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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE CHILD WITHIN?

Every year when some festival rings in I ask myself the same question: “What happened to the child within?” I have distinct memories of me looking forward to festivals as a kid. Now that it’s Diwali time, I wonder where the enthusiasm is gone!

As a kid I was somewhat sacred of crackers & even today that hasn’t changed much. I was never a dare-devil who would light crackers in hand & throw them in the air just a few moments before they would burst. Watching me light crackers was often a funny sight for my parents. First, my brother would remove the paper so that I would have ample time to run away to a safe distance :D. Using an incense stick I would light a cracker & run for my life with the incense stick tossed god-knows-where & my hands tightly pressed against my ears. After a while I would re-enter the scene like someone who had been a part of some robbery trying to avoid the policemen on patrol. Soon my father would inform me that the cracker went off & I would be the *proud-one* B).
Back then in school we were made to sign innumerable pledges to ‘say no to crackers’. Irrespective of my resolve while signing the pledges, I would burst crackers anyways (C’mon now! I was only a school going kid back then.) Gradually as age caught up with me (trust me I am not as old as I sound), I developed an aversion to the same crackers that made me smile & feel like a war hero(ine).  Now the noise & the pollution annoy me.
Right now when I compare these two different ‘ME’ I wonder what led to this difference?!?! Irrespective of our age, all of us ask ourselves this question at some point in our lives. Aging or growing up sounds all good courtesy the apparent (refer to article: Wise enough yet?) wisdom, financial freedom, the fact that your parents start trusting your choices. But seriously, all of this sounds worthless to me right now. The reasons are simple:
·         I am no longer interested in bursting crackers, suddenly it’s all too juvenile (you would like this only if you are the environment-activist kinds);
·         I don’t run around my place eager to place more diyas than my brother in various corners of the house;
·         I am content making a twisted face every once in a while when I have had enough of locals singing in the temples & out of the loudspeakers, because they are too loud & I can’t hear my TV properly.
Based on the above-mentioned reasons I officially declare today: I HATE GROWING-UP! {..& mind you wrinkles are placed way low on my list of reasons..for the time-being ;)} I hate it how I let the kid within me (not an actual kid O.o) succumb to the so-called responsibilities & maturity. Hold your horses..I am not shunning adulthood, I am simply going to allow myself to let loose a little. :D
NOTE OF HONESTY: When I sat down to write down this piece of my mind, I was quite sure that I will end up blaming the elders of the house a.k.a parents for making the festivities so boring, but now I say unleash the carefree kid in you & watch it infect others. We often complain “Nobody bothers”, however we never say “I should try.” J
HAPPY DIWALI PEOPLE..CELEBRATE IT LIKE IT’S YOUR LAST TIME & BE SAFE!!  :D

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

A HIDDEN HISTORICAL TREASURE




Central Delhi is synonymous with offices, eating joints, all in all an atmosphere bustling with activity. Daily a number of people come to their office, toil & head home. Not many of them are aware that this part of Delhi also hides some of the most exquisite pieces of history like Ugrasen Ki Baoli. This monument is hidden between the tall buildings.

Ugrasen ki Baoli is one of the many unexplored monuments in the capital. What adds to its lack of visibility is its location on the primarily placid Hailey Road. It is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) under the Ancient Monuments & Remains Act, 1958. A small garden leads to the entrance into the baoli. The very first look at this beauty of stone overwhelms you with its grandeur. The main entrance welcomes you with the information about the monument inscribed on a rock, which reads:
The Step well (Baoli) is an underground structure for the storage of water, mainly constructed to cope with the seasonal fluctuations in water availability. The step well is said to be have been built by Raja Ugrasen, the forefather of the Agarwal community. The architectural features of this baoli resemble those of the late Tughlaq or Lodi period.
It measures 60m along North-South & is 15m wide at the ground level. Built with rubble & dressed stones, it is one of the finest baolis in Delhi. The main feature of the structure is the long flight of steps leading down to the step well situated in the North. The steps are flanked on both sides by thick walls with series of arched corridors.”


