Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: 10 Lessons India Taught It's Women

Lesson 1. Rape is on the rise and Woman, its thy fault
Rapes in India have risen by 873% in past five decades. And from politicians to members of  the parliament to top cops, everyone thinks that its majorly women's fault. Here is a sample: right at the beginning of the year, Dinesh Reddy, the Director General of Hyderabad (where I live) said, "rape is increasing because women have started dressing fashionably" and ‘women provoke men to rape them by wearing flimsy clothes.

(Oh, and the cop not only got away with that,  but actually got a pat on the back. Last month, he became the president of Indian Hockey Federation. Don't be surprised if our women hockey players are now ordered to play in Pyjamas!)

Lesson 2. Know that thy Law maker's job includes watching Porn at work and preach you on decency

It's a male law maker's prerogative to chastise women and decide what kind of clothes they will wear, even when he will watch porn, right inside the assembly building.
Example: A minister in Bangalore, was caught watching a porn clip right within the state Assembly in February this year. The minister had advised women many times to wear less revealing clothes to avoid getting raped. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Migration: Prevention Is Always Better than Cure

It is International Migrants day and since morning, a series of faces have been passing before my eyes. These are faces of women whom I have met in recent times and found, they were all victims of climate change. It affected each of them in a different way, but at the end of the day, uprooted them from their homes and turned them into migrants with an uncertain future.

Let me share the stories of five of them.

Akshaya, Hyderabad - Migrant, because there was no WATER.

Akshaya Gaud is 24 and a commercial sex worker. She migrated from Adilabad - a district  in Andhra Pradesh state of southern India that has been severely affected by consecutive droughts. Akshaya migrated 2 years ago to Hyderabad because there was no water. All the ponds dried and ground water level depleted so much, borewells could not produce any water. When I interviewed her for my story 'Drought drives rural Indian women into city sex trade' , she said this: “The last time I visited my home, there was hardly enough water to drink. When I returned, I brought back a bundle of unwashed clothes with me because there was no water to wash them. How can we live like this?” 

Monday, December 10, 2012

In Photos - COP18

I just returned from Doha, covering for eight days the UNFCCC Climate conference (COP18). Compared to COP17 which was held in Durban, South Africa last year, this year's COP was quieter as the total turnout of people - at least journalists - was much lower. But there were some interesting sights nonetheless. Sharing here some of those interesting moments from the event that can be called the Kumbh Mela of environment.
Doers, in the middle of talkers. The three winners from (L-R) Turkey, Haiti and Uganda of 'Land for Life award', given by United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). In a town full of bargainers and talkers, it was refreshing to meet these three people who were working hard to reclaim, save and improve the quality of land in their respective countries.

The venue  - Qatar National Conventional Center (QNCC) was huge.  Really, really huge. And so was pretty much everything - the meeting halls, staircases and even the washrooms. But compared to COP17 in Durban, the total turnout of participants was much lower and it showed. The press section was particularly quieter and empty at times. Only 400 journalists turned up this time, compared to 3000 in Durban.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Climate smart agriculture: is assumption feeding farmers’ fears?

The following blog was published on the website of United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). You can read the original write up here.

Doha, 01/12/12. Chief Adam Tampuri is a cashew farmer from Ghana in West Africa. Last year, Tampuri has lost fifty cashew trees, but he does not know what killed them. ”They just dried up one by one. Nowadays, we are getting strange plant diseases we never saw before,” said Tampuri at a side event at the 18th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP18) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change today.

The loss of the trees has directly impacted Tampuri’s living condition: as a cash crop, the cashews are an important and dependable source of his monthly income. Fewer trees, therefore, mean that the money that will come from the sale of cashews will not be enough to buy food.

Despite the loss, Chief Tampuri is hesitant to try climate smart farming techniques, especially soil carbon sequestration. “Climate smart agriculture (CSA) will benefit only large corporate houses and not us small farmers,” he commented.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Doha Bound: I have got mixed feelings!

Its Tuesday night and I can't wait for next twenty four hours to pass by. The reason is, on Thursday  early morning, I will take a flight to Doha, Qatar. That's the city where this year's UN Climate change summit or COP18 as its called, is happening.

At COP17, I had met these small and marginal farmers' group from Bolivia. My eyes will again be looking for such groups and the developments to help farmers affected by climate change

Jonathan Pershing - negotiator from the US, playing his role of a climate denier to the perfection at COP17 in Durban at 2011. Wonder if he has mellowed down a bit since then!
It will be my second straight year at a COP. It, however, almost didn't happen. Because, the Climate Change Media Partnership fellowship, offered jointly by Internews, IIED and Panos London - which had sent me to Durban last year, was cancelled this year for lack of fund. I had applied again and was also short listed. So, when the fellowship was cancelled, my hopes were dashed.

