Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Orkut: Youth Icon or Banned Substance?

Orkut has been nominated against 'Abhishek Bacchan, Multimedia Cell Phone, Rang De Basanti and You' in the MTV and Pepsi Youth Icon 2007. Orkut has 6.6 Million (66 lakh) Indian subscribers. This consists huge amount of youngsters.

There are more than a million communities on Orkut on absolutely everything from pizza to pasta, from Film star to Sports star, from your pet to your favourite teacher. People freely express their opinions and views here. Internet has always been a medium carrying free information and that’s exactly where the trouble starts for Orkut.

This time the king of Social networking has ran into trouble with the student wing of the Shiv Sena party. The group opposes to what they see as increasing imitation of the West. It often stops Valentine's Day celebrations, attacks nightclubs and pubs, and prevents screening of sexually bold films.

The student wing of the Shiv Sena party said many Indians use Orkut to bad-mouth religious groups and disturb communal harmony, and also to spread misinformation about India. Back in March it was announced that Orkut has agreed to provide Mumbai Police details of the IP address from which an objectionable message or blog has been posted on the site and the Internet service provider involved.

Internet no doubt is a great tool and an innovation like we have never seen before. But with great power comes great responsibility, its up to us to use the internet wisely and make productive use of it. Yes we are free to express our opinions but at the same time we need to see and understand the bigger picture.

Young minds are known to be rebels. And the more you suppress them the more they will come up. With caution and care we need to explain to them what’s right and what’s wrong. We just can’t tell them not to surf Orkut because a few handful communities have an anti-India stand. We should stand strong and show faith in our youngsters such that we are unaffected and undivided against all attempts to disrupt our harmony.

Ankur Agarwal

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Plight of Gidhdha village

A cold winter morning of 2007, about 30 kms from Patna, I was in
Gidhdha, a village of Moosahari's, a 35-lakh strong community spread
across Bihar, known for eating even rats in dire circumstances of
poverty & survival.

We were with people who often dig a hole in the nights to make their
kids sleep and cover them with dry grass to save them from the cold.
This is a place where women tell you that they don't use ANYTHING
during menses, and they can't take a bath because there is NOTHING to

We felt criminal, wearing sweaters and jackets. For every person who
dies because of cold and for every woman who goes through a bad phase
without a piece of cloth, we found ourselves answerable…not because
it's our doing but because we are not doing enough.

I remembered a radio channel holding hundreds of sweaters because they
wanted a celebrity to hand it over to us and they were not getting
dates. I remembered corporates who didn't send material to us because
after collection they were waiting for the right moment to organize an
event to do it. I also thought of millions of individuals who keep the
material with them in search of a real needy or waiting for a

Don't you agree that for people who roam around naked in peak winters
or die because of cold, winters are a much bigger annual disaster than
earthquake or floods? For millions of women, even menses is a monthly
disaster if they are forced to roam around even without a piece of
cloth to use as a napkin.

We have decided to do something; every year in addition to our present
role, we will take up 100 villages and ensure that no one in these
villages remains without clothes. That means generating over 1,00,000
kgs of extra material every year. In 2007, we will do this for 100
such villages of Bihar and it has already started from Gidhha, the
village I mentioned earlier.

If you understand the seriousness of this issue then I'm sure we will
able to go way beyond this commitment. By simply giving us any
unwanted cloth you have in your wardrobe, you can change the realities
for these people.

Your immediate support is needed:
(All donations to GOONJ are exempted u/s 80 G of IT act.)
Do visit
Anshu K. Gupta ( Ashoka Fellow )
Founder -Director
Tel.- (m)-98681-46978, (o)-011-26972351
Add-J-93, Sarita Vihar, New Delhi-76

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Indian children suffer more malnutrition than in Ethiopia

India has higher rates of malnourished children than sub-Saharan Africa, despite having the money to tackle the problem, according to a survey that raises grave questions about the country's economic rise.

Almost 46 per cent of Indian children under the age of 3 suffer from malnutrition, according to the survey by the Indian Health Ministry in conjunction with Unicef, the United Nations children's agency. That compares with about 35 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and only 8 per cent in China, whose economic growth India strives to emulate. It also represents only a slight decrease since the last National Family Health Survey in India seven years ago showed that 47 per cent of its children were mal-nourished.

The results provide a shocking illustration of how India's recent economic gains, while enriching the social elite and middle classes, have failed to benefit almost half of its 1.1 billion people.

