Lock-down Extension – Anxious Moment for Slum-dwellers ..

My maid was worried and wanted to come back to work even during the lock-down. She is living in the nearby slums with her three young daughters in one 10 feet-by-10 feet single room. For livelihood they all work as house maids. They go out in the morning and generally use loos available in the parking space of apartments where they work. Lock-down is forcing them to go out to relieve themselves in the open, early mornings, daily. COVID-19 has put most of the working women living in slums in similar fix. The term Social distance is virtually meaningless for people living in the roadside ‘jhoparpatti’ and slums, it has increased the proximity of living in cramped surroundings for 24X7.  In addition, increase in stress, cramped and difficult living conditions, and breakdown in community support system make women and children even prone to abuse and violence. This makes them more vulnerable of getting contagious to the virus. I came to know that during lock down there were increase in domestic violence. Staying in home has limited the women’s ability to get away from the domestic abuses.

The situation of younger children is even worse in these ‘jhoparpattis’. It is more than a month now that government took a measure to close schools to contain the spread of virus. School closures impacts not only students, teachers and families, but has far-reaching economic and social consequences. The impact for closure of government schools is more severe as it caters mostly the disadvantaged children, causing interrupted learning, compromised nutrition, childcare problems and consequent economic cost to families who are not working. Even Supreme Court has expressed concern over the impact on mid-day meals to children during the closure of schools. It issued notices to all state governments to explain how they would ensure the supplies reach the vulnerable to avoid large scale malnourished among the children. It is estimated that closure has increased protein deficiency by 100 percent, calorie deficiency by 30 percent and iron deficiency by 10 percent among disadvantaged children of government schools, popularly known as ‘holiday hunger’.

UNIESCO has recently reported that pandemic has forced more than 90 percent of the world’s student population out of schools and universities. Some governments have already recognised the need to address the gaps in food provisioning left in absence of school meals. Bihar has announced to transfer the cash value of school mid-day meal into children’s account. In Kerala, rations have been delivered to the homes of young ‘anganwadis’ children. But at larger level keeping the government’s delivery mechanism into consideration I doubt whether these initiatives would be enough to bring out of the mess. 

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This is true that in present context maintaining social distance was the best option available in India to contain the spread of virus, and data also supports the argument. In comparison to other countries India has somehow been successful in showcasing the benefit of it. The death from the infection has been less till now in contrary to the predictions made by experts. Despite all problems in the health sector community transmission of the virus has been very limited. Particularly in states like Bihar, Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha where experts thought the community transmission would be fast because of high migration and poor health care system, spread has been relatively low.

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It is not just the relative success in containing the virus, the extreme lockdown was also understandable as an immediate response to an unknown crisis. But I suspect if it is extended exactly in the present form the risk of underprivileged may be bearing the brunt of ostracisation, lack of hospital care, loss of wages, homelessness and hunger. In my opinion the relaxation within the control environment may be considered. There is need to think at the local level on lockdown policy. With proper screening and tracking, people may be allowed to move within their own periphery. Even government schools may be opened. Opening of schools may be helpful in keeping children out of cramped and unhygienic environment, this will also help in making parents more comfortable where both need to go out for their livelihood.  My experience suggest that children are safer in school than in their home. The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, this week has found that the closure of schools may have limited benefit in slowing down the spread of COVID 19 although its economic and social cost are high. Although this study may not be that much contextual, but the limited point here is to see if extreme lock down for longer duration doesn’t become a trap, from where coming out may become very difficult.

COVID 19 in Bihar – Hand wash or GOD’s Mercy

World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared COVID-19 a pandemic and now is catastrophically being compared with World War II in terms of global spread. We in remote locations in India initially took it lightly and lot of memes on twitter, WhatsApp and other social media started circulating on coronavirus as a Chinese project. But as the COVID 19 gets spreading globally the comic ridiculous jokes turn into something more serious and vigilant. The related memes also changed its colour and taste. It has changed into awareness, prevention and cure. TV, print and social media is taking lead in taking the awareness to the people.

I am not sure, if our hand washing and cleanliness has any concrete relation to the prevention of spread of virus. Because if at all it is related to environmental cleanliness and behavioural hygiene it could not have been spread in European nations, US, Japan and Scandinavian countries. At present countries like South Asian countries and African countries known for poor pollution levels and poor environmental cleanliness have been less affected. In India where the spread is relatively low in comparison to richer nations, the concentration of disease is more in western and northern India not the crowded and environmentally poor eastern India. Everyone in this part expects God to stand for them because if disease spreads here and goes deep into the community level, it will only be disastrous in magnitude.

