Monday, September 23, 2013

Lok Sabha election 2014-Post 1

I have been trying to follow the comments from experts on Narendra Modi as Prime Ministerial candidate from the BJP for the LS elections slated for 2014.

This article amongst many that i have read so far gives a very balanced opinion and i would call it nothing less than wise counsel from someone very experienced and yet having the freedom now to express his views openly.  Sudheendra Kulkarni was very close to the last PM from NDA.  Worth a read.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

For love of a language

Knowing how to express well in a language is one thing and to be enamoured by it is another. Amazing devotion to contributing to a single language Read on..

Friday, August 23, 2013

Article on importance of philosophy in education

The VC of Azim Premji University in this article bats for the fundamental importance of philosophy in enhancing the quality of our education system. Can't agree more with him

Friday, July 19, 2013

Talking about Change: about then and now

Aakar Patel is a weekly columnist in Mint. I try to read whatever he writes and at times some of the interpretations he makes seem completely ridiculous but at times be brings to the fore some very useful insights. He has an amazing taste of reading and therefore collection of books/magazines etc which he shared in one of his posts sometime back. His work drew extra degree of attention thereafter.

Last week I came across this post of this on what makes the business class truly unique. The article brought home some interesting insights on some of the feats of the business community in India. He also gave reference to an essay by Dr Ambedkar on 'Maharashtra as a Linguistic Province'. My interest in language and its role in politics made me read it as well.

One of things that really interested me was the history of Gujratis in Mumbai. Anyone familiar with Mumbai and Gujaratis would realize that they are really good at trade. They are entrepreneurial and quite professional about their approach to business. The most expensive part of the city, the South Bombay (where none of the flats woudl be anywhere less than 5 cr) has several of Gujarati residents. However, what made them come to Mumbai?The article tells that they were made to come there because of trading compulsions of the British.

In the essay by Ambedkar there is a reference of a petition filed sometime in 1680s where some Nima Parekh. What were the privileges which the Gujrarathi Banias had asked for from the East India Company ? The following petition by one Nima Parakh, an eminent Bania belonging to the City of Diu, gives some idea of what they were:

"1. That the Honourable Company shall allot him so much ground in or near the present town free of rent as shall be judged necessary to build a house or warehouse thereon.

"2. That he with the Brahmans of Vers (Gors or priests) of his caste shall enjoy the free exercise of their religion within their own houses without the molestation of any person whatsoever; that no Englishman, Portuguese, or other Christian nor Muhammadan shall be permitted to live within their compound or offer to kill any living creature there, or do the least injury or indignity to them, and if any shall presume to offend them within the limits of their said compound, upon their complaint to the Governor (at Surat) or Deputy Governor (at Bombay), the offenders shall be exemplarily punished; that they shall have liberty to burn their dead according to their custom, also to use their ceremonies at their weddings ; and that none of their profession of what age, sex or condition whatever they be, shall be forced to turn Christians, nor to carry burthens against their wills.

" 3. That he and his family shall be free from all duties of watch and ward, or any charge and duty depending thereon; that neither the Company nor the Governor, Deputy Governor or Council, or any other person, shall on any pretence whatsoever force them to lend money for public or private account or use any indirect.

"4. That in case there falls out any difference or suit in law between him or his vakil or attorneys or the Banias of his caste, and any other persons remaining on the island, the Governor or Deputy Governor shall not suffer him or them to be publicly arrested dishonoured or carried to prison, without first giving him due notice of the cause depending, that he or they may cause justice to be done in an honest and amicable way and in case any difference happen between him or his attorney and any Bania of their own caste, they may have liberty to decide it among themselves without being forced to go to law.

"5. That he shall have liberty of trade in his own ships and vessels to what port he pleases, and come in and go out when he thinks good; without paying anchorage, having first given the Governor or Deputy Governor or customer notice and taken their consent thereunto.

" 6. That in case he brings any goods on shore more than he can sell on the island within the space of 12 months, he shall have liberty to transport them to what port he pleases, without paying custom for exportation.

" 7. That in case any person be indebted to him, and also to other Banias, and be not able to pay all his debts, his right may be preferred before other Banias.

