Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Most Memorable News at the Year-End

There has been so much being talked about at the end of the year.... The economic meltdown, the attack on Mumbai, the election of a Black-American as the President of United States, the attempts being made towards containing Global Warming, etc. Among all the melee of events and the shows that the T.V. screens and the other media will spurn out, the most touching, most sublime events of human heart will be lost in the wilderness of this noisy world. However, it is nice to end this year with an incident from this year that touched me the most :

On 23 Sept 2008, a most touching event took place place in a far off corner of Tamilnadu, a southern State of India. Hithendran, 16, had been declared "brain dead" by the doctors days before, after the young boy had met with a road accident. His parents Mr. Ashokan and Mrs. Pushpanjali, doctors by profession, decided to do something more humane and profound with their son who was now living a vegetative life. They heard of a little girl in Chennai whose heart had been seriously damaged and the doctors had put the girl on artificial systems of survival. The parents of Hithendran thought of the unthinkable. They asked the doctors to donate their son's heart to that little girl so that the girl can live with the heart of their son! With a massive operation done by an expert team of doctors, today, the girl is still alive, to celebrate the first day of 2009, and the boy had been laid to rest eternally, with a heart that continues to tick in another person's body.  

Humanity does not live on great economies, nor on soil acquired by war and violence, nor by threat and evil.... but by the Hearts that Love beyond all telling!


Struggle against Poverty

The nineteen hours long journey by road from Bhubaneshwar to Raiganj did not stop the Director Puthumai A. Nazarene from rushing to Balia, a village on the Bangladesh border of India, closer to a little town called Bindole, about 20 kilometers from Raiganj to be with a group of villagers, people, some Government officials and my Staff to distribute a machine that can press leaves that have been stitched together into plates! As part of the anti-human trafficking program, SWI gave away a Pressing Machine that uses a dais to press leaves into plates, which can become a regular source of income for a widow whose son left her in search of job six years ago, never to return. Fr. Herman Kindo, Sr. Naveena, Ms. Barnali Roy and Ms. Sushmita Sarkar from Social Welfare Institute, along with few field volunteers took part in the program. The program is being supported by Manos Unidas, through Association of Bengal Collaborators for Development (ABCD). The village has formed an Adolescent Girls' Group to monitor the movement of adolescent girls and women so that women do not fall prey victim to human trafficking.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Visit to Orissa

I traveled to Bhubaneshwar, in the State of Orissa, India for a meeting on Skill Development Programs for Drop Out students. The meetings were on 16-18, Dec. at New Marrion.  The discussions were a lot boring with so much of presentations in a large group of over 160 people, with only two speeches each day that were of worth mentioning. On 19th, I spent the morning with a relative mine who stays in Bhubaneshwar, and the afternoon with the family of Mr. Mishra, a friend of mine. At 5.00 p.m. I left along with three German students-friends for Raiganj, and reach Raiganj on 20th noon.

During the stay in Orissa, I also had the opportunity to speak with several persons including the Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, and Sr. Suma, the Regional Superior of the Missionaries of Charity, on the atrocities against Christians. Fr. Sarto and Sr. Christine who also were in Orissa at that time traveled to Kandhamal and few other places to meet the refugees, which I could not do due to the meeting that tied me down to the city. However, I am sharing with you a brief set of photographs that are being shown on the left side of this blog.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thinking Critically

I believe we need to think a lot more critically on some of the issues that have come to the forefront since the Mumbai attacks. Someone had mailed a critique of how we Indians behave or must behave. I have it down below.
Do not worry about those who have come thru boats... Our forces can easily defeat them. WORRY about those who have come thru votes.... They could REALLY BE DANGEROUS. What a shame and disgrace to every citizen of India that the elite NSG Force was transported into 
ordinary BEST (Bombay city) buses, whereas our cricketers are transported into state of the art luxury buses, these Jawans (Soldiers) lay down their lives to protect every Indian and these cricketers get paid even if they lose a match, we worship these cricketers and forget the martyrdom of these brave Jawans. The Jawans should be paid the salaries of the cricketers and the cricketers should be paid the salaries of the Jawans. An ace shooter shoots and gets gold medal, Government gives one crore, (10 million); another shooter dies while shooting terrorists, Government gives 5 lakh (half a million). WHO DESERVES MORE? This is our India.... You called it "Incredible India", is it?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Mumbai Blame...