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In last few days the fear of death has been so horrific that people would like to do everything which they can at their end. Be it cleaning of houses, doing handwashing frequently and avoiding human contact as much as possible. Messages on social media has been very helpful in spreading this awareness. Interestingly, what Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) could not do in two decades, the fear of virus did in 20 days.

We are aware that in India we need rely more on prevention because Public Health system is in total disarray. In Bihar it is even more deplorable. One of my friends today took one of his relative for treatment in Patna Medical College and there he found even doctors were worried about the spread of COVID 19. A doctor told him that hospital does not have enough test kits. Leave aside the beds, and other facilities. And if coronavirus patients start pouring in, the system will collapse on its own.

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Other than bringing hygiene and cleanliness into the household government is also trying everything at its disposal to avoid human to human contact. Lock-down has been enforced in all urban areas in Bihar. But because of inherent social nature of people forced by economic compulsion of marginalised, here in the State success of lock-down looks very doubtful. It is the social nature of people that even Prime Minister’s appeal to pay gratitude to health workers from their homes treated as celebrations. People came out in large numbers or even gathered on roof tops. The social distancing went haywire for time being. New papers reported that even after the lock-down announced by State Government there were huge crowd at bus stand and at railway stations today. People who have fled after lock-down from Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and other cities in India seen in desperation to find ways to return to their villages in remote locations. This has brought a new situation in the State. Government has not made enough arrangement for their stay in Patna nor have made plan to send them home. It is said that more than 25,000 people have arrived in last two days.

Arrival of people in large numbers have put State into the peculiar situation here in Patna. Government has become confused. Whether to enforce lock-down and make arrangement for the quarantine of such large people or send them to home and rely only on God’s mercy hoping that COVID 19 will die on its own in this unfriendly and confused environment.

The parallels between Dandi March and Saheen Bagh Protest

We are celebrating ninety years of Dandi March today. The March popularly known as Salt Satyagrah was led by Mahatma Gandhi. Eighty Congress volunteers moved along with him from Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad to Dandi on seacoast in Gujarat. The 24-day march was culminated by making salt through evaporation of sea water in Dandi. By this Gandhi and his followers resisted the tax law imposed on salt by the colonial rule. Gandhi moved further on seacoast and was arrested while planning another satyagraha at Dharasana, south of Dandi on seacoast only a month after. Although British did not make any immediate concession on taxation, but this march drew widespread worldwide news coverage of Indian Independence Movement. Dandi March could able to mobilize people against the colonial rule. More than 60,000 people got arrested. Mahatma Gandhi himself got released from jail after an year of imprisonment and participated in the second round table conference in London on giving concessions to Indians through Constitutional Reforms.

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Saheen Bagh protest, led largely by Muslim women folks started in response to passage of Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA) in both Houses of Parliament. The leaderless protest was able to mobilize large scale ‘burkha’ clad Muslim women on the road fearing losing their citizenship in India. It was probably the first time that women protested in huge numbers holding National Flag and Indian Constitution in their hands. Chanting of ‘We people of India…’ from Preamble of the Constitution became the epitome of the protest. More than 10,000 women assembled to sang National Anthem on 26th January 2020 on Republic Day. This led to countrywide protests in India. People from different strata including students came in their favour.

It is very interesting to draw parallels between Dandi March and Saheen Bagh protest. Both the mobilisations were in response to governments’ passage of laws where common people feared that legislation may put them in great trouble. Both the protest could able to generate large scale awareness among people who remained more or less indoors. Despite the similarities in mobilisation and approach, the response of government towards the protesters remained different. In the Satyagrah of 1930, government responded by putting protesters into the jail whereas in the second protest of 2019 government remained indifferent resulted in devastating communal riot killing more than 50 persons in North-East Delhi where Saheen Bagh protest took place.

Is Mahatma’s Voluntarism on Decline..

