be done to create a healthy teaching environment without having to wield the danda.

While I could draw up a long list of approaches or techniques related to quality instruction, I would prefer here to focus simply on one critical educational concept: helping children develop a positive sense of self-esteem. When students have a low or negative self-image, they usually tend to alienate themselves or their problems through avoidance strategies such as not doing homework, not studying, goofing around, etc. They may also fall into unhealthy habits such as over-eating and intoxication like smoking, drinking, and taking drugs. Another common way to cope is by resorting to anti-social behaviour—such as isolating themselves, littering, destroying public property, performing practical jokes on others, bullying or injuring others, or even physically hurting themselves.

According to me, there are three key factors that together form the foundation of one’s self-esteem — autonomy, competence, and relationships. If teachers want to ensure that their students feel psychologically secure, that they don’t crack under pressure, and they will take up life’s challenges with a constructive, can-do attitude, then they must unequivocally give sufficient attention to these aspects of the child’s growth.

Help Develop a Sense of Autonomy

Children today have very little choice in what they do. Their schedules are largely predetermined: their course of study is set by some anonymous curriculum committee; they have to wear school uniforms selected by school officials; streams and courses of study are often decided by parents, as are academic targets that they are expected to achieve. It’s not strange to hear a parent tell the child, ‘I want you to get ninety percent marks in Maths next time!’ But when students lack opportunities to make choices regarding the way they live their lives, it fosters feelings of oppression and desperation in them. Then, when they are faced with a difficult situation (such as exam stress or differences of opinion with parents), they may feel helpless, believing there is little they can do to fix the situation. As a result, they resort to fight-or-flight responses that could create even bigger problems for them.

The solution here is to give children more choices in life—choices about their daily schedules, food, the way they can study or learn about a topic, or even their homework assignments. The more decisions that they take on their own, the more they will feel they have control on their lives, and the less likely they will be to succumb to pressure when they are faced with challenges. Parents and teachers should even go as far as to let kids set their own rules and punishments for misbehaviour. Children adopt a very different attitude when they are asked to follow the guidelines they have set rather than ones that have been handed down to them.

Help Children to Feel Competent

All of us want to feel competent—to know that they are good at something, that what they do is of value or meaning to themselves or others. Part of being able to feel a sense of worth involves the knowledge of the where the strengths lie. Unfortunately, too little is done in education to help children understand their unique set of qualities, let alone encourage them to improve their strengths. As a result, children who manage to discover their inner talents reach high levels of achievement by default, while those who don’t, sit discouraged, believing they have no redeeming qualities—that they were simply dealt a losing hand.

The very word education means ‘to draw out’. And it is with this definition in mind that teachers must stop the unidirectional flow of information that does just the opposite-‘pushing in’. Instead, they must spend time identifying the traits that exist within each student and nurture them. This can be done with models such as Multiple Intelligences (MI) and Multiple Natures (MN). Multiple Intelligences identifies eight distinct abilities that describe how a student is smart, including Bodily, Interpersonal, Logical, Linguistic, Visual, Musical, Intrapersonal and Naturalistic. Multiple Natures explains the ways in which individuals use their abilities. These include Protective, Educative, Administrative, Creative, Healing, Entertaining, Providing, Entrepreneurial and Adventurous.

Teachers should help students understand the spectrum of qualities that exist, and how even though they might not be strong in Maths/Logic, they might be gifted in some other way like their interpersonal abilities might be excellent or their providing nature can get appreciated. Students should be told that when they graduate, those candidates who possess excellent people skills will be paid a premium in sales and PR jobs, and that in the hospitality sector, those with the knack for catering to others needs or desires will be labeled star performers.

Multiple Intelligences and Multiple Natures are largely formed by the time children are six years old, so there is ample time for teachers to get students to recognize and develop their talents. But unfortunately, most teachers only acknowledge those students who demonstrate excellent numerical or linguistic abilities. If teachers took it upon themselves to make a priority, within days, every child in the school would know how he or she is special. When you know you’re special, you feel good about yourself. And when you feel good about yourself, you behave in ways that are socially redeeming and constructive.

Encourage Children to have Healthy Relationships

In his book Social Intelligence, Daniel Goleman explains how our brains are wired socially, and how our general feeling of wellbeing is largely dependent on the number of and strength of our social relationships. When children are brought up in environments where they receive high amounts of personal engagement, their brains develop in a psychologically healthy manner. Neural networks develop between the emotional centres of the brain and its other parts in a way that we learn to trust and bond with others easily. When such bonding occurs, the brain secretes hormones that make us feel happy, enabling us to find comfort in the association of others when hardships arise. Those who do not have strong social bonds are forced to find solace by distracting themselves—methods that may evolve into more serious avoidance or attention-getting strategies down the road—the most serious of all being suicide.

Schools therefore need to take great care in ensuring that children have strong support systems both at home and at school. As part regular assessments, teachers and guidance counselors should spend time to measure the strength of a child’s social bonds, and, if they determine that their social support structure is weak, make it a priority to strengthen it. Just as tuitions are prescribed for students who lack academically, so should recommendations be made for children to increase time with family members, friends, and others—to spend more quality time with each other, especially in play, creative activities, the arts and other non-academic pursuits.

