Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Stolen Childhoods

Posted: June 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

A collection of photographs about child labourers that touches you deeply.

While it is disturbing to hear about children being raped in India every other day it is equally disturbing to know that a 9-year-old is being stalked by her classmate. A mom talks about her woes. Can you give her a solution?

blessedx5ks

fireworksNow that I have your attention….

I have written briefly about this in an earlier post. But I felt the need to write just about this one particular problem this time. To support my daughter and to learn from all of our mistakes through my written word.

Rebecca is late….she is never late…

My 9 year daughter has a young man in her class that thrives on getting attention. There are a lot of children and adults that are like this. But this particular young man thrives on stalking my daughter. That is really the only word, besides bullying, that I can think of using for this particular young man, let’s call him “A”.

“A” has been, oh let’s call it, interested in Rebecca since the firt day of school. Now keep in mind we just moved here. She’s the new kid and she is a pretty little girl. Long…

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Victoria was a teacher in Sandy Hook Elementary School

Today I was planning to upload some snaps on Facebook but just could not bring myself to do it when I clicked on what my school friend Rajasri Saraswat (Mumpy) has shared on Facebook. I clicked on the picture of Victoria Soto, a girl with blue sparkly eyes and lovely blonde hair, who was a teacher in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. She put all Grade I students in her class inside the cabinets and closets in the classroom. She stood guard, told the shooter the children were in the gym. He shot Victoria at point blank range and moved on.

I was so overwhelmed with grief once again that I just could not bring myself to upload some happy snaps when I thought of those parents out there crying for their lost children. Instead I downloaded Victoria’s photo and uploaded it in my blog and sat down to write my thoughts here.

On social media people have been grieving for the children, teachers and parents of Sandy Hook Elementary school since the incident happened on December 14. While some have expressed their frustration at gun laws in the US, some have questioned why a school teacher felt the need to own so many guns that went into the hands of her deranged son and some have talked about the psychological issues of the American youth that’s ravaging the country.

It is a heinous act no doubt and when there’s children involved you instantly feel a lump in your throat. But I was thinking there are children involved in the war in Palestine and Syria also. Save the Children has declared that thousands of Syrian children will die in refugee camps in Jordan because they just don’t have warm clothes and shoes to wear but not many of us reacted to it on social media. Or for instance some researchers say most children in Afghanistan will perish before they reach the age of five. Because of Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines 36,000 children had to be evacuated to temporary shelters. But right now we are somehow still discussing about the ravages of Hurricane Sandy and how wonderfully US authorities handled the situation.

I was thinking if we are obsessed with the US. Whatever happens there is more important than the rest of the world and we keep talking/writing our opinions whenever, however possible.

But on second thoughts I realized why reaction to what happened at Sandy Hook is so strong. Am sure my friend Rajasri who has a six-year-old daughter going to school in the US, felt the same horror and grief that I, as a mother, a woman, a human being felt as soon I heard the news. School embodies safety for both parents and children if something like this happens there it somehow hits you on a personal level and the tremors upset your entire belief system. After all, like many of us do, parents from Newtown were willing to commute longer and pay bigger to ensure that their children could get a coveted seat in the well-reputed school, thinking it was the best they could do for their children.

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Sandy Hook Elementary School

I tried to think that I was sitting in my Grade I class in South Point School in Kolkata, India, and some gun wielding psycho walks in. What would I have done? Even worse is, when I think (or refuse to think) that I go to pick up my son in his school and come to know someone walked in with a gun into a classroom? The thoughts are unsettling.

In fact, the realization that it can be a nightmare-come-true is the most horrific part. I understand and identify with everyone’s reactions better now.

Jashodhara Hanafi, the teacher who taught us love.

Apart from our parents and immediate family the people who have the greatest influence on us are our teachers. But as we move on in our life pursuing higher degrees, careers and our ambitions we tend to lose touch with our teachers, who have had such a great role to play not only in our academic life but also in the way we think.

We all have had several teachers in our lives who have given us the wings to fly and have taught us to take on the world but there was one teacher who taught us how to love, and that was Jashodhara Hanafi. There is no denying the fact that some teachers in South Point School were more popular than others and she was one of them. There were plenty of students in our school, who had not taken a single geography class from her but they knew her, generations of students talked about her and if I may have the liberty to say so, she was kind of a legend in the long corridors of South Point High School, Kolkata.