India's economy has grown by more than 8 per cent annually since 2003 and hit $4 trillion (based on purchasing power parity) by the end of last year — more than double that of the whole of Africa. The country now has the sort of budget, foreign exchange reserves, transport infrastructure, human resources and stable political environment that are the envy of most sub-Saharan countries.

Yet its child malnourishment levels are worse than Ethiopia's and on a par with those of Eritrea and Burkina Faso.

Werner Schultink, chief of child development and nutrition for Unicef in India, said that the country's failure to address malnourishment and other health problems compromised the world's ability to reach the millennium development goals of halving global poverty and hunger by 2015. It also threatened to wipe out the "demographic dividend" of having a relatively young population by creating a generation of underdeveloped and, in some cases, mentally retarded workers, he said.

The survey found that anaemia levels had risen compared with those of seven years ago, with about 56 per cent of women and 79 per cent of children below the age of 3 suffering from the disorder. It showed only negligible progress in child immunisation levels, at 44 per cent compared with 42 per cent. In Gujarat, one of India's richest and most developed states, the proportion of underweight children had risen to 47 per cent from 45 per cent.

The problem, according to Dr Schultink and other experts, is not that India lacks the money to tackle these problems. They pointed out that child malnourishment levels in India were above 70 per cent in the 1970s and that Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, had called recently for urgent action to address the problem. His Government needed to spend far more than the current 1 per cent of GDP allocated to healthcare, they said.

It also needed to raise awareness about health issues among poor women and needed to focus more on children under three rather than the school-age children currently covered in a state scheme to provide 120 million hot, nutritious and free meals on every school day.

"The survey confirms that India has done little for its children," said Shiv Kumar, a development economist and government adviser, who described the survey as "a matter of national priority and shame".

Monday, January 22, 2007

An Encounter with Extreme Poverty

On December 5th afternoon a severe fire broke out in the slum colony of Bawana (a village on the outskirts of Delhi ) razing over 350 jhuggies and completely devastating the lives of more than 2500 odd inhabitants including several hundred small children and women. The tragedy had severely hit these families who lost everything, leaving them merely with 10X10 sq. feet of land to rebuild their plastic made jhuggies, or rather, rebuild their lives yet again. Fortunately no causality was caused due to the fire but what could be more tragic than an unending series of extreme mental and emotional turbulences for these poor resettled slum dwellers from Yamuna Pushta, who have lived unsettled lives for several decades.

That same week I got the opportunity to make a visit to the fire-affected colony to assess the situation there and assist in the relief work. Though I had seen and heard a lot about the slums and like most of urban youth I was also pretty confident of my media based knowledge of slums but this was my first ever ACTUAL visit to any such place. The real picture was entirely different and far more disturbing than what I had heard or seen on television. The visit gave me one of the biggest jolts of my life and exposed to me the other face of Delhi , which is seldom discussed in the midst of much trumpeted 8% GDP growth rate of this country. This face is rather well concealed while adeptly showcasing the cosmetically or rather inhumanly developed ultra modern face of Delhi .

We started the relief work early in the morning. We walked down the intricate four feet wide lane, which gradually widened into a few hundred square meters of land housing 500 odd jhuggies inhabiting more than four thousand people. I was totally appalled by the gigantic cluster of human beings in such an extremely small space, perhaps one of the densest human inhabitation existing on earth. This whole place was indeed smaller than the courtyards of many rich and famous of this metropolis. The size of each jhuggi was even smaller than the size of a standard double bed with eight people struggling to somehow accommodate themselves and spend their whole life in it. This scene reminded me of my recent visit to a concentration camp in Poland called Maidanek where during World War II several hundred prisoners were stuffed together in small wooden huts without even basic sanitation facility. In those camps many used to die of severe suffocation, extreme stench and various microorganism diseases. At Maidanek I had to make some effort to visualize that sixty year old tragedy but certainly not here at Bawana.

After reaching that place I spoke to some of the local residents there and could easily sense the feeling of somberness and helplessness prevailing there. Though most of the male members were out to work for daily bread, the women came up and spoke of their sordid tale and the extreme poverty they are living with. It was quite sad to know that with an average family income of Rs. 2000, more than a quarter goes in commuting for work as these people are thrown to the outskirts of Delhi approximately 50 km from the City Centrum. It was poignant to look into the eyes of several old women, widows, handicapped and small children standing in a queue waiting eagerly for their turn to collect their Rs. 300 ( U.S. $ 7) worth of relief packet that meant so much for their whole family.

