Friday, August 25, 2006

You and your fight against reservation

You are uncertain. Very uncertain! About your hard-earned job! You are one in a group of thousand-odd people agitating for a cause, against the government. You are slightly afraid too. No, the water cannons are not the source of your trepidation, nor are the lathi blows, but more than anything, it is the fear of what would happen to your job, your uncertain career. After all, you have spent a lot in completing a medical course, and burnt barrels of midnight oil in cramming up the portions for your medical exams, and the last thing you want to do is, to lose your job, that too because of a cause other than bad performance or lack of integrity.

But you have to do it. Because you are sensitive to the policies of the government, you are mindful of the fact that what is decided in the hallowed halls of the Parliament today, will have a bearing on your life, somehow, in the future. Because you know how tough it is to get a medical seat, and you have probably seen your close friend miss the grade by tenths of a mark. And you don't want good students to give way to anyone who might be ten marks behind and still make it to the top medical colleges in India... ahead of them.

Let me now introduce you. You are a medical student/practitioner in India and you are struggling in the battle against reservation in medical colleges in the largest democracy in the world. You know that the gavel is falling relentlessly on the table and that you have to act now to prevent it from hammering upon the vestiges of credibility that the medical institutions in India still have. You want to stop the powers that run the country from taking a populistic, vote-garnering decision, that is aimed at covering up its failures in structuring primary education in the country.

Your lot - the medical fraternity that is - is divided into three, the ones that agitate against the injustice, the ones that are content with their positions and remain passive, and the ones that dont like it, but like their job too much that they cant risk it to act against the decision. You sided with the first. Though you have a lot of people around you, you are under a lot of pressure to earn and finance your sister's marriage expenses, to repay the credit on the house so on.

But you are a man of the soil. You are selfless, fearless, and stand by your convictions. And you want to protect the future of the Indian medical system. You know that if you give an inch, the government will take a mile. You know that the more you cower, the more you silently witness whats happening around you, the deeper into the quagmire of bad Indian government policies you sink into and that one fine day, you wont even know what happened, but you will be grappling to stay afloat.

So you get up, ignoring your back ache from yesterday's agitation on the roads of the capital, brush aside your parents' hands that try to prevent you from going out again today, charge towards the Supreme court mindless of the barricades and the countless policemen waiting, licking their lips. You have anger in your face, you have disregard for everything that supports the government's decision, you utter a huge cry against the government, and are the first one to break the barricades that day. The blows rain on you, the water from the cannons pounds your face, and on the others' too. You fight, this is going to be one long struggle, but it has to be done, and you are the hero!

PS: The article was inspired by this news piece in the IE.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Independence Day - its sights and sounds

I bathed early for a change, and opened the windows of my room. Down below, school children were walking in their clean white uniforms, holding, not national flags, but saplings, in their hands and screaming "Grow more trees". The sights and sounds of our 60th Independence Day enthralled me. The tiranga coloured the streets and distant sounds of the anthem being played filled the air with the sweet melody of Rabindranath Tagore's immortal song. (I personally feel that Vande Mataram would be a more ideal song for us, as the original Jana Gana Mana was written honoring King George V and not for the Indian masses)

Dressed in a white kurta and a blue jean, I sped my bike towards the Sai temple and prayed there for some time. There was a more than usual crowd on occasion of I-Day - women in lovely sarees along with their families, students, the elderly, everyone was there. One would think that with so many people praying, we should not have half the problems that we have now.

As I came out of the temple, the real India hit me. Scantily clad children, with matted hair, imploring the public to give them something, literally tugging at their shirts, and figuratively tugging at their hearts, trying to cache in on the I-Day 'Iam-a-proud-Indian-and-I-will-help-my-fellow-citizens" feeling of the people. and it worked. People do donate more on I-Day than on normal days. In a strange way, the flag also helps in earning some money for these poor people. Old women clutching bunches of plastic flags (which i thought were banned long back in India), thrusting them in my face, asking me to be a good citizen and stick a flag to my bike, can be found in every street corner. Starting a few days before I-Day this sales is brisk, only to peter away from D-Day.

The amazing self-start of my Pulsar kicked the bike to life and I saw a man standing near his bike outside the temple and praying. The only time he turned his head away was when he had to spit, the nasty red paan, the element that has pervaded most in our lives and that which belittles any vestige of decency or civic sense that we might have. As the red droplets spattered the road inches in front of my bike, he turned to me and muttered a 'sorry!' and turned back to pray.
"Arrey! Be sorry for spitting in front of the temple, and that too while praying. Dont be sorry for spitting in front of my bike. Some guys dont even know what to be sorry for." (No! I didnt say that, though i wanted to)

I had to brake at the traffic signal and though the timer showed that there another minute to go before the lights turned green, motorists starting inching forward, way beyond the stop line, and by the time there were another 10 seconds left, everyone had zoomed ahead, and, pressurised by the constant honking of the car behind me, I too followed the crowd nervously looking left and right lest i be picked up by a cop. But such things are so normal that the cops almost dont consider this an offence.