But then, like a miracle, I got a sponsorship, from United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification(UNCCD).

Friday, November 16, 2012

Maternal mortality: save some outrage for other Savitas

Most of the Indian media houses that are now making an uproar over the death of Savita Halappanavar, have actually maintained a stoic silence over maternal mortality and unsafe abortion in India all through the year.

For past 2 days, one of the lead news headlines in Indian media has been the death of Savita Halappanavar - a 31-yearold pregnant Indian woman. Savita died in a hospital in Ireland of septicaemia after the doctors refused her abortion, despite having several days’ of severe pain and bleeding. The doctors had their own reason to do that: abortion in the Catholic country is strictly banned.

Now, our media is discussing this a lot; highlighting the rigidity of the Irish law, the religion and the culture and also questioning the actions of the doctors etc etc. Very praiseworthy!

 However, one question that keeps returning to my mind is this: Savita died more than 2 weeks ago, on 28th of October. Why did it take so long for the news to come out?

The answer, according to me, lies in the fact that news of medical malpractice doesn't usually come out on its own, unless we make an active effort to bring it out.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sex Workers Daughters Access Education in India

The story below was published in Global Press Institute on Oct 11- the first International Girl's Day. I was traveling and read it myself after a couple of days. So, thought of sharing it here, with a few new photos. You can also read the original article here.

The kids at Chaithanya Happy Home sing as a proud Jayamma - their guardian looks with a smile.
NEW DELHI, INDIA – Madhavi, 12, of Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh state in southern India, is an aspiring poet.

“I love music and poetry,” she says. “When I grow up, I want to teach poetry to little children.”

But the girl’s own childhood was far from poetic. Deep scars on Madhavi’s face mark the time a dog mauled her at age 2 while she was living on the streets with her mother, who earned a living as a sex worker.

Yet Madhavi’s eyes shine as she smiles and dreams about her future.

“To be a schoolteacher and take care of so many children will be fun,” she says.

And she now has the opportunity to achieve her dreams. No longer living on the streets with her mother, she has safe shelter at Chaithanya Happy Home and studies in the fifth grade at a city school.

Chaithanya Happy Home is part of Chaithanya Mahila Mandali, India’s first nonprofit organization founded by a former sex worker, Jayamma Bandari. Between the ages of 4 and 14, the 35 girls living in the home are all daughters of commercial sex workers.

Even a decade ago, the fate for these girls was to join the same profession as their mothers once they came of age. Today, however, they are living in a safe place and are attending one of the best English-medium schools in Hyderabad, dreaming of becoming schoolteachers, engineers, doctors and revenue collectors.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

US Presidential Debates: Why hearing a Hummingbird could help

Obama vs Romney: Both have got it wrong on Syria.  (photo courtesy: Reuters)
So, the second round of US presidential debates is over. Now there's only one round to go. According to CNN, this one will be a 'cliffhanger'. And this suddenly makes me  wish the pundits in both Barak Obama and Mitt Romney camp had heard Hummingbird.

First thing's first: Hummingbird isn't a bird, but a pro-democracy woman activist and blogger from Syria. As a  minority Kurd, she runs twice the risk of being persecuted by Bashar Assad government (which hates all Kurdis) and therefore she uses this alias 'Hummingbird'.

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But why am I thinking of Hummingbird? Well, firstly because, the final presidential debate will be fought on the ground of US foreign policy and in all likeliness,  Syria is going to rule the debate. And secondly, Hummingbird, who was recently in the US and spoke at 18 events across the country about her country, feels that none of the candidates has got it right on Syria, or what her people really want.

First, here's what she thinks of the current president: the policy of US on Syria, under Obama's leadership: Obama's policy has been sketchy, weak and absolutely ineffective in either stopping the bloodbath, or the shipments of arms from Russia and China. 'Obama has just not shown enough courage to stop Russia and China. Its either this, or maybe that he just doesn't care enough,' she says.

Now, if Obama's policy is weak, Mitt Romney, the challenger, has got a horribly wrong one.

On October 8, hours before Hummingbird was interviewed by CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on her Newsroom International (the interview lasted only 3 minutes which in itself indicates the little seriousness the US media has been attaching to Syria). Romney had also spoken on Syria, attacking Obama for not doing enough on Syria. But,  when Hummingbird heard that Romney was in favor of a military intervention, she shouted, 'No! Syrians will never favor that..'