The La Martiniere incident was a travesty that resulted in a loss of a life, and our hearts go out to Rouvanjit Rawla, and his family. While the story will continue to unfold and we will eventually get to know the facts that led to this tragic event, let us use this opportunity as a wake up call—not merely to reconfirm what we already know (that corporal punishment is cruel, unwarranted, and illegal), but to address the rkoot causes behind stress in students, unhappiness, inappropriate behaviour and suicide.

Without a doubt, self-esteem is a critical component of a child’s psychological wellbeing, and schools have a definite role to play in contributing to their students’ positive sense of self. Doing so need not be a difficult task; the strategies I have laid out are easy to implement and do not require government legislation or extra funding. Now that La Martiniere has prohibited any kind of physical abuse in its campuses, it will undoubtedly want to equip its faculty with other tools that can ensure better behaviour and academic performance. If they give it a try, I feel, they will surely find building self-esteem through enhancing autonomy, competence and relationships to be far more effective than the rod.

(The author is an American educationist, researcher, TV personality and public speaker based in India. His book, The 10 Laws of Learning was published by Random House India in 2009.)

(Courtesy: Random Reads, the official blog of Random House India;

Audit shock

18 May


A social audit on the working of the ban on child labour in the domestic and hospitality sectors reveals a sorry state of affairs.

LIKE any normal child, Illyas from Varanasi, a 13-year-old, wanted to go to a regular school and become an important man some day. But poverty forced him to start working at an eatery for Rs.200 a day so that he could feed his younger siblings. He, however, continues his studies as well and is in class V. But his naive question stupefies all who hear it: “Shouldn’t the government help children like us to go to a school without working?”

Sanjay from Kursela, Bihar, has not been so lucky. Almost the same age as Illyas, he had to give up studies after class IV, when his father took ill, to take care of his three younger siblings. He earns Rs.900 a month, gets free food and supports his two younger brothers’ education.

Fifteen-year-old Nagaraju from Alware village, Nalgonda, Andhra Pradesh, works as a cleaner at a hotel for Rs.1,500 a month plus abuses and beatings. This poor boy supports the education of his elder sister, who has completed her intermediate and is planning to go for higher studies. His sister’s education, he hopes, will one day end his troubles.

Pooja, 13, from Lohanipur, Patna, cooks for a living and earns Rs.800 a month. Her three siblings work for food. She supports her mother, who turned mentally unstable after her husband abandoned her.

These heart-wrenching tales of real children were narrated at a public hearing on the working of the ban on child labour in the domestic sector and in the hospitality industry, which has been in force since October 2006. The public hearing, which was held in New Delhi on April 30, was the culmination of a nationwide social audit.

Looking at the sorry state of affairs in the country as far as child rights are concerned, one can see why there is an anguished cry for justice for children. The social audit, carried out by the Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL) and the Campaign Against Child Trafficking (CACT) in association with over 30 non-governmental organisations working for child rights, covered 12 States – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Goa, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. It brought out a mind-boggling, countrywide tale of apathy, insensitivity and indifference.

Quoting official sources such as the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India, the social audit report puts the number of children employed in the domestic sector at 1.86 lakh and in the hospitality industry at 70, 934. In all, over 2.56 lakh children work in the domestic and hospitality sectors. Unofficial sources, however, put the figure at around 20 million.

Compared with the enormity of the problem, the response of the authorities to the social audit was poor, even hostile, the report says. This is evident from the figures given of the number of children rescued in various States since the ban came into effect. Andhra Pradesh, which was more forthcoming with information than other States, rescued five children in 2006, 97 in 2007, 242 in 2008 and 62 in 2009. Bihar, which gave the figures for 2008 and 2009 only, rescued 474 and 1,404 children respectively. Delhi, where roughly 50,000 child workers are engaged in these two sectors, four children were rescued in 2006, 91 in 2007, 33 in 2008, and no figures are available for 2009. In Jharkhand, only 12 children from domestic sector and 15 from the hotel industry have been rescued since 2006. Madhya Pradesh simply gave no information. It was discovered by those carrying out the audit that either the States did not have the information or they did not want to divulge it and, therefore, kept shunting the auditors from one department to another.

On the basis of the meagre information received from the States (only 10 out of 12 responded), the auditors figured out that out of a total of 5,096 children rescued since October 2006, only 3.04 per cent of the children were reported to be from the domestic sector and the rest were from dhabas and roadside eateries\hotels. The figures for the number of children rehabilitated are equally dismal. “This speaks volumes about the attention being paid to the problem by our law-enforcement agencies,” one of the auditors said.

The public hearing once again threw light on the stark realities of an apathetic society, a callous government machinery and toothless laws, which have resulted in the social malaise called child labour. This is rampant across the country, in homes and in innumerable eateries, dhabas and hotels, though such employment has been banned by law.

The jury at the public hearing comprised Syeda Hameed, Member, Planning Commission; R.K. Raghavan, former Director, Central Bureau of Investigation; Vimala Ramachandran, educationist; Ashok Arora, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court; and Arvind Kejriwal, Right to Information (RTI) activist and Magsaysay Award winner. Its unanimous verdict on the functioning of the ban on child labour in the domestic and hospitality sectors: “A failure.”