One of the arched corridors leads to a staircase which takes you to the terrace. The terrace gives a top view of the apparently bottomless well. Not many people know about this place or frequent it & hence it is not crowded. The stairs are something one can’t help but marvel at.
This place is at walking distance from the Barakhamba metro station & the entry is free. Once you have spent your time here, you can head to the Max Mueller Bhawan to stuff yourself with delectable food at an affordable price. So if you think you have seen the city & seen it well, think again!!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

MILLENIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS (MDG) REPORT 2011

·        Progress towards the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is measured through 21 targets & 60 official indicators.
·       This report presents an accounting to date of how far the (developing) world has come in meeting the using data available as of June 2011.
·        Regional & sub-regional figures presented in this report are complied by member of the United Nations Inter-Agency & Expert Group on MDG Indicators (IAEG). Data are typically drawn from official statistics provided by governments to the international agencies responsible for the indicator.
·        Based on the progress in various indicators since 1990, the report places the countries in four   categories:
1)      Early achiever – Already achieved the 2015 target
2)      On-track – Expected to meet the target by 2015
3)      Off-track: slow – Expected to meet the target, but after 2015
4)      Off-track: no progress/regressing – Stagnating or slipping backwards

1) ERADICATE EXTREME POVERTY & HUNGER
TARGET: Halve, between 1990 & 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day.
·        In India, the change in India for population living below $ 1.25/day has changed from 49.4% in 1994 to 41.6% in2005. 
·        Undernourishment in India is moderately high (15 to 24%) & India has been slow in reducing the extent of hunger.
·        The change in the India for children under-5 who are underweight has been 53.4% in 1993 to 47.8% in 2005.
·         For this MDG India is placed in the third category.
2) ACHIEVE UNIVERSAL PRIMARY EDUCATION

TARGET:
Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys & girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.
·        India has shown a change from 85% to 95% in the enrollment in primary education ratio from 2000 to 2007.
·        India is an early achiever for this MDG.
·        However the data includes only registered refugees. Factors like discrimination & inability to understand the language of instruction pose problems for refugees in getting education.
·        Ironically the dropout rates are high & from 1999 to 2005 the change in the ratio of reaching the last grade has only been from 62% to 65.8%


3) PROMOTE GENDER EQUALITY & EMPOWER WOMEN

TARGET:
Eliminate gender disparity in all levels of education no later than 2015.
·        India is an early achiever for gender parity in the primary education with the percentage change from 1991 to 2007 being 0.76 & 0.97 respectively.
·        It's on-track for gender parity in secondary education with the percentage change from 1999 to 2007 being 0.70 & 0.86 respectively.
·        However the progress for gender parity in tertiary education is slow with the percentage change from 1991 to 2007 being 0.54 & 0.70 respectively.
·        In Southern Asia the participation rates in tertiary education are skewed in favour of boys.
 
4) REDUCE CHILD MORTALITY

TARGET:
Reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 & 2015, the under-five mortality rate.
·        India is slow in the process of bringing down the under-5 & infant mortality & is placed in the third category.
·        Undernourishment & lack of proper post-natal care are sighted as reasons for the slow progress.
·        The under-5 mortality rate for per 1,000 live births has changed from 116 in1990 to 69 in 2008.
·        The infant mortality rate for per 1,000 live births for the same years has changed from 83 to 52.
·        A mother's education is the key to determine the probability of her child's survival in the first five years i.e. more the education, better the chances.
·        Recommendations to better the figures- increasing the accountability of health systems at the local level & encouraging innovations to make critical services available to the poor.

5) IMPROVE MATERNAL HEALTH

TARGET:
Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 & 2015, the maternal mortality ratio.
·        This is another MDG where India is placed in the third category.
·        India lags behind in skilled birth attendance (from34.2% in 1993 to 46.6% in 2006) in & proper antenatal care (from 61.9% in 1993 to 74.2% in 2006).
·        Maximum maternal deaths caused by obstetric haemorrhage- mostly just after or during the deliver, followed by sepsis, eclampsia, & complications of unsafe abortion.
·        Southern Asia as a whole saw an increase from 32% in 1990 to 50% in 2009 in the proportion of deliveries attended by skilled personnel.