Satrughan jha started voluntarism by serving leprosy patients in one old abandoned pump house on Narkatiaganj Railway Station, in Bihar. Later he left his job as a railway station master and started one school for downtrodden ‘Mushar’ children near railway station on a land provided by in a thatched mud house on a land provided by local sugar mill owner. During holidays he used to take all children from his school to Vardha Ashram where children got influenced with Mahatma Gandhi’s ideal which was well reflected in school as well. Later he started propagating Gandhi’s idea of Swarajya and village reconstruction programme in villages of Bihar. He learnt khadi weaving and agriculture by himself before starting this in school premises as suggested in ‘Nai Taleem.’

Satrughan Jha’s story of entering voluntary services among the downtrodden ‘Mushars’ and ‘Tharu’ was inspired from Mahatma’s spirit of volunteering and his determination to ensure that the excluded find a place in the mainstream society. Mahatma Gandhi himself attended to the Sanskrit scholar, Dattataray Parchure Shastri who was afflicted by leprosy. Shastri ji requested Gandhiji if he could be admitted to Sevagram Ashram. Some members of the Ashram objected his staying in the Ashram as they feared infection. People with leprosy during Gandhi’s time were considered outcastes and had no right to stay in the society. Gandhi not only ensured Parchure Shastri stayed in the precincts of the Sevagram, he himself would wash his wounds every day. For Gandhi everyone was equal in the society and none were excluded.

Then question may be asked, what is the basis of Gandhi’s voluntarism? Had he ever tried to theorise his idea of voluntary services? Whether Gandhian idea of social and political transformation of individual has any ideological basis?

The distinctiveness of Gandhi lay in the fact that he desired social and political transformation through the means of non-violence, justice and freedom of an individual. His idea of trusteeship although maybe viewed like present day CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) but he was categorical that means were very important to achieve an end. His consistent emphasis on the individual, and not the state, with the moral authority to question and judge injustice and repression and to bring the desired changes through non-violent means was the framework within which he defended the supremacy of the individual. Gandhiji propagated national reconstruction based of swadeshi, village self-government and self-sufficiency.

Mahatma Gandhi reinforced the strength of voluntarism in the economic aspect of national life by decentralization of political authority to the Gram Panchayats (Village Councils). His wisdom that India lives in villages, guided him to concentrate his efforts on villages. His strong adherence to high social ideals and a practical approach inspired sincere and conscientious workers to follow him with a genuine sense of dedication towards voluntarism. With Gandhiji, began a process of networking of organizations and played a vital role as the chief propounder of voluntary efforts in rural development in the country. Gandhiji started his 18-point ‘Constructive Work’ which entailed among other Charkha (spinning wheel), Khadi (handwoven cloth), Gramodyog (village industries), basic education, removal of untouchability etc. These points actually formed the basis of his idea of an equalitarian society and a sustainable development process.

Despite the love for Gujarat Model of development, it is strange that present day ruling dispensation is in constant conflict between ends and means. Without actually believing in any of his programme of individual freedom and village reconstruction programme which Gandhi invariably used as an icon to achieve the political mobilisation, has presently lost in the oblivion. Gandhi as a social-being actually has no buyer in this high voltage contentious political environment. The few like Satrughan Jha would spread his ideas to the people, others would still discuss and question Mahatma’s relevance..

Education Budget 2019 :Case of Neglect

Isn’t this a pathetic and deplorable that 50 percent of population in the country, aged below 25 years of age group, gets less than 3.3 percent education share in Annual Budget allocation? Why year after year ‘exam warriors’ of our Prime Minister being systemically alienated from the country’s mainstream budget share? Isn’t this a weird and bizarre that even in this popular election budget of BJP there was no major announcement for education sector from Mr. Piyush Goyal in Parliament on 1st of February? Is it so because Mr. Goyal was aware that investment in education sector does not have any short-term return or was it because these 30 crores and more children do not have any potential political voice to threat the government’s existence? Probably, both the reasons hold true for leaving education sector in such disarray.

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This year, government has allocated Rs 93,848 crore for education sector, which is over Rs 10,000 crore hike from the revised estimate of Rs 83,626 of 2018-19. Despite the hike, in percentage terms the share of education sector in the total budget allocation has declined from 3.7 percent to 3.3 percent. The slide in education budget is gradual for the last five years since this government came to power in 1914-15.  The share in budget spending has come down from 6.15 percent in 2014-15 to 3.7 percent in 2017-18. This continued further to 3.3 percent in 2019.