The public hearing was attended by eminent citizens, senior members from the media, senior government officials and child rights activists; 68 children were present, and 20 of them deposed before the jury. The jury noted: “It was clear that many children were forced into employment because of extremely adverse economic conditions at home. Some were orphans and some had only a single parent. The majority wanted to pursue education but had no option but to work to earn and support the rest of the family.… What was galling was the physical treatment meted out to some of them in a domestic environment. Those who perpetrated violence on the child workers included a software engineer and a banker. This indicates the gravity of the problem. Even those who are educated and are well employed are insensitive to child rights and the latter’s need to be treated with kindness and extreme care.”

With regard to the poor implementation of child rights laws, the jury observed: “The enforcement of existing laws has been tardy. For example, there are about 50,000 child workers in Delhi; only 23 of them are known to have been rescued. The need of the hour is to sensitise the enforcement machinery in order to make sure that the existing laws and provisions are well implemented in letter and spirit. At present, there is little accountability for implementation. The Ministry of Labour should devise means for bringing in this accountability.”

Stating that the existing laws on child rights were ineffective even in the rare circumstances when they were implemented, the jury noted that these could be made stringent so that they acted as a deterrent. It recommended making offences under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, cognisable and emphasised the need to sensitise the community at large on issues relating to child rights.

“Aren’t we all guilty? When we haggle with the autorickshaw driver and pay him Rs.2 less, or when we pay our maid a few hundred rupees less, aren’t we forcing them to send their children out for work?” asked Kejriwal. According to him, we are all directly or indirectly responsible for the current sorry state of children in India, and unless the attitude of society changes, child labour will continue to be prevalent. Added to this is the obfuscation of laws, which makes even existing provisions almost ineffective. “The law should be made more effective, offences under child labour laws should be made non-bailable, and the law-enforcing agencies should be made more accountable for their implementation,” he said.

The problem is compounded by the fact that there is little clarity about its real nature. Should it be treated as a labour issue or as a child rights and protection issue? “Child labourers are children in need of care and protection… but the Labour Ministry continues to deal with the issue of child labour by way of regulating it in some sectors and limiting its role to the rescue of children from hazardous sectors only, whereas the need of the hour is to address the problem in a holistic manner as an issue of children’s right to protection,” said Rajmangal Prasad, national convener, CACT. Moreover, he said, recognising the criminality of the offence would also lead to a shift in the attitude of the authorities and civil society at large, and that would happen only by making it a cognisable offence.

Another aspect that needs to be taken care of is the rehabilitation of children who are taken off work. “Most of the children employed in the domestic and hospitality sectors are there because of adverse financial conditions at home, so rehabilitation should be a key component of any programme aimed at such children,” said Rajmangal Prasad. The report says that rehabilitation programmes for children rescued from work are extremely inadequate, resulting in children falling back into the same trap after being rescued. The audit report cites the annual report of the Ministry of Labour, which itself says that under the National Child Labour Project (NCLP), catering to children rescued from hazardous sectors, the 9,000 schools being run for them have an enrolment of only 0.45 million children, and only 0.48 million have been mainstreamed since the NCLP was initiated in 1998. This gives rise to the big question: “Where is all the money being put into such programmes going? Who are the children benefiting from such projects?” The social auditors of the CACL and the CACT got no answer from the authorities, nor do government reports say anything about it.

“Revamping the existing child labour elimination programmes and investing adequately in new and holistic and need-based interventions is the need of the hour,” the audit report says.

But, as Kejriwal puts it, are we not all, as members of a responsible civil society, responsible for the sorry state of many such children? Unless the attitude of society as well as the law-enforcing agencies changes, nothing will change for these Illyases, Sanjays, Nagarajus and Poojas.

Civil Society Awakes

16 Feb


Former director-general of police S P S Rathore’s encounter with the unfortunate Ruchika Girhotra may translate into years in prison. However neither the law nor its enforcers are responsible for Rathore’s fall. Both administered only the most feeble of wrist-slaps on the ex-DGP. The law ambled on for nearly two decades before finally delivering a short jail sentence, immediately nullified by bail. Had the matter been left to the law and the elephantine system that administers it, Rathore would have looked forward to more decades spent on appeal, with the case’s final disposal taking place around the time he celebrates a century of life. What tripped him was an alert media, assisted by a civil society finally beginning to awaken to its power.

Despite its many layers, the legal system failed to secure justice for Ruchika and her family. It is obvious action needs to be taken against abuse of power by officials and politicians. However, if this be attempted in the form of new laws further increasing the power of the authorities over the people, a new Rathore will not be stopped from inflicting pain on another family. Many individuals are expert in manipulating the law and procedures to their advantage, as indeed Rathore seemed to be before he came to the attention of television.

What is needed is not legislation even more draconian than many laws already on the statute books. Votaries of such a course need to visit the US, which has the distinction of the largest number of prisoners in the world. Since the 1970s, the US has eliminated discretion in sentencing from large swathes of the criminal code. As a result of mandatory sentencing, a flood of individuals have become prison inmates. In the US, as elsewhere, the jail is a university for securing mastery of crime. Experiences and knowledge gained from even a short stay are such as to remove from individuals any feeling of responsibility towards society, and to instill in them reflexes belonging more to a jungle than human civilisation. This may be why New Orleans was wracked by lawlessness during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, while much more populous Mumbai was tranquil during rains that vied with Katrina in destructive intensity.