" 8. That in case of war. or any other danger which may succeed, he shall have a warehouse in the castle to secure his goods, treasure, and family therein.

"9. That he or any of his family shall have liberty of egress and regress to and from the fort or residence of the Governor or Deputy Governor; that they shall be received with civil respect and be permitted to sit down according to their qualities; that they shall freely use coaches, horses or palanquins and quitasols (that is barsums or umbrellas) for their convenience without any disturbances ; that their servants may wear swords and daggers, shall not be abused, beaten or imprisoned except they offend, and that in case of any of his kindred or friends shall come to visit him or them from any other ports, they shall be used with civility and respect.

"10. That he and his assigns shall have liberty to sell and buy coconuts, betelnuts, pan or betel-leaves, and any other commodity not rented out without any molesiation on the island."

India was not a nation per se at that time and one can see a strong feeling of community centeredness in the petition.

The interesting part is that I am writing this post from Ahmedabad where yesterday i had a meeting with an organization which has been working towards bringing about securlarism, democracy and equality with a strong focus on Panchmahal district after the Godhra riots. According the head of the organization, the caste feeling runs very strong even in urban Gujarat. You can't really get a home a home easily in a society where traditionally people from a given caste or group have been staying. Its impossible for Muslims to live in the same society. Please refer to point '2' in the petition above to understand the sentiment even during that period.

One wonders that even 350 years of journey (since 1680s and may be centuries before it) are not sufficient for us to get rid of our caste feelings. Corruption issue is still very very young. Barely few decades old.

The field workers took me to a site where predominantly displaced Muslims and Dalits are staying. Do note that Ahmedabad is a fairly rich city otherwise. I won't get into the details of what all work they have been able to do there etc. Though that is where the actual substance of efforts really lies.

Slum at Vatva- 10 kms from Ahmedabad

 One can imagine the brink of disease and death on which many a children lead there lives. How susceptible would little ones be to catching some really nefarious germ in such a site that too during rainy season?  
I won't necessarily want to blame X or Y political party over here since i have been to slums in both BJP as well as Congress governed states. But i guess, all these facts really need to be put together as one tries to assess, are we getting it really right?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ignoring the voice of experts

Ramchandra Guha makes some very important points on the lack of adequate attention that is given in India to the advice of experts by both the political class and the bureaucracy.

The article has been written in the wake of Uttarakhand natural disaster.

I guess this is more of a cultural issue than anything else and is a common problem with our society. Enough has been written or deliberated on social ills, but public behaviour tends to ignore it without a hitch. Though the reasons for not paying heed by political class may be different from the reasons of public at large.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A tale on culture and language issues in our classrooms

Came across this story that was shared in one of the forums by Yogendar Dutt
The Butterfly In The Tiger's Stomach  - from the Marathi story by Mohan Nanavre

