Bring Back Our Girls

Almost a month has passed since the mass abduction of about 276 young schoolgirls on April 14 in Nigeria. They were just aged 12-15 years! The militant Islamist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. In a video message, a leader of the group threatened to sell the schoolgirls and force them to marry.

Boko Haram means ‘Western Education is a Sin’. But is this not a sin? Which religion on this earth sanctions kidnapping of young girls and forcing them into slavery? By any definition, this is a sheer act of cowardice. These militants are terrorising the society by snatching away their innocent daughters  and children, whose only mistake is that they want to be educated to lead a good life. Every child in this world has the right to education and the girls have an inalienable right to be girls.

The world is slowly getting united under the campaign that began with a hashtag #BringBackOurGirls on Twitter to put a pressure on the Nigerian government and world leaders to rescue those innocent young schoolgirls from the clutches of Boko Haram.

When so many cradles of mothers are empty and their eyes are missing their lovely daughters, it cannot be a “Happy Mother’s Day” today. I support #BringBackOurGirls! I am waiting for the day when these girls are rescued. May the God be with them!

Image courtesy: Hindustan Times

Fasten your seat belt and stay blessed

The Seatbelt Crew has come out with a novel idea for spreading basic protections while driving. Through a group of beautiful, purple sari clad transgenders, dressed as air crew members broadcasting important message in their unique unforgettable fashion they are spreading the message to the motorists for fastening their seat belts while driving.

The video has become viral and the message is well spread. But the purpose will be served when the car drivers start fastening their seat belts while behind the steering wheels. The idea is well appreciated.

Seat belt pehno aur duaa lelo!

Are we Indians racists?

This is the sad truth that we are guilty of racism: not always but distressingly often. It’s shameful. Yet, we are blissfully unaware and unconcerned. Racism is a mindset of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage — the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry (Ayn Rand).

Traditionally we’re not racists. We are continuing with the same old British education system and the history taught to us by the British. Their education system was divisive and most suited for continuity of their imperialism.

“Many hundreds of years before the coming of the English, the nations of India had been a collection of wealthy and highly civilised people, possessed of great language with an elaborate code of laws and social regulations, with exquisite artistic taste in architecture and decoration, producing conceptions which have greatly influenced the development of the most progressive races of the West.” ~ Henry Mayer Hyndman, 20th Century British politician.

Since independence, there has been no serious effort to create a common Indian-ness. Sadly, the vote-bank politics is widening the social divide.

India is endowed with the beauty of diversity in languages, geography, features, habits, cultures, religions, ethnicity and origins. We were not like this before. We accepted everybody with open hands. We lost that tolerance, that sense of acceptance. Before British, whosoever came to India became a part of it, from Aryans, Shak, Hun, Pathan, Mughal, Parsis, et al. They settled in India. With them they brought here their culture, tradition, foods, and knowledge. India was the great mixing, melting pot. There was social cohesion.

It now seems that great pot is broken. It’s the time again for rebuilding the social cohesion. We must teach our children the history of India, cultures of India, festivals of India and accepting the diversity. Then only we can learn to respect India and its Indian-ness – the rich diversity, the greatness that is only peculiar to India. Indian-ness is an idea, a thought, a mindset that accepts and respects the diversity that makes us special, that makes us believe and understand that we are only Indians.

Round the world by bike: Debnath now in Baghdad

Somen Debnath is in Baghdad now. He is staying at the Indian Embassy. I met him at the residence of the Indian Ambassador yesterday. I came to know of his arrival to Baghdad a few days back through Prashant. Debnath hails from West Bengal (India).

Somen Debnath with his bicycle in Baghdad

He is cycling around the world and has now reached Iraq after covering 77 countries. He started his journey in 2004 and plans to complete in 2020. His mission is to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS.

With Somen Debnath

After the reception and dinner at the Indian Embassy to welcome the Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid in Baghdad on June 19, we had a nice chat for quite a long time. He was narrating his experiences in different country. I invited him to our house.

His next destination is Kuwait. Debnath is awaiting visa from them. Otherwise he will go to UAE from Iraq. He already got the UAE visa. He is blogging his journey & experiences.

Today Debnath came to our house in the afternoon. We had dinner together. It was nice chatting with him.

Wish Somen Debnath good luck, safe travel, and success of his mission.

A tribute to a great woman on International Women’s Day

Kadambini Ganguly (1861-1923) was the other first woman physician trained in western medicine. Born in Bhagalpur, now in present day Bihar, she was the daughter of Braja Kishore Basu, an enthusiastic Bhramo leader and a pioneer of the women’s liberation movement.

In 1878, Kadambini and Sarala Das were allowed to sit for the entrance examination of the University of Calcutta, established in 1857. Before that girls were not allowed to sit for this examination. She and Chandramukhi Basu were the first two lady graduates of the University of Calcutta in 1882 and took their degrees at the convocation of 1883, and in the process became the first female graduates in the country and in the entire British Empire.