So, what is it that Syrians really want? According to Hummingbird, whose family lives in northern Syria and is displaced since the uprising started, there are five specific actions that US needs to take:

Monday, October 15, 2012

3 weeks of silence = 3 weeks of speaking out

Its been a while - 3 weeks to be precise - since I wrote anything. And that's because, I had been speaking, at the World Pulse Live tour that went on for slightly over 3 weeks (17th-9th) It is a tour organized by World Pulse - the US-based, world's largest women's media group. And the tour is for the three toppers of their Voice of the Future correspondent program. As one of those lucky three, I was there, participating at the 4 city (New York, Washington DC, Portland and Atlanta), 18 events tour, talking about the need and effectiveness of connecting grass root women through digital technology. Shared here are some of the highlights of what I would always remember as an epic tour!
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It happened on 8th of October. Suzanne Malveaux of Newsroom International interviewed me and my fellow World Pulse correspondent from Syria. Among other things (Infanticide, my work and my experience as an unwanted girl child), Suzanne asked me how digital technology could help stop killing of girl children in India. My answer was, by helping women quickly seek help when they were in a crisis situation, and also share their experiences directly with the global audience.  The same day, The Epoch Times also interviewed us and published this article later.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Failed States, Just Give Women A Chance!

Thanks to World Pulse - the largest network of women, I now have a colleague in each of the 187 countries. So anything happens anywhere in the world and I can actually have someone to connect it to! And that's what I am doing now, linking the Failed State Index to my colleagues in - the failed states!

Early this week, I started reading the Failed State Index 2012 – an annual, globally recognized and accepted report prepared by the Washington DC- based organization Fund for Peace that ranks countries of the world according to their stability and capacity.

Topping the list of the failed states, for the fifth straight time, is Somalia. According to J J Messner, editor of the report, if this was a championship, Somalia would be called a legend. But since it’s not, the rank only indicates how bad the state of affairs is in the country where chaos and conflicts rule. Things are almost equally bad in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which has gotten the dubious 2nd place. Also sharing the space in the top 10 bracket is Zimbabwe.

Now, I have read this report a couple of times in earlier and just took them as what they were: a compilation of facts. But this year as I was reading it, a series of faces flashed before my eyes; women who are young, energetic, forever challenging, forever questioning everything that is wrong and, what’s more, also working to set them right.

These women come from these failed states, but are anything but a representative of failure. And here’s the reason why I thought of them: they are women of our very own World Pulse change-makers’ fraternity.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Coming up in the US: a fall of rising voices

Last November I was selected, along with 30 other women, as a Voice of our Future correspndent by World Pulse - a women's media house based in Portland, Oregon. Eight months later, I am holding in my hand an itenerary for the Live speaking tour of the US - an annual series of public engagement events that is organized by the same World Pulse. So, come September second week,  and I will be there - in New York, Atlanta, Washington DC and Portland. Joining me will be two other Voice of our Future correspondents  from Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria. Together, we are going to tell our hyperlocal stories of the grassroot doers and changes to the American audience, this time in person.

How happy am I? 'Elated' probably would be the right word to describe the feelings. 
One year ago, after leaving Video Volunteers, a community media organization based in Goa, India, I had shifted to Hyderabad with nothing but a dream: to write stories that I actually cared for; stories that would highlight environment and how it affected women, especially those from the marginalized segments of the society. With no job and this seemingly impossible dream , I was starting a new leaf of life, one that was full of risks: rejection, frustration and even starvation.

And that's when I and World Pulse collided. Two things happened very quickly:

Monday, July 23, 2012

In Photos: celebration of monsoon by women in India

In India, monsoon is the most important of all the seasons. It is the lifeline of the country's agrarian economy and, also the giver of its year-long supply of drinking water. No wonder then that every Indian waits for the the monsoon with an eager heart. But when it comes to women of India, monsoon means much more than economic gain. For millions of Indian women, monsoon is the season of freedom. In an otherwise orthodox society, where a woman lives with a number of taboos, Monsoon brings in her life a day  when she can break free and have fun, without being judged. Here are a few glimpses of that freedom.