I am Mohan. Let me tell you the story of a little boy called Mhowan.
Mhowan's grandmother was illiterate. She used to go to Market Yard and buy nearly-rotten vegetables. She would set out her little shop on the roadside in Bhokarwadi, and sell these. The people of Bhokarwadi were all very poor. They were masons, porters, daily wage earners. It was a hand-to-mouth existence, and all they could afford was the stuff Mhowan's grandmother sold. But it did not suffice to make ends meet. So Mhowan's mother used to sweep the pavements and streets outside shops and restaurants. She would sort out the waste worth selling, and make a bit of money. When she got a bit of cash, she would buy Mhowan a toffee.
Both mother and grandmother adored the fatherless little boy. But both were illiterate themselves, and were busy all day, slogging to fill their stomachs -- sending Mhowan to school was not something they even considered.
Mhowan was now around eight. He used to trail along behind his mother as she swept the streets. His mother had a cup tied up in her sari. After she swept the street outside a restaurant the owner would pour some tea into the cracked cup. She would call out to Mhowan playing nearby, and share the tea and a biscuit with him.
Many days passed in this manner. But suddenly, one morning, grandma took Mhowan to the Bhokarwadi school. She stood outside and called out to the teacher. "O Master, take this kid into your school. Write his name down. Come on, write! Mhowan is his name." The master looked doubtfully at the boy, his torn clothes, his dirty face and hands, his unwashed body.
"Do you ever bathe the child?" he asked.
"He hates bathing," said grandma, laughing. "Take him into school, he may become smarter." Turning to Mhowan, she told him, "Okay now, don't be naughty and bother the teacher. When you come home, mi chunchuni, chaani dutwaila deel."
The teacher could make nothing of all this. How could he? It was not his language. It was the language of the poor people.
Before she came to the city, Mhowan's grandmother lived in a village. They were very poor there too. They tried to fill their stomachs with begging or doing odd jobs. Sometimes, when they were very hungry, her father and brothers used to steal corn or grain from the fields -- it was only to feed a hungry family, but if they were caught they were beaten up like criminals. To communicate with each other without others understanding them, their community had developed their own special dialect. And that was the dialect grandma spoke now. What she said was, “When you come home, I will make you a yummy dish of mutton.” Mohan got it, of course, but the teacher did not.
So Mhowan began school. He had joined school much later than the other boys, so he was older and larger than his classmates. The teacher put him on the last bench. The backbenchers were a rowdy lot, constantly fooling around, teasing each other. But when they were caught, it was Mhowan who got a thrashing, because he looked the biggest. So a beating every day became a regular thing. Gadekar teacher was always angry. She used to rap Mhowan's knuckles every day. Mhowan's homework was never done; there was no place to study in his house. In the wasti where he lived, fights were breaking out all the time, and Mhowan could not bear to miss the fun. And his mother and grandmother could not help him. They could not even understand the pictures in his books, leave alone the text! So homework never got done, and that added to the beatings.
Mhowan's fingers hurt with the knuckle raps. They hurt so much that he could not even break the dry bhakri that his mother had left for him in a pan. But Mhowan's world had become opened wonderfully since he joined school. The pictures in his books and on the walls of his room filled his days with colour and his nights with dreams. When Gadekar teacher beat him, he used to look at the pictures on the walls – the peacock strutting with his beautiful tail, the giraffe with his long neck, the striped tiger, the colourful butterfly. Every day a beating and every night a new dream.
Every year on September 5, the school celebrated Teachers' Day. At the morning prayers, the headmaster told them, "Every day the teachers ask you questions. On Teachers' Day, you children will get to ask them questions." Mhowan wanted to do something on that day that would win over Gadekar teacher, and make her stop beating him. But what? The answer came from a dream.
One day he came home after an exhausting day, aching from the beatings, tired and hungry, and fell asleep without eating anything. The tiger from the pictures began to prowl in his dreams. The tiger was hungry. He pushed his face into the empty vessels in the kitchen, and turned them over angrily. All he found was some stale stinking bhakri. Well, how could he eat that? He was a tiger after all, even if in a dream! Finally he saw the picture of the butterfly. He swallowed it in one gulp.
The butterfly was still alive and began to flutter around in the tiger's empty stomach. The tiger began to giggle. He rolled about laughing and called out, "Stop, stop! You are tickling me to death!"
"Well," said the butterfly, "You had better sneeze me out, or I will surely tickle you to death." So the tiger gave a mighty sneeze, and out flew the pesky butterfly.
Mohan woke up with a sneeze, to find his grandma tickling his nose to wake him up. The dream gave him an idea. How could he tickle his teacher and make her release him from his daily beatings? A plan began to form.
On Teachers' Day, children asked questions like, "Why did you become a teacher?" or, "How did Shivaji teach the monitor lizard to climb the fort walls?"
But Mhowan asked Gadekar bai, "Tumhi karpati dutawli ka?" The other children began to giggle. The teacher looked blank. "Tumhala bailadi nanwat thikti ka?" Mhowan went on. The giggles began to grow louder. The children were mostly from Mhowan's community, and they knew what he was saying, even if the teacher did not.
"Kachra dhundna pudaal ka naanwat?" was Mhowan's next question, and the class grew a little quiet at this.
"Teacher, this is the language of my family. My grandfather, and even his father, spoke this language. I just wanted you to hear it. What I asked you was, -- did you eat your bhakri? Do you like mutton? And lastly, is gathering garbage good or bad?
Gadekar bai was silent for a while. In fact she was shocked. How could she say if gathering garbage was good or bad, when Mhowan's mother did it for a living? And now she understood why his homework was always undone. From that day on, Mhowan did not get a thrashing. His teacher understood him a little more. She appreciated the fact that he even knew a language that she did not.
The years went by, and Mhowan dropped out of school. He sold vegetables, worked as a doorman, began to buy and sell waste materials. Slowly the dreams faded away. He worked hard all day, hoping for a better tomorrow, but dreams don’t come when you call, and neither do they always come true.
I am Mohan. When I think about Mhowan's school days, I think, a butterfly flew into a tiger's stomach, and managed to escape. But what if the butterfly had got plenty of good education? Where would he have been now? He would have lived as Babasaheb Ambedkar exhorted us to – “Get Educated, Get Organised, Struggle against oppression." Even today, children in Bhokarwadi are dropping out of school and starting to work to help the family. When I think about them, I feel miserable. Then I tell myself Mhowan's story. That's why I am telling it to you.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Language issues

