Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Father fights for 26 years to get justice for son

For the last 26 years, 98-year-old Harnam Das Sikand has been making the rounds of courts, hoping his dead son will get justice.

Krishan Sikand died on the October 2, 1982 in his Sunder Nagar flat in Central Delhi. Krishan was killed by a parcel bomb allegedly sent by Lt Colonel SJ Choudhary. Krishan was to have married Rani, the Lt Colonel's divorced wife.

''There was a party in the house. I was here and he was upstairs. Suddenly, there was an explosion,'' said Sikand.

Initially, the Crime Branch handled the case and later the CBI took over and arrested Choudhary in 1983. Two years later, Choudhary was released on bail. Since then, the case has been transferred from one court to another.

But Sikand's lawyer is confident that the verdict will be in their favour.

''I am very confident. We have proved the chain of events, the typewriter with which the address was typed has been found to be belonging to him. They have proved the chain of events. It is callous on being part of the system. It is good that the case is being highlighted,'' said Karan Singh, Counsel for Sikand.

Sikand went to the High Court twice. The first time in 2000. Despite the High Court asking that the trial be ended soon. It took another eight years for the arguments to end. A Delhi Court will now pronounce its judgment in the case.

Twenty-six years ago, Krishan Sikand was murdered in this very house and Mr HD Sikand's fight for justice began and after 26 years and 100 hearing in the court, finally he hopes to get justice soon.

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Being the Change: In Gandhi's Footsteps

After trying for years to achieve social change through mainstream institutional activism, I have turned to an approach deeply rooted in my own culture and history. I have spent the past nine years trying to understand how to live my values today rather than waiting for the system to change. My search for the roots of deep transformation have led me to re-engage with the seemingly mundane, the small, the slow, the inefficient, the unorganized, the invisible.

I became involved in activism in college. I focused on stopping discrimination against marginalized groups. I thought we could make the system work by reforming it to give equal rights to all. We signed petitions, held protests, issued policy reports. But despite minor gains, I felt we were losing our dignity, being made into beggars. I started to learn that the price for “redistributed benefits” to people in North America was being paid by people and nature in so-called Third World countries.

After college, I spent eight years in the belly of the beast—Wall Street, Harvard, the United Nations, NGOs—seeking to change the system from within. But I discovered that the problem was bigger than just removing a few bad apples or making some clever policy declarations. I started to question the labels we use, such as “under-developed,” “poor,” or “illiterate”; the manic logic of unlimited growth and obscene profits over all other values; and the reliance on experts and technocratic solutions, rather than on the people.

During this time I came across Hind Swaraj, a booklet written by Mahatma Gandhi in 1909. In it, he explores the nature of India's freedom struggle. He says, “It is not about getting rid of the tiger [the British] and keeping the tiger's nature [tools, systems, worldview, etc].” He calls for swaraj (rule over the individual and collective self) and urges us to look beyond “modern” colonizing systems of health, justice, and technology. I learned that non-violent political strategies require tremendous self-discipline and the courage to challenge our own comfort zones.

Gandhi's insights helped me transcend such false polarizations as capitalism vs. communism, Left vs. Right, and East vs. West. I found the courage to move beyond playing “big” power games to fix the state and market systems which, no matter how clever they were, only fueled the monster.

I started to reorient myself to a practice of honestly questioning my own complicity, fear, and insecurity, as well as searching for my own real sources of organic power. I resigned from UNESCO and moved back to India. I have been experimenting with hands-on alternatives—from self-healing to community media to urban organic farming—which reduce dependence on institutions and revalue physical labor as an essential part of intellectual growth, political activism, and spirituality. Much of my own unlearning has resulted from our family decision not to send our daughter to school.

I have met people from around the world who are working to regenerate their communities—many of whom do not call themselves activists and would never think of doing so. One is my “illiterate” grandmother, who is one of the greatest environmentalists I have ever known. She is not a member of Greenpeace, nor an environmental scientist. But she is an amazing up-cycler, taking responsibility for her own waste by finding new uses for everything from mango pits and peels to old toothbrushes. She cares for the people, creatures, and place around her, giving concrete meaning to “localization” and “zero waste” living.

For me, the most exciting change movements seek to re-legitimize and reconnect to the knowledge, imagination, and wisdom of traditional communities. Giving top priority to regenerating diverse local languages, ways of seeing, and systems of natural learning is urgent if we are to co-create our way out of the massive crises that face us today. Equally important is finding the courage to walk out of institutions and structures that reinforce violence, injustice, and exploitation. Through an active practice of non-cooperation, we can withdraw the legitimacy that they have in our minds and open up spaces of calmness from which to explore new possibilities.

It is critical that we search for real expressions of our nature, not the tiger's. Only then can we reclaim the dignity of our lives on our own terms.

By Manish Jain


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Barefoot College - A place of learning and unlearning.

The Barefoot College is a place of learning and unlearning. It's a place where the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher. It's a place where NO degrees and certificates are given because in development there are no experts-only resource persons. It's a place where people are encouraged to make mistakes so that they can learn humility, curiosity, the courage to take risks, to innovate, to improvise and to constantly experiment. It's a place where all are treated as equals and there is no hierarchy.

So long as the process leads to the good and welfare of all; so long as problems of discrimination, injustice, exploitation and inequalities are addresssed directly or indirectly; so long as the poor, the deprived and the dispossessed feel its a place they can talk, be heard with dignity and respect, be trained and be given the tools and the skills to improve their own lives the immediate relevance of the Barefoot College to the global poor will always be there.

The Barefoot College began in 1972 with the conviction that solutions to rural problems lie within the community.

The College addresses problems of drinking water, girl education, health & sanitation, rural unemployment, income generation, electricity and power, as well as social awareness and the conservation of ecological systems in rural communities.
The College benefits the poorest of the poor who have no alternatives.

The College encourages practical knowledge and skills rather than paper qualifications through a learning by doing process of education.

The College was entirely built by Barefoot Architects. The campus spreads over 80,000 square feet area and consists of residences, a guest house, a library, dining room, meeting halls, an open air theatre, an administrative block, a ten-bed referral base hospital, pathological laboratory, teacher's training unit, water testing laboratory, a Post Office, STD/ISD call booth, a Craft Shop and Development Centre, an Internet dhaba (cafe), a puppet workshop, an audio visual unit, a screen printing press, a dormitory for residential trainees and a 700,000 litre rainwater harvesting tank. The College is also completely solar-electrified.

The College serves a population of over 125,000 people both in immediate as well as distant areas

The Director
The Barefoot College, Village Tilonia, via Madanganj, District Ajmer
Rajasthan 305816, INDIA
ph+91 (0)1463- 288204, FAX +91 (0)1463-288206

Its just wonderful to Know of this unique organisation and concept,so pack your bags and let go to Barefoot College.

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Ever since its launch in 2005, the Elder Line (1090), a dedicated helpline for senior citizens run by Mumbai Police, has received positive reviews from most Mumbaikars. However, 84-year-old M Ramesh, a retired businessman from Mahim, begs to differ. Ramesh, who lives in his seventh floor flat in Suraj Venture building in Mahim, has been trying in vain to register with the helpline for the past two-and-a-half months.

According to Ramesh, he has made dozens of calls not only to the helpline but even to the local Mahim police station requesting for a registration form. But his repeated requests have only fallen on deaf ears.

Ramesh, who is unable to walk without support, first made a call to the helpline when he read several newspaper articles praising the helpline.

First call
He says, “I read that the policemen are very polite and visit the elderly regularly and help senior citizens like me in various ways. I was very pleased and immediately called the helpline to register myself as I am very old and my son is often travelling and out of the house for days. I only have the company of my daughter-in-law’s mother who is 60 years old. However, my experience in the past two-and-a-half months has made me believe that the city police cares a damn about people like us.” Ramesh says when he first called the helpline in February he couldn’t get through as he could not understand the helpline’s computerised message. When he somehow managed to speak to a policeman, who was very polite, he told him he would have to come to the Police Commissionerate at Crawford Market or go to the nearest police station to get himself registered. When Ramesh said it would be difficult for him to go to Mahim police station as he was unable to walk, the policeman suggested that he ask Mahim police station to send a constable to his house.

‘Cannot help you’

Ramesh immediately made a call to Mahim police station with the request but the duty officer told him that he had to come to the police station. When Ramesh insisted that there were provisions for a constable to be sent, the policeman said there were no constables available at that time.

“After that, every time I made a call they kept making one excuse or the other. They would say, ‘Try to come to the police station and we will do it immediately’.

When I persisted with my request they would talk rudely and sometimes bang the phone. The mental agony that I have gone through for a simple registration has left me very bitter towards the city police. I read in an interview of Mumbai Police Commissioner Hassan Gafoor that he was especially concerned about senior citizens. It doesn’t seem so,” Ramesh said.

Senior Inspector at Mahim police station, V M Latpate said, “I am not aware of this and cannot comment as I am out of station at present.”


Shame on Mumbai Police - Helpage India should inquire in this matter and if required get themself out of this mess.The Elderhelpline was stared with big bang and it was much publisied event for Mumbai police.

Why not there be 4 digit National Elder Helpline run by NGO in assocaition with police and other agencies.

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Rs 300 cr in Plan for strengthening RTI

The Centre, in a bid to strengthen the Right to Information (RTI) division within the personnel department and for granting financial autonomy to state information commissions (SICs), is set to launch a Rs 300-crore scheme under the Eleventh Plan to fund capacity building, training programmes, awareness and educational campaigns relating to RTI.

