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Monday, April 20, 2015

Clean India: There's No Glory in Being Stupid!

Last week I was in north Karnataka. One of the biggest attractions there is the dam over river Tungabhadra which provides water to several districts of north Karnataka and neighboring Andhra Pradesh.  I was told that this is a must-see and they were right: the dam was truly beautiful.

          
But every time I crossed over one of the branch canals of the dam, I saw it littered with trash. So, there were people bathing, washing and drawing water from the canals for their other needs while also throwing their trash in!  How disgusting!

I returned from the trip yesterday and saw the trash collector with her van. The woman -  employed by the  municipality - comes 3 times in a week and collects the trash. We have to pay her 50 rupees which is actually less than what a packet of cigarettes (about 90 rupees) or, a large bottle of Coke costs (80 rupees).

But every time the woman comes, she collects trash from only a few families in our lane. The reason? Others are not ready to pay her 50 rupees for trash disposal. And these are educated people from fairly well to do families!

So, how do they dispose their trash? Well, they go out in the evening with a bundle of trash ( a plastic bag) and throw it by the roadside. Sometimes, the trash collectors stop by and pick them up, sometimes they just rot there. Often, dogs tear them often, if they smell meat or fish.

Is it any less disturbing than seeing villagers dumping trash in a canal?

I was thinking this when an advertisement of the "Swachh India" campaign popped up on my TV screen. Launched on October 2, 2014, ( birthday of Mahatma Gandhi who believed cleanliness is godliness) by the government of India, this is a campaign that aims not just total sanitation for India, but also bring a behavioral change among Indians regarding sanitation.

Now, it has been 7 months already since its launch and I don't really see any behavioral change, at least in the urban India, regarding what's clean and what's not. The urban men still pee in the road even when there is a pay toilet nearby,  women encourage their small kids pee/poop by the roadside (as if being small makes their urine/excreta any less harmful) and everyone - men, women and even kids  included - spits out saliva and phlegm on the road without a second thought.

But many of these same people are always ready to criticize the government for not doing enough or mock campaigns like Clean India.

Yes, of course, the government can do a lot more to add some more teeth to the campaign. For example, the campaign can create a number of hard-hitting messages, targeted at different groups: young men (who frequently pee on road), housewives (who won't stop their kids from peeing in the open or, those refuse to pay for trash collection) elderly citizens ( who beat others in spitting cough) and children. How about holding a cleanest street contest or similar incentives?

But, honestly, the onus is ultimately on you, me, him/her and them.

Venkaiah Naidu - the minister for Urban Development whose department runs the Swach Bharat campaign said that clean India was less about toilets and more about changing one's mindset. Our ministers are famous for speaking cliches and rhetoric. But this is one cliche that we really must pay heed to: we really, really do need a change of mindset when it comes to cleanliness. 
poster courtesy: Swacch Bharat Mission

 We need to remember that the world doesn't begin or end with our courtyards. If you are throwing your dirty trash on the road, you are also going to walk on it. And if there's a disease spreading, you can't be immune to that either. Also, when you throw trash in a water canal, are you not also endangering your own health?

Of course we can go on playing deaf like devil may care.
Only, there is nothing very glorious about being stupid, is there?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

When Thirst Beats Education

A few weeks back, I was in a village along the border of Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where I met Sandhya Rani, a 10 year old. She was carrying a bamboo staff on her shoulder and , fastened to its ends, three aluminum vessels. In these vessels, she was going to carry water from a borewell for her family, along with her 7 year old sister Saundrya.

Their parents were working as migrant laborers in a city and the girls lived with their elderly grandmother.



I followed Rani from her house which was at the village' entrance to the borewell at the far end of the village. That was the only borwell in the village - the source of potable water for over 500 people.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Girls' Education: Lets Look Beyond Enrollment

I recently met Bharti, a bubbly 13 year old, at a children's shelter 110 km away from Hyderabad. She had been rescued a few of months ago, the staff at the shelter told me.