I am reading the book 'Language Conflict and National Development' by Jyotirindra Das Gupta. The role of language in drawing lines across population and its role in politics is as alive as probably it was several decades back. The genesis of this langauge conflict and the key aspects of what went earlier can to an extent help in understanding the popular sentiments of today. This is one of the areas of interest that I have today along with other scientific and sociological aspects pertaining to language development. I am thankful to Prof Rajesh and TISS which decided to choose the course on 'Language Mind and Society' in our curriculum on Education. Never realized that linguistics was such a deep aspect worth multi dimensional study.

History is fascinating as it is one way in which one can interpret the present by going well past today and then coming back to the present. The interesting part is that issues of language which are so fundamental to the modern fabric of our society are very easily ignored in our history books at school level for the very fact that these cupboards store within them most volatile skeletons that the powers that be would not want to be tampered with.

Most political parties have chinks in their armour and meticulously ensure that history books are written in most neutral ways possible without actually giving an opportunity for the study to really understand who played the key role in national development or its disruption.
In the absence of that, the perception of youth on these crucial matters is shaped mostly by popular opinion and feelings than any reasoned understanding. And both of them are of little value in helping us interpret things well enough.

Sharing a passage on the reasons for resentment of Southern states towards Hindi

"The opposition to Hindi found its strongest political expression in southern states, especially in Madras. In these states there had been a long tradition of suspician against the North. Even during the national movement, political leaders from the North were sometimes treaded as cultural outsiders in the South. For many leaders of the Dravidian movement, the North symbolized a potential source of Aryan domination. In part this was tied in with the anti-Brahmin resentment expressed by the non-Brahmin leaders of the Dravidian movement in South India. .............. It is not difficult to imagine why the identification of the southern Brahmins with Sanskritic culture, and of the latter with the Aryan symbolism evoked by the northern leaders, could attain a unique symbolic capability for political mobilization of the masses in the South. The northern leaders themselves were largely responsible for generating this resentment, if not consciously, at least by virtue of their actions.

As we have seen before, political mass mobilization in the North was substantially facilitated by the actions of many Hindu symbols. Phrases like Arya Samaj, Arya Sanskriti, Arya Bhasha, Arya Lipi- referring to the greatness of Hindu organization, culture, language and script respectively- were extensively used, not only by the Hindu communal leaders bu also by many of the leading lights of the Congress organization in North India, especially in UP and Punjab. Some of the national leaders like Tilak and Lajpat Rai defended the cause of Hindi and Deva Nagari by claiming that these were sacred Aryan inheritances. It was precisely the use of these Aryan symbols which substantially contributed to the alienation of Muslims. These Hindu leaders weighed this loss against the great mobilizational capacity of these symbols among the Hiindu masses. What they failed to see was the power of the Aryan symbols to alientate southern Hindus. They failed to develop a sensitivity to the idea that what is functional for mobilization in the North may be dysfunctional for communal unity in the North as well as for national unity in general."