The scheme, which will involve disbursal of Rs 300 crore as grants to RTI and the 27 SICs for effective implementation of RTI Act, has already been given in-principle clearance by the Planning Commission. The amount, which will be released over four years from this fiscal year to 2011-12, will help in adequate computerisation and capacity building at RTI division while reducing dependence of SICs on state governments for physical and financial resources.

The largest chunk of the Rs 300-crore scheme — Rs 215 crore — would be spent on capacity building, involving construction of offices and other physical infrastructure for SICs and computerisation of records. Expenses on training of RTI stakeholders are estimated at Rs 53.36 crore over the four years, on creating awareness at Rs 29.6 crore, and on education at Rs 3.35 crore.

The state information commissions, which exist in 27 states, have been complaining of limited resources due to lack of enough financial support from state governments. Concerns to this effect were expressed by various SICs in the Second National Convention of the Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions held in October 2007.

With the lack of resources coming in the way of the meeting the growing needs of the information seekers, the Centre now plans to release funds to SICs and RTI division for capital asset formation, facilitating IT supported services and capacity building. A grants-in-aid committee would scrutinise the proposals and the grants released in 2 instalments, the first amounting to 50% and the second 50% on submission of the utilisation certificate.

According to estimates worked out by the Yashwantrao Academy of Development Administration, Pune, and the National Implementing Agency for Capacity Building for Access to Information, a Government of India-United Nations Development Programme initiative, as many as 25,74,200 stakeholders are to be trained on the provisions of the RTI Act.

The proposed Rs 53.36 crore grant, to be released in 2 instalments (first 80% and rest 20% on receipt of utilisation certificate), will help train CPIOs, SPIOs, APIOs, appellate authorities, public authority heads, non-government public authority heads, information commission staff, nodal department staff, exempted organisations, NGOs and citizens. As many as 1500 persons would be trained per district per state and per UT in the first year, 2 districts per state in the second year and 4 districts per state in the next 2 years.

Awareness generation, which will receive plan funds worth Rs 29.6 crore under the scheme, will involve telecast of programmes on state media and dissemination of information on RTI through printed postcards.

Realising the need to incorporate lessons on RTI in the educational curriculum itself, the Centre proposes to include chapters/pages on the same in NCERT and SCERT textbooks. Though the authorities feel that such information may only be relevant at the secondary level as children below that age may not be able to grasp its significance, the same could be incorporated on the backcover or opening pages of the elementary textbook as a dissemination method to mothers of such children. In the interest of standardisation of such educational material, the government proposed to have it prepared by NCERT and provide the same to SCERTs for translation into the regional languages and dialects.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Creative ideas emerge tacitly, when people are relaxed

What are the attributes of a creative manager in a company? “Openness, perceptiveness, flexibility, responsiveness, involvement, a capacity and willingness to draw out the creativity in others, a focus on possibilities, the potential of networking and other opportunities rather than procedure,” says Ms Jane Henry, editor of ‘Creative Management and Development’ ( Facilitation and communication skills help, and so does a participative and inclusive style of management, she adds.

Ms Henry heads the Centre for Human Resources and Change Management at the Open University School of Management in Milton Keynes, UK. A chartered psychologist with extensive consultancy experience, and an author of several books, her research concerns ways organisations can develop their creativity and innovation and how individuals with different styles can best enhance their development over time.

“Creative management is more about open perception than a route map, an attitude that is flexible enough to listen to others and respond intuitively to opportunities, secure enough to allow their staff freedom to find their own way. The right way of doing this will vary according to culture and circumstances,” explains Ms Henry, during a recent email interaction with Business Line.

Excerpts from the interview.

First, what is creative management?

Creative management is a form of management associated with sustainable self-organisation. It is common in organisations wishing to engage the creativity of their workforce in improving products, processes and services, enhancing workforce commitment and customer/client/ staff satisfaction. Also, in the creative industries.

Can creativity be developed in organisations? Are there clear measures of creativity that can be used, for example, in a corporate context?

Creativity can be developed in organisations at the level of the individual, team, organisation and cross-organisation networks. Many people use tests of divergent thinking, i.e. how many uses can one think of for a plastic cup, as a measure of creativity. This is a very poor measure of creativity and not very helpful in organisations.

Another approach measures people’s cognitive style differentiating between different ways of being creative – those who like to do things better and those who like to do things differently. Those with an adaptive preference are more likely to be more comfortable working within existing frames and improving existing products. Those with an innovative preference are naturally more inclined to challenge the status quo and aim for breakthroughs.

Other measures of organisational creativity that have been used include the number of suggestions per employee and level of absenteeism (with the former increasing and the latter decreasing in creative companies.)

Have there been breakthrough findings in recent years about creative management?

This depends on your perspective and location. In the West, creativity had been associated with innovative breakthroughs – inventing processes from scratch, and glorified through individuals such as Einstein, Edison, Anita Roddick or Richard Branson. One of the changes in the West over the last quarter century is that organisations have come to appreciate the importance of engaging the entire workforce in improving processes, and made clear attempts to empower the workforce to do so.

Is increased competition the only driver for creative management?

Definitely not, many creative people are motivated intrinsically, i.e. with a marked preference for working on areas of interest to them. Freedom as to how people engage with tasks is often a sufficient driver for people to develop a more creative approach. Humans are naturally very creative so long as they feel safe enough and engaged enough to bother to try out new ways of doing things. Organisational bureaucracy can sometimes get in the way of these natural instincts.

What is the role of tacit knowledge in organisational creativity?

Tacit knowledge is central to creativity, organisational or otherwise. Cognitive science has shown clearly that we know things long before we realise we do or are able to explain how we know.

Creative ideas generally emerge tacitly, when people are relaxed. Organisations where people feel a measure of freedom, rather than those that are committee-bound and people feel obliged to look busy, are more likely to be safe enough for people to feel able to explore the half-baked tacit notions that develop into new creative ideas with a bit of nurturing. Many processes that attempt to encourage creativity in groups use processes that aim to tap into tacit ideas.

Are there lifestyle features that are associated with creativity?

The socially-embedded do indeed generally report themselves as happier than the more isolated amongst us. There is some work to suggest that those in a positive mood find it easier to make more associations and that these broad associations make it easier for them to be more creative. The creatively-fulfilled tend also to be happier not the least as their work offers meaning and often purpose.

Does creativity run the risk of turning into ‘spin’ or manipulated messages one finds so commonly used by politicians to their advantage?

Creativity is an essential component of human advancement through the ages. Currently it has extra kudos in the UK for example, as politicians wonder if other organisational sectors can build on the success of the creative industries (pop music, fashion, design etc.) ‘Cool Britannia’ seems to be a successful spin building on aspects of creative life in the UK.

Many high-wage economies see creativity as a means of adding value in the face of increasing competition. In more hierarchical cultures there is often an appreciation that organisations might be more creative if the culture could be somewhat more open.

Is creativity linked to income and wealth levels? How far is creativity relevant to developing economies, as compared to the developed countries? Do you think creative solutions can be applied for bigger problems that prevail in the developing countries?

Creativity can be applied at any level from very large to very small issues, and in any country. As I write, scientists all over the world are advancing new technologies to help alleviate climate change, and micro-credit unions finance mini-creative ventures for very poor would-be entrepreneurs.

In my work in India, Malaysia and China I have found managers as open to the idea that they need ways of opening up and pushing more responsibility down as in the West though the form this may take can differ. I also use similar approaches advising and facilitating government officials and NGOs attempting to address large-scale issues such as corruption, for example as when helping companies make technological breakthroughs. The key here is to free up thinking to help people reach new and better way of doing things.

Are there negative states of creativity? What are the differences between creativity of nature and nurtured creativity? Should education be so geared to ensure the development of creativity?

Creativity is generally defined as something that is new and apt, so inherent in the definition is the notion that the creative idea or product is not any old worthless invention but something that offers quality and answers a need. At the same time, it is no accident that Shiva is the God of creativity and destruction embodied, as one usually has to destroy something to create something new.

There are win-win situations where all parties benefit from a new idea, approach or agreement; but often bringing in the new advantages may be involving extra work or disadvantaging others. Shifts to greater creativity in organisations for example often entail middle managers giving up some of their power. Many organisations have found about 10 per cent of their managers are unable to adapt to the new ways of working.

Can there be a tussle between staying course with a sustainable idea, and trying out a creative idea, as for example with product launches? Can dynamism in creativity lead to negative returns, at times?

Generally to make way for something new something else has to be destroyed. We see this with new products and processes all the time, the ice selling industry lost out when home refrigerators came in, film gives way to video, analogue to digital TV. There is generally a conservative tendency in organisations and a preference for sticking with the status quo. Any creative endeavor is going to involve something new, it takes persistence and often a champion or sponsor to steer new ideas through an organisation. Historically companies that stick with what they are good at without creatively adapting to circumstances tend to fare badly in the long-term.

Socialisation, externalisation, internalisation and combination – which of these knowledge conversion modes has the highest impact on creativity?

There are many different ways of being creative and different people favour different routes. For example different people may use very different processes to get to the same creative idea, some people are more comfortable with analytical techniques like checklists and matrices, other warm to the fun involved in lateral thinking, like imagining how your hero/ine (whether Gandhi, Superman or Tata) would tackle the issue, others prefer more intuitive approaches such as visualisation.

Socialisation, externalisation, internalisation and combination modes of knowledge creation can all have their place at different stages of the creative process.

Does luck play a role in creativity, especially in the commercial success of the product?