Even the University of London, established in 1826, began awarding degrees to women only five years earlier in 1878. Oxford University began admitting women in 1879, one year after the admission of female students to the University of Calcutta. Cambridge opened Tripos examinations to women in 1881. University of Calcutta’s record is therefore commendable.

Kadambini got married sometime after her graduation to Dwarkanath Ganguly – a school teacher and an ardent supporter of female education.  Leaving her five children to the care of her elder sister, she sailed for Great Britain in 1892. She returned with three Licentiate post-graduate medical diplomas in medicine and surgery from three colleges (Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin) and was attached to Lady Dufferin Hospital in Calcutta for some time. She practised Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Calcutta and was professionally very successful.

Kadambini was a caring mother, dedicated wife and social activist in spite of her busy schedule as a lady doctor. She is a model of today’s working woman. She successfully combined her work as a doctor with social philanthropy and political activities. She actively participated in social reform movements and in 1890 became the first woman to address an open session of the Indian National Congress.

Kadambini passed away at the age of 62, leaving behind 7 children. She continues to be a role model for women of the developing countries. I salute her.

Happy International Women’s day! Celebrate the elegance of womanhood. All of you are beautiful angels on the earth!

HT: Dr. Sisir K. Majumdar

Are the protests signs of maturing Indian democracy?

As per Wikipedia, democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination. Can the public protests seen recently across the country be termed as beginning of maturity of Indian democracy?

2012 has seen Indian public coming out of their cozy drawing rooms to the streets to join protests, prepared to take on the might of the powerful state on issues affecting their daily life ranging from wide-spread corruptions in the state machinery, huge scams denting the Indian economy to a gang rape of a young woman in Delhi.

Politicians have failed to measure up to the expectations of people. They have been too busy playing self-serving power games and vote-bank based politics, in Parliament, in public and in every available space, without caring for the Indian population, who elected them for governing the country. The public governance has taken a back seat in the power-hungry games of the politicians.

These politicians are so much disconnected from the public and the realities that they not only failed to lead the people but reacted to these developments too late and with typical cynicism. Many of their comments, reactions were too mechanical and full of arrogance. Politics continued dirty, confused and listless.

Started in 2011 with Anna Hazare’s anti corruption movement, the public protests across the country have now manifested in a massive protest against the apathy of the government towards the sexual harassment of women. Politicians were scared of the public in 2011 also and they have failed to connect to the mass in 2012 too.

Undoubtedly, the technology has helped people to gather, consolidate and protest on social issues affecting their life. The explosion of information technology has reduced distances and made India a smaller place. The social media like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs has played a major role in uniting the people and gathering them for protests all over the country. The politicians and the government have failed to match up to the explosion of social media and its importance. They reacted with usual arrogance using police and para-military to stop the protests instead of listening to the people’s genuine demands. Groucho Marx once said:

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies.”

It’s agreed that most of these street protests are spontaneous, primarily guided by emotions and lacking the matured guidance. Many street protests without a goal/direction generally fizzle out at the end without serving the purpose. The public display of anger, cynicism and unhappiness towards the state apathy is likely to continue in 2013 too. The awakening of youth cannot be ignored.

Hope, just public voices will be able to compel the society to break the shackles of medieval and feudal thoughts and transform it into a vibrant and truly participative democracy. We want to see India rising to become a global power in near future with the fruit of the developments reaching everybody and every corner of the country.

Rosa Parks sat down to stand up for her beliefs

On 1st December 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama an African-American civil rights activist named Rosa Louise McCauley Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger and was arrested for civil disobedience. Though she did not know it at the time, her act of defiance became a catalyst to the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott and a prominent symbol for the modern Civil Rights Movement. The U.S. Congress called Rosa Parks “the first lady of civil rights”, and “the mother of the freedom movement”.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African-American woman who worked as a seamstress, boarded this Montgomery City bus to go home from work. On this bus on that day, Rosa Parks initiated a new era in the American quest for freedom and equality.

She sat near the middle of the bus, just behind the 10 seats reserved for whites. Soon all of the seats in the bus were filled. When a white man entered the bus, the driver, James Blake (following the standard practice of segregation) insisted that all four blacks sitting just behind the white section give up their seats so that the man could sit there. Mrs. Parks, who was an active member of the local NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], quietly refused to give up her seat.

Her action was spontaneous and not pre-meditated, although her previous civil rights involvement and strong sense of justice were obvious influences. She was arrested and convicted of violating the laws of segregation.

At the same time, local civil rights activists initiated a boycott of the Montgomery bus system. The boycott began 5 December, the day of Parks’ trial. In cities across the South, segregated bus companies were daily reminders of the inequities of American society. Since African-Americans made up about 75 percent of the riders in Montgomery, the boycott posed a serious economic threat to the company and a social threat to white rule in the city. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the boycott, the beginning of modern Civil Rights Movement in USA.

In the South, city buses were lightning rods for civil rights activists. It took someone with the courage and character of Rosa Parks to strike with lightning. And it required the commitment of the entire African-American community to fan the flames ignited by that lightning into the fires of the civil rights revolution.