6) COMBAT HIV/AIDS & OTHER DISEASES

TARGET:
Have halted by 2015 & begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.
·        India is placed in the first category for reduction in HIV prevalence, which has gone down from 0.5% in 2001 to 0.3% in 2007.
·        The TB incidence rate per 100,000 has remained at a stable 170 from 1990 to 2008 in India & the country gets a place in the second category for the same.
·        The TB prevalence rate per 100,000 has gone down from 340 in 1990 to 190 in 2008 & India stands in the first category.
·        In India, the number of physicians available per 10,000 population is just 6.

7) ENSURE ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY

TARGET:
Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies & programmes & reverse the loss of environmental sources.
·        From a forest cover of 21.5% in 1990, India's forest cover increased to 22.5% in 2005.
·       The protected area (% territorial area) has gone up from 4.79 in 1990 to 5.12 in 2009.
·       The percentage of population in India receiving safe drinking water has gone up from 72 to 88 from 1990 to 2008.
·       Though the percentage of population having access to basic sanitation has gone up from 18 in 1990 to 31 in 2008, but still India is places in the third category as not even half the country has basic sanitation facilities.
·       Almost two-thirds of the people who practice open sanitation reside in Southern Asia.
 
8) DEVELOP A GLOBAL PARTNERSHIP FOR DEVELOPMENT

TARGET:
In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies especially information & communications.
·        By the end of 2010, 90% of the world's inhabitants were covered by a mobile cellular signal.
·        The number of Internet users continues to expand. However, penetration levels in the developing world remain relatively low, at 21% by the end of 2010.
·        Globally two out of three people are not using the Internet.

EXPERTS SPEAK:
ANJALI GOPALAN, Executive Director of the Delhi based non-profit Naz Foundation (India) Trust says, “I think they are being over congratulatory. Though yes in some states the incidence rate has gone down but it is increasing in the other states & especially the northern belt. This is because there is not a proper mechanism to provide people with the antiretroviral treatment (ART). At one level we can pat our backs, but the picture is still not so gleeful.”
The National AIDS Control Organisation's (NACO) website says:

“In terms of geographical break-up, 118 districts have HIV prevalence more than 1 percent among mothers attending ante-natal clinics. The 2006 estimates indicate that the epidemic has stabilised or seen a drop in Tamil Nadu and other southern states with a high HIV burden. Yet, new areas have seen a rise in HIV prevalence, particularly in the northern and eastern regions. Twenty-six districts have been identified with high prevalence, largely in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Orissa, Rajasthan and Bihar.
HIV prevalence continues to be higher among vulnerable groups. For instance, there is a significant population living with HIV and AIDS among Injection Drug Users' in four of India’s biggest cities – Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai and Chandigarh. Young people are at greater risk, with the under-15 category accounting for 3.8 percent of all HIV infections, as against 3 percent in 2002.
Between 2005 and 2006, prevalence has fallen in some major states – Maharashtra from 0.80 to 0.74 percent, in Tamil Nadu from 0.47 to 0.39 percent – for instance. Yet, new areas of concern have emerged. In West Bengal, prevalence has gone up from 0.21 to 0.30 percent and in Rajasthan from 0.12 to 0.17 percent.” (Figures representative of only those who are taking treatment in public hospitals & not private hospitals)
 
Q) The UN report says that the incidence rates are moderately high in Southern Asia & there haven't been any major changes in the trend. Is it true for India as well?
Dr. YOGESH JAIN, associated with the Chhattisgarh based non-profit Jan Swasthya Sahyog, says, “The incidence rate has not come down & even as per the country data it is increasing & this is a cause of concern. If you ask me as a person working in Chhattisgarh, it is bad & though we could give the excuse of the cities where it is not so bad, in Chhattisgarh the situation is bad.”
The Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP) TB India 2011 status report says:
India is the highest TB burden country accounting for one-fifth (21%) of the global incidence (Global annual incidence estimate is 9.4 million cases out of which it is estimated that 2 million cases are from India.) India is 17th among 22 high burden countries in terms of TB incidence rates.”

