Archive for the ‘Children’ Category

Swati Vakharia is an IT expert, who has started her website with a vision for women

Swati Vakharia is an IT expert, who has started her website with a vision for women

One good thing about blogging is you get to meet like-minded people in the virtual world. Swati Vakharia is an IT expert based in Baroda, with a company of her own. When I came across the website www.womenpla.net started by her, I quite liked the mix of content in the site. We got talking and here are the questions I asked Swati and her replies are interesting and thought-provoking…

What according to you is the biggest challenge Indian women face right now?

In India, we have a list of challenges actually! But the biggest one I feel is “safety”. Why is it that we never feel safe when we are stepping out of our homes? I have visited few other countries and I have seen women safely stepping out, in some places even at midnight.

India is our home and it really feels bad if we do not feel safe in our own country. I have seen many Indians do not allow their daughters, wives, sisters to work or study in other states of the country as they are not sure how safe that place would be for them. This situation constantly curbs the freedom of Indian women.

From the issue of rape in India, to Indra Nooyi’s confessions to Satya Nadella’s remark on pay hike, do you feel that the social scenario for Indian women is turning out to be really morbid?

I feel really bad that India is the 4th most dangerous country for women in the world according to a survey conducted by TrustLaw Women. From safety to self-respect women are always walking on the road of compromise. There is a need in a change of mentality in our society. It’s high time we all take a stand. 

Why did you want to launch a website like Women Planet?

Well, Women Planet is an attempt to get all those (and not only women as the perceived notion might be) together who believe that women hold immense potential to make a real difference. We are looking at this website as a platform to get not only like-minded people but people from different walks of life to share their experiences. The content of the website aim to educate, empower and entertain.

I love the way you write www.womenpla.net beta then cross it into beti. What’s the idea behind it?

Indians most often prefer a boy child over a girl. This is our way of showing that the girl child is equally important. We redesigned and re-launched www.womenpla.net few months back and as it is working in beta mode, we planned to write it as beti to pass on our message in a little different way.

Swati campaigning against female foeticide

Swati (left) campaigning against female foeticide

There are so many websites on women, how do you plan to be different?

I am happy that people are really coming up with something or the other to support women. I am not attempting to be different but I want to give genuine and usable information to my readers so I have a panel of experts where we have doctors, nutritionists, make-up artists, mind healers, psychiatrists, astrologers and more.

You are also having an annual magazine. When most of the bigger magazines are folding up how do you plan to survive?

The annual magazine is our attempt to get connected with more and more people and spread awareness and happiness. We are thankful to some corporate firms who supported us in our first edition of the magazine. The magazine is an extension of the website at the moment and that is why we are giving out free copies. Link for magazine download: http://womenpla.net/annual-booklet

What next from here?

We would like to conduct seminars, workshops, events to debunk myths around women and create new perceptions. We have many ideas and plans and with our expertise in online media, our initiatives in print media and our charitable trust womenplanet.org coming up soon we will be able to execute our plans in a bigger way.

For instance we want to come up with a hand booklet on health and hygiene and distribute them in rural areas where girls really lack the education and information in tackling these things.

 

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Lit up balconies during Diwali in Dubai

Lit up balconies during Diwali in Dubai

Diwali in Dubai is truly a festival of lights. More than a week before the festival the balconies in numerous apartment buildings, in predominantly Indian neighbourhoods like Bur Dubai and Karama, look resplendent in beautiful lights and you cannot help but stop in your tracks to gaze at the breathtaking displays. On Diwali the diyas are lit at the doorways, sweets exchanged and colourful rangolis created.

And Diwali is also a time when people, you may not know too well and might not meet a lot during the entire year, call you over to their house to attend puja and aarti. It’s all part of the bonhomie that the spirit of the festival represents.

It was one such family home I stepped into this year only to leave with the feeling of sadness.

This family owns a sprawling apartment with a yearly rent of  at least Dhs 120,000 (Around Rs 2 crore), in an upmarket locality in Dubai. The extremely well-educated lady of the house was decked up in a saree and gold jewellery. The children and the man of the house, who is equally educated and holds a top post in a big company in Dubai, were wearing jazzy ethnic too.

Among the guests thronging the puja I noticed an elderly lady in a simple saree which was a stark contrast to the dress code in the household. She was occupying an inconspicuous corner among the last row of guests. Through the minimal interactions the family was having with her, I realized she was the mother-in-law.

As the puja started the family rattled off the shlokas (hymns), all from memory and I shifted in my place uncomfortably, thinking that I can’t chant a single shloka beyond the first line.

