Empowering Our Disabled

DisabilityAt least six percent of Indian population is disabled. However, the disabled in our country are neither aware of their fundamental rights nor do they get to exercise them. In fact most, deaf and speech-challenged people do not understand the meaning of this word “rights”. At most, they would know, it means the right direction or left direction. We either view disabled people as victims or exploit their vulnerability. They are still denied of their basic rights to be able to navigate, communicate and right to education.

Often decisions about the disabled community are taken by the government bodies without involving a disabled in the meetings and decisions. Their logic is that what will a audio-speech challenged person contribute to a meeting about meeting challenges of the disabled. This is plain apathy to them. The concept “nothing about us, without us” is unheard by the government.

It’s all about attitude

I read about a story where visually-challenged guy was applying for the job of a lecturer. The insensitive woman at the form counter seemed to be appalled at the thought of a blind person teaching. She discouraged the blind by talking negatively about the whole thing aloud to anyone who would care to listen. She said, “How would he correct the papers? How would he teach?” She was no authority, she was one of us. She was prejudiced and ignorant. We have to put a stop to that attitude.

Continue reading Empowering Our Disabled

World AIDS Day in India

Today is World AIDS Day!

Brief History
World AIDS Day was established by WHO in 1988. This day provides governments, national AIDS programs, faith organizations, community organizations, and individuals with an opportunity to raise awareness and focus attention on the global AIDS epidemic.

Red ribbon is International symbol of HIV and AIDS awareness. We are flaunting one in this post. Red Ribbon

As per UN estimations, 5.7 million of 33.2 HIV-infected people worldwide reside in India. Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka are states with highest number of HIV positive cases. Andhra Pradesh is planning to make a new law that makes it compulsory for the couples to take HIV test before marriage.

India is largest producer of cheap ARVs (antiretroviral drugs) that are used in AIDS treatment. Yet most people in India can not afford it. :( Sections of society most affected with AIDS in India are sex workers, truck drivers, gays, and injecting drug users. Yet this disease is not confined to them.

What We can do?
The slogan for 2007 World AIDS Day is “Take the Lead. Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.” Be part of those who are building better tomorrow.

World AIDS Day Poster

Here is a mini guide about what we can do to stop AIDS menace in India:

1. Indulge in safe sex always. Pass the awareness around.
2. Sex education is banned in several states. Campaign to reinstate sex education in schools. This is important considering the number of children who get afflicted by AIDS every year indulging in unsafe sex.
3. Fight not only AIDS, but also the stigma attached with the disease. Most people suffer AIDS in silence due to the fear of being shunned in society. Some of them are denied their right to live with dignity due to their AIDS infection.
4. Pass on the awareness that medicines are now available that prevent transfer of AIDS infection from pregnant mothers to their children. Most women do not request the medicine, even after treatment to prevent mother-to-child-transmission because of the stigma attached with the disease.
5. Join Stop AIDS in children campaign. Every year 330, 000 children die of AIDS. Lets take steps to save them. Again this is possible by stopping mother-to-child-transmission of infection.

Related Posts:
FAQs about AIDS
HIV-AIDS Do’s and Don’ts
HIV-AIDS stats in India

I also write at Visceral Observations.

Save Our Ragpickers!

Have you ever noticed the rag pickers who daily forage into the garbage bin near your house? They are the people responsible for cleaning most of the stuff we throw in our garbage!

Chances are you have never noticed these rag pickers, but these poorest of the poor rag pickers are the ones who not only clean our dirt but do more. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle are 3 Rs for energy conservation and environment. And the 3rd R, Recycle, is taken care of by these ragpickers!

Save Them

In US and UK there are active recycling centers, where consumers come and dump their waste or a consumer’s waste is collected by recycling center. Electronic waste like LCDs and even tetrapacks are being recycled in other countries!

But India has no awareness like that. Here, recycling is taken care of by people, whom we more than often, relegate to lowest hierarchy of humanity: ragpickers and kabaris! Most ragpickers are young, little above the age to be called kids. Thousands of ragpickers as they sift through garbage unprotected, absorb toxins from the garbage. They are hunched for hours, which gives them several back and cervical problems at early age. They get numerous cuts and bites from rodents and the glass, needles and other things we carelessly throw in our garbage.

The other people involved in this recycling process other than ragpickers are: small middlemen, transporters, larger middlemen and reprocessors. Together they form recycling chain in India.