Whereas the whole international media and the Governments are condemning the attack on Mumbai, as a humanitarian organization, we strongly condemn such violence against any human person. It looks like, a lot of planning seem to have taken place across the border, in Pakistan, specifically. Pakistan on the other hand is "crying like a kid, shouting that Pakistan itself is a vickim of terrorism." Whatever be, it is a monster that Pakistan has created. As Madeline Albright has mentioned, Pakistan has become an "international migrane"! No country can dissolve itself of its responsibility for an act of its citizens on foreign soil.

The event and the way we have been looking at the whole episode also raises more questions for ourselves.

Is it possible to look critically at what has happened in Mumbai?
Who were focused? Who were not focused? Who were denied any focus?
Who will never be focused?
The state of our news reporters! Have we ever compared our news reporters  with other International ones? their critical analysis of the issue and the way they appear? Who are news reporters of our country? Their mind set? Their commitment to Human Rights! To the poor?
Was the issue properly handled : by the media? by the politicians? by the governments?
Was the issue of Taj and Oberoi more focused than the loss of people?
Why not much was shown nor discussed on the death of so many people in the Railway station?
Which politician went to meet them?
Who are the terrorists? Which terrorists were not caught? Which terrorists will never be caught?
Many politicians at the centre and states are thrown away for their inactivity.
Why this did not happen when....
  • thousands of farmers committed suicide?
  • thousands of innocents chased away from their homes and hundreds tortured in Orissa?
  • thousands tortured everyday due to discrimination, domestic  violence etc.
Every life is precious and everyone has a righ to live.  But Mumbai experience seems to be giving us new lessons to learn... 
On the one side, politicians are playing their game of blaming each other! Media has taken a centre stage. They were more important than the news itself. We have learnt the shalowness of our media. There were familar with Taj and Oberoi but not with the Railway stations. That is where they frequented for many press meets! They were more interested in creating sensational news and centering on themselves ( We are the first ones to reach here, ours is the exclusive report). 

Lastly, shall we spend a minute in silence .... praying for peace, reconciliation and forgiveness.
(With inputs from Fr. Nithya)

Hotel Taj : Icon of Whose India?

Dear all, the whole of the Indian continent is mourning the death of many innocent lives in the Mumbai attacks. We need to ask some specific questions at the same time.... as the media, the international attention and the most powerful in politics are all speaking about the siege of the Hotel Taj and the Oberoi. Well, the media and the rich are declaring Hotel Taj as an Icon of India. So, I have something more to read for you... and make your opinion. The article was written by Gnani Sankaran.

Watching at least four English news channels surfing from one another during the last 60 hours of terror strike made me feel a terror of another kind. The terror of assaulting one's mind and sensitivity with cameras, sound bites and non-stop blabbers. All these channels have been trying to manufacture my consent for a big lie called - Hotel Taj the icon of India. Whose India, Whose Icon ?

It is a matter of great shame that these channels simply did not bother about the other icon that faced the first attack from terrorists - the Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station. CST is the true icon of Mumbai. It is through this railway station hundreds of Indians from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Tamilnadu have poured into Mumbai over the years, transforming themselves into Mumbaikars and built the Mumbai of today along with the Marathis and Kolis

But the channels would not recognise this. Nor would they recognise the thirty odd dead bodies strewn all over the platform of CST. No Barkha Dutt went there to tell us who they were. But she was at Taj to show us the damaged furniture and reception lobby braving the guards. And the TV cameras did not go to the government run JJ hospital to find out who those 26 unidentified bodies were. Instead they were again invading the battered Taj to try in vain for a scoop shot of the dead bodies of the page 3 celebrities.