Celebrating Monsoon in South India

In Indian calendar, the rainy season consists of two months - Ashadh and Shravan. During Ashad, in southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh (Hyderabad is the capital city), women celebrate BONALU festival. They carry 'Bonam' - an earthen pot full of rice, fruits and decorated with flowers and neem leaves. The pot is offered to mother goddess as a token of thanksgiving.  On their way to the temple, the women - wearing silk saris and jasmine flowers on hair,  dance and make merry
Celebrating Monsoon in North India
After Ashadh, comes Shravan. Married women all across northern India celebrate TEEJ, the most well publicized of all the monsoon festivals in India. Dressed in their bridal finery, the women sing, dance and swing. Though they observe a day-long fast, this is a celebration of womanhood and life.  

 Celebrating monsoon in East India
In the eastern Indian state of Odisha, women - both young and old, married and unmarried, celebrate Rajjo  - the fertility festival. For three days, they wear new clothes, adorn themselves with flowers and make designs of henna paste on their palms. The most joyous part of it is the  swing which  otherwise is a complete no no for grown up women. In fact it is almost scandalous of a woman to be riding on a swing in times outside this festival. But the festival is her freedom phase when she doesn't have to feel shy or apologize for enjoying what she loves!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Climate change in Kilimanjaro threatens to end an Indian dream

Unearth is a newly launched environmental news journal published from the United Nations, New York City. Shared here is my first story published in the journal. You can read the original story here.

This might spell bad news for the Indian film industry: Mount Kilimanjaro, considered by filmmakers as a picturesque location for song and dance sequences, is literally losing its cool status. The climate has been fast changing on the mountain, sending the mercury higher with every passing month and robbing the mountain of its fabled velvety green cover.

Song and dance sequences are a signature feature in Indian movies, and, often a film’s success at the box office is decided by its beautifully choreographed songs, shot at scenic locales. For decades, Switzerland topped the list of Indian filmmakers’ favorite locations. But now Kilimanjaro also features high on the list, with several chart buster songs being shot around the mountain.

According to Alok Bishnoi, a Mumbai-based actor and director, an Indian filmmaker looks at three factors before zeroing in on a spot for shooting a song: beautiful landscape, pollution-free air which provides good lighting, and a suitable climate. “It is common for a pair of lead actors to change costumes multiple times during a single song sequence
,” says Bishnoi. “
A mild climate helps a lot as the actors can wear anything fashionable and pretty. Kilimanjaro has those features

Friday, July 13, 2012

Landmine: its also about food insecurity

I was browsing through the press reports about the historic visit of Laos by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of state, this week. This is the first visit by a US secretary of state to Laos in 57 years, so obviously there has been a lot of buzz. But among the dozens of reports I found, a particular one in a local (Laos) newspaper caught my eyes. The report, among other things, say that Laos should utilize Clinton's visit as an opportunity to clear its vast stretch of cultivable land currently filled with killer landmines.

Quoting Channapha Khamvongsa - an eminent social activist and the head of  the NGO Legacies of War, the report says that an estimated one-third of Laos is still littered with unexploded bombs from over 40 years ago, making land unavailable for food production or development.

It made me sit up. I was well aware of the danger that landmines pose to human lives. But I had never really seen the issue of landmines as something so closely connected with food production and food security.

The article really made me think of that now. And then I did a little more reading. I found that worldwide, there were millions of acres lying uncultivated just because some war mongers had planted landmines all over them. And what's more, most of these countries are those that are fighting poverty and hunger everyday.

Take Albania for example. Or Angola. Or Somalia. Or Libya . Or Palestine.Or Cambodia. Or Afghanistan. Everywhere, there are hundreds of thousands of acres land that are made dead by mine planters. If there were no landmines, and if those hundreds of acres were under cultivation, wouldn't it change the state of food production in the world today?

And this is the question that applies a 100% to India.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Harvesting rainwater: can we move from tokenism to pragmatism?

It's been a painful week in Hyderabad. First, chunks of black clouds hovered around in the sky all day long, while the ground below remained parched. And then, on two evenings that it actually rained, every single drop went down the drain, literally. The very next day after a heavily rainy night, every house in my lane was calling a private water tanker, coughing up hundreds of rupees and buying their daily use of water.

You know the reason: not a single house here has a system to harvest the gallons of water that just poured from the sky and could have saved them the cost of at least 2 tankers (each costing a minimum Rs 300). In fact nobody even has any visible inclination to build that system. 
Now, amidst this painful scenario, I heard the news that Madhya Pradesh government is about to make rainwater harvesting mandatory for citizens in the capital city of Bhopal. The reason isn't hard to imagine: Bhopal has an alarmingly low level of groundwater and the administration is finding it almost impossible to meet the daily demand of water. So, now it's thought of making it a legal obligation for every new house builder to harvest the rainwater.
When I first heard the news, my reaction was "wow!" However, seconds later I realized that there was hardly anything wow factor to this. And here is why:

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Drought drives rural Indian women into city sex trade

The following  is my story that was published today in Thomson Reuters Alertnet. You can read the original article here  
(The photos are, however, not part of  the original article.)