Ragpickers sell the waste to middleman called kabari. It is not easy for the rag pickers to be paid for their waste from kabaris, the kabaris want the waste completely sorted into different categories of plastics, paper, glass, metals. The rag pickers waste bag must be dry and clean so that kabaris accept it.

Delhi generates over 7000 MT waste daily. Studies estimate that these informal labour forces saves the three Municipalities a minimum of Rs. 6 lakhs daily. The meager payment rag pickers receive from kabaris is several times held back for various reasons, leaving these rag pickers hand-to-mouth. Bullies also snatch their hard-earned money. To save themselves from starvation, rag pickers end up into vicious cycle of debt. Often their earnings are held back by middlemen to cover previous loan. They are yet forced to starve! It is a scary profession.

It is sad that rag pickers who clean up our dirt and contribute to environment are harassed by both police and municipal workers. They need to bribe municipal workers to forage into garbage bin. Police, instead of protecting them, often beats them and forces them to sweep police stations and municipal offices.

What We Can Do

In US and UK, despite recycling centers that segregate waste, citizens are aware about segregation of waste at homes and work places. Whereas in India, if we were more aware about segregation of waste, these ragpickers would have less cuts, burns, backaches, allergies, dog-bites, respiratory disorders. We could be careful about throwing injurious stuff in our garbage bin.

These ragpickers are not beggars. They do the hard work. When will we recognize their effort and provide them at least basic amenities? Write in your comments if you have any ideas to work for the cause.

I also write at Visceral Observations.

Clean Chit to Bhagalpur Cops!

Well, I did not think that I will write another post on law enforcement so soon. I could not keep myself from writing it. It is just one gross news story I watched on television tonite.

Whole nation watched with shame and horror when two Bhagalpur policemen tied a 20-year-old small-time pickpocket to their motorbikes and dragged him cruelly on the road. This unlucky youth tried to pull a woman’s chain. Assistant Sub-Inspector LB Singh and constable Ramchandra Rai, the two policeman involved, had been suspended after the incident. Yet the government probe panel gave these policemen a clean chit!

Something that the whole world can see on the video, probe panel failed to see. Is the Government blind? Blinded by perhaps wads of money or political greed. According to the probe panel report, it was the mob that was responsible for the gruesome treatment met out to the pick-pocket Salim. The panel report says: It was mob who beat him ruthlessly. Mob that tied Salim’s to the police motorbike.

What about these policemen who drove to motorbike to drag Salim mercilessly? True, mob had mercilessly beaten Salim, but what police do to stop them? A riot was caused outside Bhagalpur police station when people heard the rumor of Salim dying due to beatings. Police had to fire 8 rounds to scatter the mob! I would say we could have had another Godhra in Bihar!

Death of 52 karsewaks has caused so many deaths in Gujrat, wounds of which have not yet healed. Do you think we can maintain harmony with such insensitive behavior? National Minority Commission has already sought a report on the issue. I would hate to see any religious tempers flare just because of two insensitive law enforcement official and equally insensitive panel.

Government should instead punish those policemen to send a strong message to anybody who dares to misuse law. It should instead ponder why youth commit these small-time chain snatching or pickpocketing? Lack of jobs? Meagre salaries? Pathetic working conditions? Class difference? We have answers buried right in our backyard.

Watch this video of this gruesome act.

Related Post: Is This How You Want Your Law Enforcement to Be?

I also write at Visceral Observations.

Is This How You Want Law Enforcement to Be?

How far can you go to lodge your FIR or get justice? What do you choose to do to exercise your rights: Will you commit suicide to gain justice or walk naked on streets to get heard by police or run pillar to post to higher officials or a court every time you want to register a complaint in your local police station. Or will you call news-hungry media channels to gain their support or do you take the easy way out by bribing the already-corrupt police? What would you do when very protectors of law become your tormentors?

If you think, I am getting hassled over nothing. Think again. Think of Rizwanur, recent casualty from West Bengal, who died helplessly fighting against the brute force of police. His only fault that this Muslim guy had married a Hindu girl, daughter of a rich industrialist called Ajay Todi. Read here how police negotiated with Rizwanur to send his wife back to nurse her so-called ill father. And then Rizwanur realized how he had been duped by police and his wife will now never be sent back to him. Few days later, his body was found on railway tracks. CBI is probing his death after West Bengal police was found wanting in credibility. The question is not if Rizwanur committed suicide or was murdered. The fact remains that in either case the police was his tormentor. I would not be surprised if even CBI bungles the investigation of Rizwanur case. I am already losing faith in the system.