In all probability, the unidentified bodies could be those of workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh migrating to Mumbai, arriving by train at CST without cell phones and pan cards to identify them. Even after 60 hours after the CST massacre, no channel has bothered to cover in detail what transpired there.

The channels conveniently failed to acknowledge that the Aam Aadmis (general public) of India surviving in Mumbai were not affected by Taj, Oberoi and Trident closing down for a couple of weeks or months. What mattered to them was the stoppage of BEST buses and suburban trains even for one hour. But the channels were not covering that aspect of the terror attack. Such information at best merited a scroll line, while the cameras have to be dedicated for real time thriller unfolding at Taj or Nariman bhavan.

The so called justification for the hype the channels built around heritage site Taj falling down (CST is also a heritage site), is that Hotel Taj is where the rich and the powerful of India and the globe congregate. It is a symbol or icon of power of money and politics, not India. It is the icon of the financiers and swindlers of India. The Mumbai and India were built by the Aam Aadmis who passed through CST, and Taj was the oasis of peace and privacy for those who wielded power over these mass of labouring classes. Leopold club and Taj were the haunts of rich spoilt kids who would drive their vehicles over sleeping Aam Aadmis on the pavement, the Mafiosi of Mumbai forever financing the glitterati of Bollywood (and also the terrorists) , Political brokers and industrialists.

It is precisely because Taj is the icon of power and not people, that the terrorists chose to strike. The terrorists have understood after several efforts that the Aam Aadmi will never break down even if you bomb her markets and trains. He/she was resilient because that is the only way he/she can even survive.

Resilience was another word that annoyed the pundits of news channels and their patrons this time. What resilience, enough is enough, said Pranoy Roy's channel on the left side of the channel spectrum. Same sentiments were echoed by Arnab Goswami representing the right wing of the broadcast media whose time is now. Can Rajdeep Sardesai be far behind in this game of one upmanship over TRPs ? They all attacked resilience this time. They wanted firm action from the government in tackling terror.

The same channels celebrated resilience when bombs went off in trains and markets killing and maiming the Aam Aadmis. The resilience of the ordinary worker suited the rich business class of Mumbai since work or manufacture or film shooting did not stop. When it came to them, the rich shamelessly exhibited their lack of nerves and refused to be resilient themselves. They cry for government intervention now to protect their private spas and swimming pools and bars and restaurants, similar to the way in which Citibank, General Motors and the ilk cry for government money when their coffers are emptied by their own ideologies.

The terrorists have learnt that the ordinary Indian is unperturbed by terror. For one whose daily existence itself is a terror of government sponsored inflation and market sponsored exclusion, pain is something he has learnt to live with. The rich of Mumbai and India Inc are facing the pain for the first time and learning about it just as the middle classes of India learnt about violation of human rights only during emergency, a cool 28 years after independence.

And human rights were another favourite issue for the channels to whip at times of terrorism.

Arnab Goswami in an animated voice wondered where were those champions of human rights now, not to be seen applauding the brave and selfless police officers who gave up their life in fighting terorism. Well, the counter question would be where were you when such officers were violating the human rights of Aam Aadmis. Has there ever been any 24 hour non stop coverage of violence against dalits and adivasis of this country?

This definitely was not the time to manufacture consent for the extra legal and third degree methods of interrogation of police and army but Arnabs don't miss a single opportunity to serve their class masters, this time the jingoistic patriotism came in handy to whitewash the entire uniformed services. The sacrifice of the commandos or the police officers who went down dying at the hands of ruthless terrorists is no doubt heart rending but in vain in a situation which needed not just bran but also brain. Israel has a point when it says the operations were misplanned resulting in the death of its nationals here.