Then in my mind I started blaming my parents for my unawareness of the puja rituals and the sacred hymns because they never had a puja at home and my mother always said, “Be good to people. God resides in them. That is how you perform puja everyday.”

I ended up being different. I like going to temples, churches and dargas to pray. But yes, my mother has managed to pass on her beliefs to me to a great extent – I respect all religions, hence all human beings.

So here I was at the puja, arms folded, hoping for God’s blessings. The family took turns doing the aarti. First it was the lady of the house, then her son, then daughter, then husband. What about the mother-in-law? I thought it would be her turn next. But her turn never came. She performed pushpanjali and silently left the room.

I later came to know she was not allowed to perform aarti because she was a widow.

After all the education, all the money, all the veneration for God, they make an old lady stand in one corner and don’t let her perform aarti because she lost her husband?

I thought of my friend who lost his father at 12 and ensured that her mother ate non-vegetarian and wore colourful sarees, and lived a life away from these archaic Hindu customs. He stood up for her during his sister’s wedding and ensured that his mother was present at every ritual. I thought of my father and uncles, who had done the same with my grandmother more than 50 years back.

I felt thankful for what my family taught me and felt less regretful about not knowing the shlokas. I felt thankful that they instead told me about Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the man who introduced the Widow Remarriage Act in 1856.

As the prashad was being distributed I left their home wondering if God would be able to deliver them from darkness into real light one day.

diwali3

In our entire life we probably haven’t met one of them, and chances are we never would, but as soon the word “Devadasi” is mentioned to us our mind gets transported to the era of the Maharajas, to the Nat Mandir (dance hall of the temple) where a beautiful woman, resplendent in gold is dancing in front of God, in a classical dance style Odissi or Bharathanatyam.

Devadasis in ancient India

Devadasis in ancient India

But the adult and the enlightened mind knows that behind this beautiful picture is also the picture of a young girl sacrificed to the service of God, shackled to a life of sexual exploitation that throws her into a vicious cycle of social manipulation where a Davadasi’s daughter has to become a servant of God.

In fact, this post that I am writing today is about a few Devadasis in Karnataka who refused to continue to dance to the tune of Goddess Yellamma, to whose service they were dedicated at the age of six or seven. They wanted a way out of the system and send their children to school and its people like you and me who have shown them the way.

When the NGO Milaap – you must have noticed them appearing in pop ups in numerous websites asking you to loan (mind it not donate) Rs 2500, to someone who needs it to change his or her life – claimed they have been helping Devadasis find a new future I wanted to know more. I came to know Milaap has joined hands with Mahila Abhivrudhimathu Samrakshana Samsthe (MASS) a collective of former Devadasis, and has been giving out loans to Devadasis to build a life for themselves.

I wrote to Sourabh Sharma, founder of Milaap.org and wanted to know real stories. Sourabh immediately got back with the relevant information. I realized the success stories are heart-warming and what is more fascinating is so many people have played a part in these success stories just by lending a part of their own income to the people who need it more.

A former Devadasi herself, Mahananda has employed four former Devadasis in her sewing business

A former Devadasi herself, Mahananda has employed four former Devadasis in her sewing business

Success story 1: Mahananda

This 34-year-old woman now employs four former Devadasis in her sewing enterprise. Her younger daughter studies in class eight, and plans to pursue a career in science. “Girls should prosper. I have painstakingly brought my daughters up so that they are able to live a good life and I want to see them prosper,” she says.

Shobha could not find employment for years till she started on her own, raising buffalos and selling milk

Shobha could not find employment for years till she started on her own, raising buffaloes and selling milk

Success Story 2: Shobha

Every year she made a promise to herself that she would find some job to earn a legitimate living but every year she realized no one was willing to employ a Devadasi. Every year she went back to selling her body but she was determined none of her four children would see the life she had seen.

So Shobha registered for help from MASS and Milaap and learned to raise buffaloes and sell their milk. She applied for a loan, and used the money to buy a buffalo. She saved, repaid her loan, and requested another. She bought more buffaloes, earned more. Today, she is securely out of the Devadasi system and her children are in school.

After Mangal's grocery store took off she got a marriage proposal which she accepted

After Mangal’s grocery store took off she got a marriage proposal which she accepted

Success Story 3: Mangal

Mangal’s success with her grocery store not only gave her and her teenage children a new life of dignity – it also got her a husband (given that no one marries Devadasis). They have a child together. And Mangal, who realized the importance of financial independence, continues to grow her business.

Here’s what I found out about the Devadasi system:

Does the Devadasi system still exist?