Education Sector spending against the total budget outlay:

Year HRD Ministry Budget (Rs. bn) Total Central Budget (Rs. bn) Gross National Income (Rs. bn) (% of GNI) (% of central budget)
2014-15 1,103.51 17,948.91 104,122.8 1.06 6.15
2015-16 966.49 17,774.77 112,463.05 0.86 5.44
2016-17 926.66 19,780.6 120,347.13 0.77 4.68
2017-18 769.85 21,476.34 128,350.04 0.62 3.71

Source – Centre for Policy Research (CPR)

The question may be asked then, how government dare to take risk by reducing the budget allocation in demographically important education sector? Probably this was so because government was aware that people’s confidence in public education system is at the lowest and migration from public to private is all time high. This awareness of government has alienated public education more systematically than it has ever been. Although Prime Minister has tried to reach out to students many times through his ‘Man Ki Baat’ but always it looked as if he was addressing more to the privileged section of students belonging to central schools, Navodaya Vidyalayas and other schools affiliated to CBSE Board. Never ever he honestly tried to reach out to those under privileged and vulnerable students of State affiliated Boards who are struggling hard to continue in the government education system. It is often argued in the budget speeches that government is doing substantially good work to retain students by providing larger budgetary allocation in providing free mid-day meal, free school uniform, free text-books, scholarships etc.  But I am not sure when these budget masters will get convinced that students do not go to school for freebies, they just need good quality education in schools? Mr. Prime Minister need to understand that his exam warriors need quality learning in the classroom and only then his ‘Pariksha Pe Charcha’ may become meaningful.

Education Loan – an Asset or a Liability

In my recent conversation with some of the young trained graduates I was told that they were finding it difficult in repaying the education loan, which they have taken to complete their professional degrees. The loan debt has created an “unprecedented financial challenge” for them. The similar conclusion was made in a study, which said that the loans were causing to educated youths headaches and loss of sleep. The study also revealed that the loan debt is a source of “significant” or “very significant” stress on more than 80 percent working professionals. The pressure of making big monthly loan payments are taking its toll in terms of stress, housing affordability and quality of life.

Recognizing the increasing share of banks and other market forces in higher education in India, few questions naturally comes into my consideration – whether this is making education more affordable or making it more exclusive? Is the access to student loans progressive or regressive? Does it affect the demand for higher education of weaker sections? Does it benefit the rural and urban; boys and girls; and caste groups equally? What is the relationship between course structure and loan size? What are the issues of recovery and default rates? What is the link between repayment and employment opportunities?

There is no denying that education has become very important priority in the human life and young people are becoming aware to utilize each opportunity related to this for moving forward. There is also a considerable growth in the global economy and the new aspirants are exposed to more choices. When we do the retrospection and look into our own times, then the choices were limited and so were the challenges. And it is this opportunity which government in collaboration with other financial institutions are trying to en-cash upon. Probably, government finds the growing global educational opportunities as their business prospect. Or else look confused and puzzled to face this new challenge.

Then, is this very desirable to keep these trained educated young people in such a precarious situation when country requires them the most? Is it not good for a country like ours to engage these trained youth in nation building exercise than to keep them busy calculating the interest payment and keep them worrying about the repayment of loans? Is this not desirable for a nation where more than 70 percent youth belong to agricultural families and where employment opportunities are such a dismal, to support in providing relevant free skill and training so that they are able to contribute more and more? Aren’t we making education a liability?

Entry of market forces have made education so expensive that even young people of middle class and upper middle-class families are finding it difficult to meet the costs. The condition of the aspirants from lower income families are even worse. The talented students from these economically backward sections find it difficult to pursue a dream of a higher education. The price of engineering degree varies from 8 lakhs rupees in IIT to 25 lakhs rupees in private college. The cost of medical graduate varies from 16 lakhs in government colleges to 100 lakhs in private college. There is altogether no relief even in case of MBA hopefuls to law aspirants. The exorbitant interest rate of banks causing these young people about 60 to 80 thousand a month as a typical loan repayment. Recently I was talking to one auto driver and he said that despite clearing the joint entrance engineering examinations his son could not able to enroll himself in the college because of non-affordable cost and no bank provided him the required loan either. Considering the lucrative business opportunity, this is no surprise that the Banks pitched in to this field to make money out of the owes of these young students. Interestingly, even the central and state governments have come out with their student credit cards and has fixed target for the Banks. How can government fix a target to make life misery of students? Probably even government is looking at economics of education not the sociology and psychology of education.

