Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pappu...

Pappu is my friend from our village Rajapur in Bhadohi (also called as a carpet city, which is a town in state of Uttar Pradesh). I meet him every time I visit Rajapur, rather he makes it a point to meet me whenever he knows that I am in Rajapur. He can't speak or hear, he was not born with these disabilities but he lost his hearing ability (and hence speech also) because of some serious illness during his early childhood. People from village also say that if he could have received proper treatment then he would have regained these abilities but it didn't happen because of so many reasons. He is more than 30 years of age now, he is physically very strong because he does most of physically demanding work. He has his own method of communicating with people around him. Because of his condition he couldn't go to school, there is no separate school for people with special abilities in or near my village and other schools don't admit students who are not "normal" according to them. So he couldn't take any formal education in any school this is the reason he also doesn't know universal sign language which people who can't speak use all over the world but this didn't stop him from inventing his own sign language with which he can communicate with others. I don't understand his sign language but most people (even small kids) can understand this special sign language very well and can have normal conversation with him. I need an interpreter who can explain me his gestures and then tell him what I want to say to him, fortunately I always find someone who is willing to do this job happily for me. My interaction with him is always memorable and special one.

His desire and ability to communicate with others is amazing, he can talk on almost every subject starting from politics, family disputes, village gossips to his devotion to god, his work etc. As I wrote he does most of physically demanding work like farm work, taking care of cattle, cleaning home, etc. This is his main USP many families call him to perform some tough tasks which they think is not possible for people from their own families to carry like milking some cow which has some temper issues, may be they call him because they think it is not safe for people from their own families to engage in these tasks and as Pappu is used to do these type of jobs he readily agrees to perform them for anyone. But his sign language is very specific to our village anyone from outside our village cannot understand it. He can manage to communicate well with people from our village but he can,'t do the same with anyone who doesn't belong to our village. I always feel bad for him because of this just because of this small thing his life is confined to this small village, he is forced or one can say engineered (from his childhood) to perform certain type of jobs. It is not that there are no facilities in India where people like him can't get proper training to overcome any disabilities and live their life like any other person but these things are not accessible to everyone, specially in villages there is lack of awareness about these issues. This situation still persists even today in many parts of rural India and I hope it changes very soon.

Pappu is living his life to best of his abilities, he is trying to make best of whatever society has offered to him but he still has a desire to get married and have a family like many people of his age around him. Actually he got married once but his wife died recently because of hepatitis, he was not happy with his marriage as he thought he deserved a 'normal' wife like everyone else around him. Even today expresses his desire to get remarry and most people around him don't think it is going to happen. Pappu also don't want to marry a girl which is not 'normal' he was not happy with his first wife, may be he thinks that his kids also won't be 'normal' kids if his wife is not 'normal'. People like him don't need sympathy but they need fair treatment and equal opportunity. They are often considered as 'abnormal' by people around them and this is very wrong, there are many examples all over the world (including India) where people with special opportunities displayed their capabilities and talent if given proper training and opportunities. Even these examples failed to change completely attitude of society towards people like Pappu, still they get lot of sympathy but no equal treatment. Pappu doesn't need any sympathy, I find him capable enough to do any job if he is offered proper training, but he is confined to do particular tasks which he does excellently but not because he chose that field but he was forced from his childhood to do those jobs because of his situation. I am sure there are many Pappus in our society who can not explore their true potential just because society's attitude towards them. Situation in cities is slightly better but in villages government needs to carry aggressive awareness campaigns, they need to carry out similar awareness campaign about people with special abilities like they do for girl education or women rights. Inspite of all odds against them people like Pappu fight against all odds and excel in whatever work they do, this clearly shows that they have immense potential and talent. Everyone deserves equal treatment and opportunity, this is a true meaning of equality. Gender discrimination is a serious issue but discrimination because of some disability is also equally serious issue. This issue is very serious and needs urgent attention from government and society, I hope that people in India change their attitude towards people with special abilities.


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[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Some impressions from my recent visit to Uttar Pradesh...

Last week I visited my ancestral place Bhadohi and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh (UP) last week. I try to visit my ancestral place regularly as there are still many people who I know personally and it is always a pleasure to interact with them personally. There are many sweet childhood memories associated with this place and this place brings back those sweet memories. Last time I visited this place in 2010, so it was four long years after which I visited it again. This time I was also curious to know about what people think about current government of India as this is the first government after 1984 which has won absolute majority in parliament and UP is one of the major reasons why this things happened (BJP+ won 73 seats out of 80 in this state).  I did not expect to see any drastic changes as it is just five months since this new government came into power but was mainly interested in mood and expectations of people.