Although states like Orissa, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka claim that they have done away with the Devadasi system, Karnataka even passed the Devadasi (Prohibition of Dedication) Act in 1992 the National Commission of Women found out that Andhra Pradesh had 16,624 Devadasis within its state and Karnataka has around 22,941.

Mala took her first leap out of the Devadasi system when she opened her pan shop

Mala took her first leap out of the Devadasi system when she opened her pan shop

Who is a modern-day Devadasi?

French-American author Catherine Rubin Kermorgant spent four years researching among Devadasi women in Karnataka. She interviewed five women and wrote her book Servants of the Goddess: the modern-day Devadasis.

In her book she mentions Ganga who was dedicated to the Goddess because her father had promised to do so if her mother recovered from a serious ailment. Her mother recovered and she was made into a Devadasi – one woman’s life was finished to save another’s.

Although dedications are banned now but these are still carried out surreptitiously as the girl is bathed in neem and turmeric and taken before God and told about her duties which includes never retaliating to abuse and “giving shelter to strangers”.

Ganga further said, “Some landlords consider it a matter of prestige to deflower as many young girls as possible. In Mumbai, virgin Devadasis fetch a high price. By deflowering a Devadasi, a man can cure himself of disease. He can purify himself. If the goddess wills it, then it is possible.”

“And what about AIDS?” Catherine had asked
“It is said you can get rid of it by giving it to a client,” Ganga said.

The National Commission of Women say that women still become Devadasis because of dumbness, deafness and poverty. Women who are deserted by their husbands, widowed, or living with AIDS dedicate their children as Devadasis when they find it difficult to get them married. They subsist on the money that their daughter earns. In fact, most Devadasis now hail from poor families and are responsible for earning for the entire family.

So far the life expectancy of a Devadasi has been low. She usually does not live beyond 50.

And even if she get’s out of the system it’s hard to make two ends meet and lead a good life. Read Ratnamma’s story.

Kallava became a Devadasi at six, gave birth to three children in her late 40s and now pays her children's school fees from her goat rearing buisness

Kallava became a Devadasi at six, gave birth to three children in her late 40s and now pays her children’s school fees from her goat rearing business

 

Former Devadasi Kasturi is in the textiles business

Former Devadasi Kasturi is in the textiles business

If you want to help another Devadasi to break free from the oppressive system go to www.milaap.org and give a loan. You will get your money back along with the satisfaction that you have changed somebody’s life.

Smit Agasti is a Class IX student of Abhinav Bharti High School

Smit Agasti is a Class IX student of Abhinav Bharti High School

It was just another normal day for Smit Agasti, a Class IX student of Abhinav Bharti High School as he boarded a bus from Central Avenue to attend his computer classes on Camac Street.

He spotted a gentleman in mid 30s dressed in a formal shirt and trouser, smoking inside the bus. Smit told himself that he could not just sit there and keep watching the other person smoke.

“I told him that he should not be smoking in the bus” said Smit.“But he behaved that he had not heard me.”

Smit told him again and this time the man reacted.

“The gentleman started using the choicest slangs and started abusing me. He even said, ‘Tor baaper paisaye cigarette khacchi?’ (Am I smoking with your father’s money?),” said Smit.

“I was a bit unnerved by his viciousness but managed to keep my cool. The conductor and a few other passengers supported me but most of the passengers didn’t seem to care.”

Smit continued to persuade the gentleman not to smoke till it came to a point when he started openly threatening him. “He said he would take me to the police if I didn’t stop. But actually I should have told him that because what he was doing was illegal. Smoking in public places is banned in India.”

(Smoking in public places in India was prohibited nationwide from October 2, 2008 under the Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places Rules, 2008 and COTPA. The nationwide smoke-free law pertains only to public places. Places where smoking is restricted include auditoriums, cinemas, hospitals, public transport (aircraft, buses, trains, metros, monorails, taxis and their related facilities (airports, bus stands/stations, railway stations), restaurants, hotels, bars, pubs, amusement centres, offices (government and private), libraries, courts, post offices, markets, shopping malls, canteens, refreshment rooms, banquet halls, discothèques, coffee houses, educational institutions and parks.)

It was clear that Smit’s words were having no impact on the man and many of the passengers, instead of supporting him, looked at him like he was wasting his time. “The man kept threatening me. He was so angry I thought he would beat me up. I was scared inside but put up a brave front. My stop came and I got off.”

After this experience, I asked Smit if he would again raise his voice if he saw someone smoking in a public place? “I would. One bad experience can’t stop me,” said the 14-year-old.

Smit has been inspired by actor Bobby Chakraborty’s anti-addiction campaign I Am The King Of My Mind and has been in regular touch with the actor since he visited his school in January this year. “As Bobbyda is inspiring thousands of school children, if I can inspire 10 people I will feel good about it.”