Luck plays a role in many situations including creative ones. However, experience and good judgment are also critical. Generally in organisations good timing owes as much to the latter two as the former.

On creativity versus type of work, genders, age, and technology.

There is scope for creative action in professional, craft, farm and organisational work. The degree of creativity that is appropriate varies according to the situation. Research scientists have a lot of scope for being creative. In contrast most of us happy that an aeroplane pilot sticks to some standard procedures for checking that the plane is in a good condition to fly.

Both sexes are creative. All ages can be creative though the peak age for important breakthrough varies by domain; in mathematics many breakthroughs are made by the rather young, many writers on the other hand have creative success late in life.

The creative process also varies by sector. Many artists and poets choose to work alone, whereas many innovative technological breakthroughs involve a group of people with different skills combining their talents.

The opportunity for creative action is satisfying to the people involved as they are able to contribute something meaningful. Satisfaction is related to a number of factors including temperament and the degree to which one is socially supported. A key factor is control. On the whole, people who have more control of their lives, including their work, tend to report themselves as being more satisfied than those with less control.

Temperament also plays a big part in satisfaction. In the West extroversion is associated with greater happiness. It would be interesting to see if, in a culture such as India, where surrender is more readily accepted as a route to happiness, a different pattern emerged.

By D. Murali and A. Paari


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Manual to the rescue of trafficked girls

Victims of trafficking can have something to cheer about now, thanks to a new manual for policemen dealing such cases.

The manual was released at India Habitat Centre recently by Gary Lewis, representative of United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), regional office for South Asia. UNODC played an active part in penning the manual, along with former IPS officer and author, P M Nair.

This manual will form a compulsory training material in all police training programmes. According to Nair, the manual will be translated into regional languages so that the state police can access it easily. This job will be done by professional translators and researchers rather than make-shift translations by the state police themselves, he added. He also said that the manual will ensure that trafficked women or children are not harassed or intimidated, restoring their faith in the police and thereby, making the rehabilitation of the victims faster.

"This manual will teach the policemen to be more sensitive while dealing with victims of human trafficking, especially commercial sex workers. They should be treated as victims rather than criminals," said Nair.

Lewis said that although there are laws in India pertaining to trafficking, none deals with the sensitivity part of it. "This training manual will form an integral part of all kinds of police training throughout the country. Policemen have hardly any knowledge on how to deal with these victims, so we thought that there is a need for a structured and coherent training manual," he said.

According to Manjula Krishnan, joint secretary (human trafficking) Union ministry of women and child development, the issue of treatment towards trafficking victims has been neglected for long.

"We want to sensitise policemen dealing trafficking cases. When commercial sex workers re-arrested, police trouble them because they are easy targets while the brothel owners and pimps go scot-free due to their connections. And so far child trafficking is concerned, it is a much more serious crime and a considerable amount of sensitivity does exist in that sphere. Still there is scope for improvement," she said.

She added that social workers and NGOs too had been roped in for this purpose.

In India, over 30 lakh women are working as commercial sex workers against their will and more than two lakh people are believed to be trafficked within or through the country annually. Nearly 60% of the trafficking victims are minors.

By Medha Chaturvedi


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Himachal Governor calls to bring Business Houses in Social Work

V.S.Kokje, Governor gave a clarion call to the NGOs, non-official and influential members to motivate business houses to join the crusade towards social reforms in the State and help poor and deprived children get suitably educated and rehabilitated. Guv was presiding over the 24th Annual General Meeting of the reconstituted Himachal Pradesh State Council for Child Welfare held here today.

Governor emphasized the need to launch mass membership enrolment drive to rope in every social welfare activist with the movement so that maximum members were associated with the activities of the State Child Welfare Council. He said that the objective of the Council was to provide necessary help in educational and rehabilitation endeavours of the underprivileged children so that they were equipped with skills to lead socially and economically a secure life in the society.

He said that a number of prominent business houses had created charitable trusts and were actively involved in social welfare activities, which needed to be associated with the State Child Welfare Council activities so that the under privileged children of the State were also benefitted.

Himachal CM, Prof. Prem Kumar Dhumal said that the State had centre sponsored 142 creches and four state sponsored benefitting 1,156 children in the age group of zero to three years of age in ten of the districts of the State. He said that seven more creches had been proposed to be opened at Bagan in Kullu district, Satlai in Shimla district, Ballu Khaliara and Dakri in Bilaspur district of the State while three others would be opened in districts of Sirmour, Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti to benefit children in those areas. He said that skill upgradation programames were also conducted from time to time to brighten the prospectus of the admitted members. He said that school for visually challenged, speech and hearing impaired children, physically challenged children had been made operational at different places of the state where free facilities were available to the children. He said that ‘Shishu Griha’ for abandoned children had also been opened at Shimla to provide safe haven to unfortunate children.Prof.

Dhumal emphasized the need to associate the Non-Government Organizations in the child welfare activities to supplement the endeavour of the State directed towards achievement of the objective. He said that non-official members could be instrumental in giving renewed momentum to the child welfare activities in the State.

It was decided in the meeting to elect the new General Secretary for the Council and enhance the honorarium from Rs. 4000 to Rs. 5000 per month besides other facilities to the incumbent.

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Free Talk: Make the most of your silver years - Aging in Style

HELP (Health Education Library for People) is organizing a free talk on "Make the most of your silver years – Aging in Style " on Monday 5th May by Mr. Sailesh Mishra- Silver Innings at 3.30 pm sharp at HELP, Fort, Mumbai. To Register Call: 022- 65952393/94 , 22061101.

Dr.Aniruddha Malpani, M.D.,
Health Education Library for People,
National Insurance Building,
Ground Floor,
206, Dr.D.N.Road,
Near New Excelisor Cinema
Mumbai - 400 001.
Tel Nos.65952393/ 65952394/22061101

Free Ask the Librarian service for all your health queries at

For complete details of our free health talks check our 'HELP TALK' google calendar at

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Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.


Is India, the world's second most populous nation, facing a food crisis?

This question is vexing policy makers and analysts alike even as creeping inflation - around 7% now - is sending jitters through the Congress party-led ruling coalition.

To be sure, India has not yet experienced riots over rising food prices that have hit other countries like Zimbabwe or Argentina.

But what is worrying everybody is that the current rise in inflation is driven by high food prices.

In the capital, Delhi, milk costs 11% more than last year. Edible oil prices have climbed by a whopping 40% over the same period.

More crucially, rice prices have risen by 20% and prices of certain lentils by 18%. Rice and lentils comprise the staple diet for many Indians.

Tax on the poor

Inflation, economists say, is akin to a tax on the poor since food accounts for a relatively high proportion of their expenses.

All of which is bad news for ruling politicians because the poor in India vote in much larger numbers than the affluent.

Roughly one out of four Indians lives on less than $1 a day and three out of four earn $2 or less.

The rise in food prices, the government says, is an international phenomenon.

But this argument is unlikely to cut much ice with the people.

At the crux of the crisis is the tardy pace at which farm output has been growing in recent years.

The Indian economy has been growing rapidly at an average of 8.5% over the last five years.

This growth has been mainly confined to manufacturing industry and the burgeoning services sector.

Agriculture, on the other hand, has grown by barely 2.5% over the last five years and the trend rate of growth is even lower if the past decade and a half is considered.

Consequently, per capita output of cereals (wheat and rice) at present is more or less at the level that prevailed in the 1970s.

The problem acquires a serious dimension since farming provides livelihood to around 60% of India's 1.1 billion people even though farm produce comprises only 18% of the country's current gross domestic product (GDP).

On the other hand, the services sector - that includes the fast-growing computer software and business process outsourcing industries - constitutes over 55% of GDP with the remainder being taken up by industry.

The crisis in farms is exemplified by the state of the country's cereal stocks.

Vulnerable farmers

Six years ago, the stocks were at record levels.

Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen had said if all the bags of wheat and rice with the state-owned Food Corporation of India were placed end to end, they would go all the way to the moon and back.

Stocks have come down over the past three years because of low production and exports.

The problem has been compounded by the fact that whenever India has imported wheat in recent months, world prices of wheat have shot up.

There is also considerable resentment over the fact that the price of wheat that the government imports is often twice as high as the minimum price the government pay its own farmers for domestically grown wheat.

Indian farmers are particularly vulnerable since 60% per cent of the country's total cropped area is not irrigated.

They are also dependent on the four-month-long monsoon during which period 80% of the year's total rainfall takes place.

The crisis in agriculture has been manifest in the growing incidence of farmers taking their own lives.

At least 10,000 farmers have committed suicide each year over the last decade because of their inability of repay loans taken at usurious rates of interest from local moneylenders.

Populist moves

There has never been an acute shortage of food in India, not even during the infamous famine in Bengal in 1943 in which more than 1.5 million people are estimated to have died of starvation.

The problem then - and now - is entitlement or access to food at affordable prices.

Given the low purchasing power of India's poor, even a small increase in food prices contributes to a sharp fall in real incomes.

The current crisis in Indian agriculture is a consequence of many factors - low rise in farm productivity, unremunerative prices for cultivators, poor food storage facilities resulting in high levels of wastage.

Fragmentation of land holdings and a fall in public investments in rural areas, especially in irrigation facilities, are also to blame.

The government has announced a $15bn waiver of farmer loans and extended a jobs scheme - ensuring 100 days of work in a year entailing manual labour to every family demanding such work at the official minimum wage - to all over the country.