True, the US has seen the end of certain categories of crimes. African-Americans are no longer lynched or beaten up. Harassment against women in homes and workplaces has gone down. But little of this is because of harsh US laws. Rather, they are the direct consequence of social movements led by individuals opposed to draconian legislation.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, neither legalisation of torture nor numerous other curbs on civil liberties prevented fresh cohorts of suicide bombers from emerging and seeking out victims worldwide. Instead, such measures have resulted in millions more becoming sympathetic to those seeking to snuff out the lives of Coalition troops. An example of knee-jerk legislation is the change made in visa policy as a result of David Headley’s capture by the FBI. Does it matter to a terrorist if he has to wait 15 days or 15 months before coming back to India? Can handlers not arrange a substitute passport, perhaps even an Indian one? Visa changes made by the ministry of external affairs would be as little able to prevent a terrorist act as the placing of tags on bank transactions above Rs 10,000 at each ATM. That measure did not seem to halt the accumulation of wealth by a Madhu Koda, or indeed by numerous other former chief ministers.

The past few years have seen a steady dilution of citizens’ powers vis-a-vis the official establishment. Consider the extraordinary discretion given to the income tax department. Today, even education is sought to be state-controlled, with private players having their institutions closed down after “inspections” lasting a few minutes, though their facilities are usually far better than those of state-owned education outlets.

It is a colonial reflex to believe that the government knows better than the citizen as to how best to improve his life. India is the home of Sanatan Dharma, a belief system that gave enormous freedom to each individual in the manner in which he practised his faith. If Indians do far better in the US than they do in India, the reason is that there they function in an environment that sees them as adults, not children in need of constant supervision. Laws are only as good as those implementing them, and even the most conformist statist would hesitate to call governance in India transparent and clean.

If there has been some improvement, this has been the consequence of liberalising laws, not making them harsher. As also of a much more active civil society no longer content with excuses, and which has an ally in television media. India needs less governmental supervision and more public oversight, so that institutions of governance cannot ride herd over individual rights by use of laws that were meant for a subject people but were still allowed to continue almost unchanged even after India became free in 1947.

The writer is a political commentator.

Inclusive growth: the missing ingredient in Bihar’s success story

4 Feb

Shireen Vakil Miller in THE HINDU FEBRUARY 4, 2010

Despite staggering economic growth, Bihar has one of the highest rates of child mortality in India.

Bihar has been in the news recently for recording an average growth rate of 11.3 per cent for the period between 2004 and 2009. Much has been written about the quality of governance and the improved state of roads. This is indeed commendable, and no mean achievement, for a State that had virtually become a “development outcast”. I was pleasantly surprised to note on a recent trip to Bihar the great improvement made in providing more schools and notably, a huge effort to tackle the complex issue of child labour.

The script for Bihar’s success story is incomplete, however. The State has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest rates of child mortality in India. Out of every 1,000 children born in Bihar, 85 will not live to see their fifth birthday (according to the third National Family Health Survey). The deaths of a third of these children are associated with malnutrition. In fact, the Citizen’s Alliance against Malnutrition states that over 58 per cent of children in Bihar are malnourished. And the State, despite spending crores of rupees on improving the state of the roads, has failed to utilise the funds allotted to it under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) which is mandated with tackling under-nutrition among children under six years of age.



(The anomaly between impressive economic growth and appalling rates of malnourishment is not peculiar to Bihar.The country as a whole records malnourishment rates that do not reflect the economic growth. A scene in Madhya Pradesh.)

The anomaly between impressive economic growth and the appalling rates of child mortality and underweight children is not peculiar to Bihar. The country as a whole has recorded an impressive economic growth (real GDP per capita grew by 3.95 per cent per year between 1980 and 2005). Yet, the percentage of underweight children under 3 went down by just six per cent from 52 per cent in 1992-93 to 46 per cent in 2005-06. Evidence suggests that for every 3-4 per cent increase in per capita income, underweight rate should decline by one per cent. This has not been the case in India.

At the present rate of progress, India will reach the Millennium Development Goal 1 target on eradicating extreme hunger only by 2043.

As we move to greater economic growth rates, the challenge we face is to make this growth more inclusive, ensuring that all of us, especially the most disadvantaged and marginalised groups benefit from this economic growth. Children especially must see the benefits of this growth now if we are to sustain economic growth in the future.

The reality in 2010 is that almost 50 per cent of India’s children are malnourished. In the nation’s capital alone, 42.2 per cent of children under five are stunted and a shocking 26.1 per cent are underweight.

Malnutrition stunts physical, mental and cognitive growth and makes children more susceptible to respiratory and diarrhoeal illnesses. Malnourished children are more likely to die as a result of common and easily preventable childhood diseases than those who are adequately nourished. According to a UNICEF report, 1.95 million children below the age of five die annually in India mainly from preventable causes that are directly or indirectly attributable to malnutrition. The children who survive the ravages of malnutrition are more vulnerable to infection, do not reach their full height potential and experience impaired cognitive development. This means they do less well in school, earn less as adults and contribute less to the economy.