Why? She was a brilliant teacher, yes. But as my friend Indranil Halder has written in his book Warrior In The Sanctuary, most students, especially the boys, had their eyes pinned on the silver key rings that hung from her waist and made a jingling sound every time she moved to write on the blackboard. The guys, who had made it a point to move to the front benches for her class, sighed with every move. The girls on the other hand were busy admiring “aunty’s” (that’s what we called the teachers in school) fascinating wardrobe of stylish sarees, her string of lovely danglers and her perfectly-plucked eyebrows.

When I look back and think of those geography classes I sometimes wonder, “Did she know what was really going on in the class?” To say that she did not would be insulting her intelligence. But she remained unperturbed, never got angry at the back benchers whispering, smiled and taught us chapters from the geography book that was impossible to forget.

She was extremely affectionate towards her students and this was something about her that I found more attractive than anything else. In a class of 60 it was not possible to arrange for return gifts when she was showered with so many on Teachers’ Day, but she at least tried. A gesture, I am sure, my classmates will always remember. She bought the entire class ice cream twice during our Class X session. Once, if I remember right, was on Teacher’s Day and the second time was on the last day of our Class X year. It was a small gesture but she was the only teacher to have thought about it. She watched us as we all devoured the popsicles and posed for photographs in our sarees (which we were allowed to wear on the last day) and obliged us as we wanted to click her too. She smiled, her dazzling smile, and looked at us lovingly, happy to have made us happy. My admiration for her grew manifold.

She continued to be my teacher in Class XI-XII. With time I realised aunty had an uncanny ability to gauge the mindset of the people setting questions during exams. If we prodded her for suggestions she would come out with it. But I often dared to take it too far. I walked into the teacher’s room during lunch hour handed her the geography text book and told her cheekily, “I will only study the parts you mark. So can you please mark it for me?” After a tiring morning session she was probably biting into her sandwich then but she would accept the book, and the boring task with a smile – her lovely smile.

I actually got into the habit of studying only what aunty marked, the rest I left out. So just prior to the geography exams during the Higher Secondary exams when I saw that my classmates were fervently going through a 20-page chapter of which I had just studied two pages, for the first time I felt a knot in my stomach. “School exams were fine. But what if aunty goes wrong this time?” I thought. I entered the examination hall nervous. There was one question from that chapter and it was from those two pages I studied. Till today I don’t know how aunty did it. But she did make my life easier by marking my fat books, a task she could have happily refused to do, because it did not come within the purview of her duties. But she always did it, with love and with a smile.

Actually Jashodhara aunty came to my rescue more than once. Although she never told me this herself, I found out. In Class X, the naïve and headstrong girl that I was, I got embroiled in something that I should have stayed away from. A female friend of mine was regularly writing love letters to a class friend of ours and he was reciprocating. But when his mother discovered the letters he washed his hands off the affair and put the entire blame on her. His father was well connected and ended up in the principal’s room with the letters and my friend was asked to leave the school. I was so upset about it that I actually confronted the guy for giving my friend so much grief. And the result? The guy went and told his father again and I couldn’t find my name on the first list of admissions in Class XI despite having the marks. Later I found out that it was Jashodhara aunty, my class teacher of Class X, who had stood up for me at the teacher’s committee meeting and ensured I got admission in Class XI. But she never for once told me about it.

After I left school I sent her a card every Teacher’s Day. But as the years passed by and I got tied up with our so-called busy lives there were years when I never realized when September 5 came and went. Till one day on a pre-puja shopping spree at a saree store I heard a familiar voice. Yes, it was Jashodhara aunty and without thinking, instead of touching her feet, I just hugged her. She hugged me back with the same child-like excitement. She was with our PT teacher Kabita aunty and both were indeed happy to see me. We exchanged numbers and I promised to call them and take them out for lunch post-puja.

A few days after puja I got a call from her daughter telling me she was no more. She had an accident on a holiday in Delhi. I had to hang up to take deep breaths and called her back. How did she get my number? “Mom had your visiting card. I found it. She always told me she really liked you.”

I hope she knew I loved her. She was one of the few teachers, who could love her students – unconditionally.

(I had clicked this photograph of Jashodhara aunty on our last day of Class X but thanks Arpita Mukherjee Mitra for scanning it and uploading it on Facebook. I have downloaded it from there.)

Things we should know about Mary Kom.

Her achievements

Mary Kom is the only woman boxer from India to have won 5 World Championship Titles consecutively. She has more than three Asian titles and eleven National titles under her belt. She is a recipient of the Arjuna Award, the Padma Shri Award, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award and a special award from AIBA. Now she is about to realise her ultimate dream of winning an Olympic Gold Medal. She is a champion in the light flyweight category but since that category does not exist in the Olympics she is punching above her weight in the flyweight category. So her bout on Wednesday against world No. 2 Nicola Adams will be her toughest test yet.