None of these populist initiatives will really work until India's rulers begin giving its ignored farms the importance they deserve.

By Paranjoy Guha Thakurta


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

No education for all in India

“Everyone has the right to education”
- Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Political independence, if not complemented by social and economical independence, remains hollow. B.R. Ambedkar, Indian scholar, political leader and architect of the Indian Constitution, prophesied in 1950 the India that would be six decades later.

A country that boasts of a nine percent growth rate is astoundingly silent on millions of children, generations of its future, who have never entered a school, face exclusion socially and economically, and lead lives bereft of care and dignity.

Fifty-five years later independence, the Indian government in 2002 made free and compulsory education a fundamental right for all children between 6-14 years in the country. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), India’s centrally sponsored programme was set up to deliver on the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of universal primary education.

In the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) launched in 2004, the UPA government pledged an increase in GDP to 6% for education. The aim is to ensure that by 2015 all children in India are receiving eight years of basic education of acceptable quality, regardless of sex, caste, creed, family income or location.

India’s performance on basic education however has been less impressive than its policy statements.

Ground realities

On April 22, 2008, Indian anti-poverty network Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA) gathered experts from civil society, academics and government to discuss and inspect the national programme outcomes and the right to education.

Insufficient resources, lack of political will, bureaucratic complacency and pervasive social exclusion have kept over half the country’s children from completing a meaningful basic education, experts felt.

A wide gap remains between enrolment and completion rates, especially for children from poorest households and marginalised groups in rural areas and urban slums.

Disabled children suffer from blatant exclusion and account for more than one third of all out-of-school children. Working and street children, children from indigenous populations, linguistic minorities, nomadic tribes and children affected by HIV/AIDS are also among the vulnerable.

R. Govinda, professor from the National University of Education Planning and Administration, drew attention to the various zones of exclusion existing within the schooling system. “We don’t have schools in India, but social ghettos, each defined socio-economically,” he said emphatically.

Vinod Raina from Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS) spoke on the casteism that exists even within government schools, ranging from the respectable Kendriya Vidyalayas to the makeshift rural Education Guarantee Centres (EGCs) that lack bare minimum infrastructure and teachers for quality learning.

“There is a need to define quality of education, delivery mechanisms and inclusiveness,” he added.

A growing cause of concern is the mushrooming of private educational institutions, experts felt, as it perpetuates the existing societal inequalities and hierarchy, thus further disempowering the weaker sections of society.

It’s a fight for the right

In 1950, Article 45 of the Indian Constitution stated, “The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of the Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.”

It took however way beyond ten years for the Supreme Court of India to recognise primary education as an important aspect of one’s personal life and liberty and locate it as a fundamental right within Article 21 of the Constitution in 1993.

Conversely, in 2002, the government through the 86th Constitutional Amendment arrogated the right of providing free and compulsory education to itself, thus making the guaranteed right by the apex court dependent on the mercy of the state. Also by focusing on ages 6-14, the government succeeded in wiping out those falling below age six from the picture.

“SSA has little to do with the right to education, as the latter is about entitlements and like most development programmes, SSA is input-oriented,” said R. Govinda. Entitlements can work only in an inclusive framework, he added.

The very fact that SSA is just a flagship scheme of the central government and does not rest on a political mandate unlike the right to education makes it inherently weak.

Paucity of funds

Several reasons are cited by the policymakers for not being able to meet the set target. One of them is the paucity of funds.

Siba Shankar Mohanty from Centre for Budget, Governance and Accountability (CBGA) noted the declining priority of the states in terms of financial commitment to the education sector. Describing it as a “precarious condition”, he added growing privatisation has led to a high 18% proportionate share of accredited private schools providing elementary education to the total number of schools in 2007, way above the figure of 7.9% in 1979.

The government’s shortfall on expenditure on education is further compounded by the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act where any decline in revenue is compensated by an immediate reduction in expenditure and the social sector is the worst hit by such compression of funds.

By the end of the 11th five-year plan, the central government seeks to increase the states’ share to SSA from 15% to 50%. However, given the current scenario of resource crunch and the lack of priority, such a move may not improve the situation.

Need for a holistic and action-oriented approach

To deliver results, mere investment in the scheme would not help. The SSA would be insufficient in meeting its desired goal unless other corrective mechanisms are in place.

Poor performance in schools is attributed to lack of trained teaching staff, poverty and social mindset. An alarming percentage of dropouts and those who despite completing the minimum eight years of schooling are not able to read and write properly, reflect the dismal state of affairs.

D. Raja, Member of Parliament and government’s steering committee on education, felt that India needs to have a common school system which is more representative and equity based.

Poverty, social exclusion, child labour and gender discrimination need to be incorporated in policy formulation for meaningful education. Moreover, a favourable environment can be built in from of pre-school education, good nutrition and early childhood care.

Ashok Bharti, convenor of WNTA, said community mobilisation is critical to the universalisation of education. The Shiksha Adhikar Yatra by WNTA in Haryana last year was an awareness drive that led to enrolment of hundred children.

Though, some progress has been achieved, mostly through increased public demand, improved sector management and civil society and judicial pressure, a deeper level of negotiation and engagement with the states is crucial. Educational planning and administration should be decentralised to bring it closer to the people.

Issues of transparency and accountability for effective implementation were also raised, with particular focus on social auditing and periodic evaluation of such schemes.

At the end of the discussion, the participants submitted a memorandum to D. Raja, urging the HRD ministry to introduce the Right to Education Bill in the current session of the Parliament.

By Manasi Singh and Swati Sahi


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

State of Environment Atlas of India

On the Occasion of Earth Day, the Environment Ministry of India launched the first digital environment atlas of India.

There are varoius types of informative maps as:
Swift and precise data on the State of Environment in India –
by District and State

Lets you manouvre and visualise maps and data on green, blue and brown environmental issues

To browse map themes such as General Characteristics, Environmentally Sensitive Zones, Environmental Quality, and Socio-Economic Profile

Depicts green, blue and brown environmental issues under the Pressure – State – Impact - Response analytical framework

Visualisation of geo-spatial data for experts, decision makers and general users

Based on a dynamic and frequently updated SoE reporting process from the states and national level

Visit :

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The decline and fall of Helplines

Jessica Roy has more than 450 friends on her Facebook profile; and her cellphone contact list is brimming with numbers in abundance. But when Jessica is distressed, she logs off the Internet, and calls a helpline. Jessica is not alone, across the city, denizens are finding isolation in a crowded digital age increasingly difficult to handle, and Mumbai's helplines are offering them an ear.

Helplines have morphed into multi-media one-stops, offering information, counselling or customer service via telephone, e-mail and their website. But these days it seems like Mumbai's helplines need a helpline that will listen to their travails.

Recently, some the city's best-known and oldest helplines announced that they would be shutting down amid rising rents and a lack of funds.

Farrokh Jijini of the Samaritan helpline explains the problem: "It's important to have a good location for the helplines. The volunteers should also be OK with the location. There should be sufficient space to meet the demands of the professional unit."

"Location is very important. It should be positioned in such a way, that there is accessibility," says Shobha Murthy, trustee of Aarambh, which is a support centre for children and women living in slums in Navi Mumbai.

Apart from the location, any volunteer or NGO requires sufficient funds to carry out its mission. But funds seem to be drying up in the Mumbai heat. A lack of funds initiates a domino effect, which affects other areas of the helpline.

According to Shibani Sachdeva, executive director of United Way Mumbai, a lack of volunteers and high rental costs are playing a significant role in the demise of the helpline.

"Unfortunately, most corporates who have the funds are not willing to support helplines," says Sachdeva, "And even if they do, their decision-making process often takes a year."

Many helplines have answered the clarion of the digital revolution, but their problems are rooted in the real world, rather than the virtual one. And in the bustle of the economic boom, Mumbai seems indifferent to the death of the numbers that helped so many people, for so long.

By Brinda Majithia


HELP : Corporate's HELP them. HELP LINES are LIFE LINES for many less fortunate people.We also intend to start one for the Cause of Elderly - Any Funders?????

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Join Silver Innings website: Free Membership drive

Dear Friends,

It’s our Pleasure to Invite you to Join Silver Innings as Primary Member and help us serve the cause of Elders. Your participation will give us more support. : Silver Innings is a dedicated and comprehensive website for Senior Citizens and their family members. It is one of its kinds in worldwide domain for Elders.

This membership is presently FREE and you might get attractive offers in future. There is no bar for age and country, any one can join us and be part of the new movement for Elders. Though there are paid memberships for organizations and institutions which we will start soon.

So Join us at Silver Innings, click on the below link or copy and paste this link on your web page address bar:

Thanks for being with us.

Warm Regards,
Sailesh Mishra

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Irom Sharmila: Eight years on, and still fighting

On March 8, 2008, peace activist Irom Sharmila was arrested in Imphal, Manipur. She was scheduled to address a meeting at the Meira Shang (Women’s Shelter), Porompat, organised by the Apunba Manipur Kanba Ima Lup (Mothers’ Union to Save Manipur). A large number of women and human rights activists requested the police to allow her to be free as a symbolic gesture of respect on International Women’s Day. But their pleas went unheard. Sharmila, who had been released from judicial custody only the previous day (March 7), was re-arrested on charges of attempted suicide.