Some time back the matter was raised in Parliament about the insensitivity of State Bank of India’s action where, it was reported that the Bank had sold its active education loan as NPA (non-performing asset) to Reliance Assets Reconstruction Company (RARC) even while the student borrower was still pursuing his education. When the student approached the bank for the next disbursement of fees, the bank then realised that they had sold the loan account to RARC. A student from Madurai district in Tamil Nadu has reportedly committed suicide due to harassment by a private recovery agency.

In yet another instance, it was noted that the Central Bank of India shamed a poor education loan woman borrower for a meagre default by displaying her name on a banner at a public place. The woman then lodged a complaint against the bank resulting in the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) levying a penalty of one lakh rupees on the Bank.  These are just a representation that have been reported, while there are many cases where education loan borrowers have been harassed by banks and have ended their lives.

I think, keeping the affordability, social justice, fairness, equity and equality of opportunity into consideration higher education and technical education cannot be let into the hands of market forces alone. The public financing of education must remain in the picture for larger interest of nation building. Whatever be the changing narrative of the state may be the role of welfare state cannot be totally denied in India.

Innocence on Sale..

I am astonished to see how kids are being modelled in different advertisements on TV and radio. Even in the purely adult consumables products the children are popularly used for selling. So why companies finding kids as an effective tool for branding and advertising strategies? Why commercials and brands are observed to be roping in children where role of those children seem to be redundant? Whether television advertisements are inherently unfair to children? Whether it increases parent child conflict, and results in the undesirable socialization of children? And above all whether recent spurt in crime against children has any causal relationship with overexposure of children in the media content?

Probably, in a present-day liberal nuclear family marketer opine that children are increasingly wielding their power in major purchase decisions made in the household, so it makes sense to target them. Brand managers echoing the same tune agree that they want to catch these young consumers early and make them loyal to their brands. And on portraying children in commercials, the child provides an emotional platform.

The advertisers realize better that the opinion leadership of children has become powerful and influencing. Branding experts know that parents do recognizes the active role of children in the buying process, and most parents just give in to the tantrums of their kids. Children also create positive feelings towards brands, connect the user to the brand and are perceived by consumers as more entertaining. So, using children in advertising or for any other type of communication for brand building is likely to have positive effect on consumers’ brand preference, brand attitude, brand association and purchase intentions. This thinking has actually leading the brand managers to erase the thin line existed between adult products and other products.

Although, many parents did raise their concerns about unnecessarily dragging in children to commercials having adult plots, intimate moments between couples or even romantic scenes. They expressed negative views regarding those commercials because their children raise a lot of questions about the proceedings which in turn makes them skip all these commercials. But even for these aware parents’ concern remained only with the adult products.   

 

People prefer to watch advertisements featuring kids irrespective of whether they like or dislike the products or services; they find these commercials cute and entertaining. These commercials expose children to the extent of emotional abuse not only by the advertisers but also by the viewers in general. People are not worried about the findings that children under age 11 or so have not fully developed their abilities to acquire, encode, organize, and retrieve information. This means in practice that they do not have adult-like abilities to use the information in commercial messages. And here lie the vulnerability of children and their being used as a product itself. But then why parents themselves let them to expose to this cruelty?

There is no ethical, moral, social, or social justification for targeting children in advertising and marketing. It is not just about the kid’s insistence of consuming food which is causing them the obesity and other health hazard. There are studies which says that it also influences on number of other issues impacting children and society and stem from targeting children, including youth violence, sexualization, underage drinking and smoking, excessive materialism and erosion of creativity.

It has also exposed the innocence and vulnerability of children to the society at large and has resulted in abuse and violence against them. This is the desensitization process of viewers against the children that involves the undermining of feelings, such as empathy or sympathy. There has been a huge possibility that continual exposure of children into media, can lead to desensitization.

We must not brush of this problem which is seriously endangering future generations. The society that we are growing in has deliberately failed to protect its children from being desensitized and the subsequent violence related to it. And adding to it is the insensitivity of the media which on regular basis playing with children’s vulnerability and with their innocence.

This must be stopped. We do need to bring a public campaign for a complete ban on any advertisement aimed and involved with primary school children!