Her struggle

Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom (MC Mary Kom) was born on 1st March, 1983 and was brought up in a poor family. Her father Mangte Tonpa Kom and mother Mangte Akham Kom earned their livelihood by working in other people’s jhum fields. Being the eldest, Mary helped her parents work in the fields, cutting wood, making charcoal and fishing. She also looked after her two younger sisters and a brother.

How she started

Mary Kom was interested in sports since her childhood. She took a keen interest in athletics when she was in Class VI in Loktak Christian Mission School, Moirang and spent from Class VII- VIII in St.Xavier School, Moirang. Mary thought that she would become a good athlete one day and make a name for herself in the discipline.  After completing her Class VIII, Mary went to Imphal and continued her studies at Adimjati School. Being so fond of sports, she enquired around and found out about women’s boxing.  It was a new idea since women boxers were relatively unknown those days. The rise of Dingko Singh and the demonstration of women boxers at the 5th National Games inspired her.

Her entry into the ring

She quit her studies and started boxing. To pursue her dream of becoming a world class pugilist, she joined Sports Authority of India, Khuman Lampak and underwent intensive training from coach and mentor Ibomcha Singh.  Seeing Mary’s potential and determination, Manipur State coaches Narjit Singh and Kishan Singh decided to take her under their wings.

She joined the police

Manipur Government gave her the post of Sub-inspector of police in 2005. She was promoted to Inspector of police in 2008 and again promoted to the post of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) in 2010. She was also given a house at National Games Village as a gift for her outstanding achievements.

Her marriage

Mary married K.Onler Kom of Samulamlan Block whom she met in Delhi. Onler proved to be a guide, a friend and a philosopher for Mary and they decided to tie the knot at Manipur Baptist Convention Church on 12th March 2005. She is a mother of twins.

Her boxing academy

She started the Mary Kom Regional Boxing Foundation, formally known as MC Mary Kom Boxing Academy in 2006. It is a non-profit sports academy especially meant for under-privileged young people. Presently there are 37 boxers in the Academy, 16 female, 21 male, out of which 27 are residential boxers. So far, the academy has produced State and National Medalists in different weight categories.

*Information courtesy Mary Kom’s website

Picture from Sportblaze.com

My ex-colleague Sarah Salvadore is just livid at NCW chairperson Mamta Sharma’s advice to women to dress carefully.  http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/people/A-provocatively-dressed-woman-an-easy-prey/articleshow/15043860.cms

She wrote on her FB status: The NCW wants women to “dress carefully”, this coming from a commission that revealed the identity of the Guwahati victim. Ladies, we are better off without a commission for women, which is absolutely toothless and sexist.

I would rather go by what Sarah says and not some chairperson of NCW, who, it is very clear, is living back in time. Because I know for a fact Sarah is speaking from experience. She has actually worked as an undercover reporter in Times Of India, Kolkata and exposed how risky the city can be for a woman.

 Sarah had posed as a girl, whose delayed train arrival at Howrah Station had put her in a spot late in the night, because she didn’t know where to find a hotel. She was taken to the seediest hotels by a taxi driver, taken to the darkest corner of Metiabruz and told it was Park Street. She was subjected to perverse scrutiny by lobby managers and waiters who were hoping to bait the fish (and then do what, God only knows). Well! Sarah was dressed decently but her only crime was, her train had arrived late and she didn’t know the city well – a situation that any woman, non-pubbing and non-spaghetti-strap flaunting kinds – can get into, unless of course Mamta Sharma (strange how it’s Mamta every time) doesn’t approve of a woman travelling alone.

Is it really about clothes?

Anyway, clothes have nothing to do with sexual assault, it has been proved the world over, it’s high-time the NCW shed such archaic beliefs.

I am, like so many women out there, really confused about what’s exactly decent dressing though. Because if you are talking about a saree, I have often worn them to college on a cramped public bus and the hands got frenetic on my bare skin on the back. Now I cannot see myself putting on anything but an airhostess-cut blouse (it covers the back completely) whenever I wear a saree.

If you are talking about a salwar kurta with a generous dupatta covering the front, it does help, to minimize the groping from 10 to maybe four, on good days that is. But does it allow full cover from the perverts? No, not really.

A trouser can be provocative

Then there is the trouser paired with a full-sleeve shirt – does it help in any way? It doesn’t either.