Irom Sharmila has repeatedly clarified that it’s not her intention to die. Her hunger strike, in its eighth year now, has one single goal: withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA), which empowers armed forces personnel to shoot and kill on grounds of mere “suspicion”. AFSPA was imposed throughout Manipur after the state was declared a “disturbed area” in 1980. This emergency law continues to be in force despite having had no positive impact on the insurgency situation in Manipur. Gross human rights violations are committed with impunity, under cover of this law, generating more insurgency. People in the state are caught in the crossfire between the armed forces on one side and the insurgents on the other. As State violence against ordinary citizens has grown over the decades, so too has retaliatory violence on the part of the insurgents.

Irom Sharmila represents the voice of the ordinary people of Manipur. Born and bred in simple circumstances, she barely completed her schooling, learnt shorthand and tailoring and then gravitated towards social work. She explored working with disabled children, youth and women’s groups. In October 2000, she joined Human Rights Alert (HRA) on a one-month internship. Quiet, observant and sincere, Sharmila cycled to and from HRA every day. During her internship, she met a number of victims of human rights violations and got an orientation on global human rights issues, as well as the situation in Manipur.

On November 2, 2000, the Assam Rifles (AR) gunned down 10 people at a bus stop in Malom village, near Imphal. Unknown insurgents had planted a bomb near the AR camp the previous day and, unable to locate the culprits, AR personnel hit out at random. Shaken to the core by this injustice, Irom Sharmila spontaneously decided to go on a hunger strike in protest. She took her mother’s blessings, then informed other activists who tried to dissuade her from taking such a difficult step. However, showing the first signs of her by-now legendary “iron will”, Sharmila went to Malom and began her fast. Scores of women and youth activists soon joined her, in solidarity with her anti-AFSPA stand. Within days, she was arrested by the police and sentenced under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) -- attempt to suicide – to a year in judicial custody (the maximum punishment awardable for this crime).

A series of arrests and re-arrests followed over the years. To this day, Irom Sharmila continues to be jailed and force-fed by the State. She spent her 36th birthday, March 14, 2008, in the security ward of Jawaharlal Nehru hospital, where medically unfit prisoners of Sajiwa Central Jail are housed. This has been her virtual home since November 2000: a small bare room, with a lady home guard in the corner to guard her at night, and five visits by a stiff-lipped nurse who feeds her a liquid diet through a nasal tube, during the day.

In between, for around four months, Irom Sharmila escaped to New Delhi following her release on October 2, 2006. She went there to garner publicity and sympathy for her cause. Students, human rights activists and other concerned citizens rallied around her as she lay in protest at Jantar Mantar. The Delhi police swooped down and arrested her at midnight on October 6. They kept her in “protective custody” in hospital, where she was visited by journalists and supporters.

The first time I met Irom Sharmila, in early-November 2006, she was reading a book on Japanese folk stories. Subsequently, we discussed books whenever we met -- Buddhist texts, Manipuri poetry, the newspapers, Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries, Swami Rama’s Mystics of the Himalayas… I lent her Chinua Achebe and Greek mythology, and she spoke about her poems, saying: “I write long poems -- some 400 lines, one 600 lines.”

In February 2008 she said she wanted to return to Imphal and, once alone, write a poem of at least 1,000 lines. “It will be about what I have seen and experienced of life, of our society,” she said.

Irom Sharmila left New Delhi for Manipur on March 4, 2008, and was arrested a few hours after her arrival in Imphal. She was remanded to judicial custody on March 7, 2008, for a year.

Permission to visit her in hospital in Imphal is not easily granted. When I made a trip to Imphal in April 2007, her brother, Irom Singhjit, ran around trying to get me permission to visit her. A jail escort came in with us. For six weeks, nobody had been allowed to meet her. Her face broke into a delighted smile when she saw us: she proffered a little notebook, saying: “I have completed writing the poem! It is a poem of one thousand and ten lines!” On my request, she read out the first page of the poem, and translated it. Called Rebirth, it reflects on the frailty of the human body, and the reason we are sent here, to exist between birth and death.

Irom Sharmila is philosophical, thoughtful and determined she will not eat until AFSPA is repealed. Not a single morsel of food, or even a drop of water, has passed through her lips since November 4, 2000 -- a period of nearly 90 months. Stoic, friendly, and completely committed, Sharmila is a unique rebel.

In May 2007, she was awarded the Gwangju Human Rights Award in recognition of her unflagging efforts “to attain democracy, human rights and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means”. The Indian government did not allow her to travel to Gwangju, Korea, to receive this prestigious award. Instead a team went, including Irom Singhjit who received the award and made a speech on behalf of his sister, lawyer Preeti Verma of Human Rights and Law Network, and Annie Raja, General Secretary, National Federation of Indian Women.

In September 2007, a 50-member delegation of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), consisting of activists from across India, went to Imphal to join in a five-day hunger strike by Manipuri citizens protesting against AFSPA, in solidarity with Irom Sharmila. Solidarity fasts were held across the globe -- in England, Pakistan and the US. But nothing seems to stir the conscience of the Indian State.

Government spokespersons have repeatedly assured the people of Manipur that they will review the Act. Yet the central government ignored the judgment of its own committee, the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee, set up in 2004 to examine AFSPA. The committee report clearly states that the Act “has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness,” and should be withdrawn.

On March 4, 2008, Lok Sabha MP from the inner Manipur parliamentary constituency, Dr Thokchom Meinya, demanded immediate repeal of the AFSPA. Participating in a discussion in the Lok Sabha, he said: “There are laws in this country which are national in character and regional in application. One such infamous law is the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.”

In early March, Peace Women Across the Globe, an international NGO, appealed for solidarity with Irom Sharmila, asking all women’s groups and democratic forces to become involved in action to support Sharmila’s campaign. Film screenings of Tales from the Margins, a documentary film about the struggles waged by Sharmila and other Manipuri women, were held in several places. On March 7-8, grassroots people’s movements in Kerala and Tamil Nadu observed Manipur Solidarity Day to express their concern for human rights violations in far-off Manipur and demand the repeal of anti-people laws.

Yet, Sharmila continues to languish in jail. Her grandmother Irom Tonsija Devi, who provided much of her early inspiration, died on March 1, at the age of 105. She had not met her beloved granddaughter for over seven years. Neither has Sharmila’s mother Irom Sakhi Devi, although she often passes by the hospital, located barely a kilometre from their humble home. Unshed tears shining in her eyes, Sakhi Devi says: “I feel I will go mad sometimes.”

Sharmila Irom one day said: “The day the Act is withdrawn I will eat rice from my mother’s hands.”

Physically isolated, her body frail, Sharmila’s spirit remains as strong as ever. Tucked away in a state geographically and culturally remote from the capital, she nonetheless poses a powerful challenge to the impunity and high-handedness of State power.

By Deepti Priya Mehrotra,a Delhi-based writer. Her book on Irom Sharmila is to be published by Penguin this year


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Govt of India admits it has no strategy to deal with HIV-affected children

India’s health minister told the Lok Sabha recently that in the absence of proper data on the number of children affected by HIV/AIDS, there is no comprehensive care and treatment strategy for them.

Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Dr Anbumani Ramadoss told the Lok Sabha recently that so far India had no defined strategy to take care of children who have been affected by AIDS. He admitted that this was due to the fact that there was no data on HIV-affected children, particularly orphans and vulnerable children (OVC).

“In the absence of data regarding the number of infected and affected orphans and vulnerable children, no defined strategy could be formulated to target the specific group though these children are in as much need of government intervention as are the HIV-infected lot,” he said.

Although the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) has identified 32,803 HIV-positive children and provides support and treatment to 9,478 of them, the organisation finds it difficult to reach out to HIV-affected orphans.

“Keeping track of all HIV-affected orphans is a gigantic task,” says Dr Damoder Bachani, Joint Director, care, support and treatment division of NACO. “Once the parent/s of these HIV-affected children die or stop coming to us for treatment, we lose all contact with such children,” he adds.

Under Phase III of the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP-III), 2007-2012, two initiatives were launched: provision of a specific paediatric fixed-dose combination of antiretroviral drugs to infected children, and access to a corpus of $ 14 million from the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria Round-IV, in 2007-08, for providing a package of services including medical care for opportunistic infections, psycho-social support, supplementary nutrition, education, etc, over a period of five years.

These interventions also target infected and affected children, including orphans, according to a statement from the government. The programme aims to reach 65,000 children by 2012. Of these, 5,500 children have been taken care of, and NACP-III is expected to provide assistance to 9,500 more children by the end of the year, said the report tabled in the Lok Sabha.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Coca-Cola continues to increase its liabilities in India by engaging in unethical practices

A recent study funded by Coca-Cola confirms that the company’s bottling plants worsen the severity of water shortages around some of its bottling plants in India. The report recommends the closure of a bottling plant in Kala Dera, Rajasthan, and warns Coca-Cola about dropping water tables in Mehdiganj in Uttar Pradesh.

Coca-Cola shareholders were cautioned about the fact that the soft-drinks giant continues to increase its liabilities in India by engaging in unethical practices, at the company’s annual general meeting in Wilmington, Delaware, USA.

“The Coca-Cola company management is doing a great disservice to its shareholders by hiding the real extent of the liabilities the company has incurred in India, and it will come back to haunt them. The longer the shareholders wait to seriously address concerns in India, the greater the liability,” said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Centre, who attended the meeting and spoke on behalf of campaigns against the company in India.

A recent study funded by Coca-Cola confirmed that the company’s bottling plants worsen the severity of water shortages around some of its bottling plants in India. The report also recommended the closure of a bottling plant in Kala Dera, in Rajasthan, and warned Coca-Cola about dropping water tables in Mehdiganj in Uttar Pradesh.