Most of the ideas that I read in the book really revealed to me the gross errors that were done in the name of language based nationalistic movement initiatives that were started even before the independence.

The baggage of the errors still continue to haunt our present...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Skill development center experience at Gujarat Ambuja

Last week, my work took me to Saurashtra area of Gujarat and I covered three districts in a span of 4 days. It is the coastal line of Gujarat where the Trust has been working towards reducing the impact of salinity ingress, which is the impact of reduction in soil fertility on account of salt water percolating into agricultural land. The visit was done to understand the work being done by few of the organizations in that area towards skill development of youth. It is to be understood that skill development of youth is crucial both for ensuring that there is availability of trained human resource for the economic growth and secondly, in the absence of options for working, the likelihood of turning the demographic dividend into liability looms large.

The problem statement reads thus 'Nearly 80% of new entrants to the workforce in India have no opportunity for skill training. Against 12.8 million new entrants to the workforce per annum, and a target of skilling 500 million people by 2022, the existing capacity is to train only 3.1 million per annum. How will this divide be bridged in a short time?' [from ORF newsletter on skill development]

Various initiatives have been taken by the Central government and also by some specific state government to trigger useful work in this domain. I felt specifically about the experience of one of these visits that i made recently to the magnificant township of Gujarat Ambuja Cement in Ambujanagar, Kodinar taluka in Junagadh district. The work done by the organization in the area of agriculture is something that needs to be seen to be believed in a geography that has been under drought. The water management has been amazing along with efforts in the area of increasing the productivity of land.

view from Gujarat Ambuja township
The organization is spread out of several states and other than its chief business of manufacturing cement, it also runs skill development centers through its foundation 'Ambuja Cement Foundation'. The centers are termed SEDI- Skill and Entrepreneurship Development Center. There are 17 such centers across various states in total.

Skill development center at Kodinar
Inorder to understand the magnitude of the problem and the need for such interventions, one has to go to those geographies where you have youth with no hope for dependence on agriculture based livelihood and who have dropped off from mainstream formal education for various reasons viz. financial problems at home, lack of quality of education and hence no interest in continuing, inability to see future in the flow of formal education etc.Lot of these youth enter the cities and join menial work and end up in living a dissatisfied life marked with drudgery.

Some of the interesting aspects that I learnt from the coordinator of this center- who according to me was really well suited for the role which entails labouriously working with the grassroot people in a far flung rural area Kodinar. He mentioned that he was one of the top 5 master trainers in Gujarat Government in the area of Natural Resource Management and his friends were highly sceptical when he chose to shift to this place all the way from Ahmedabad (an important city for both business and cultural center in Gujarat).  This was something that he answered when i asked him specifically about his own background in this domain of work.

Some of the interesting points:

1. The target group comprises of students whose parents must mostly be either not holding any agricultural land and would be involved as labour in other land owners farms. This ensures that the students who come to them are actually deserving and hence would value the inputs being given.
2. The engagement with community was fundamental to get students since how do you distinguish yourself amongst 20 other private services providers whose ads they were seeing every day. They went ahead and actually discussed their dream with the villagers on what was their aspiration about their youth that they would want fulfilled. On learning that they wanted to have a good school in their vicinity and that it couldn't get done for some reason, they motivated them with supporting the foundation with their own efforts to build a skill development school. So people pitched in with their skills on electrical fitting, flooring etc. Thus the cost of building the center was significantly brought down and more importantly, there was a sense of ownership amongst the community. These are very sensitive conversations and the challenge can't actually be explained through words. This is a complete leadership challenge according to me since you are trying to offer something to a group who has no inkling of what work being agriculture actually is.
3. The curriculum was prepared after due diligence of studying the existing course material available through ITIs and NCVT and realizing that they are much behind the modern technology that is in requirement. The need was assessed by visiting various organizations and understanding the technologies and practices being used by them. At present they run courses on Electrical works, welding, nursing, BPO entrance training etc.
4. The trainers who were brought in were people who had spent significant years in that discipline. It was interesting to note that they didn't go for people who wanted to train because they didn't have any better option. They thought in vocational training, the best people would always want to be in practise and hence all their trainers are people who either work in Ambuja plant or people who retired after significant services given in the areas like nursing etc from outside. The trainers are experts in their domains and are more practioners than teachers and hence most of their inputs are actually given through working on live models.