HYDERABAD, India (AlertNet) - Sex worker Aruna Raju, 45, moved to Hyderabad 11 years ago after drought and repeated crop failures led to the deaths of four of her family members. “I have seen people shedding tears of blood,” she says.
Aruna’s family had five acres of land in Nizamabad district, 172 km away, on which they grew cotton, maize and chili. But from the mid-1990s, the rains became irregular and crops wilted in the fields. “The land became so dry, we could feel smoke coming out of it,” she says.

Her father became deeply depressed, and some four years later, he died after suffering chest pains. A little later, her mother, younger brother and her own daughter died from malnutrition. Her husband had already left due to the shame of being unable to feed his family.

“That is when I came to Hyderabad, so I could find a way to survive,” she recalls. But with no schooling and no one to help her find a job, Aruna’s only option was prostitution.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Finally, India agrees to stop subsidizing food insecurity

As we stand a  few weeks away from Rio+20, sustainable development, it seems, is finally making sense to our government. Yesterday (Tuesday) in the parliament Sharad Pawar, India's union minister for agriculture, announced that his government was ready to reduce subsidy on synthetic fertilizer and instead  divert funds to organic manures, bio-fertilisers, green manures and promotion of organic farming. 

Undoubtedly, this is the best news ever - and perhaps the most sensible remark ever from Sharad Pawar - I have heard in a very long time, as far as agriculture is concerned. To me, it has a clear meaning: India is finally ready to stop subsidizing food insecurity.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

President Obama has an Indian Connection!

So, you are an ardent fan or a sworn enemy of the US president Barak Obama and you think you know everything about him, do you?

Well, here is something you don't know: Barak Obama is a citizen of India and resident of a village near Hyderabad. Don't believe me? Well, there is proof - a local mobile phone number registered in the name of Mr Obama.

Yes, a couple of weeks ago, this cell phone number - +9177523297  - was assigned by Airtel (that is one of India's largest cell phone service providers) to a Mr Barak Obama after he filled up an application form that had a photo of, who else but Obama himself? According to the form, Obama, however, is 21 year old and is a resident of a village called Nalgonda in Andhra Pradesh state.Interesting, isn't it?

Sadly though, the media came to know about it and kind of blew it up into a big controversy. It wrote how the form was actually filled up by a certain Mr Prasad with Obama's photo pasted on it and how the mobile company never bothered to question that because all it wanted was to sell a new subscription. Hmm , if you ask me, this is the greatest gesture of displomacy and fair trade. I mean, c'mon, why should anyone not do business with an American president? Better still, why should a mobile company official say 'no' to an American president? So he did what he thought was only fair: assign the no.
God bless his soul; now we Indians could get in touch with Obama so easilly: just dial a local number!

Unfortunately, the higher authorities  in that mobile company were a little less believers who cancelled the subscription. Then came the  police and they went a step further, booking both Prasad - the person who signed the form and the Airtel salesman who accepted it.
Sad end of the story, but now you know Obama  is a man with an Indian connection even if lasted for a week!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Transgender Bidhan doesn't deserve to die

Bidhan - a male to female transgender in Mumbai, has threatened to kill himself tonight. And I am writing this blog to say that Bidhan doesn't deserve to die.

So, why does Bidhan want to kill himself?
The reason is painfully simple: the society, including Bidhan's family isn't allowing Bidhan to live.

Bidhan who is 21 year old, wants to get a sex assignment surgery (SRS), but the law requires the consent of his family which they have refused to give. In fact, his parents  have reportedly threatened the doctors with dire consequences if they performed the surgery. As a result the surgery, scheduled for last 17th April in a Mumbai hospital, was cancelled.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Sundarbans Solar Express Gets Derailed

Bad news for those who love  nature, tigers and believe in sustainable development: Sundarban  - world's largest delta, a UNESCO world heritage site and  home to the Royal Bengal Tigers - has just chosen thermal power over renewable energy.

Early this month,  Manish Gupta, the power minister of West Bengal - the state where Sundarban is - inaugurated the supply of grid power. Later, the minister said that  this is 'just the beginning', that the government had decided to extend grid energy throughout Sunderban

And this is happening when Rio 20+ or the Earth Summit - where the world is gearing up to adopt green economy and sustainable development  - is just a few weeks away. 