The report, released in January 2008, was carried out by the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) -- an ally of the company -- and was a scathing indictment of Coca-Cola’s operations in India, particularly on the issue of water management.

One of Coca-Cola’s largest bottling plants in India -- in Plachimada, Kerala -- has been closed since March 2004 because Coca-Cola is unable to get the necessary environmental clearances to operate it.

Communities campaigning against Coca-Cola in India have vowed to hold the company financially and criminally liable for the damage it has caused. The state of Kerala is considering filing criminal charges against the company for depleting water resources and causing pollution. “Coca-Cola’s own report as well as government studies have confirmed what we have been saying all along -- that the company has worsened the water crisis for thousands of people,” said Nandlal Master of Lok Samiti which coordinates the community campaign against Coca-Cola in Mehdiganj.

“Coca-Cola must cease its bottling operations in Mehdiganj and compensate the thousands of farmers who have lost their livelihoods as a result of declining water tables, courtesy Coca-Cola,” Master added.

“What other confirmation does Coca-Cola need to shut down the plant in Kala Dera,” asks Rameshwar Kudi of the Kala Dera Sangharsh Samiti, the local group that has led the campaign for the plant’s closure. “Continuing to operate the plant even after its own study has found the company guilty of worsening water shortages is criminal, and we will make sure that Coca-Cola pays heavily for the damage it has caused.”

Coca-Cola was forced to agree to an assessment of its operations as a result of campaign efforts at the University of Michigan that demanded the assessment for continuing business with Coca-Cola.

At last year’s AGM, Coca-Cola company management recommended a vote against a resolution that called for a “report on the potential environmental and public health damage from its plants in India”. The resolution was not passed.

Coca-Cola has responded to growing protests against it in India through a variety of so-called corporate social responsibility initiatives, including the much-hyped Every Drop Counts campaign launched last year. One of its initiatives in India is rainwater harvesting, which the company announced with much fanfare as a result of growing opposition to its water management practices.

People, however, assert that these initiatives are not genuine, something that the TERI report confirms by saying: “All the recharge shafts that were randomly visited were found to be in a dilapidated condition.”

“Coca-Cola’s own assessment has shown that the company has acted irresponsibly by locating many of its bottling plants in India in areas with water scarcity, and, as a result, exacerbating already existing water crises in India,” said Srivastava. “Even from a dollars and cents perspective, Coca-Cola’s practices in India are plain wrong. It is time for shareholders to demand accountability from the Coca-Cola company management.”

TERI’s 500-page report ‘Independent, Third Party Assessment of Coca-Cola Facilities in India’ calls for the closure of Coca-Cola’s bottling plant in the village of Kala Dera in Rajasthan. Citing the widespread water shortages being experienced by villages around the plant, it recommends either that alternative sources of water be found (a highly impractical option) or that the plant is relocated or shut down altogether.

The report came as a result of high-profile student-led campaigns in the US, Canada and the UK; over 20 colleges and universities have removed Coca-Cola products from their campuses. The University of Michigan placed the Coca-Cola company on probation in 2006, and asked for an independent assessment of its operations in India.

The report assessed only six of Coca-Cola’s 50 bottling plants in India.


So What the Government of INDIA doing????????? What is assesment for other soft drink giant like Pepsi????????

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Blog for Senior Citizens Launched

Dear Friends,
Its our pleasure to welcome you all to this New Blog dedicated for Elders -

We will try to update you about happenings in Elder domain.

This is our new initiative after and ,we thought that there is need for seprate blog for Elders.

Thanks and Happy Blogging.

Warm Regards,
Sailesh Mishra

Do visit:

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Let's Get It Right

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) was born in February 2006. Even at that time, it was amongst the largest-ever public employment programmes anywhere in the world, promising to provide 100 days of employment to every rural household in 200 of the country's most backward districts. From April this year, it is being expanded to cover all of rural India.

From its very inception, NREGA has generated intense controversy. Its supporters — the various Left parties, NGOs, activists — emphasised its unique feature. For the first time, the rural poor in India would be given the right to employment at prevailing minimum wages. Effectively, NREGA means that the rural poor are no longer at the mercy of the ruling government. For instance, the government cannot plead lack of funds or more pressing priorities to deprive the poor of at least the stipulated minimum days of employment. Its detractors have argued that all government schemes of this magnitude invariably fall very far short of its targets. A large fraction of the money ends up in the pockets of various intermediaries, with the poor getting only a small share of the promised reward.

The debate continues. In the meantime, there have been several surveys evaluating how the programme has functioned in the two years since its inception. Not surprisingly, these reports establish that there has been a great deal of variation in the extent to which targets have been met across different states. It is even less surprising that the reports also establish at least some leakage in even the more successful states.

But, what are the parameters which should guide us in deciding the overall success or failure of the programme? Consider, for instance, the issue of leakages. I came across a newspaper report a couple of weeks ago announcing some modifications to a scheme which reimburses central government officers up to $2,50,00 for educational expenses incurred in studying in approved foreign universities. Presumably, the stint in foreign universities is supposed to endow the officers with skills which they can then put to good use after they return to India. But couldn't they acquire similar skills at a fraction of this cost in one of the IIMs? I need not belabour the obvious — this scheme is a very thinly disguised perk, and is also a leakage.

There must be several other government schemes of a similar nature. Also, newspapers are full of reports of kickbacks in defence purchases which mean that the country ends up buying inferior armaments at inflated prices. But no one says that we should stop purchases of defence equipment because of these leakages. Clearly, there are leakages and leakages — some should be taken seriously, while others can be ignored. But, what are the criteria on which the division is made?

A country that has successfully achieved sustained growth at respectable rates must have extensive social safety nets, particularly when the incidence of poverty is as high as it is in India. It is inevitable that the implementation of these schemes will not achieve perfect targeting — some of the money will flow to unintended beneficiaries. The appropriate topic for debate should be on what is the most efficient channel through which transfers can reach the poor, not on whether there should be transfers.

Many years ago, economist Kaushik Basu wrote a paper entitled 'Beyond roads that get washed away'. If memory serves me right, the background for his article was the Employment Guarantee Scheme in Maharashtra. As the title of his paper suggests, Basu was concerned with the issue of whether rural employment guarantee schemes can generate employment along with the creation of durable rural assets. He pointed out that in order to achieve this twin objective, the non-wage component of the programme has to be sufficiently large. In other words, additions to rural infrastructure also require cement and bricks, and the government has to make adequate budgetary provision for these.

The physical material used in roads that get washed away after the first monsoon is obviously a social waste.

Unfortunately, a couple of the evaluation reports of NREGA emphasise the very poor quality of the rural works that have been created in all the surveyed districts. The "emphasis is more on spending a larger amount of money than on ensuring quality in works execution" is the caustic remark in one of the reports.

Are there alternatives to NREGA? Why can't there be a law which stipulates that the government has to make a minimum monetary transfer to poor rural households every year? If this is a law, then the "right" of the poor to get this transfer will obviously be on the same footing as their right to gainful employment promised under NREGA. An obvious problem with this option is that all rural households will queue up to receive the cash transfers, whereas the relatively richer households opt to self-select out of NREGA.

In other words, the cash transfer scheme will witness some leakage. But, will it be larger than the leakage witnessed in an employment guarantee scheme? What about the saving which will be achieved by not constructing roads that aren't washed away? These are quantitative issues and the only way to settle them one way or another is to try out the cash transfer scheme perhaps on a small scale.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

The importance of play time

MOST parents don't need to be told that their kids need time to play. It seems obvious to say that kids need time to simply be themselves -- and, yet, increased academic pressures, changing family set-ups and the fast pace of modern living have all placed an enormous strain on the time we spend with our kids -- and how we fill it.

During the 1980s, experts began to move away from the idea that play was useful for a child's development.

Play became something frivolous, from which children learnt little. Parents started talking about 'too much playtime', and school curriculums became more goal-oriented.

Now, parents and teachers are returning to the notion that play is a powerful tool that helps children to socialise, interact with the world around them and acquire vital coping skills.

It is, says the famous Swiss child psychologist Jean Piaget, a child's work.

Research published this week by IPPA, the Early Childhood Association reveals that Irish parents are worried that safety, time and space limitations are preventing our kids from getting enough playtime.

But if we put a little thought into it, there are plenty of ways in which we can ensure that our kids get enough playtime -- and that they're playing in the right way.

"The UK led the way in this," says Irene Gunning, IPPA's chief executive. "They used to have a great understanding of the process of play and believed that play should be thought of as an end in itself.

"But then they developed a curriculum that was outcome-focused where, for example, kids had to be able to count by a certain age.

"When that happens, you stop allowing the child to just play -- and you begin to start teaching. Now they are beginning to go back to their original ideas. We want our children to be ready and eager to learn, but play is so misunderstood."

Psychologist Dr Mark Harrold, author of Parenting and Privilege: Raising Children in an Affluent Society, agrees that play is a vital tool in a child's development, but acknowledges that parents face new challenges in allowing their kids to simply be kids.

"The landscape has changed. Both parents are now out working."

This has intensified the whole experience of parenting, and parents, he argues, feel under pressure to ensure their children are constantly busy doing something -- and that something is usually an 'adult-led', learning-based activity.

"If we're not doing something with them, we feel like we're not being a good parent," says Dr Harrold.

Rushing children from piano practice to gymnastics to swimming lessons -- while obviously beneficial for a child -- can leave them little time to engage in the simple child-centred play that is crucial to development.

And the tightly-structured school curriculum has also edged out imaginative play, argues Dr Harrold.