While returning from the store, I saw some sights which, for a change, showed the brighter side of our country. There were blind men manning PCO booths given to them by the government, groups of school kids walking on the streets for some cause or the other, old women proudly adorning their duppattas with the colors of the flag, another guy refusing to be pressurised by the loud honking behind him when the lights had still not turned green (thus effectively putting me to shame), a girl in matted hair and tattered clothing rushing to the middle of the road to pick up a puppy which was lost in the medley of traffic, and many more. These gave me the faith that ours is a nation which will, if nurtured honestly and with sympathy, do immensely well, ours is a nation which can achieve the greatness which was assigned to it by our yesteryear freedom fighters, if only we the citizens could do simple things right - be it follow traffic rules, or refrain from spitting on the roads.

At first sight these suggestions might seem to trivial to be considered solutions for nation building, but once everyone begins to be conscious of their actions and the nuisance that they cause to the society, their visions will widen, they will see the bigger picture, and do greater things that will defintely lead to nation building.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Renu goes to school

In a world where four people living in a one-BHK (Bedroom-Hall-Kitchen) is considered living in a ‘congested’ manner, this family of nine lives in a single room, in Borivali, Mumbai. The head of the family does not work and the lady of the family, sells vegetables. Not heeding the various population control advertisements, the couple, after migrating to Mumbai from Gorakhpur, gave birth to eight children. The eldest girl got married recently and has gone to Gorakhpur to live with her husband and now three daughters and four sons remain. This article is about Renu, the eldest of the remaining lot.

She studied in an evening school till her eighth standard and then quit. When asked in front of her parents about why she did that, she gave a muted response. On further questioning, she replied, with head staring at the floor, “I’m not interested in studying.”

“She does not want to study. That’s her problem. How many times do we tell her to go to school?”, boomed her father and was aptly seconded by his wife. Renu was an above average student and managed to pass her eight standard exams with ease. It is not often that such a student would lose interest in studies, unless there is something else that the girl can spend her time on. And Renu had no such avenues to let out her energy. All she did the whole day was cook for the entire family, and keep the house clean. This is not the sort of childhood any girl would prefer over studying.

We had to literally take her out of the house and cajole her for an hour before she opened up. “You think my father really means what he said? Far from it! He thinks studying is a waste of time. I quit school because we are too poor to afford my education anymore. True, the fee is just Rs 170 per year, but it does not end with that. Along with the fee, comes the cost of the books, the uniforms, then the fee for the term papers. And all this is too much for my family to afford, considering I have two younger sisters and four younger brothers who are in school.” More sordid details followed. “My father comes home drunk every night. He doesn’t work and he beats up everyone if he is angry.” Where does he get the money from? “His friends take him along and occasionally he takes it from mom.”

Ah! There came the truth. The story so typical of many a poor young Indian girl, born into a big family and suffering silently so that her siblings could study further. In any case her life, figuratively speaking, would end once she got married. The rest of her life would be spent slaving in her husband’s house, giving birth to more babies.

But we were determined not to let her discontinue her studies. We spoke to her for long periods of time day after day and stressed the need for completing at least a tenth standard. Eventually she agreed to join school, but also wanted to work. Since her school was only in the evenings, she wanted to work in the morning so that she could at least pay off her school expenses and not listen to her mother grumbling everyday of how she was a liability to the family. We promised to find her some work.

The problem was that we could not go ahead and outrightly finance her education. This would lead to a clamour of requests from the other people in the basti and estrange them if we refused assistance. Not that spending money on their kids’ education was something tough for us, but that would create a situation wherein people would simply put in requests, take the money and forget about their children’s education.

But having seen the case of Renu, we could not be passive for long. We took her to her school, a bright, big municipal school in the vicinity, and spoke to her teacher. The elderly person said that her name had still not been struck off the rolls (The school had started two months back) and that she could still join, but would have to cover up for a lot of lost time. Second hand text books from her seniors would not be useful as the syllabus had changed and so she had to procure new textbooks. We thanked the teacher, spoke to him in private about Renu’s family situation, and asked him to help her cover up for the lost time.

On the way back, we got the girl her new textbooks and the smile on her face was the reward that we got for the work.

But the deed was not yet done. We spoke to her mom about this and she pointed a finger at her husband who was sitting across the road in a tea stall. He didn’t seem too excited, when we told him that he will have to pay the term fee of Rs 85 and that we have got her the textbooks. Though he said “Don’t worry. I’ll do anything to see my daughter get educated,” the pain in his face was evident.

As we left the house amidst “thank you teacher” and “Good night teacher”, we could not help musing on how much work lay ahead of us. With respect to this girl alone, we still have to make sure that she goes to school regularly, has a conducive atmosphere to study, and more importantly, does not quit again next year, and eventually goes to a decent job. With respect to the many other such girls in India, this cycle has to repeated and for that we need people working in the grassroot level, people who can spend time and not just in signing cheques, but in going physically to the bastis, the tribal lands, the villages, and convincing the people about the importance of education.

But as of now, as the Mumbai rain started to pour down on us, it didn’t matter much. A great poet said “Into everyone’s life some rain should fall”. DreamIndia is happy to have brought that rain into Renu’s life. And we hope her monsoon stays with her forever.

PS: Support us, not by signing checks, but by identifying Renus and helping them study. Education is the answer to most of India's evils and we at DreamIndia, are striving hard to educate underprivileged children. Visit for more details.