City of Varanasi was as clean (or dirty) as it was during my previous visits. Airport of Varanasi is very good shape but the roads of the city are in horrible conditions. There is garbage lying around at many places and cattle (especially cows and buffalos) roam on road freely creating nuisance to traffic. When I asked people around me why they are not participating in ‘Swachha Bharat Abhiyan’ (clean India movement’ started by our PM Mr. Modi who also happens to be MP of their city they just laughed at me and called me too naive to expect such movements will work. I literally tried to remind people about this movement whenever I saw anyone throwing litter on street but every single time I was welcomed with cynical smile or just why don’t you mind your own business look.  My son was literally petrified when he saw his cousin tossing chips wrapper on street while travelling on cycle rickshaw, when he asked her why she did that she innocently replied, “Everyone does that, it’s not a big deal”. But after couple of days when I say him spitting right in the middle of street and asked why he did that he gave me same answer, this is what majoritariainism does to you, knowingly or unknowingly many people surrender to beliefs and ways of majority without even realizing it. I have to remind my son that it doesn't make wrong things right just because majority of people do it, wrong is still wrong and don’t’ try to mend your ways just because you are a minority. It was really sad to see lack of interest of people in clean India drive; they were not at all passionate about such a amazing initiative that too in a constituency of a man who started this movement just few weeks back. Some roads of this city were wide enough for two way traffic and in reasonably good condition compared to many others, when I asked people about who did this work? They all replied that it was because of district magistrate Mr. Pranjal Yadav. There were also few roads which were newly paved and smooth, when I asked about them people told me that they were repaired recently as our new PM Mr. Modi was supposed to travel on them. I really wish that Mr. Modi choose different road every time to travel in Varanasi so that every road gets a nice makeover because of his travel.  

In my village things were even worse, there was no electricity, and out of two days I stayed there we received power only for 8 hours that too in-between 10 PM to 6 AM. I wonder how young kids will study in such poor infrastructure, people have cars, good houses, etc. but no electricity. One good this which I saw was that every home in my village have a toilet now, I was very happy to see it. At least some good work has been done my current government. Situation of roads and electricity was really pathetic but people seem to have learned to live with these conditions. Another incident which shocked me was when I saw a huge traffic jam during one of my road travel in Bhadohi (my village is a part of this town). Entire one side of a major high way (Grand Trunk road or GT road) was blocked by police and people were forced to use only one side of the road creating huge chaos and very long line of trucks as this road is main transport road for this part of state. I have seen many traffic jams in my life but this was utter chaos. I was thought what if someone falls seriously ill and needs to go to hospital urgently how they can navigate in such a mess as there is no one to help them. But I guess I was the only one who was having this stupid question in my mind, everyone else around me was fine with this mess. When I asked people what happened? Why police blocked entire one side of the road? I was told that there is 'Bharat Milaap ceremony' (a function celebrating meeting of Ram and Bharat) which is going to take place on road and that’s why it is closed. I really couldn’t believe my ears that they can block a major highway in the middle of a day for such a stupid reason but it was true. I wondered why they are doing this thing on a main highway. Why can’t they do it in some school ground or open field where everyone can watch it comfortably and which won't result in such huge traffic jam and inconvenience to so many people? Why all these people stuck and suffering for no fault of theirs  are silently watching this stupidity? When I rose some of these questions to people around me they all agreed with me but they said "kya kare, ye aisa hi chalega, abhi kuchh bologe to Pakistani kehake marne lagenge" (what to do, this will go on like this only, if you object to these things they will attack you and call you a Pakistani). It took more than 12 hrs to clear that jam and then someone told me that there will be 'bharat milaap' functions by different villages on different days and that's the moment I remembered the slogan "mera bharat mahan', really these people deserve round of applause for tolerating such plain stupidity with so much grace and patience. I salute their patience but also feel sad about their compulsion to tolerate such nonsense on regular basis.