 I am finding the news too hard to digest. And I have reasons: for nearly a decade, Sundarban has been seen and talked about as the biggest hub of solar energy in India. Way back, in 2001, the delta became famous for having India's largest solar power station that provided electricity to 400 houses. Around that time, the government actually announced that  grid power would not be extended to Sundarban.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Maoists 'pro-tribal' Bandh? Well, I call it a farce!

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One of the many chronic illnesses that Indian politicians suffer from is the tendency to call a Bandh (shutdown) at the drop of a hat. And this is an illness prevalent among politicians cutting across the lines of ideology, color and regions. Besides causing huge economic losses (sometimes in billions of rupees) and utter inconvenience to common people,  most of these Bandhs are also ill-conceived and don't seek a true solution to the problem. And yet another example of that is the Bandh called  tomorrow (Saturday, 14th April), by the Maoist rebels in eastern India to seek higher prices for Kendu Leaves

The flat, oval shaped leaves of Kendu  trees (in picture) are used to roll Bidi (also known as Beedi)-  an unfiltered, coarse cigarette indigenous to India. 

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Will Gunter Grass Face the Fate of Taslima and Rushdie?

Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie have a new comrade-in-stirring a hornet's nest: German Nobel Laureate Gunter Grass. Grass has just published a poem that blasts (well, verbally of course) the nuclear program of Israel, calling it more dangerous to the world security than the nuclear program of Iran.

And with that- especially with that bit of comparing  it to Iran - Grass, a German, has committed a political blasphemy.

Lines from the controversial poem

The poem - titled "Was Gesagt Warden Muss" (meaning  What must be said) was published on Wednesday in several European publications's where I read it).  I got to learn of it only while trying to browse some Israeli newspapers. That's when I found the fiery reaction of a fuming Benjamin Netanyahu - the prime minister of Israel, calling Grass's action (read words) 'ignorant' and 'shameful' which should be 'condemned by the whole world'.

Now, I must admit, I am not a huge fan of Grass, though I loved his The Tin Drum (which I read in English translation). I have never counted him among my most favorite authors. Also, my knowledge of German is quite limited - maybe the reason why I actually liked the poem! But well, my lingual expertise - or the lack of it - apart,  if  Gunter Grass thinks Israel's nuclear bombs are no less dangerous than the bombs of any other country in the world, then that's his opinion (technically, all nuclear bombs do have equal power to kill) and he should have all the freedom and respect in the world to stick to it. Also, as a citizen who votes, if he thinks his government should stop aiding (which he says in the poem) Israel's nuclear program, then its his prerogative to say so. And he should be entitled to these thoughts no matter whether he is a German or of  any other nationality.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Saluting Suu - the harbinger of change

The last time I visited Myanmar, everyone said, "when Suu Kyi comes, things will change. You come back then." Today that change is about to happen. But before I plan another visit, let me salute the lady behind the change

Its late evening in most of Asia and midnight in some parts. But, one country is already witnessing the breaking of a unique dawn, one that is going to stay on for days to come. Its Myanmar (Burma).

What is unique of this dawn? First, its the dawn of democracy that has come after a long, dark night of armed rule. Secondly, this dawn has been made possible by a woman. The name's Aung San Suu Kyi. She, of a frail frame but of iron will. She, who is the voice of dissidence. She, who is persistence, resistance and inspiration reincarnated.

We all know of her story: born in Burma, married and settled in the UK, she returned to Burma to lead the country and, in the 1990 general election, steered her party to a landslide victory. But the anti-democracy Junta government put her under house arrest where she would stay for almost 15 years. She didn't meet her family for over a decade and when in 1999 her husband died, she couldn't be there even to pay a final visit. Awards after awards flowed in, including the Nobel peace prize, but Suu Kyi couldn't step out of her home to receive them. No other leader I know, except Nelson Mandela of course, has undergone such tragedies and difficulties, just for the sake of democracy and love for the country.

However,  no amount of evil, suppression and isolation could take away her will or her ability to lead Burma towards democracy. And this Sunday(1st April) , when Burma had its general election again, Suu Kyi, freed by the Junta government earlier, was there, as its emerging, beloved leader again.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Of smiles, voices and positivity: the story of my London trip (1)

I just returned from an 8-day trip to London, courtesy Panos London. However, this blog is dedicated to the beefy immigration officer at Heathrow airport who told me - "pardon me, but I am not aware of who or what Panos London is. So, could you tell me a bit about them?" I had never heard a voice so full of honey and sugar! So, here's to you, Mr Immigration Politeness!