 

 

Tribute to a Visionary (Mr. Vajpayee)

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Right to Education Act (RTE), two major initiative of 21st century in education were initiated by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when he was the Prime Minister of India. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan a centrally sponsored scheme, was pioneered by Vajpayee with an aim to make education accessible to all child of 6 to 14 years of age group in the country. The implementation of this flagship program has actually changed the education narrative of the country and brought education of first generation learners a priority in political discourse.

The SSA program in partnership with states was launched in 2000-2001 and has achieved success in making elementary education for all. The program has been successful in erecting schooling infrastructure all over the country. For primary schools, the enrolment has been close to 100 percent. Over 19.67 crore children are enrolled in 14.5 lakh elementary schools in the country with more than 66 lakh teachers.

Vajpayee never visualized SSA as a program, he certainly thought in terms of movement. Movement to bring all children to school and give them dream and aspirations of meaningful future. I was fortunate to be a part of this movement. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had a clear vision that education is the most important and primary path that can lead India towards development and world recognition. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan was visualized to provide glimpse of future to all those first-generation children whose parents and grand-parents have never been to school. This initiative also provided aspirations to millions of government schools established in every nook and corner for poor and under privileged children.

The implementation of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan paved way for more revolutionary idea of Right to Education Act. This was a continuation of Article 21 A introduced in the Constitution in 2002 by the 86th Amendment when A.B Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. It took eight years to roll it at the grassroot level. I am not sure whether the Act actually fulfilled his dream of educating India, but at-least this certainly paved to bring meaningful dialogue in bringing quality education to all children in the country.

The education plan which he visualized was certainly not only in terms of entitlement but also to bring all children, rich and poor, into similar quality schooling environment. The idea of neighborhood school and Common School System were certainly in his mind.

In recent years central government is trying to bring reforms in the education by integrating program of primary, elementary and secondary education into one but how far this centralized approach will succeed only time will tell. But I think the true tribute to visionary approach of Atal Bihari Vajpayee would be to provide more resource to education and decentralize the process which can make state governments more accountable in improving learning outcomes.. 

Central Government’s education budget in real terms has decreased in last few years and effort has been made to dilute the provisions of Right to Education. Hope good sense will prevail with the government and Vajpayee’s dream of educating the last child is fulfilled.

May his soul rest in peace..

Silence… is no longer an Option

34 girls aged between 7 and 17 were raped and sexually assaulted in one of the shelter homes in Bihar.…… reported to government on April 2018 and first FIR was filed on 31st May 2018. Response and reactions came from political leaders in August.

Why it took so long for a very sensitive Chief Minister to realise that the Muzaffarpur shelter home sex scandal has brought shame to everyone? Why it took so long to realise that the incident brought bad name to the entire state? Why even opposition leaders took so long to respond to this crisis of girls in shelter homes? Why it took so long for all opposition party leaders to lit candles at Jantar Mantar in Delhi? Probably all of them were anxious to see how the investigation actually take shape and very strangely after the case has been taken over by CBI, political leaders feel comfortable in designing the political narratives.

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I am puzzled, why do government establish shelter homes in first place? If girls who are abandoned, runaways, orphaned, destitute, victims of trafficking, born to sex workers and at risk are there in homes and have the similar fate as girls who were there in Muzaffarpur shelter homes, then why these homes are established? Why an agency coming from Mumbai had to say that the shelter was being run in a highly questionable manner and that several girls were abused sexually? If government cannot save these girls from predators and marauders, then why not leave them to fight on their own destiny? Why bringing them to these homes and handing over them to monsters?

If there are so many government mechanisms in place to see that these shelter homes run flawlessly then why “Team Koshish”(field-action programme of TISS) had to do the social audit to find all the wrong doings which was going in shelter homes for quite some time? Why neighbours and people living around the home could not find any fault in seeing politicians and officers visiting homes on regular basis? How people can become so insensitive?

The question may be asked, if girls are brought to these shelter homes then how can they be saved, rehabilitated and make self-dependent? I think first thing which government could do is to train the girls on self-defence? If New Delhi Police force can offer a course to empower girls to fight crime against women why not similar courses may be offered by Bihar Police to all girls in shelter homes?  Although it is argued that it is better to teach people not to sexually assault rather than teaching potential victims that it is their duty to stop the crime. Still, in the present circumstances this self-defence courses will instil confidence in young girls.