I hope things change for good in this amazing place. I love people of this state they are really good, kindhearted and very welcoming. They definitely deserve better infrastructure and opportunities than what they are getting now. They need more job opportunities as youth of this state is forced to move out of village and even out of state in search of better job opportunities. There is lot of work which needs to be done and it can be only done with honest intentions and strong political will which seems to be lacking in all parties which ruled this state so far. People here have very huge expectations from this new government and its head (Mr. Narendra Modi). Many people from this state seem to be in love with Mr. Modi as they don’t want to hear any word against him, I hope he fulfills their huge expectations and brings that change in these people’s lives. Mr. Modi has a power and all resources which are required to bring that change. He cannot offer any excuse for failure to do this, it will be a huge betrayal if he doesn't do that. These people are used to these types of betrayals but I hope M.r Modi changes that trend and fulfills his promises. Next time when I visit this place again I really hope to see some dramatic changes.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Clean India...not a easy task but not impossible to achieve.

On occasion of Gandhi jayanti (2nd October 2014), clean India (Swachh Bharat) movement was launched with big fan fair and lot of media coverage. Many celebrities and politicians seized this opportunity and got their photos of cleaning some already cleaned area with broom published in daily news paper to display their sincerity and commitment towards this movement. There were even some brand ambassadors which were nominated to take up this challenge and they are supposed to continue this work. So the beginning was like any other ambitious government schemes, with lot of fan fare and media coverage. Such launch was also not new as this was done by many previous governments also but one should really appreciate the work of PR agency of BJP and this government the way they manage to publicize anything related with government and Mr. Modi. Lot of noise and chaos was created but soon all this faded and now I guess things are back to normal. Photos of garbage piles, open drainage, dirty roads, etc. are back on web to show that nothing has changed, may be these people are trying to be cynical or are commenting based on their experience with previous government schemes. When i landed in Mumbai yesterday, I saw that nothing has changed as far as cleanliness is concerned, may be it was clean on 2nd October I ca not comment about that as I was not here on that day but today it doesn't seem any different than what I saw when I visited last year. No one will object to the point that clean India movement is desperately needed. At the same time people should know that this was not the first time any government tried to initiate some campaign to clean India, previous governments also tried to do something like this under different names and different schemes but nothing seems to have produced desired result and I hope this one does produce desired result. Public desire and participation is the key for success of any such campaign. The main reason why such government schemes fail is that we seldom see any bipartisan collaboration in India on any such issues related with public interest, this limits public participation as people react based on their political affiliations not based on the usefulness of these schemes. Unless this attitude of political parties and their supporters changes it is impossible to expect such schemes to succeed no matter who launches is and how much they publicize it. 

Accumulation of garbage at public places, dirty roads, open drainage, open defecation and urination, careless attitude of people to throw garbage wherever they want, heavily polluted rivers and lakes, etc. are major concerns of every town, city and village in India. It seems that people are only interested in keeping their own homes very clean but the moment they step outside their own homes they just forget this concept of cleanliness and behave as if it is not their responsibility to maintain cleanliness of their surroundings. Government is also at fault as it not able to provide all necessary infrastructure like dustbins, proper and prompt removal and disposal of garbage, etc. So this problem is result of failure on multiple levels, people don't think it is their responsibility to keep their city clean and government can not cope up with increasing demand of resources because of ever growing population of these cities. People always blame government for not doing their job and government authorities always complain about lack of funding and people's non cooperation, so both concerned parties keep on blaming each other. The result is there to see for all, many places in these cities stink, they literally look like garbage disposal sites or sanitation tanks. People live in such unhealthy surroundings, they complain about it all the time but rarely try to do anything to change it.

I personally know what it means to live in such environment, kids of our neighborhood used to play cricket with huge chunk of garbage right in the middle of our cricket ground. There was huge open garbage disposal site at walking distance from our neighborhood where all kids used to go to hunt for some useful stuff during weekends and school holidays. Open defecation was very common as there were very limited public toilets so we were used to live with garbage and filth around us. But our homes used to be very clean, we all used to clean our homes multiple times a day sweep it, mop it but same attitude was not displayed towards our neighborhood and I still see this mentality among people, unless this changes I doubt whether such schemes will work or not. Idea of clean India is very important and appealing but this is not going to happen in one day. How many celebrities who posed for picture on that day (including our PM) continued with this work next day? How many bothered to check that the area which they cleaned remained clean after one week also? How many politicians or actors continued to work with their supporters and fans to make sure that interest in such activity is not temporary but becomes  permanent habit? All people living in India or who lived in India know very well epic record of government scheme failure, this seems to be going in same direction. Whenever I talked with people about this idea they either just laughed it off or just ignored which is really disappointing to see. I really hope that people of India don't take this cleanliness drive so lightly, this is a very serious issue which will require very serious efforts at many levels. It is very disappointing to see that during current election campaign in Maharashtra and Haryana no political party (including BJP) seem to be interested in talking about this idea. They all are busy in playing same old style politics giving tickets to candidates with corrupt or criminal background who keep on talking about age old issues about which they don't intend to do anything. If it goes on like this this idea or scheme will also go down in history like many other government launched schemes who were launched with good intention but failed to deliver any desired result. I really see it going in that direction but let's wait and watch, I hope I am wrong because like everyone I also dream to see clean India one day.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The misuse of state broadcaster (Doordarshan) continues...