Actor Bobby Chakraborty has taken his anti-addiction campaign to schools in West Bengal and has inspired young minds

Actor Bobby Chakraborty has taken his anti-addiction campaign to schools in West Bengal and has inspired young minds

Although the youngster has not fared too well while convincing adults – “they always say things like if I don’t smoke I can’t go to the bathroom or my stress would not be under control” – but when it comes to his peers his success rate has been higher. “I had a friend who used to smoke. I calculated and showed him that he would be able to save so much more money and have more fun if he quit smoking. He listened to me and now we hang out together at the movies and the mall.”

Smit’s mother supports her son whole-heartedly. “My mother encourages me to save my pocket money and buy chocolates and goodies for the slum children or the inmates of an old age home.”

“On a trip to Siliguri I saw this man shivering in the cold without any warm clothes at Sealdah station. When I expressed my desire to help him out, my grandfather took out his own sweater from the suitcase and asked me to hand it over to him, which I did. My family is always with me in my endeavours,” said Smit.

Smit is not alone for there are many teenagers like him who are silently doing small things and making a big difference. They only need more support from us adults.

 

 

Ullash Group raised Rs 3 lakhs 65 thousand during the Uttarkhand floods

Ullash Group raised Rs 3 lakhs 65 thousand during the Uttarkhand floods

When war and natural disaster unfolds in front of us on the television, we often want to do something to make a difference in the lives of people who have been affected by these circumstances. A common way of doing it is to donate in cash or kind to organizations who are working on the ground in these disaster zones.

But there are people who go one step further to make a difference. This story is about them. These individuals from Dubai took the initiative to knock on doors and within weeks raised money or gathered clothes to help out people dealing with crisis in their respective home countries.

Their story is inspiring because it doesn’t take a lot to be in their shoes. Anyone can follow their footsteps, all one needs is the will to make a difference. I tell you who they are and what they did…

Who? Ullash Group, a group of Indian (Bengali) friends 

Why did you decide to take the initiative? After seeing the TV grabs of the floods in Uttarkhand we could not sit around and do nothing about it.

What did you collect? We collected Rs 365,000 (Dhs21,778).

How long did it take you to do the collection? One week.

How did you do your collection? We got in touch with friends and colleagues. Amal Banerjee, who is a member of our group, told his colleagues at Ducast Factory LLC about our initiative. Each and every person in that company donated a day’s salary and that helped to increase the collected amount in a big way.

What kind of response did you get? Everyone contributed within their means, no one said no.

How did you ensure it reached the right people? One of us personally handed over the money to Ramakrishna Mission in Kolkata, India. The oganisation is building homes to rehabilitate thousands in Uttarkhand.

What kind of satisfaction did you get out of this? We are a group which is into regular weekend parties, adda (chat) sessions and cultural meets. The satisfaction was in the fact that we could use our friendship and respective relationships to help other people.

Salam Al Amir went over to people's places to collect cash and clothes

Salam Al Amir went over to people’s places to collect cash and clothes

 Who? Salam Al Amir, Journalist, Jordanian

Why did you decide to take the initiative? I know how cold it gets in Jordan during winter and the thought of Syrians, especially children, weathering it in refugee camps without adequate clothing kept disturbing me. I just thought I had to do something about it and wrote down my intention on my FB status.

What did you collect? Some people gave me cash in order to go shop for warm clothes others gave me blankets and warm clothes. The shops where I bought warm jackets, hats and socks (mainly for children) donated some stuff themselves and other shops gave me real good discounts when they came to know my purpose. In all I had around 10 huge bags filled to the brim.

How long did it take you to do the collection? Less than a week.

How did you do your collection? I went over to people’s homes and offices to pick up the stuff (clothes and money).

What kind of response did you get? It was good. But some of those who responded with much enthusiasm on FB didn’t even get back to me later to coordinate how I could pick up their donations.

How did you ensure it reached the right people? I was going to send it to a close friend in Jordan so that he could deliver it personally. But then I came to know that there are certain procedures and donations had to go through an organizing body. I chose to send them with the Big Heart Campaign, organised by Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi, wife of the Ruler of Sharjah. They are doing an amazing job.

What kind of satisfaction did you get out of it? Frankly, I got very little satisfaction. I feel we should do a lot more but most often can’t because we are so bogged down by life’s responsibilities.