Photo by: Matt Roth

Parks’ act of defiance and the Montgomery Bus Boycott became important symbols of the modern Civil Rights Movement. She became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation.

Thank you Rosa Parks for staying seated 57 years ago today!

Working for Rs. 15 a month for 42 years!

The two women, Akku and Leela, have put in about four decades of service at the Government Women Teachers’ Training Institute on a monthly salary of Rs. 15 [$0.30]. Although they were promised that their services would be regularized, they did not get any benefits even after 42 years of service.

After the women approached the Karnataka Administrative Tribunal (KAT) seeking relief in 2001, the Education Department stopped paying them even that meager salary of Rs. 15.

Their plight came to light after Ravindranath Shanbhag, president of Udupi-based Human Rights Protection Foundation, took up the matter and followed up the case right up to the Supreme Court.

Mr. Shanbhag said that although the Supreme Court, the High Court of Karnataka and the Karnataka Administrative Tribunal ruled in favor of the women and directed the government to regularize their services, the order is yet to be implemented by the government. Meanwhile, the women continue to clean the 21 toilets in the institute all through the year without any payment.

The Karnataka Administrative Tribunal asked the government in 2003 to regularize them in 90 days and the Karnataka High Court ordered the government to pay their salaries in 2004. Notices were also issued for contempt of court when the directions were not implemented. Instead of paying them salaries, the government filed a special leave petition before the Supreme Court in 2005.

“The Supreme Court ruled in the women’s favour in 2010. Despite all this, the women are still waiting to get their benefits,” Mr. Shanbhag said. “Now, the authorities say that the women were not employable because they had reached the retirement age. I am surprised that the government spent lakhs of rupees on fighting the cases against the hapless women rather than pay what is due to them.”

“Is there any other court above the Supreme Court that can give justice to these women?” Mr. Shanbhag asked and urged the government to pay what is due to the women. In response to several readers’ offers of help for Akku and Leela, Ravindranath Shanbhag, the human rights activist who has been campaigning for their cause, says these women do not want any charity. All they want is for the government to pay them their due.

This is really shocking and shameful for the Government of Karnataka to exploit poor women. The Government claims to be pro-poor and this is the action! Was the government waiting for them to reach their age of superannuation to declare them unemployable? Now, what is the government waiting for? May be their death, so that there is no more claim!

Via: The Hindu

3 year old girl made the brand name changed!

Sainsbury’s is the third largest chain of supermarkets in the United Kingdom with a share of the UK supermarket sector of 16.5%. Sainsbury’s was founded in 1869 in London. One of their product was Tiger Bread. Lily Robinson, a three year old girl thought that the Tiger Bread sold in Sainsbury’s doesn’t look like a Tiger, but a Giraffe. So she wrote a letter to Sainsbury’s asking them why it’s not called Giraffe Bread instead.

Sainsbury’s customer manager Chris King happened to agree with Lily and responded with a letter that started:

I think renaming the bread giraffe bread is a brilliant idea – it does look more like the blotches on a giraffe than the stripes on a tiger, doesn’t it?

He went on to explain the origins of the bread’s name and questioned the Zoology skills of the baker who came up with it.

It is called tiger bread because the first baker who made it a looong time ago thought it looked a bit stripey like a tiger. Maybe they were a bit silly.

And to make it better, He also included a three-pound gift voucher for Lily to spend in the store, which she could use

to buy some tiger bread (and maybe if mum and dad say it is OK you can get some sweeties too!)

Lily’s mother went on to upload the letters to Facebook, starting the ‘Campaign to change Tiger Bread to Giraffe Bread at Sainsbury’s’ which went viral, registering hundred of Facebook ‘likes’ and comments, and nudging Sainsbury’s into action.

In response to overwhelming customer feedback that the tiger bread has more resemblance to a giraffe, from February 1, 2012, Sainsbury’s changed their tiger bread to giraffe bread, with a note -

Thanks to a clever suggestion from one of our customers we’ve changed the name of our tiger bread to giraffe bread. Don’t worry, the recipe hasn’t changed and the bread still tastes as great as ever.

Generally, most of the companies would have put such suggestions to their trash bins. The appreciable points in this episode are their customer care, giving importance to each letter/suggestion from their customers and the marketing & branding flexibility of Sainsbury’s. Also, this proves again the relevance and power of social networking.

The event of the year 2011 – The Arab Spring

Young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after he was banned from selling fruit to earn a living, a year ago on December 17, 2010. His extreme act sparked the first open protests against the Tunisian government, which in turn set off demonstrations around the Arab world.

The momentum in Tunisia set off uprisings across the Middle East that became known as the Arab Spring. It inspired other Arabs to rise up against entrenched authoritarian rulers. They were overthrown in Egypt and Libya. Yemen’s leader has stepped aside for a reformist transition while Syria’s president faces a spreading insurgency.

Although they shared a common call for personal dignity and responsive government, the revolutions across the countries reflected divergent economic grievances and social dynamics – legacies of their diverse encounters with the modern, democratic world and decades under unique regimes.

The light from the Arab Spring rose from the ground up; the hope is now that the darkness doesn’t fall.