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

WOMEN IN INDIA

When 50-year-old Usha Vashisht received a lewd call on her cell phone she ignored it. But soon it became a regular feature. Then she decided to file a complaint with Delhi police's anti-obscene cell. “To my surprise, even after innumerable attempts no one answered the 'dedicated' helpline number 1096,” she recalls. Then she filed a complaint with police control room. “I was assured that I will be informed of any updates in the case but the officer concerned never called back,” she says.

This miserable state of security for women is also reflected in a report released by the United Nations- UN Women. The report titled “Progress of the World's Women” looks at access of women to legal systems across the world. The report offers interesting facts in context to India. While it praises the Panchayati Raj system for an active participation of women it notes that 39 per cent of both men and women feel that it is sometimes or always justified for a man to beat his wife. In addition the report data shows that 35 per cent women in India face physical violence and 10 per cent women face sexual violence at the hands of their partners.

Activists say the findings show that there is a need for stronger laws. They note the discrimination and exploitation has been going on for too long and in many cases women are denied the rights over their own bodies by their spouses leading to marital rapes and more often irrespective of the capacity of a woman’s body she is forced to either have a child or abort one. “India being a patriarchal society, not many changes have been made (to the laws),” says Nilanju Dutta, Manager of Violence Intervention Team, with a Delhi-based NGO named Jagori. Though marital rape is not a new phenomenon, the country even after 64 years of independence still awaits an exclusive law on the same. Paroma Ray, programme officer with Lawyers Collective- a public interest service providing organisation, Delhi notes, “The law against rape does not include marital rape.” In a way, this gives the men the sanction to ill-treat their spouses.

The crime against women is on the rise. As per the records with National Crime Records Bureau's (NCRB) a total of 11,009 cases of sexual harassment were reported and the conviction rate was 49.2 in 2009 & the number of sexual harassment cases reported in 2008 were 12,214 & the conviction rate was 50.5. In 2009, 89,546 cases of cruelty by husband & relatives were reported & the conviction rate was 19.8, while the cases reported in 2008 for the same were 81,344 & the conviction rate was 22.4 per cent.

But still many a times women do not come forward and complain. The UN report says the reason lies in the functioning of the judiciary. It notes that the participation of women in the Indian judiciary is a mere three per cent. “The ratio of women in the judiciary is disproportionate. Out of the 28 judges in Supreme Court only one is a woman. The High Court has barely 20 to 25 per cent female judges,” says Ray. Another reason why women are hesitant Ray says is the lack of accountability in the justice delivery system. “Not too many laws have been monitored and evaluated.”

The report also mentions, in 1996, an Indian NGO, Sakshi talked to lawyers, judges and female litigants to explore the impact of judicial perceptions and decision-making on women who come to court. More than two-thirds of the judges said that women who wore provocative attire were inviting rape.

Ray says in order to improve the access to judiciary for women the implementation system (for laws) needs to be overhauled. “Implementation mechanism is holistic in nature. Proper training is required for the people in the legal system. If the police are not trained properly, then they will not know how to deal with the women (which can in turn discourage the women to approach the police).” For example The Domestic Violence Act, 2005 calls for a female constable to accompany the woman who has complained. “The Act in itself is sufficient, but the implementation is a problem. If you want a female constable to be available at all times then she has to be provided with various provisions like basic amenities and pick and drop facility.”

As per the report, in order to ease the position of the victim, more women should be inducted in the police force and law courts.

The basis of this report is the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted by the UN General Assembly. So far a total of 186 countries have ratified the Convention, committing themselves to undertake steps to put a full-stop to discrimination against women. India ratified this Convention on July 9, 1993.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

WISE ENOUGH YET?