I still remember Pooja Chauhan, the lady from Rajkot who had to parade in her underwear on city roads just to register a complaint against her husband and in-laws! I can’t think of more extreme step a woman can take to be heard. Hers was a common story of harassment by her in-laws for not being able to give birth to a male heir. She had been sacked from her house by her in-laws and had been unsuccessfully trying to register her complaint in the local police thana. Our police, corrupt to the tee, refused to entertain her complaint till she made this desperate attempt to garner public/media support by walking nude on the roads. So much for Domestic Violence Protection Act!

This is not a stray incident; there are dozen more that happen everyday right under our noses. Let’s recall heinous Nithari serial killings.

It took Nand Lal, the man whose complaint disclosed Nithari killings to the world, about five months and a court’s order to register a FIR of his 20-year-old daughter, Payal, who went missing in May 2006. Read Tehelka’s eye-opening account of how Nand Lal got his FIR registered. There were countless other poor villagers who had gone to police station to report their missing kids. They were callously told by these police officers that their kids had eloped or ran away from them. How can a city’s police be so corrupt and irresponsible? Could they not decipher the pattern when so many children from the same village went missing? Let alone actively handle the matter, they did not bother to register a FIR until a court’s order forced them to 5 months later!

Almost a year later, what’s the action on Nithari killers? None! Even after the common knowledge that the police officers were corrupt, we are still nowhere close to punish the serial killers who committed such heinous crimes. We have hardly been able to prove if Moninder Singh is guilty nor those police officials who abetted in the crime.

Ah, these are not the only instances when police has refused to act and register a FIR. Few months back, a drunk call center employee ran over two kids. I can not forget the pain in their unfortunate father’s words on television, “Mein apne bachchon ko dafna bhi nahin paya, jab tak ki us bande (accused) kijamant bhi ho gayi!” (Before I could cremate my children, accused had walked free on bail!) Watch this IBN video to know what this grieved father has got to say about the treatment meted out to him by police.

Police would not have registered this man’s complaint were it not for the media intervention in wake of current surge in drunken driving incidents.

Uh huh, if you think such a phenomenon of not registering FIRs is confined to rural people or other lower strata of society, you are mistaken. People in cities routinely bribe law enforcement officials. They bribe the police to register a FIR for their stolen vehicles.

Delhiites shell out bribe even to get their passports made! They pay the police officer who comes for a routine verification of address. Some of them also pay the guy who delivers passport at their homes! :(

Blueline buses in Delhi have claimed 99 lives (still counting) this year. How? Simple by the connivance with corrupt police. Just bribe, and you get valid licenses for any defaulting bus an qualified bus driver. Who pays the price? The common men and women like me and you. We pay the price with our life.

Looking at Samajwadi party’s campaign in latest election in UP, you can understand the significance of not lodging FIRs or writing “missing” reports instead of “stolen” reports. Such corrupt practices help our law enforcement officials to keep crime rate stats low. No wonder Samajwadi party could boast of low crime rate in crime-ridden UP!

Let’s campaign for the rights of the weak! Let’s knock the courts whenever met with unfairness and unlawfulness! Let’s pitch in for the cause of others or some day we might be standing in place of them.

More about Rizwanur:

More about Pooja Chauhan:

More about Delhi Blueline buses:

I also write at Visceral Observations.

Lead India Contest: Who Do You Want to Win?

Amul’s Take on Lead India Contest

Amul’s Take on Lead India Contest :)
Well, to be honest I have not been meticulously following the contest trail till recently.

Nevertheless, Lead India contest gives hopes to incorrigible optimists like me. It is an initiative by Times of India to give opportunity to a honest, enthusiastic citizens within 25-45 age group to dream a leadership project.

The prize? One year leadership programme at Harvard University and a grant of Rs. 50 lakh towards a project of the winner’s choice.

Out of 32, 682 applications received from all over India, now 8 finalists from 8 cities have been selected. The selection is based on 50% jury judgment, 25% audience jury judgment, and rest sms poll. Here is a brief about each of the candidates:

1. Sanjiv Kaura, Delhi: A 42-year-old who served part-time as Territorial army, with a track record of being in public service. This social entrepreneur is said to be “a perfect blend of experience and idealism.”