I will talk about an incident here to present my view better. I remember I was looking particularly corporate kinds that day because I had dressed up for an important interview. I was returning home in a cab and the cabbie had a faulty meter and the bill was atrociously high. I got into an altercation with him and the cabbie tried hard to rally support from some men passing by. A group of drunk men, barged into our conversation. When I told them not to interfere, they got really aggressive and said, “What the **** do you think of yourself? Since you are wearing pants and having a mobile you think no end of yourself. We can teach you a lesson right here.”

It was 10pm, right in front of my apartment in Garia. I just took the cell phone and called our crime reporter and said loudly, “This is the number of the cab tell the OC of Garia Police Station to reach here immediately.” Hearing my conversation the cabbie instantly got behind the steering and fled leaving me to deal with the drunkards who were getting dangerously close and abusive now. Thankfully a few people came out from the neighbouring shops and my apartment. The OC didn’t have to finally intervene but I still get goose bumps when I think of that day.

The salwar kurta didn’t save my day, the police did

On another occasion I was, returning from work, in my first car, a khatara red second-hand Maruti, driven by my equally hopeless driver. Just a few yards away from office, on SN Banerjee Road, the car broke down. The driver kept trying to fix it while I stood next to him. The crowd started building up, then the questions, sneers and smirks started coming as if I had done something wrong. I looked for cover inside the car and the driver continued with his explanations but the crowd didn’t budge. I had the choice of leaving the car in my office which was difficult, because I would have had to push it against the flow on a one-way road or leave it at the police station which was just ahead. It was almost 10.30 pm by then. I chose the latter. The police readily agreed to watch over my car that night and graciously offered me tea when I went back in the morning to pick it up.

When I look back on that day the behavior of the crowd around me just gives me the chills – the nasty comments, the jeering and the uncomfortable proximity – all for what? I really don’t have an explanation. By the way, I was in a salwar kurta that day, mind it!

Now that the numbers are out – the National Crime Records have shown that in West Bengal there have been a staggering 29,133 reported incidents in 2011 accounting for 12.7 per cent of the total crime against women in India – media, political parties and governments are sitting up and taking notice of a malaise that every woman has to live with in West Bengal.

While our government, ironically headed by a woman, continues to live in blissful denial of the atrocious condition of women in our state, the kind of response my post on March 2011 headlined You are lucky if you have not been sexually harassed in Kolkata, https://amritaspeaks.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/you-are-lucky-if-you-have-not-been-sexually-harassed-in-kolkata/

had got, go on to reinforce the fact that harassment of women is an issue that touches each and everyone’s life.

I would say this escalation of violence and sexual abuse is not a sudden phenomenon, it has been a process taking place over a period of time.

I believe West Bengal is leading India in crimes against women because…

We are living in denial

While West Bengal’s State Industries Minister Partha Chatterjee has summed up the general attitude in his classic comment, “There is a national propaganda to show our government in bad light and hence all these figures are now being brought into the media,” he should check out this article published in the Times Of India in December 2006, when National Crime Records showed that West Bengal held second place in domestic violence, next only to Andhra Pradesh. (By the way we were governed by the Left then.)

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/calcutta-times/If-you-prick-us-do-we-not-bleed/articleshow/793369.cms

The statistics show in 2001, there were 265 reported cases of dowry deaths and 3,859 cases of domestic violence. In 2005, there were 446 dowry deaths recording an increase of 68 per cent and 6,936 cases of domestic violence, recording an increase of 80 per cent.

A problem can be addressed if a person is ready to accept there is a problem. If there is denial in the first place the question of a solution does not arise. I think the minister has already forgotten (in true politician style) the Park Street rape case, the Katwa train rape case and the molestation of a girl on Free School Street, which happened recently in the span of a few months.

Sexual abuse is a great way of showing power

After being humiliated by a boss at work many men like to get back their dignity by beating up their wives at home. I think groping a woman on a public transport is less about sexual gratification and more about getting satisfaction out of the embarrassment caused to a woman. This zeroes down to power play once again – that a man has the power to embarrass a woman. Gross, but it’s the truth.

As frustration among men rise because of the narrowing avenues of employment, escalating prices and reference group syndrome meaning that only a certain category of men having all the purchasing power, abusing women is a great way of keeping their slipping egos in place. That’s why in West Bengal women are abused by all kinds of men they interact with. Starting from the husband at home which leads to domestic violence, from the boss and colleagues which leads to harassment in the workplace, harassment in public transports and public places and last but not the least – political harassment, when a woman becomes the target of political parties trying to prove a point. A case in point would be the Nandigram rape case which became a complete political drama.