Khakares and Salaskars would not be dead if they did not commit the mistake of traveling by the same vehicle. It is a basic lesson in management that the top brass should never travel together in crisis. The terrorists, if only they had watched the channels, would have laughed their hearts out when the Chief of the Marine commandos, an elite force, masking his face so unprofessionally in a see-through cloth, told the media that the commandos had no idea about the structure of the Hotel Taj which they were trying to liberate. But the terrorists knew the place thoroughly, he acknowledged.

Is it so difficult to obtain a ground plan of Hotel Taj and discuss operation strategy thoroughly for at least one hour before entering? This is something even an event manager would first ask for, if he had to fix 25 audio systems and 50 CCtvs for a cultural event in a hotel. Would not Ratan Tata have provided a plan of his ancestral hotel to the commandos within one hour considering the mighty apparatus at his and government's disposal? Are satelite pictures only available for terrorists and not the government agencies ? In an operation known to consume time, one more hour for preparation would have only improved the efficiency of execution.

Sacrifices become doubly tragic in unprofessional circumstances. But the Aam Aadmis always believe that terror-shooters do better planning than terrorists. And the gullible media in a jingoistic mood would not raise any question about any of these issues. They after all have their favourite whipping boy - the politician the eternal entertainer for the non-voting rich classes of India.

Arnabs and Rajdeeps would wax eloquent on Manmohan Singh and Advani visiting Mumbai separately and not together showing solidarity even at this hour of national crisis. What a farce? Why can't these channels pool together all their camera crew and reporters at this time of national calamity and share the sound and visual bites which could mean a wider and deeper coverage of events with such a huge human resource to command? Why should Arnab and Rajdeep and Barkha keep harping every five minutes that this piece of information was exclusive to their channel, at the time of such a national crisis? Is this the time to promote the channel? If that is valid, the politician promoting his own political constituency is equally valid. And the duty of the politican is to do politics, his politics. It is for the people to evaluate that politics.

And terrorism is not above politics. It is politics by other means--a wrongful means.

To come to grips with it and to eventually eliminate it, the practice of politics by proper means needs constant fine tuning and improvement. Decrying all politics and politicians, only helps terrorists and dictators who are the two sides of the same coin. And the rich and powerful always prefer terrorists and dictators to do business with.

Those caught in this crossfire are always the Aam Aadmis whose deaths are not even mourned - the taxi driver who lost the entire family at CST firing, the numerous waiters and stewards who lost their lives working in Taj for a monthly salary that would be one time bill for their masters.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Child Centric Disaster Preparedness