5.The training is done by starting with videos as against showing them text from books as they realize that these are students who have not had a great time with books and thats one reason they had to drop off. So better start with methods that they would be more comfortable with. The batches are divided keeping in view the need to optimize the availability of both machines and classrooms and understanding how do you make the best of the limited resources. Gujaratis as a community would probably be the best in India in this capacity as they have proven this in various business spheres.

Hands on training to the students. Trainer standing to the left
 The center has tied up with Gujarat Government modular skill development program scheme and hence students are able to get one certificate from the center, one from the government (after formal assessment) and a marksheet at the end of it. The courses have reasonable demand from the market since placement is given key priority and they see to it that students who actually go from rural to urban centers are able to adjust to the significantly different environment that they find in the cities. It is to be noted that these youngsters get employed for around 8000 to 11000 Rs per month and they are taught how to manage their financials in these compensation levels and also ensure that they are able to develop their skills further so that their career growth is secured. At present over 6500 students are able to complete these short term courses every year.
The institute also emphasizes on students entering through proper competitive process so that they are able to value the job that they get at the end of it. There is significant effort made to ensure that students develop the attributes of communication, team work, work ethics etc,which are fundamental and can't actually be taught through classroom based methods. In the image below, we can see students actually coming and speaking for a minute or two on what was the interesting thing that they learnt in the last one month. This is done every day before starting the sessions so that students get to learn to speak in an open forum in English.

Student coming and expressing his key learnings in the month in front of the whole group during morning assembly

It is to be noted that since they also train girls to become nurses, they have to take added care when ensuring their employment in urban centers. There are cases of harrassment of girls in private hospitals and hence due interest is taken to validate the credentials of the hospital and atleast two nurses are sent in one hospital. They have provided all contact details for close follow up.

I really liked the well grounded and thought through approach that the organization had adopted and considering the difficulty in starting vocational training for the manufacturing sector particularly in rural centers, i think this was a promising story. The coordinator was right in expressing that one may really not get to understand the core challenges of running such centers by referring to secondary reports alone..

Friday, May 3, 2013

On travelliing

A remarkable essay on travelling. Feel like rereading it few times as it has so much to offer.

The idea of sharing is so holy. I came across this link from someone whom i included long back in google + but have never ever spoken to. You get access to just so many good works just because there are people who believe in this noble idea.

Will read it again soon  :)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Special teachers

Two recent posts on teachers made poignant reads

This one is from a teacher who was troubled with the policies of the government of US and decides to quit not his job but the profession of teaching itself. The points he raises, are debatable and need very careful examination.

In this article, Sudheendra Kulkarni remembers his teacher from his school days who died recently and how he touched his life in special ways .  He remembers the traits that he stood for and very frankly admits that his teacher was not too happy with his efforts. It is to be noted that the author was part of PMO of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and is a senior member of BJP.

Good teachers are intense and sensitive beings. They live deeply embedded in their times and issues they get concerned about, may not even appear issues for many.  Its because they experience life differently. These qualities were found to be common in most writeups by or about good educators.

Another example of sensitivity can be seen in this article  written couple of year back by one of most respected educationists in the country- Krishna Kumar, who expressed his anger at the way women were increasingly projected in movies. This was much before the sudden deluge after the most unfortunate episode of rape in Delhi in December'12.

We need to listen to their voice. Like Naseeruddin Shah says in the movie, Firaaq to his domestic help who is trying to repair his TV, that atleast this old model that i have has sound if not visuals and expresses 'agar humne dekhne se zyada sunne pe dhyan diya hota, to shayad hum behtar ho pate'.

Listening is a highly underestimated skill.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Against unfettered freedom

An insightful piece by David Brooks on the need for balancing freedom with restraint. The context is America but I guess it is equally relevant for the changes that are sweeping the major cities in India as well. Focuses on a very significant sociological phenomenon.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Essay on inequality

A very thought provoking essay on inequality in our society