Chivalry is dying

Only a decade back if a woman had been harassed by a man all she needed to do was raise her voice and there would be a pack of men coming to her rescue. The dialogue would inevitably start with, “Didi apni jan. Amra dekhe nicchi. Ki byapar dada, ki hocchey?”  (Didi you go we will handle this. So dada what are you up to?).

I wonder where those men have gone now. Instead we have a pack of wolves waiting for a chance to pounce. They readily side with the perpetrator and keep questioning the woman’s dignity. In this regard I will mention two incidents. One was shared by my ex-colleague Moumita De Das on my blog.

Moumita wrote: “but i wud never forget  the day before dhanonjoy (hetal parekh rape n murder case) was about  to be hanged to death on 15TH August, 2004…the time was 10pm santoshpur mini bus…i boarded the bus from exide crossing as i was returning from my office (hindustan times). A drunk guy was too uncomfortably close…just then when i reacted… the entire menfolk were suddenly united and abusing me verbally… all were supporting dhanonjoy’s actions criticising our legal system for his verdict and so on and so forth…i felt as if i had been verbally gangraped….that day i sensed that dhanonjoy’s humiliation was affected personally all kolkata’s bhadralok and i realised MEN ARE NOT BHADRALOK…”

The other incident happened with my late brother Anirban Mukherjee. He was returning from work in a mini bus when a woman slapped a man because he was harassing her. All the men in the bus egged the man to slap her back. My brother was the only one to stand up for her and brought the situation under control.

I know there are a lot of men like my brother who have come to our rescue so many times. Wonder why they have become a vanishing lot these days.

Law keeps its eyes widely shut

It is the fear of law that keeps all kinds of criminals in check. But when it comes to crimes against women most often the criminals go scot-free or the trial becomes such a long-drawn affair that the crime itself is forgotten. If a criminal gets to know that he can get away with his crime, and quite easily too, why won’t he do it again?

And now I won’t be surprised if after all this brouhaha about the National Crime Records statistics there is an even bigger leap in the crimes against women. The perpetrators can have a free run because they are now sure they can get away with it. All the more thanks to ministers like Partha Chatterjee.

(What is your opinion about crimes against women in West Bengal? Please click the dialogue box on the right side of the headline and leave your comment. I would like to include your opinion in my next post.)

I have never been overtly fond of Aishwarya Rai, neither did I think too much about her acting capabilities till Provoked and Jodhaa Akbar happened. As a Bollywood writer I have criticized her fairly often but right now all I can say is I really appreciate Aishwarya Rai Bachchan not only for her new rotund frame but also the way she has proved a point with her post-baby fat. I like the fact that she has refused to bow down to showbiz perceptions of the perfect body. While critics continue to talk about her double chin I think she is the one who is having the last laugh. I give five reasons why…

Reason 1: Despite piling on the pounds she still takes home a fat paycheck

Post-childbirth I haven’t seen a single article or interview of Aishwarya Rai where her bloated frame has not been criticized, questioned or discussed. But she couldn’t care less. She continues to be the L’Oreal ambassador, walks the red carpet at Cannes, gets invited to high profile events like the Dubai World Cup and the Bulgari Hotel inauguration in London and takes a fat paycheck home.

Reason 2: She has proved fat is still beautiful (no matter what Kareena says)

Critisizing, yes, but ignoring her, no way – that’s the media mantra at the moment. So here is Ash gracing the front pages of every newspaper and plenty of magazines showing off her new-found wardrobe.

Reason 3: She has her priorities in place

While most Hollywood and now even Bollywood stars beat their body back to shape following a strict regime in the gym just after childbirth, not once even bothering if that’s the healthy way of doing things, Aishwarya Rai has made her point very clear. Being healthy for herself and her daughter is her priority. That sends a great message to all those mothers out there who are often depressed about their weight gain.

Reason 4: She is a better cultural ambassador for India than ever before

She is more often in Indian clothes these days than in western. So that’s a great opportunity for Indian designers to showcase yet again that it’s possible to hide the bulges and accentuate beauty in Indian clothes. I would any day vote for the Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla attire that she wore at Cannes than the Elie Saab gown.

Reason 5: She’s been there and done that

Aishwarya Rai has achieved all that (and actually more than) a woman can achieve in a lifetime. Now that she has been blessed with motherhood she is mature enough to realise that the joys of motherhood are far more than worrying over weight gain. Remember the continuous media speculation about a possible pregnancy for five long years? Now that she is finally a mother the new issue is her weight. If you are Ash Rai, the issues continue perpetually. The diva probably revels in that.