While we have impressive policies and schemes such as the ICDS, these have not made a significant impact. The ICDS needs to reach the poorest and most excluded groups who need it the most, both in rural and urban areas. This is not the case however. Only 28.4 pc of children under six are able to access services provided by an anganwadi centre. Just in Delhi alone, for example, only 8.4 per cent of children under six have accessed an anganwadi centre.

India spends less than five per cent of the annual budget on children. The 2009-10 Union Budget earmarked 4.15 per cent on children! This, in a country where 447 million people are aged 18 and below! Of the total budgetary allocation on children, a mere 11.1 per cent is for child health schemes.

It is the poorest children in the poorest communities who experience much more malnutrition than their better-off counterparts. And yet, existing national nutrition plans barely tackle the socio-economic causes of the problem.

There is an assumption that economic growth will solve the problem of malnutrition but, in fact, economic growth often fails to reduce poverty. The economic causes of malnutrition are set to deepen: food prices remain high and are expected to stay high, the economic downturn is pushing millions more into poverty and climate change is causing an increasing number of extreme climatic events that devastate livelihoods and lead to destitution.

We have good policies and schemes in place. The time has come to implement these and more importantly, monitor their implementation. A task group on nutrition was set up by the Prime Minister’s Office in October 2008 but it appears that it has not yet met. We know which districts are hardest hit, we need to reach those districts and build the capacities of local health and nutrition workers to deliver effective services. We need to ensure greater convergence between the ministries that have responsibility for tackling malnutrition so that we have integrated plans at the district and panchayat levels to reach the communities that need it the most.

In the third century BC, Patna was the greatest city in India; the seat of the Maurya dynasty with Emperor Ashoka at the helm. Ashoka was arguably one of our greatest and most forward thinking leaders, who believed in inclusive development. If Bihar pays attention to social development ensuring that its economic growth benefits its most excluded groups and minorities, it may yet again lead the way for other States.

(Shireen Vakil Miller is Director of Advocacy with Save the Children)

They barter away education for money from cotton fields

20 Dec

Meena Menon IN  THE HINDU

These children are major hindrance to child rights in major cotton growing States

Save the Children and IKEA Social Initiative are trying to stamp out child labour in the cotton production and supply chain

In Maharashtra, the project covers 986 villages in Amravati, Akola, Buldhana, Washim districts

AMRAVATI: From Gunji village, 12-year-old Reshma Itiwale walks for more than an hour to reach her workplace. For the past two months, she has been plucking cotton for Rs. 30 a day, along with her mother Nalini. Her father Vishwas and brothers Amol, 4, and Akshay,11, are daily wagers elsewhere.

The family owns two acres where they can plant cotton and tur dal in the monsoon. “In the summer and the rest of the time, we have to work,” says Nalini Itiwale. At Gunji in Dhamangaon taluka of Amravati district, with a population of 800, 25 per cent are landless. Unmindful of the searing afternoon sun, Nalini and Reshma are plucking cotton and throwing the bolls into a makeshift backpack made of cloth.

Reshma has studied up to Std. V. After Std. IV, she had to walk to Ashok Nagar, three km away, for secondary school. Soon she stopped going. Along with her is Kavita who says she is 18. She dropped out last year after studying up to 12th standard. Kavita comes from Phulam, and her family owns four acres. Nalini who has never been to school says: “We are poor people, if our children don’t work we cannot sustain the family.”

At Gavhani Pani, 12-year-old Gajanan, Std. V dropout, goes to pluck cotton for Rs. 40 a day. Since his father died five years ago, his mother Chaya struggles to make ends met. The family is landless and don’t even own a BPL card. “I want my son to study but I have no choice,” says Chaya. Her daughter Yogita is in Std. IV. It is because of children like Reshma and Gajanan that Save the Children, a non-governmental organisation, and IKEA Social Initiative have identified child labourers, especially those slogging it out on cotton fields, as a major hindrance to child rights in India’s major cotton growing States, including Maharashtra and Gujarat.

By promoting child rights, the partnership intends rooting out child labour from the cotton production and supply chain and other sectors in these States. The first phase of the four-year project has been launched in Gujarat and Maharashtra. In Maharashtra, the project covers 986 villages in four major cotton growing districts (Amravati, Akola, Buldhana, Washim) in the drought-prone Vidarbha region, targeting 287,179 children in the age group of 3-18, including 122,653 working children.

At Giroli, also in Dhamangaon taluka, Gayabai Meshram, in her 70s, peers dejectedly at the world through her glasses. After her son and daughter-in-law died some years ago, her main worry is her three grandchildren, two of whom have returned from a relative’s place to live with her. Ashish dropped out in Std. XI and his sister Neha studied till Std. IX. “I left school five years ago and came to live with my grandmother. I mostly work in the fields, do weeding or plucking for Rs. 50 a day,” he says. If Neha and her brother don’t earn, they cannot survive. “I have no support now and depend on these two children. I get Rs. 250 in pension but that too is erratic, it comes once in four months. How can I manage?” asks Gayabai.