LSJ - a very 'Savvy' project 

This board at the office of Panos London really says it all. Right now, they are illuminating, among others,  the voice of Mary Madiga - a Dalit woman from India whose stories I have been chronicling

Panos London, the people who make development media matter, had been running a project called 'Linking Southern Journalists' (LSJ) for three years. During these three years, they helped get, and hold your breathe, 36 journalists publish over 200 stories in 4 countries across the EU. It happened like this: Panos editors, sitting in London, would contact journalists in their respective cities, get their story ideas, take them to the media houses for approval. Once approved, they would ask the journalists to send the stories (mostly features) which they would then, with the help of another team of veteran journalists, edit and translate before handing over to the media houses. What the media houses got was stories absolutely read for publication. What journalists - including yours truly - got was the opportunity to be published in languages they didn't even speak and regions they had no contacts whatsoever, and get paid fairly well! 

To quote captain Jack Sparrow (whom I watched for a millionth time on the flight),  this is absolutely "Savvy!"

The smiling folks!

I met the team Panos in their office at the White Lion street of North London on the 20th . Now, it was the first time I walked into a media/charity office where everyone smiled, instead of looking grumpy and terribly important, even on a Monday morning! My immediate reaction was: "either they are just faking it, or something is terribly wrong with them". However, by the end of the week, they were still smiling and so I was convinced that they were not very normal people - a fact that really made me feel at home!

With Lilly Peel , Features Editor at Panos London. Lilly, who has an Indian connection - she worked at the Statesman newspaper for two years - also has this amazing skill  to make one feel at ease and think creative all the time. Oh and, take note cat lovers,  she also distributes kittens!

It's one world!
The project, which I mentioned earlier, is now coming to an end and it was time to share our views, experiences and learning from the project, as well as get tips from the Panos team that could further help us journalists get more space in the EU media. In the course of our discussions, one point that became clear was that cutting across countries and publications, editors were more interested in solution oriented and positive stories. Nobody wanted a mere 'sob story' anymore.

Suddenly I was taken back 6 years, when, as a fledgling TV reporter, I was arguing with my then boss over the attraction of positive stories.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Move over IPL, here come the Maasai Cricket Warriors

In action: Maasai Cricket Warriors. Photo courtesy: Maasai cricket warriors.
Imagine a cricketer who is a semi-nomad cowherd living among the wild animals of Africa. Imagine him who wears layers of beads; who sets fire on the field with his bright red clothes and  flying braided hair; he who gives war cries while throwing or hitting a ball and is actually a crusader for peace. Imagine him - a Masai tribesman - playing a T-20 league. Unbelievable? Then you ought to meet the Maasai Cricket Warriors (in photos).

Monday, March 12, 2012

Occupy UNEP: The new online campaign

Everyone is talking about  the video on Joseph Kony going viral these days. A few weeks ago, almost everyone also talked of Occupy Wall Street campaign. And now, here is another viral campaign that appears to be a weird combination of Kony and occupy campaigns and it can be called: Occupy UNEP Facebook Page, run by activists of 'Stop Lynas, save Malaysia' campaign.
The post  shows 27 comments. None of them has anything to say about strengthening of rural women though.
To understand what I mean, you have to visit the UNEP page once

Friday, March 09, 2012

Joseph Kony: 7 facts the video doesn't tell you

The first time I was sent the Joseph Kony video, I ignored it. It was International Women’s Day and Holi – the spring festival of colors. I wasn't in a mood to watch anything that looked suspiciously disturbing.

Today however, with the colors of Holi safely washed off, I watched the video. Instead of horror (courtesy my roots in North east India,  war, guns and atrocities don’t shock me so quickly). my reaction to Kony video was a bunch of questions. Unfortunately, the video doesn’t answer them. So, I went searching for the answers and I thought that maybe I should write them; maybe there are other doubting Thomas on the net like me

So, my first question is, Joseph Kony abducts and turns children into soldiers with guns. WHY THE HELL DOES HE DO THAT? 

Here is the answer: Joseph Kony belongs to a tribe called Acholi. He is fighting to create a sovereign state for the Acholi people in Uganda. His aim: to run an Acholiland, on the basis of the Biblical 10 commandments. He uses his (child soldier) army to kill his enemies who are mostly soldiers and civilians supporting the Ugandan president Museveni. Sounds pretty much a fanatic Christian version of the Taliban to me!