2. Abha Singh, Lucknow: 42-year-old Director of Indian Postal Services division at Lucknow. Her dream project is to curb corruption. Other issues she feels strongly about are communalisation and castism, gradual erosion of systems and values, educational backwardness, especially rural areas and particularly women, and terrorism. She believs we can do it.

3. Devang Nanavati, Ahmedabad: 36-year-old top notch lawyer from Gujrat. He is a senior partner in Ahmedabad’s leading law firm of Nanavati & Nanavati, Advocates. Likes of Arun Jaitley and P.Chidambaram have fought cases on behalf of his firm. His interests: Billiards, human rights, and constitutional laws. Plans to embark a political career.

4. Dipayan Dey, Kolkata: 44-year-old environmentalist. He has indisputably won expert jury points, audience jury points and sms polls. He is a biotechnologist trained in sustainable development from the United Nations University in Tokyo. He has founded a NGO called SAFE that aims for poverty alleviation and protection of natural resources (such as water bodies) are judiciously exploited and the local population can earn more money. His take “curb defense budget, first fight hunger and poverty.”

5. Soumya Mishra, Hyderabad: 40-year-old IPS officer at Warangal. Has first hand experience of leadership and counseling at work. Her dream project? To start a community welfare project primarily to help redress the problems faced by people at the grass-root level due to naxalism. Not surprising choice, as she is a police officer from Naxalite-rampaged Warangal.

6. Rajendra K. Misra, Bangalore: 42-year-old entrepreneur. He retired willfully at 40 when he was MD of a successful company to devote time to public policy domain. Writing a book called Retire at 40 And Do What? Inicdentally, more can be found about him at his blog.

7. Ranjit Gadgil, Pune: 36-year-old programme director of Janwani is a technocrat-turned social activist. He returned to serve India quitting his IT consultancy job in US for. He was involved in education of underprivileged children. involved with organisations like the Nagrik Chetna Manch (NCM) and the Pune Traffic and Transportation Forum (PTTF). Talks about solid waste management and ragpickers issue (something you can read more about in this blog.) With his Lead India prize money wants to set up an organisation that can deal with urban planning and act as a source of information and support for slum dwellers.

8. Ujjwal Banerjee, Mumbai: 27-year-old, married to lawyer is an engineer-cum-MBA. Like most of us, started with MNC (in his case, TCS) and then later switched to work in a NGO after a through thoughtfulness. HE is now serving as an HR Manager in a NGO Akansha that shelters and educates street kids. He was involved to protect innocence of kids in a murkly world of brothels. His dream project? Opening internet kiosks in a couple of Indian villages to educate, benefit farmers, schoolchildren and adult learners.

My personal picks:
Abha Singh from Lucknow who aims to fight corruption. Ujjawal Banerjee from Mumbai, who gives up full-time lucrative job at young age to work for NGOs. Ranajit Gadgil for handling solid waste management system and rag picker’s protection.

Source: Check out more about finalists from Lead India contest.

Read more:

I also write at Visceral Observations.

Ban That Bulb!

Everyone I talk to seems to know that we should not use incandescent bulbs. Rather, we should use CFL bulbs that save money and help in energy conservation. Yet we have not been able to either ban or phase out incandescent bulbs. Forget rural areas, you will be appalled at the bulb and electricity statistics in the Capital city, New Delhi.

As per statistics, the peak energy demand of Delhi is 3600 mega watt but its supply is falling short by 750MW. This leads to long lasting power cuts. In the 2007 budget, the state government decided to hike its power budget almost five fold to Rs 1285 crores to fight the energy crisis to invest in building of thermal power plants. Thermal power plants will only increase Delhi’s CO2 emissions fostering climate change, resulting in even hotter summers in the capital.

An estimated 12.5 crores of ordinary light bulbs are still wasting electricity in the state! Surya, Philips and Bajaj, the three largest bulb manufacturers in India are still churning out those criminal bulbs. Changing these 12.5 crore light bulbs to efficient fluorescent lamps could reduce energy consumption by roughly 450 MW, reducing the present power shortage by 60%. Message is clear, some of us know it yet do not fail to use those “zero power” night bulbs and more.

Sign this ban the bulb petition here. I just did. Can you believe it in a country where we have Internet reach of 99 million, not even one million have signed for the campaign?

Here is another creative video from my favorite Common Craft on why you should use CFLs.

[youtube 26DLW3ktGvI]

Why not use CFL bulb??

Source: Greenpeace launches a signature drive against the inefficient bulbs in India

Also read:

I also write on Visceral Observations