This is the first year that Chanchal Sonawane who studies in Std. VI has gone to pluck cotton. She is a bright student whose favourite subject is Marathi, and usually comes among the first three in class. However, she barely manages school twice a week. Her mother Tulsa had abandoned Chanchal and her two younger brothers owing to her husband’s alcoholism. It took the efforts of the entire Giroli village to convince her husband Laxmanrao to give up drinking and look after the family. Tulsa has since returned to her home.

Chanchal, with her nimble fingers, manages to pluck 20-40 kg of cotton a day. “When Chanchal goes to work, I stay at home to look after my youngest son who is two,” admits Tulsa. When her mother goes to work, Chanchal stays at home to mind the baby. “My daughter is good in studies, and at work too. It is expensive though to send her to school,” says Tulsa.

The key objectives of the project are to create child-labour free villages, ensure that all primary school children are in school and no child under 14 is engaged in exploitative labour, to set up a functioning Child Protection Committee at the community level, a functioning children’s group at the community and school level and to create awareness of child rights.

Save the Children’s baseline study in the four districts of Maharashtra revealed there are 556,476 children working with 383,849 (69 per cent) in cotton fields. Over 30 per cent of them report physical or sexual abuse at worksites. Many toil for 6-10 hours a day under hot and dusty conditions, exposed to the harmful pesticides.

The data reveals that over 50 per cent of the targeted children began working between 11 and 15 years of age, and a majority of this group unilaterally chose labour owing to economic conditions at home and lack of interest in education. Children lose 60-90 days at school to cotton weeding and picking during the season. One of the main problems is the lack of economic alternatives, and the project is planning to mobilise self-help groups, promote rural employment and train women and adolescents in vocational skills with market-oriented approach.

Voluntary service

18 Dec


Very little is known generally about operational NGOs that work closely with people on a daily basis.

WHILE a good many people in the country know that the Central and State governments have a number of plans and projects to bring about development – not all of them either well-conceived or well administered – they are much less aware of the part played in the overall development process by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). That part includes sensitisation, which usually means advocacy, or “activism” as it is more commonly called, and the actu al carrying out of development projects – providing housing, rural roads, sanitation, schools, health facilities and other services. The World Bank recognises this and divides the NGOs into two categories: those involved in advocacy and those involved in operations.

We are aware of the advocacy groups, the social activists, because at least some of them attract the attention of the media by their actions such as dharnas, rallies, fasts and demonstrations. Their work needs to be recognised as being of considerable importance in two ways. One is by making marginalised and neglected groups such as the tribal people and the poor aware of their rights and entitlements and of the manner in which they are, in far too many cases, exploited by middlemen and minor state functionaries. The other is by bringing instances of injustice and this kind of exploitation to the notice of the authorities using the media.

Legal remedies are now available, chief among them being the public interest litigation (PIL) and the petition that can be filed under the right to information laws (RTI application). Specific legal remedies are also available under a host of laws such as the Minimum Wages Act. More such laws are being enacted with the express purpose of giving legal protection and redress to the deprived and the exploited. Many activist NGOs have come into existence and more come up regularly to assist those who cannot otherwise take recourse to the law.

However, very few know about the second category of NGOs, those that actually deliver services. There is some knowledge about the big ones among them, a number of which are part of international NGOs such as ActionAid, Helpage and the Red Cross. But smaller NGOs, some of which work in just one State, or have small projects in different States, are virtually unknown. I know, for instance, of Urmul and Charkha only because they were founded or mentored by close relatives. The first one is working in Rajasthan and the second in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. I might have known of Urmul because some of its handicrafts are sold at an annual mela in Delhi, but I would not have known of Charkha’s work, which has taken up projects in the States that I have mentioned.

This is not because they do not publicise their work; they regularly bring out information material on their work and send it to the media. It is because the media consider news as something different. Even if they do carry some information on what NGOs are doing, it is about the activist NGOs, not about those in the field of development, the operational NGOs. There are, one has to admit, some stories about the development work some NGOs have done, for example, the work done by NGOs in Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu to rehabilitate victims of the tsunami that hit the area in December 2004. There are some stories on the work done by some NGOs in different fields. But these are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Unfortunately, the situation is not likely to change in the near future. Success stories do not sell, hard-boiled journalists will tell you. In part, it is because a single story about, say, a hospital doing excellent work in a remote rural region will not alter the general perception that medical services are very scarce in villages or non-existent in large tracts of the country. And that has to do with the general perception of the relatively affluent, those who read newspapers and journals, listen to radio news bulletins or watch television news channels.

Simply put, they see poverty, lack of health facilities, illiteracy and scarcity of schools in the abstract and as issues to be addressed by the state. This class does not look at issues as something that affects individuals unless those individuals are personally known – servants, workers who build one’s house or even poor relatives. My handling of a servant wanting a higher wage has nothing to do with my genuine concern about the slow progress being made by the state in its efforts to eliminate or lessen poverty.