Calcutta, Nov. 29, 2008 :
The disaster Preparedness and mitigation programme should be child centric, decided participants from nine South Asian countries during a workshop Nov. 26-28 in Calcutta.
Children can mobilise the parents and communities to understand the complex realities of disaster system, said Mr. Srdjan Stojanovic, Chief of Emergency Programme, UNICEF- India. Schools should  enable the children to find out creative ways of disaster mitigation and response, said Ms. Shivangi Chavda from SEEDS India basing on her experience.
Schools have strong institutionalised  system, schools have resources and upward and downward links. They can sustain efforts, added Ms. Chavda basing on her experience of working with the children in Gujarat after the Gujarat earthquake. Thus "School Disaster Management Plan" (SDMP) are important in every block, she added.  SDMP in Gujarat are linked with the Government line departments and blocks for better coordination and implementation.
This is a good method which other states can emulate, said Fr. Puhtumai Nazarene, Director of Diocesan Social service society in Raiganj of Northern West Bengal. We do have school sensitization programme for Disaster Preparedness. We shall now promote school disaster Preparedness management Plan, added Fr. Puthumai who is involved in disaster response programme for a decade.
More than 100 participants working in disaster response programme in South Asia and  Europe attended the Community Based Disaster Risk Reduction (CBDRR) Conference organised by UNICEF in Calcutta.
THE UNICEF Calcutta also made arrangements for the participants to visit four selected areas to understand the preparedness measures undertaken by the communities in the vulnerable villages of West Bengal. Ms. Parnasri Ray Chaudhury, Emergency Officer of UNICEF- Kolkata coordinated the exposure visits so that the participants can have a first hand knowledge of the  CBDRR programme implemented by UNICEF and the Civil Defense Department of Government of WB financed by DIPECHO. Two of the four sites chosen are the diocesan social service centre working areas of Krishanagar and Baruipur diocese in South Bengal which are often affected by cyclone and floods. Fr. Robin Mondal of Krishanagar and Holy Cross Sister Sampoornam of Baruipur respectively guided the visitors to elaborate the CBDRR programme implemented in their areas for the poor villagers who have been  capacitated to face the diasters.
The children demonstrated the importance of relief and rescue, swimming, knowledge about the village area and Early Warning signals during the exposure visit.
National School Safety programme has been taken up in 22 states, said Mr. Vinod Menon from National Disaster Management Authority, India. Out of the 1.13 billion population in India, 390 million are going to schools. Thus school safety is at the centre stage, added Mr. Menon who earlier worked with the UNICEF.
He elaborated the Disaster Management Act of 2005 where in Rupees 21,300 crore are allocated for relief works in India for five years.
 From COMMUNITY Based Disaster Preparedness, the concept has evolved into  Disaster mitigation, Management to Risk Reduction, said Mr. Menon quoting various examples.
Mr. Pieter Bult, Deputy Director of UNDP-India  also spoke on UN policy related to Disaster Risk Reduction. Ms. Ann Hasselbalch, Deputy Director of UNICEF in India exhorted the participants to learn from each other for emergency preparedness.
Ms. Indira Kulenovic, coordinator and ADvisor for South Asia, DIPECHO programme elaborated the importance of local ownership for sustainability.  DIPECHO created in 1996 is presently working in 166 countries. We need to make Hazard maps of vulnerable areas and make it available for the communities to use, added Ms. Indira.
WEst Bengal government has created  a syllabus  for schools in collaboration with UNICEF, said Dr. Srikumar Mukherjee, Minister for Civil Defense in WB. Soon the Government would bring out "Disaster Preparedness Plan", added Dr. Mukherjee while appreciating the efforts of the NGOs for Disaster Preparedness.
We need Psycho social counsellors for trauma counselling  the disaster victims, said Mr. Dovan Lowali, Project Officer of UNICEF, Nepal.
Poverty and global warming cause more disasters, said Mr. Stojanovic, chief of Emergency programme in UNICEF India, Delhi. We need to make CBDRR a social movement in our communities added Mr. Stojanovic who regularly visits villages to interact with the communities.
We need to mainstream CBDRR in all our response programmes, said Mr. Vikrant Mhajan, chief Operating Officer of SPHERE India.
176 districts in 17 states are working for sustainable disaster Risk reduction programme, said Mr. G. Padmanabhan, Emergency Officer of UNDP, India. We need to instiutionalise the CBDRR programme for its sustainability, added Mr. Padmanabhanile critically evaluating the programme. Eight states have introduced Disaster Management as syllabus in the schools, he added.
Strengthening networking is essential for CBDRR, said Ms. Eilia Jafar, REgional DRR Officer of DIPECHO and International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC). Sharing her experience of working with seven countries in Asia, she invited the participants to take up the risks of everyday life alluding to the Mumbai bombings happening then on Oct. 27.
Community also needs psycho social support in disaster, said Ms. Memoona Chaudry, Project Officer of UNDP, Pakistan. She narrated her experience of working with the earth quake victims.
Mr. Bikram Mohapatro, Disability Coordinator Handicap International, India exhorted the participants to mainstream disability in CBDRR. We need to train Task Forces to deal with people of various differently abled people, said Mr. Mohapatro narrating his examples.
Promoting traditional knowledge to face disaster is one of our main strategies, elaborated Ms. Parnasri Ray Chaudhury who coordinated the conference proceedings.