"Rescued from who and what? Traffickers? Abusive employers?" I wanted to know
The answer was, "from her own parents".


No, Bharti's parents were not abusive or trying to sell their daughter to someone. It's just that they often stopped her from going to school and took her to work in a farm instead.

Now this sounds quite trivial, doesn't it? After all, the parents are just making the girl miss a few days' school now and then, right?

Not quite.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - a Year of Traveling and Story Telling

Time flies. 2014 too flew away! But it was a kind year. It gave me opportunities to tell the stories that I CARED FOR. And it also got me the greatest of recognitions! Shared here are some of those moments and some of the stories that I told.

January: Telling the story of the forest women

The first month of 2014 took me to the Eastern Ghat mountains of India, to villages that are home to several primitive  tribes including the Koyas and the Kondas whose livelihood depends on hunting and gathering herbs. 

Here, in the dense forest, I met women who are turning entrepreneurs, using renewable energy. They use solar powered driers to dry their herbs and are selling the herbs to a clientele that includes large corporate houses! Here is one of their stories.

Monday, December 29, 2014

10 Years After the Tsunami : How Are the Women?

10 years have passed since the devastating Tsunami happened.  How have things changed on the ground since then, especially for those who bore the brunt of that disaster? In this second part of my photo blog,  I am sharing few photographs of women in the coastal villages that I met.

 The most optimistic picture that I saw was this...




I met this woman - Shivapiriya - near the famous shore temple of Mahabalipuram. She was there with her sister, speaking to a relative on a cell phone. 10 years ago, she didn't have a cell. But today, if disaster strikes, Kavitha is confident that she can reach out someone- anyone -and call for help, no matter wherever she is. No technology alone cannot guarantee safety, not of the climatic kind, but it can sure decrease the level of helplessness, especially for a woman.

And the most depressing picture was this...

Friday, December 26, 2014

In Photos: Life After 10 Years of Tsunami - Part 1

It's been 10 years since the devastating Asian Tsunami happened. How have things changed on the ground since then, especially for those who bore the brunt of that disaster? To find the answer, I recently visited some villages along the east coast of India. Shared here are few glimpses of life I saw there.


 And now there's another shrine - The Tsunami Temple




The Tsunami in 2004 took a lot - lives, homes and assets included - but also gave something. This structure, for example, emerged out of  the sea  next to the famous shore temple of Mahabalipuram  and quickly gained popularity as the Tsunami Temple. Natarajan, a tourist guide told me, 'this is our latest attraction'  and then, "but you can't go there. It's too slippery".   Now, that's a fitting gift of a disaster!

"Tourism matters, tourists matter, we don't"


Prabhakar Sharma sells souvenirs on the beach. After the Tsunami in 2004, the government was quick to restore the Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram, he said. But,  for the owners of over 100 makeshift shops that were also destroyed by the tsunami, there hasn't been any compensation. A bitter Sharma told me this : "The govt invested well into restoring the temple and the facilities for the tourists. But we, the beach traders who sustain the tourists interests, were left to lick our  own wounds. We just didn't matter"

           A new trail of disasters

There is an alarming rate of erosion along the coast and every village has at least half a dozen houses that are in various stages of destruction.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

They said this: Take away messages from CBDCOP12

The 12th conference of the parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (or CBD COP 12) began here in Pyeongchang, South Korea on 5th of October. Since then, I have met and had exclusive interviews with several leaders here. Each of them impressed me with their answers and especially their patience in explaining complicated issues in the most simple terms. You can read the news articles that I filed from the convention on the IPS news site. Sharing  here, below, are some of the statements from each of these leaders that I am calling my take home messages.

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias – Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)



We now know what we need to do to prevent biodiversity loss and invasive species. We need to integrate biodiversity into our sustainable development.”



Ibrahim Thiaw – Deputy Director, UN Environmental Program (UNEP) 




"Hope that the member countries would really commit themselves to achieve the Aichi targets. It is a collective commitment that needs to be made. If you go back and don’t match your words with action at the national level, it’s not going to work"