The operational NGOs have made the transition that we as a class have not yet made. They do not see poverty in the abstract; they deal with poor individuals with names and identities. People who are ill in rural regions or urban slums are not “the sick and needy”; they are, again, individuals, Bibhuti Sarkar of Bhunia village in Birbhum district suffering from a tumour in the stomach, or Shantiammal in Tindivanam in Tamil Nadu who has cervical cancer, or Anees Khan of Seelampuri in Delhi who needs a cataract operation.

They make it their task to get them the help they need, as Babar Ali, a 10-year-old, has made it his business to teach the younger children in his village after he himself comes out of his classes; he runs a regular school.

It is the operational NGOs that actually get close to particular people and see the problem not so much in a global context as in terms of getting Salim Ali to a doctor as quickly as possible. It is in one sense, we might think, limiting, but in another sense it is the real and substantial action that is needed. Sadly, it is precisely for this reason that the efforts of operational NGOs do not get the kind of media attention that they deserve. One Salim Ali cured because of timely help or one Shantiammal taken to a cancer specialist and successfully operated upon does not make for a story. The agitation for a proper hospital in a specific region, on the other hand, does. We know of the deprivation of the tribal people because of the naxalite violence. Do we know any tribal people; do we know their names, their families? It is with the individuals unknown to most that the operational NGOs work.

That is their story, the story of the Urmuls, Charkhas, Prathams and Pradans. It is a story that needs to be told, and if we value the process of building our country, it needs to be told over and over again, not by the state or by the NGOs themselves but by journalists as committed to the eradication of deprivation and poverty as some are to the environment.

Child undernutrition in India is a human rights issue

10 Dec

Karin Hulshof  IN  THE HINDU

Despite a booming economy, nutrition deprivation among India’s children remains widespread.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” So begins the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established 60 years ago and celebrated today around the globe. This year’s theme is non-discrimination. When it comes to nutrition, all of India’s children are not equal. According to India’s third National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) of 2005-06, 20 per cent of Indian children under five-years-old are wasted due to acute undernutrition and 48 per cent are stunted due to chronic undernutrition. Seventy per cent of children between six months and 59 months are anaemic. Despite a booming economy, nutrition deprivation among India’s children remains widespread.



In absolute numbers, an average 25 million children are wasted and 61 million are stunted. The state of child undernutrition in India is — first and foremost — a major threat to the survival, growth, and development and of great importance for India as a global player. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has referred to undernutrition as ‘a matter of national shame.’

Children who are undernourished have substantially lower chances of survival than children who are well-nourished. Undernourished children are much more likely to suffer from serious infections and to die from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea, pneumonia, and measles. More than a third of all deaths in children aged five years or younger can be attributable to undernutrition. Children who survive undernutrition do not perform as well in school as their well-nourished peers and as adults they are less productive.

Good nutrition early in life is a key input for human capital formation, a fundamental factor for sustainable and equitable economic growth. Widespread undernutrition impedes socio-economic development and poverty reduction. With persistently high levels of child undernutrition, vital opportunities to save millions of lives are being lost, and many more children are not growing to their full potential.

There is a critical window of opportunity to intervene when mothers are pregnant and during children’s first two years of life. After that age, the window closes and the opportunity for the child is lost forever. We know what works — ten proven, high-impact interventions can dramatically reduce undernutrition in young children if delivered nationally:

Timely initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth

Exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life

Timely introduction of complementary foods at six months

Age-appropriate foods for children six months to two years

Hygienic complementary feeding practices

Immunisation and bi-annual Vitamin A supplementation with deworming

Appropriate feeding for children during and after illness

Therapeutic feeding for children with severe acute malnutrition

Adequate nutrition and support for adolescent girls to prevent anemia

Adequate nutrition and support for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers

These 10 essential interventions could halve the proportion of undernourished children over the next 10 years.

A number of emerging economies have encountered nutrition challenges similar to those currently facing India. For example, China reduced child undernutrition by more than half (from 25 per cent to 8 per cent) between 1990 and 2002; Brazil reduced child undernutrition by 60 per cent (from 18 per cent to 7 per cent) from 1975 to 1989; Thailand reduced child undernutrition by half (from 50 per cent to 25 per cent) in less than a decade (1982-1986); and Viet Nam reduced child undernutrition by 40 per cent (from 45 per cent to 27 per cent) between 1990 and 2006.

Four lessons can be learned from these countries’ experiences: 1) Leadership at the highest level to ensure that priority is given to child nutrition outcomes across sectors and states, with large investments in nutrition interventions and successful poverty alleviation strategies. 2) Targeted nutrition interventions to prevent mild and moderate undernutrition and treat severe undernutrition as part of a continuum of care for children, particularly among the most vulnerable children: the youngest, the poorest, and the socially-excluded; 3) Reliance on community-based primary health care to ensure high coverage through community-based frontline workers; 4) Strong supervision, monitoring, evaluation, and knowledge management to provide the evidence base for timely and effective policy, programme and budgetary action.

The universal delivery of this package of ten evidence-based, high impact essential nutrition interventions will lead to an unprecedented reduction in child undernutrition. India has the resources — financial and human — to address, once and for all, the challenge of child undernutrition. The prevention and treatment of child undernutrition in the first two years of life needs to be a national development priority.