Again, why not government is getting serious about the rehabilitation of these girls? Why not government realises that girls who live in an environment of poverty are vulnerable to violence, exploitation, trafficking, substance abuse and discrimination? When we all are aware that lack of education further increases their vulnerabilities and risks, why not government is serious about their education? I think the best way forward to educate girls living in such difficult circumstances is to enroll them in nearby good private schools and colleges. Certainly, these girls deserve a better future where their basic social rights like education, health and safety are protected and promoted.

Also, there is a need to assure these girls of better employment opportunities, and one thing government can do is to employ them at least in police as ‘home guards’.  This will certainly make girls confident and secure to face the world.

Concluding this, I think we must try to re-look at patriarchy because it’s directly linked to sexual crimes against women. It is the mind set which glorify that the “rape is worse than death”. These words do not help victims/survivors move on with their life. It simply indulges our inner activist who feeds on tragedy and victim hood. It also attributes the foul act too much power, more than it deserves. While justice is important and punishment of criminals necessary, we must not let rape destroy the human quest for life. We need to move beyond ‘Padmavat’.

Murder of Million Dreams

Bihar School Examination Board has disappointed its students once again. This time it is admission in colleges. The problem which started with the publication of results are continuing with their struggle with the admissions in colleges.  Why then, students here are at disadvantage in comparison to students belonging to other states? Why even in Bihar colleges these students don’t get any weight-age in admission? Why CBSE and ICSE students are preferred over Bihar Board students in in Bihar? And lastly, is there any solution in sight in near future?

None of the students passed from the schools affiliated to Bihar Board got admission in any of the premier colleges in India as no one secured more than 90 percent marks in any of the stream. The girl who topped in Bihar Board exams and topped in all India entrance exam for medicine, better known as NEET, scored only about 86 percent marks. However, among the students who have appeared in CBSE and ICSE Board exams, more than 1 lakh have secured 90 percent marks and above. How is this possible that out of 12 lakh odd students who appeared in Bihar Board Exams, none was fit to get admission in any good college. Is there any ulterior motive behind this or just casual approach which put students in such a dire state?

This time before students even receive their results most of the them already knew that they’re at disadvantage. They wanted an affirmative action from the state, which other state Boards did in favour of their students. The States like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Maharashtra, and others have denied going away with moderation which CBSE initially persuaded them to do. Although on High Courts directives, even CBSE provided relief to their students with good grace marks. Question may be asked if other Central and State Boards continued with their moderation policy and enhanced the grades, why not Bihar recognised the importance of it and provided benefits to their students.

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Earlier CBSE did recognise that the practice of moderation inflates the marks of the students unnaturally and subsequently leads to abnormally high and unrealistic cut offs for undergraduate courses in universities. Point in case being the 100% cut offs for several courses in Delhi University during the past few years. The moderation policy, also known as the ‘Grace Marks Policy’, is the provision whereby grace marks are provided to the students who are shy of a few marks from passing their board examination. The provision also provides grace marks up to 15 percent to students for attempting exceptionally difficult question papers or question papers with errors. This policy has been in practice for more than a decade now with not only CBSE but state boards being party to it as well.

Although it was argued that the grace marks policy doesn’t let one distinguish between an average and a good student. But until unless CBSE and all state Boards agree to one uniform policy the suffering of one student over the other will remain. The consensus is required to bring change in policy of moderation. This change in policy will certainly prove to be a boon for the students in the long run in addition to bring parity among them. Not only this will help in bringing the impractical cut-offs down but also ensure that the mark sheets of the students will bear their real marks. If implemented correctly it would lead to a fall in the marks scored by CBSE and other state board students’ and this will be the first step towards bringing college admissions a little less stressful!

But the fact of the matter is that this time students in Bihar are suffering and are finding difficult to find admission in colleges. Half of the of have failed the exams and other half are leaving the option of higher education. They all have left with no choice other than leaving their home early for any employment opportunity in Mumbai, Delhi or in Punjab.

I feel that narratives of education realities in Bihar blends the fulfillment of middle-class expectations with the realities stagnating social mobility and we need the political solutions to this depleted schooling system. I am hopeful that good sense with the government will prevail and visionary Chief Minister will think radically about the overhauling the education system soon.