If someone would have told me before general elections of 2014 in India that if BJP (or to say it correctly Mr. Modi) wins this election with absolute majority then there will be a live telecast of RSS chief's speech on Doordarshan (or DD, national broadcaster of India), I would have dismissed this statement immediately and might have even blamed that person for stretching his/her concerns too far and trying to be too cynical in his/her approach towards BJP/Modi. But we all witnessed this event just few days ago, DD telecasted the speech of RSS chief live, this was the speech which he delivers every year on the occasion of Vijayadashami (Dussehra). To be honest I was really surprised if not shocked to read this news. It is not that national broadcaster of the country was misused for the first time, previous governments also misused it on many occasions to propagate their own party agenda but any previous wrong doings don't legitimize present mistakes. If previous government did some mistakes then current government can't purposely repeat them and tell people to deal with it as this is not something new or something happening for the first time. But unfortunately this has become very common trend, if anyone asks any question to BJP government they say previous Congress governments also did same things and vice versa. This never ending blame game is going on for years between these two major political parties. Both of these parties claim to be different from each other but in many aspects they look quite indistinguishable from each other. 

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is a non governmental organization, it claims it self to be a non political, cultural organization but every one knows about its political affiliation and heavily pro Hindu ideology. RSS chief neither holds any constitutional post nor he is elected member of any of the houses (Loksabha or Rajyasabha). So it was unprecedented move to allow such a organization to use air time of a national channel which is entirely funded by tax payers money. There is nothing wrong in having pro-Hindu or pro-Muslim or pro-anything organization; every religion, sect or culture have right to form a organization and have their gatherings wherever they want as long as it is within the framework of law. Many of them including RSS do lot of good social work in various areas. But at the same time many of them have very sectarian ideology which heavily favors particular religion and for a central government to allow any such sectarian organization to use national air time was a big surprise for me. Another question is now where we draw the line? If RSS can get live coverage why not Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)? or Bajarang dal? or any other organization which promotes sectarian ideology of any particular religion but claims to be a cultural organization? Why only RSS, what is so special about them apart from their proximity with current ruling political party?

As I already wrote there are many NGOs (non governmental organizations) which do lot of good work in India at the same time there are many who misuse this platform to make money or to spread some sectarian religious ideology. RSS's political affiliation is very well known, BJP is considered as their political arm and there is no secret that RSS controls many things happening at top levels in BJP. If they only allow this particular event to go live on national television and not other events by similar organizations then it is a blatant and clear misuse of government resources. I was amazed to see spokespersons of BJP pathetically and shamelessly defending this action during many TV debates. They sounded really helpless as they didn't have any logical explanation for this action and they had really tough time to defend this decision, but they did it anyway. But one really good thing happened because of this event, the mask which was on the face of BJP finally fell off. They tried really hard and even very successfully to make people believe that RSS and BJP are two separate units, even though they both share same ideology they claimed that they are different but now this delusion ended. It is good that now people know whom they are voting, which ideology is going to dominate, so the choice and preference is very clear now and I guess this is a very good thing. It is always better to have a clear picture.

Any government can use or misuse the resources which are at their disposal, it is entirely their choice. Current government made very clear which direction they want to go and which ideology they want to propagate. But there is a remote possibility that all these things are wrong and this was really unbiased decision taken by DD administration on their own without any government pressure as claimed by BJP. If this is true then I am waiting for them to allow similar air time to all other cultural organizations. After all any government body can not be partial towards one cultural organization and ignore all others, they need to give equal treatment to all of them. Either their should be appeasement for all or appeasement for none. I am willing to wait and watch if other cultural organizations get their share of time on national television or not before reaching to any final conclusion. I hope I am wrong in my assumption that RSS was favored because of their ideological closeness with BJP and I will be very happy if current government proves me wrong, let's wait and watch.