India’s leadership is recognised globally and its economy is growing at an enviable rate. That strength and leadership can be channelled to ensure survival of India’s most precious asset — its children — to thrive and survive. The nutrition targets set forth by the government in its Eleventh Five-Year Plan are ambitious, more ambitious than the international commitments set forth in the Millennium Development Goals. In the government’s own words, “it is better to aim high, than to fail low.”

Now is the time to combine the existing technical knowledge with the political will to change the lives of millions to guarantee the human rights, dignity and rights of all of India’s children. Now is the time to combine the existing technical knowledge with the political will to change the lives of millions to guarantee the human rights and dignity of all of India’s children.

This is a ‘make or break’ time to emerge as global leader in the fight against undernutrition… 61 million children are waiting.

(Dr. Karin Hulshof is UNICEF India Representative.)

— Courtesy: U.N. Information Centre for India and Bhutan.

Secure their childhood

26 Sep


Are we failing in our duty to provide our children a secure environment?

Righting these wrongs is not only the government’s responsibility but that of every self-respecting citizen.

Bitter are the tears of a child; sweeten them

Deep are the thoughts of a child; quiet them

Sharp is the grief of a child; take it from him

Soft is the heart of a child; do not harden it.

Pamela Glennwarner

A girl said to be 14 but appearing younger, jumps off the balcony to escape from her employer in Mangalore. Pelvic bone dislocated, severely traumatised. Brought against her wishes from Sirsi in Uttara Kannada district to work as a housemaid in Manga lore. She was locked at home with the owners’ children to look after them in the parents’ absence. Shows lack of concern of the employers not only for her but their own children too.Mother’s blind belief kills three-year-old in a village in Mysore district. Child suffering from advanced bone disease. Child Development Project Officer/ anganwadi worker repeatedly request mother to take child to hospital. Belief in powers of tribal priest in neighbouring village led to late admission in hospital.

Stray dogs maul 18-month-old Rehana. Parents of children forced to accompany children out at all times because complaints of stray dog menace have fallen on deaf ears. (All from The Hindu dated August 29.)

An 11-yr-old girl who allegedly posed for obscene photos at a studio in their absence is chained at home by parents in Patna.

An 18-month-old girl is critically ill after being raped by the boy next door.

A tribal girl is attacked at a girls’ hostel in Murshidabad. (All from The Times of India dated August 29.)

A news channel comes up next with the shocking reports of a nine-year old stripped and paraded in a Faridabad school allegedly for not paying her fees and a school principal arrested in Jaipur for repeatedly raping a 14-year-old student .

Inadequate security

Grave vulnerabilities are created by the inadequacies of all those whose duty it is to ensure the security of young wards. Keeping children safe is ensuring the well-being of tomorrow’s doers and decision-makers. Not doing so is not only harmful but a national shame. The 1989 UN Charter guarantees every child rights of empowerment like health services, education, nutrition, name and nationality, and rights of protection and participation like a hopeful existence free of exploitation, violence, neglect, and extreme poverty. India, as a signatory to the Charter and by the provisions of her own Constitution, owes her children consistent support systems to experience childhood in an enabling, secure environment conducive to their fullest development. The lack of mechanisms to provide security is a shocking aberration in a country aiming for super power status in the near future.

Staggering numbersA 1997 RAHI (Recovering and Healing from Incest) study in Delhi of 1,000 respondents revealed 76 per cent had been abused as children. Sixty-three per cent of girls surveyed by Sakshi Violence Intervention Centre in Mumbai, said they had been abused by family members. Fifty-eight out of 150 minor-age girls in a study conducted (1994-5) by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences revealed that they had been sexually abused before they turned 10. In Bangalore, Samvada’s 1996 study of high school students showed 47 per cent were victims of abuse. (Source: isa_stats.html.)

What is a young, hurt, bewildered child to do when parents/ teachers/ guardians let ignorance and superstition and worse not only make them neglect their duties towards their wards but actively connive at causing them distress as in the news items cited? Or when they have the misfortune to attend schools where physical violence, humiliation and rape are probable dangers? What use pretty words and prettier treaties when the rights they guarantee are never realised?

Chaitanya, a firm engaged in people-oriented policy analysis, recommends bringing this into the security agenda to gain better leverage in media and policy circles. Activists would find that the “security” tag goes further than the “social welfare” tag, they feel and add that “A security policy agenda that also considers issues critical to the survival of children, suggests an accurate forecasting of tomorrow’s risks. In democratic societies where the demographic balance is tilting in favour of youth, threats faced by the fastest growing population segment are, or ought to be, the most pressing security concerns”.

Righting these wrongs is not only the government’s responsibility but that of every self-respecting citizen. Hearts and minds need to open up, vigil stepped up, perpetrators of crime against children booked and severely punished, and awareness raised. Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “the child’s sob curses deeper in the silence than the strong man in his wrath”, but in their smile-less sobbing existence, the victims of this article seem to incite neither righteous anger nor trigger dormant consciences to action.


Dr. Haim Ginott, teacher, child psychologist and therapist makes illuminating observations about the teacher’s role in the young child’s life: “I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I’m the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal. In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanised or dehumanised.” The unchecked excesses of the system today are humiliating: they are not only dehumanising the children but shaming every adult.

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