Modern toys reflect the move away from crucial imaginative play. Most toys designed by toy manfacturers -- and heavily marketed by them -- have a particular play function or in many cases, an educational aspect.

But by offering a child an 'open-ended toy' -- one that the child can use as a prop to stimulate creative play-- parents can open up a whole new world for their youngsters.

Given the opportunity to decide how to use a toy for themselves, children begin to play in a way that is natural to them. "There are lots of opportunities to have open-ended toys in the home," says Irene. "Think about water play in the bath, or up at the sink, once you have the kids safe and are near them.

"Remember when you were little and you made lumps of dough and did your own rolling when your mum was baking...there are great opportunities in the home.

"The marketing experts say to buy this type of toy or that one, and that you're a good parent if you buy this...but any parent knows at heart that those toys that have buttons and lights aren't as good in the same way as an old cardboard box, where kids can have endless fun transforming it into whatever they want."

As the mother of three young children, Carmel Doyle knows the importance of allowing her youngsters enough time to play, and works hard to ensure that they play in the right way.

"Play is power. When my kids play, they are less grumpy, they sleep better and they have better confidence. They love it."

Carmel's family -- husband Gerry and children Jack (5) Tony (3) and Rose (18 months) -- live on a suburban cul-de-sac where the kids have plenty of pals their own age and, as the summer evenings grow longer, spend hours out on the street playing with one another.

As always, safety is the big issue so in order to facilitate the kids to play out of doors, the local parents started up an informal 'play patrol'.

The kids play by themselves, but always with an adult watching from a safe distance to watch out for traffic or 'stranger danger'.

"There is always someone there, but we don't interfere," says Carmel. "Traffic is the big danger, so it's important to get the neighbours used to the fact that the kids own this road, so they have to watch their speed.

"Our kids are outside chasing, skipping or playing hopscotch. They have a den that they made in the garden which they love. At Easter, we had an egg hunt. The kids came into my house while the adults hid the eggs around the road. Then after their hunt, they wanted the adults to come in while they hid the eggs for us!

"One of their favourite things to do is dressing-up. One minute Jack is a pirate, the next he's Buzz Lightyear. Once they're in that 'role play' mode, they can be like that for two or three hours."

Another 'rainy day' activitiy that the children love is good old-fashioned baking, adds Carmel.

"We don't make anything fancy, but things like Spiderman cakes, buns, or when I'm making an apple tartm they can make cookies from the pastry.

"Theres no manual. You have to say, 'let's relax'. Simple things will keep them occupied. My mum gives them bags of clothes pegs and they have endless fun with them, making necklaces and shapes.

"If we think back to when we were small and what we did when adults weren't around, you learnt so much by just managing yourself in those situations and finding out how far you could go," says Irene.

"The sheer pleasure and enjoyment of those old-fashioned games, such as skipping, hopscotch and hide-and-seek, was amazing.

"If we look back to our own childhoods, we can see how much we actually learnt through play," says Carmel.

"Today's business leaders would have learnt lots of their vital skills through games they played.

"When we look at our own kids playing, they are learning great skills for life -- they think beyond themselves. And they have more fun as part of a team.

"The power of children playing with other children is that they develop social skills and learn how to share. Play is as imp-ortant as their homework."

By Liz Kearney


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

SHAME SHAME - CM's relief fund used for recreation

Successive governments in the last decade have disbursed crores of rupees from the CM's Relief Fund for non-calamity-related reasons, a reply under the Right to Information (RTI) Act has revealed. The CM's OF Maharashtra Relief Fund was set up in 1967, with the primary intention of providing relief during calamities.

The fund, like the PM's Relief Fund, gets generous contributions from individuals and institutions across the country, especially during disasters and war.

TOI had in its March 15 edition reported in detail how crores of rupees were disbursed from the CM's Relief Fund from 2003 to 2005 for trivial reasons like kabaddi competition, women's football matches and ghazal contests. Now, details of the fund in 1996-97 (Sena-BJP rule) and 2006-07 (Congress regime) have revealed a mixed bag of disbursals.

In 1996-97, Rs 4.12 crore was given to various institutions and individuals, out of which Rs 3.28 crore was given to recipients who got over Rs 50,000 each. In 2006-07, Rs 15.98 crore was given to various institutions and individuals, of which Rs 12.95 crore was given to recipients who got over Rs 50,000 each.

“A cursory look at the two lists reveals that in both these years crores of of rupees were being disbursed for events that were in no way related to calamities,'' said RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi, who filed the query.

For instance, the Maharasahtra Rajya Kustigir Parishad wrestling conference and competition received Rs 2 lakh, the Jagatik Marathi Parishad Conference held in Jerusalem received Rs 10 lakh and the Umesh Shenoy ticket exhibition in Atlanta received Rs 51,000. For a foreign trip to New Zealand, the Beed-based Bhagwan Raosaheb Lomte received Rs 1 lakh. During 2006-07, the CM's Relief Fund gave Rs 1 lakh to Ramdas Padhye for participating in a puppet festival in Czechoslovakia and Rs 5 lakh for the Ishwardas Chunilal Yogic Health Center's international conference.

Meanwhile, the CM's Office held that relief funds can be given to institutions and individuals from different walks of life. “The 2001 government resolution clearly states that funds can be disbursed to cultural, social and educational initiatives and institutions. There is nothing unlawful in the disbursal of funds. Each case has been given on merit and after careful scrutiny by the chief minister himself,'' a senior official with the CMO said.

The CMO stated that in 2006-07, for instance, Rs 2.8 crore was disbursed to 3,708 individuals who needed urgent medical care. In the last three months alone, Rs 3.06 crore was given to 3,751 people.

In 2006-07, Rs 1 crore was given for victims of the bomb blasts and “riots,'' the CMO official said, without specifying what the ‘riots' were. Rs 1.6 crore was given for socially underprivileged people, Rs 65 lakh was given to poor students, Rs 19 lakh to economically backward sportsmen, Rs 3.5 lakh for cultural conferences and Rs 17 crore for assistance following farmer suicides, he added.

But Gandhi said, “The word ‘relief' in the CM's Relief Fund clearly means it is for urgent relief. The fund attracts exemptions under income-tax because the money must be given for calamity-related public causes.''

By Viju.balanarayanan


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

No rights for the mentally disabled

At a Kolkata mental hospital recently female patients were found left stark naked in the ward. Mental illness is included in the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995, but the mentally disabled are denied even the rights and reservations available to the physically disabled.

The incident took place on March 8, 2008, a day when some of us were busy observing International Women’s Day. The daughter of a female patient went to visit her mother at Pavlov Mental Hospital, a government-run hospital in Kolkata, West Bengal. As the patient’s condition was serious, Doctor Ashis Acharya took the girl into the ward where her mother was. There, they were both shocked to see that all the female patients were stark naked. According to hospital authorities, this was because their clothes had gone for washing. When Dr Acharya protested, the hospital staff started arguing with him. A nurse, when questioned, explained that a second set of clothes was usually given to the patients when one set went for washing, but that stripping mentally ill patients of their clothes was “not a serious issue”.

The incident was reported on the front page of Anandabazar Patrika, a widely circulated Bengali newspaper.

As usual, it triggered a blame game. The authorities wanted to know who had leaked the information to the newspaper. The West Bengal health minister said he was too busy with the Assembly session to give appointments to rights-based organisations. The health secretary of the state was also too caught up to give appointments. When contacted, the chairperson of the State Women’s Commission said that she had not read the news item and was unaware of the incident. According to the reporter who was following up the case, the hospital superintendent claimed it was a non-issue and he did not understand what all the fuss was about.

Interestingly, all these people asked the same question during the course of conversation: who was the source of the story. Apart from the chairperson of the Women’s Commission, no one considered it a serious human rights violation. Nor did they express any concern.

What does this lack of empathy, especially amongst people in power, have to do with the position of mentally ill women in society?

Firstly, it is difficult to define “mental illness”. “Madness”, “lunacy”, “insanity”, “mental illness” and “mental disorder” are terms used to describe aspirations, beliefs and conduct that vary from the accepted psycho-social or bio-medical norm. We are careful about using the politically correct terminology for the mentally ill today. But without changing the situation on the ground, changing the terminology is a futile exercise.

Societal attitudes reflect the terms we use. Someone with a psycho-social disability is looked down upon by society. Despite mental illness being included as a category of disability in the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995, reservations under the law exist only for those who are physically disabled. It is clear that even amongst persons with disability, those with psycho-social problems feature low in the hierarchy. They are not eligible to stand for elections, nor do they have the right to vote. Not only do they not have political rights, according to Indian law they cannot enter into any contract.

“Mental unsoundness” in our marriage laws bars a person with mental disability from getting married. People are also denied custody of their children, and cannot adopt, on grounds of mental unsoundness. It is important to remember here that a woman’s world is woven around the word “marriage”. Unlike men, the status of women in society depends on whether she is married, single, widowed or divorced. Though things have changed in some urban areas, in general, societal attitudes towards women remain the way they have always been.

Within two weeks of reading the report, I visited Dhaniakhali, in Hooghly district, West Bengal, just an hour’s journey from Kolkata. I was there to attend a health fair. That’s when I met Saraswati, a tribal girl who works at an anganwadi. When Saraswati heard that we work with persons with disability, she said she wanted to talk to us in private. She told us that her younger brother-in-law’s wife had become “mad” and that the whole family was trying to prove that she was a dain (witch). Saraswati was the only person in the family who understood what her sister-in-law was going through. Her efforts to take the girl to a medical centre had been futile, and she felt very alone. Seeing and talking to us had given her a little strength. She promised that she would try her best to stop her sister-in-law from being tortured or sent to an asylum, thereby allowing her husband to remarry.