Today, when I sit at my desk to write & thinking about the choices to be made in life I am taken back to my school years, especially those years when I felt “Yes! NOW I am a big girl.” First, when I entered the sixth standard, that was when I felt I was a grown up, because now I could use a pen & there would be no more pencils in my pencil-box. For me, officially starting to write with a pen was a sure sign of being wise as it was something all the elders did, be it my mother, father, brother or my teachers. All of them wrote with pens while I was busy writing spellings with a pencil & erasing the wrong ones.

Then came 10th standard & brought along the zombie called BOARD EXAMS. I so clearly remember my parents & teachers telling me, “Now you are in a very senior class, so study very carefully & responsibly.” Hence, one more time I felt that may be after all these years I wasn’t the little one anymore. Boards came & went, I moved into 11th standard & chose my stream & then cleared my 12th Boards..obviously feeling more important than the last few years. Finally, I passed out of school.

Now I was headed for college, out of the sheltered environment of school & taking my first few steps towards getting to know the many shades of life. Everyone in the family had suggestions, precautions & warnings to give. All this made me feel like I was going out there to tame a lion or something equally lethal. College started, I settled in, learning new things & as every semester passed I thought I was finally a wise someone who understood life & realised that the last attack of wisdom was actually a foolish feeling. Gradually college ended & I was a graduate. Being able to call myself a graduate & having studied as much as my childhood heroes- my parents gave me yet another wise high.

Then I decided to pursue my Masters. Starting with another & may be the final phase of my student life, once again I decided to go down the memory lane. Starting from being an infant to someone who was going to start with her post-graduation seemed like a long way. But today, when I am half way through with my PG & think about a final choice I realise that no matter how far you come in life, you can never be wise enough. No matter how far you have come in life, every time you have to make a choice you will most naturally feel like a nursery kid. A nursery kid who is stepping out of  his/her home alone for the first time, leaving the parents behind & goes & sits in the new class all curious, cautious & quiet, eventually adapting.

Though the institutions of life end at some point of time or the other, life is an institution where you become a student the very day you are born & you only stop learning when you die. Meanwhile, there is no point in time where once you reach you can say “Oh wow!! I finally did grow up.” People often say never look back in life, but I say if you have to appreciate the lessons of life then do look back every once in a while. I say this because I feel that this is only how you can realise when you come to face the present again that the road does not end here..there are numerous kingdoms to be explored yet, lessons to be learnt feelings & people to be valued & tests to be taken.

P.S:  At times confusions only make you see things more clearly. :) 

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

ARUNA SHANBAUG & EUTHANASIA

On 27 November 1973, Aruna Shanbaug, who hails from Karnataka & worked as a nurse in KEM Hospital in Mumbai was strangled & raped by a ward boy of the same hospital, Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki. Walmiki strangled Aruna using a dog chain which damaged her brain & left her in a vegetative & cortically blind state for the rest of her life. Initially, when this case came to light it appeared to be any other rape case (though to avoid further victimisation of Aruna, Walmiki was charged with attempt to murder & robbery) but no one could have thought that what this act on part of Walmiki did to Aruna would not only leave an indelible mark not only in her life but also in the history of the country.

It has been 37 years since Aruna has been staring at the walls of her room in the KEM Hospital & is being fed forcefully by the nursing staff of the hospital. Though Walmiki was convicted but the punishment he got was for a total of 14 yrs while on the other hand Aruna’s unnecessary suffering has no end in sight.

On behalf of Aruna, Pinki Virani, who is a social activist, filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking euthanasia. Though the petition was rejected by the court, but the SC bench hearing this case (including Justice Markandey Katju & Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra) passed a remarkable judgement which legalised passive euthanasia in India. Passive euthanasia is withholding medical treatment & removing life-support equipment of terminally-ill patients. However, active euthanasia still remains illegal in India. Active euthanasia involves the use o a lethal substance to terminate a patient’s life.