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[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Friday, October 3, 2014

Firaaq- A thought provoking, disturbing and impactful movie.

Recently I attended the screening of Hindi movie 'Firaaq' directed by very talented and widely acclaimed actress Nandita Das at Yale University. I watched this movie before but I was interested in knowing directors views on this movie and reasons behind making it. I was also interested in how internationally diverse audience at Yale reacts to this very disturbing but very powerful movie. The movie tries to capture events in lives of some people one month after the 2002 Godhra riots. One should watch the movie to know the actual plot and understand the characters so I am not going to discuss that. Every character in this movie is very well written and brilliantly portrayed by all actors.

The post is not about Nandita Das or the movie itself but the impact it had on me. I am interested to discuss three characters, Aarti, Sameer and Mohsin who stayed with me after watched the movie. I was touched by trauma of Aarti (character brilliantly portrayed by Deepti Naval), may be because I have seen many people who  face such dilemma and trauma. There are many people who want to fight the injustice happening in front of them but can not do it for various reasons. Some can't raise their voice because they don't know how to do it or they don't know they have a voice and it really means some thing. Some don't do this because  they think it is not their job, or it is against their culture or it will be a disrespect to people against whom they have to stand. These people keep silent because of so many reasons (few of them I listed above) and suffer quietly from inside. They blame themselves for their failure not to help others when they had an opportunity. I always wondered are these people guilty of not doing their duty? Can we blame them for not standing up when they saw injustice being done right in front of them? Can we call bystander who just witness the crime happening in front of their eyes without taking any action against it? Or shall we try to understand their problems? their inability to gather the courage to oppose the age old traditions, patriarchal or feudal culture which they are taught to respect and preserve? This conflict is very real and Deepti Naval portrayed this character very well.

Other character is that of Sameer Shaikh (played by another talented actor, Sanjay Suri), his first name doesn't denote his religious identity as this name is common among both Muslims and Hindus in India. So wherever possible he prefers to tell only his first name as he is worried that people might judge him differently if they know his religion. Because of this many people around him don't know his religion, they all assume that he is a Hindu. He is married to a Hindu girl so that makes this disguise even easy for him. It is quite possible that many people from minority groups living in very hostile social environment can easily associate with this character. It is not only about religious minority groups but also people from lower caste also can also easily understand his dilemma and helplessness. They all do this because they feel people in society will look at them differently if they know about their religion or caste. Sameer's character is like a big slam on stereotyped mindset of our society where we look at people from particular religion or caste or gender with lot of prejudice and bias.

The last character is of that little boy Mohsin who lost his both parents during the riots but he only knows about death of his mom as he saw it but don't know about his dad's death, no one close to him dare to tell him this truth. He is desperately in search of his dad as he don't want to live in the camp shelter made for riot victims. During his search for his father he gets exposed to harsh realities of our society at that young age, he learns to hide his identity by changing his real name to some Hindu name (Mohan) just to escape from further scrutiny or trouble. He looks like another Sameer in making who is taught that his religion means something to hide from others, something others around him who are different from him (Hindus) don't like. He hates Hindus without even knowing who they are, he only knows them as his mom's killers. This all makes him to loose interest in all childhood activities, when kids of his age invite him to play he don't want to play. The question his character put in front of us are very serious and disturbing questions; what kind of world are you offering to me? Why I can't tell my real name without worrying about what will happen to me after I tell it? Why do some people kill others for no reason? Why people hate each other? What was my mom's fault that she was murdered? His character in movie is too young to ask these questions and also to understand the answers if at all someone bothers to answer them but when he stares in our eyes at the end of the movie his eyes ask these questions.

I guess as a society or individuals if we can solve Aarti's problems by offering her required strength to stand up whenever required, or remove Sameer's fears associated with his religious identity and at least create friendly atmosphere for kids like Mohsin who don't grow up with hatred about certain community in their mind I can say that we all did our job. Until them we all need to work hard so that there won't be another Sameer who is forced to hide his religious identity or another Mohsin who is wondering what kind of world he is living in. This movie doesn't entertain you, it is not supposed to entertain but it engages its audience successfully with its characters. Firaaq throws many questions right at our face, it stirs our consciousness to its core. We can choose to answer these questions, work hard towards solving the problems associated with these questions or we can also choose to ignore them, look the other way as if nothing has happened and move on, after all choice is ours.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]