It is important that the people responsible for what happened at Pavlov Mental Hospital on March 8 are brought to book. It is important that our government is made accountable to the public. It is important to find the correct terminology for issues related to mental disability. And it is important to change the laws. But, in the end, one cannot help but think that it’s more important to have at least one Saraswati in every family. For not just charity, the rights approach too begins at home.

By Shampa Sengupta ,an activist working on disability and gender issues. She is presently working with Sruti Disability Rights Centre, Kolkata, and runs a helpline for persons with disability.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Tibet needs meaningful autonomy, not independence: Dalai Lama

Spiritualism alone cannot fill stomachs, says the exiled spiritual leader of the Tibetans in this exclusive interview. He believes there are benefits to staying with China, but only if China learns to respect democracy, civil rights and religious freedom.

The recent unrest in Tibet, timed to re-focus the world’s attention on Tibet just as China prepares to host the 2008 Olympic Games, is the most serious since 1959. And the spotlight is clearly on the Dalai Lama, exiled spiritual leader of the Tibetans, whom the Chinese accuse of masterminding the uprising.

Despite his iconic status (to his followers he is a living Buddha), when one meets the Dalai Lama face-to-face he is always the simple ‘Tibetan monk’. The key issue of concern for him is the preservation of tibetan culture. Even when talking about issues of great importance to him, he never loses his calm and all his replies are punctuated with smiles and easy laughter.

The Tibetan demand for autonomy seems to upset the Chinese.
In recent years, the last 10 years, we have been demanding ‘meaningful autonomy’. But the Chinese perceive this to be the ultimate threat -- that the Tibetans want to separate from China -- forgetting that it is they who have all the power. Our concern has been with how we can protect and preserve our ecology and forests. Large-scale deforestation has caused unprecedented floods.

Deng Cheng (Deng Xiaoping) gave instructions in this respect (to preserve the ecology). We saw the development of some positive attitudes towards ecology. Unfortunately, private businessmen are extremely corrupt. They do not care for government instructions and have been doing the opposite. That is why we say we need meaningful autonomy. Our cultural heritage and our dedicated environment must remain with the Tibetan people.

You believe it is in the Tibetans’ interest to remain with China?

Tibetans are materially backward but they are spiritually quite advanced. Spiritualism alone cannot fill stomachs. Besides, we need material development. Being with China, we stand to get much benefit. That is why I have always been advocating the middle way.

The Tibet Youth Organisation is, however, very critical of our approach. My eldest brother, who is over 80 years, told me: “Dear younger brother, you have sold my Tibetan rights.” I respect him but his views on Tibet are completely different.

Amongst our supporters, even Indians here are very critical of our approach. They want independence. They say our approach has not yielded any positive results. This criticism is increasing, but still we are fully committed to reform. It is understandable for people to be critical. When they say that the Dalai Lama’s approach has failed, this is an expression of their frustration.

You have been quoted as saying that cultural genocide is taking place in Tibet.

Yes, there is a great deal of suppression taking place within Tibet. The Tibet Youth Congress has warned that it will disrupt the holding of the Olympic Games.

I have explained my stand on this issue. China is the most populated country in the world; it deserves to hold the games. Despite the suppression going on inside Tibet, and the intense criticism which I am facing, my position is the same. We are not Chinese but we respect China for holding the games in Peking.

I am fully committed to their taking the torch through Tibet, as this is part of the games.
This is not to say that I do not acknowledge some of the criticism by some individuals who criticise the Chinese record. The Chinese people must respect the civil rights of others; they must give others the right to religious freedom. This is the basis of our criticism, and they must improve.

A lot of people feel your middle path approach has failed.

It’s too early to say that the middle path approach has failed. (You will have to) wait for a few months.

Many younger Tibetans are demanding independence from China.

Right from the beginning, from 1986-87, I have asked the Tibetan community what its views are. My path is the middle path and that is the best approach. Tibetans living in Tibet also support my middle way.

In 2002, I renewed direct contact with the Chinese government. But my attempts to talk to them failed completely. I cannot force everyone to accept this point of view -- we are fully committed to democracy.

The problem is that if you do a certain action, you should be clear about the consequences. Such an action can also generate criticism. Unfortunately, the Chinese leaders have no such experience. They cannot understand what democracy is. They accuse us but they do not realise that we do not have control (over the entire Tibetan population).

We do not want separation, but the entire demography of Tibet has changed.

Why has the violence escalated in recent weeks?

The situation inside Tibet has been peaceful. I have already told the Tibetans that if there is an escalation in violence, I will resign. I am committed to non-violence. Chinese soldiers opened fire. Police shot at the public, one Chinese rifle fell down and they (took it and) shot back. If the violence goes out of control, I will resign. I am committed to non-violence. The Chinese side has guns, the Tibetan side has no guns.

Chinese soldiers, disguised as Tibetan monks, were indulging in violence. To a layperson, soldiers dressed like monks may look like monks. But we watched the images carefully and realised they were not monks. Also, in a photograph showing a Tibetan with a sword, the sword is Chinese. They all look like Chinese people dressed like Tibetans. Tibetans are not so foolish. For Tibetans to do something like this is almost like suicide. Tibetans come out and express their deep resentment through non-violence. They are met with shoot-on-sight orders.

What has the response been from the Chinese side?

My side is always open for dialogue. We are waiting to hear from the Chinese side. We have no power to bring China to the dialogue table. We have only truth and sincerity. That is why we are appealing to the world community: please help. I am helpless. I can just pray.

I have no authority to say do this or that. I follow Buddha. Buddha has given us liberty. He always said to his followers that they should not accept his teachings through devotion but should accept them through investigation. The poor Dalai Lama is happy to follow that way.

I always make a comparison between China and India. In India, there are different languages, different food, but still there is rule of law, freedom of expression (except in Kashmir where there is a problem involving slight use of force). This is a reflection of India’s stability. Newspaper men may indulge in sensationalism; problems are raised and then resolved. China looks stable but underneath there is a lot of resentment. China is a police state with a rule of terror. People cannot be put down by threats; this may work on animals but we are humans. We should have rule of harmony not rule of terror. Chinese leaders should study more human nature.

The Chinese have accused you of spreading falsehoods.

We believe in the truth. There are 6 million Tibetans living in China. People should go to Tibet and check whether what we are saying is true. Two weeks ago, I went through the same experience as I did in 1959. I faced a lot of fear, worry, anxiety… my mind was very disturbed. But now I have become much calmer.

When can we expect some tangible results?

This crisis is a spontaneous expression of the people. The Chinese were taken by surprise. So were we. I have met Tibetans who came from Tibet. Some have a good livelihood; students are getting a good education in Chinese universities. But all these people show a lot of frustration. Tibetans who are in the age-group of 50-60 years are more or less contented, as long as they do not face daily harassment, unlike during the period of the cultural revolution.

But the younger generation living there says as long as the Dalai Lama is there we will follow his advice, but once he goes we will take appropriate action. I feel concern at this. Whenever I meet Tibetans who come from Tibet I tell them, don’t do these political activities, concentrate on education and training. I tell these people independence is too much of a risk.

The Chinese are taking independent groups of people around Tibet.

You are taking a select group of neutral people who should investigate thoroughly the situation there. At the Jokhan temple, 30 monks came and said that what those official (Chinese) were telling was not true. Visiting Lhasa is not sufficient. They should go to remote areas and investigate and find out the truth.

Are you planning to go back to Tibet?

When we left Tibet, we did not come here on a pilgrimage. To go into the past, when the Chinese army reached Chando, in 1950, it was an independent nation. In 1951, I went to China where I had several meetings with Chairman Mao. I developed a genuine admiration for him. I was attracted to Marxism. In fact, I wanted to join the Chinese communist party. Many Tibetans were also communists. Many Tibetan communists were kept in jail for 18 years and more.

I had long-drawn-out meetings with Chairman Mao. He once told his audience that there must be criticism of the communist party. He asked them to list the limitations of the party. Everyone was silent. He insisted. Finally some people spoke out and said that the village-level officials were not behaving properly. Chairman Mao told them that the communist party was like fish -- just as fish cannot survive without water, so the party cannot survive without criticism.

But in 1956, when the Chinese introduced reform in Tibet, it was done in a very unrealistic manner. The Chinese way of reform was different -- the Chinese landlords were merciless. The Tibetan landlords are different. The Tibetan people want me to come back but I can do nothing unless there is freedom. There must be some degree of freedom for us to return. Tibet must be given meaningful autonomy. It must be genuine.

You often talk of retirement.

I am committed to the promotion of religious harmony. Once Tibet achieves autonomy, I will resign voluntarily. I am already is a semi-retired position. Happily, in the political field, we have elections taking place every five years. On the spiritual side, we have young, qualified people who will take care of Buddhist culture. One old monk can devote time to preparation for the next life.

Can you define spirituality and how one can attain it?

Aah! Aah! Spirituality means belief in a moral principle -- in order to be a happy person, to have a happy family, one must cultivate the inner values of compassion and warm-heartedness. Now modern scientists in the West are also showing a keen interest in the development of a compassionate mind. All religions -- Hindu, Christian, Muslim -- have the same message. The essence of all religion is compassion, forgiveness and contentment.

By Rashme Sehgal


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.