A question still remains. Is passive euthanasia actually going to make much of a difference to the misery of the patient? A person who is terminally ill, in simpler words is dying slowly & painfully & removing the life support equipment & withholding the medical treatment will only add to the pain. Any patient seeking euthanasia wants to end his life swiftly & with least pain possible & passive euthanasia nowhere does that. It is active euthanasia that can ensure a peaceful end to one’s life & hence the judiciary & the legislature need to consider legalising active euthanasia.

In cases where a patient’s health cannot be restored to the normal state, the family of the person concerned needs someone to look after the patient all the time which may not be possible in case the other person happens to be the bread-winner of the family. Further it takes immense emotional & monetary strength on part of a family to see someone close to their heart going through such plight & take care of the medical expenses which are often back-breaking & may not be affordable for every family.

Rather than looking at this issue from the point of view of may be religion or morals, it is a logical view that is needed. What is the point in prolonging someone’s pain when there is absolutely no hope of the pain coming to an end? No doubt it is a hard decision to take but then no one considers his own life or the life of someone he loves so cheap that one fine day he decides to give it up. It’s only when the dead end is in sight & no alternate route is left that one decides to take the harshest decision of life.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

THE UNPRECEDENTED EGYPTIAN AGITATION

No one could have imagined that what started in Cairo, Egypt on 25 Jan 2011, would snowball into something as big as it turned out to be. The period from 25 Jan 2011 to 11 Feb 2011 is certainly of immense political, historical & economic importance.



Ex-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who had held the power in his hands for the last three decades (since 1981) finally stepped down on 11 Feb 2011. This man was an impediment between progress & Egypt. This time the people were in no mood to give up & they didn’t until Mubarak for a change, did what people wanted. Over the period of 18 days, several people died, thousands were hurt but the people knew that stepping back this time would take them back to the dark.


Mubarak who initially thought that this protest would die out like any other protest, soon realised that this time things were different. Trying to buy some time for himself, he promised to step down in September this year, but the people didn’t relent. Even his argument that he wanted to step down but couldn’t do so as he feared the chaos that his leaving would plunge Egypt into didn’t work for him. People were ready to take anything but him.


Soon with no escape route left open, Mubarak stepped down & there were celebrations all over Egypt. Ultimately the efforts of the people had yielded favourable results. The charge of the country is now in the hands of the army. The army shall take care of the country’s affairs till September & then in the same month elections will be held & the country will get its democratic government. The first thing that the army did was to dismantle Mubarak’s regime by dissolving the parliament & suspending the constitution. Now it plans to set up a panel to rewrite the constitution.


Egypt can’t relax yet as there’s a long way to go till September. With no standard governmental machinery functioning at the top, the country’s immediate future is anything but rosy. People want the money Mubarak gathered over the years of his rule to be recovered as it is ‘their’ money. Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Ahmed Abul Gheit has appealed to the international community to help with the economy’s healing process.


What I particularly fear the most in this scenario is the army. I may sound ironical but it is true. The army has six months to rule & six months is enough time to get a taste of power. Not everyone can manage power without getting addicted to it. ‘What if’ by the end of these six months this power would have become the army’s drug & it wouldn’t want to let go of it? :O In this case it could mean that Egypt could have to start from scratch. However, only time can answer this question.


This revolt like any other coin has another side to itself. This revolt has turned out to be a pioneer of sorts in the Arab world. Other countries like Algeria, Yemen, Iran, & Bahrain are now fighting for their respective shares of democracy. In Algeria, the fight is against the government of President Abdelaziz Boutefilka. In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh had sensed trouble early & as a precaution promised to step down in 2013, when his term ends, but the people are not ready to take it any longer. In Iran, people seek political freedom & an end to autocracy. In Bahrain, King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa has promised reforms & loosening of state control on media & Internet, but I wonder if he really thinks that this shall suffice.


I hope West Asia sees a revolution which will usher in a change only for the betterment of the lives of people.


*HAIL DEMOCRACY*