Nerry Toledo collected clothes and canned food for people affected by Typhoon Haiyan

Nerry Toledo collected clothes and canned food for people affected by Typhoon Haiyan

Who? Nerry Azores Toledo, PR Professional, Filipino

Why did you decide to take the initiative? Typhoon Haiyan left an estimated 4.4 million people homeless in the Philippines and I knew that somehow I had to do something to help in my own little way.

What did you collect? We managed to collect 12 boxes of clothing and goods combined.

How long did it take you to do the collection? It took two weeks.

Nerry couriered 12 boxes  full of clothes to Philippines

Nerry couriered 12 boxes full of clothes to Philippines

How did you do your collection? People back home needed basic things and I started talking to friends and colleagues if they could donate old clothes. I had some friends who were doing the same, so we joined hands and had a collection drive. Some generous people donated canned food even without knowing how I was going to ship it to the Philippines. Many people came over to my place to drop their stuff.

What kind of response did you get? It was an overwhelming response. I realized the world is full of kind-hearted, well-meaning people.

How did you ensure it reached the right people? During that time, the only way to send donation was through the courier. It was sent to a charity organization in the Philippines that was working on the ground. I also gave some of the collected items to people organizing similar drives from the Filipino community in Dubai so that they could ship it with their collected stuff.

What kind of satisfaction did you get out of it? I sincerely strive to lead a purpose-driven life. In that way my life becomes meaningful.

laptop1It is said that getting a good boss is almost as important as getting a good husband. While your personal life depends a lot on the kind of husband you have, the route your career graph will take in a particular company, also depends on a good boss. You might work your a** off, but if your boss doesn’t think you have done enough, or doesn’t like you in the first place, he/she might royally …umm… finish you in the appraisals. There’s hardly anything you can do about it. Except, of course, leave the job and hope that you get a better boss in the next one.

In my entire career I have dealt with all kinds of bosses – the good and the bad, the moody and the pervert, the committed and the unprofessional…the list can go on. In the early part of my career I have dealt with a boss (lady) who was beautiful and immensely talented, but would turn up in office at 6pm when we were ready to go home after finishing the day’s work. She would walk in, take a look at the pages (I worked in a newspaper) change everything, and make us sit in office, till late, implementing the changes.

I have had men bosses who noticed the colour of my lipstick and told me what clothes to wear, bosses who believed that hitting the bar during office hours was perfectly normal, and bosses who thought calling my landline at 6am to tell me that a comma was missing in my article, was perfectly normal too.

But the boss I am going to talk about now takes the cake. I must say I was not really prepared for this new job and the boss I would have to deal with. But with time I have got used to it and the mantra is to “keep the boss happy” so I guess I have to follow that.

My new boss believes in starting the day with a kiss and there is no way I can say no. There are times I find him arching over my shoulders when I am working on my laptop with his eyes glued to the screen trying to catch what I have written. Sometimes I say that I feel distracted if he does this, sometimes I don’t. It rarely makes a difference to him.

Then he touches my shoulders and says, “Do you need a massage?” I know he wouldn’t like it if I said “no”. So I have to say “yes”. I must say he is quite good at it and it is relaxing to get a nice massage like that during my workday, but sometimes what happens is that his hands just slip from my shoulders to any part of my body and he touches me just about anywhere without any inhibition. Then he asks me to stand up because he wants to give me a hug. I have to relent immediately. He is my boss after all.

He is a control freak too. He likes to work out my schedule for me. If he sees me too engrossed at my laptop he would send me off to get him a glass of juice (yes that’s my job too) and maybe a pack of potato chips with it if he is in the mood. Most of the days after work I have to go out with him and accompany him in all his evening activities which might be cycling, swimming or just taking a walk. He says he wants me around because he enjoys my company and when we are walking he always holds my hand.

It’s a tough job because I have to do exactly what he wants. And he is constantly watching my every move. Sometimes he even wants to accompany me to the bathroom. But that is one thing I have managed to say no to.

But all said and done, this is the BEST boss I have ever had. I know I have to be on my toes constantly in this job and give myself up completely to his whims, but I somehow enjoy it.

In case you are thinking that I am out of my mind I am not. I am a full-time mom (now don’t tell me that’s not a job), who works from home sometimes and my boss is my three and a half year old son. I have been in this job for the last two and a half years and so far my career graph has been on the way up.

My boss has been happy with my performance and has been giving me consistent A’s in my weekly appraisals, in every possible colour, on his sketch book. Clearly, I have managed to keep the boss happy.

I have written this today because today is Children’s Day and this goes out to all those lovely little bosses who make a mom’s life worthwhile.

PS: Even when I am uploading this I am being asked by my boss to hurry up because he needs the laptop for his work, which is watching Tom and Jerry on Youtube.