Question 2: How does Kony rule over his army? What is the opium he feeds them?
Answer: Apart from the dream of an Acholi nation, Joseph Kony tells his young warriors that the Holy Spirit can shield them in battle if the proper belief, the proper application of Holy Oil, signs of the cross, and the proper recitation of prayer songs etc. Also, he also tells them that if they die, they would have eternal life in heaven. Now, haven’t we heard something like that from Islamic Jihadis?

Question 3: If Kony has been running his child abduction and child torturing business for 30  holi s**t long years, it obviously means he has support. So, where does it come from?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

IWD: An ode to the women in my life

Its International Women's Day and I am here to salute the women who have touched my life in more than one way, shaping and reshaping, until I became who I am today: a person who believes in God, good and the just.
I salute my mother  Renuka who first gave birth to me and then, when, at 12 month's age I was sick and my relatives said there was no point in saving a girl child, my mother ran wild, found an old doctor with good skills but little resources. He performed a crude surgery on me that defeated death. And thus, she gave me my life twice. 

Ma gave me more. She taught me about mother earth, the need of nature conservation and how to nurture plants. She told me two things: 1) "never, ever give up your economic independence" and, 2)"all humans are same, respect them irrespective of their caste or religion." Thank you Ma, for teaching me to be a human.

Lullaby to the unborn girl child, by Ramachandran
I salute my best friend Amruthavalli who lost her father at an early age and was enslaved by her own uncle. Starting there, she is today a senior journalist with the ETV media group.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

This Holi, Color Me Nature

Holi - undoubtedly one of the most beautiful festivals on earth- celebrates spring, youth, joy and new life through splashes of riotous colors. But often, hidden in the colors are scary chemicals that leave you with allergic rashes and red, ugly spots. So, how about celebrating this Holi (March 8) with the goodies of mother nature? Interested? Then come with me to Tosham - a village 239 km from Hyderabad - where Holi is all about being one with the nature.

Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh is usually in news for all the wrong reasons like a death sentence given to a police informer by a Maoist-held Kangaroo court, or a sacrifice of a child by superstitious parents. But on the eve of Holi, this is a place where people do all the right things and one of them is celebrating Holi with natural colors, made of flowers including the bright, fresh and beautiful Palash (Butea frondosa).

Use of natural colors, I am told, has been an old tradition and it has survived the pressure of changing time and availability of cheaper, chemical-based powdered colors.

The preparations for the festival of colors begin a week before.
People - and this includes both the young and the old - get busy with making natural colors from plants and flowers that are available locally.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Reviving a dying forest? Yes, we can!

Last December,  I was in Durban, South Africa for the UN Climate change summit when for half a day, we went on a tour of the city, visiting a hill where a forest regenerating initiative has been taken by the local government. The hill, on the outskirts of the city, was cleared by local farmers decades ago for growing sugarcane. But now the government is encouraging them to give up sugarcane farming and instead, turn 'treepreneurs', meaning becoming partners in a community-owned, profit-making re-forestation project. It was a roaring success, I was told. And since then, I had been hunting for a similar 'project of hope' in my own country. 

And now I have one, right in our North east, right in our Assam!
The name's Bhairabkunda reserve forest, located along the Indo-Bhutan border. Spread across six villages, a huge part of this forest  - 5 sq km to be exact - has been regenerated, thanks to a robust partnership between local communities and the forest department. 

Here is a glimpse into the project to help you get an idea:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Our Disasters, Their Disasters

This Sunday I heard Sasidhar Reddy, Vice-Chairman of  our National Disaster Management Authority(NDMA) asking each state to create its own 'Disaster Response Force', just like the center's National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). In fact, Reddy said that the response force should be capable enough to manage not just natural calamities, but also the consequences of a chemical and biological attack.

Sikkim earthquake in September 2011
A year ago, when tsunami hit Japan, I remember watching on TV the visuals of rising wall of sea water, floating cars,  submerging building blocks etc and getting awestruck by the way people over there kept their cool, without any visible sign of panic anywhere. I remember sharing this thought on Facebook and learning that almost everyone of my friends also wondered about it.

We knew the answer of course: the Japanese didn't panic, because they had a disaster management system that they could totally rely on.

In contrast, we have disasters by the dozen (flood, cyclones, earthquake, wildfire) each year, but our way to fight them basically means neighbors helping each other out and when things are way too horrific, the local govt. appeals to the army to help, which normally is done after quite a few days. Since the Fukushima disaster, I have often wished, 'if only we could have such a system!' 

This is why I found Reddy's statement quite interesting. Of course, it  was also too ambitious (chemical and biological disaster preparedness, when we don't even have readiness to take care of a flash flood???), nevertheless worthy to be taken seriously simply because to ignore it would mean being stupid.