After spending a whole day there and making a small contribution in the relief work, I got into the car to begin my return trip. I was so much dismayed to see the living condition in those jhuggies that it was very difficult to come out of that feeling so soon. The car seemed much bigger than those dingy jhuggies each housing 8 people for their whole life. Driving down the 15 km long stretch of the smooth road connecting to the main city and surrounded by beautiful lush greenery on both sides evoked the philosophical person hidden in me.

On the way back home several questions came across my mind viz. What was the mistake of those small children who were born in that ill-fated E- Block of Bawana? Whose fault is it if any? Parents, Government or was it in their Destiny? Will they be able to extricate themselves from this vicious circle of extreme poverty and hence out of that E- Block of Bawana, ever in their lives? What is the certainty that these hapless slum dwellers won't be displaced yet again if in case Delhi hosts another mega sporting event? What I had seen was may be just the tip of the iceberg? Is there more to see? Is the uncontrolled and ever-growing population of this country the root cause for all problems? Is it due to the systematic failure of the Government policies? Is it the newly imposed capitalism responsible for it? But what will happen to the progress of the nation under extreme socialism? Can there be a trade off between the two? If yes then how? And many more….Finding myself too small to think of any answer to these difficult questions, I rather chose to sleep quietly and comfortably in my warm and spacious car.

By the time I woke up we had reached Connaught Place . I was wondering why this place, which is so famous for its bustling life, glittering neon lights and sky rocketing buildings, was suddenly lacking in its sheen. Perhaps now my illusion WAS, shattered as I had incidentally just seen a contrasting face of Delhi with my naked eyes, which had never been this real to me till now.

Written by Harsh Agarwal


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Your tomorrow...

[ 10 Jan, 2007 0000hrs IST TIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

The Day After Tomorrow, the Hollywood film portraying a future where global warming causes freaky weather, is playing not in a cinema near you but right in your backyard. Even as Delhi woke up yesterday to near-freezing temperature, and Chandigarh recorded zero degree Celsius, a balmy Washington experienced the flowering of cherry blossoms and chirping of birds bang in the middle of winter, the season of ice and snow.

Whether or not climate doomsayers are right — that the planet is headed for sure disaster — there is no doubt that weather patterns worldwide are indeed changing. Only, this time, it is not due to natural reasons but because of human activity releasing high volumes of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. International initiatives to deal with climate change are well-intentioned:

A Kyoto Protocol that exhorts member countries to cut back their emissions, an AP6 (Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate), or a Montreal Protocol that restricts release of ozone-depleting substances. But global treaties and annual conferences don't matter that much if, on the ground, little is accomplished. Great planning doesn't translate into great results unless the macro gets translated into the micro.

Micro-management is the key to both adaptation and mitigation. Often the sum of individual action has far-reaching results. Conservation is best implemented when it begins at home: Turning off lights and other electrical appliances when not needed, recycling things, enrolling in car pools, opting for smaller, eco-friendly vehicles, using public transport oftener and capturing solar energy to heat water — all these help minimise consumption of energy.

At the community level, each residential zone could set up a wind farm where conditions are suitable. Tree planting in common areas, maintenance of public parks and woodlands will create carbon sinks that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. Residential and office buildings built with green technology will make maximum use of natural light and air to minimise use of electricity.

In the final analysis, you are the environment; what you do affects your immediate environment. Constructing a macro picture of the world's climate pattern is a tedious and often elusive task, and it involves studying innumerable parameters and probabilities. However, at the micro level, freaky weather can be countered with individual action. In totality, this might help us buck the trend of global warming.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Should airguns be banned to protect animals?

In 2000 People for Animals went to the Delhi High Court asking for airguns not to be sold at all or, if they were to be sold , they should be sold in gun shops and licenced. This was part of a larger case in which we asked for the gun licences that are issued so freely in the name of crop protection be banned. In 2002 we won the case and got a remarkable judgment from the Chief Justice of the High Court Hon'ble Justice S.B.Sinha and Hon’ble Justice A.K.Sikri.

These airguns that people buy in toyshops are not toys. They are weapons. Children who are given these guns by very foolish parents do not use them on inanimate objects or even in the house. Imagine the hell they would have to pay if they shot an expensive vase to bits.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, in Section 11, makes criminal any person from causing pain or suffering to any animals. But invariably airguns, air rifles, airpistols are used on helpless small animals, in particular birds, by children. The victim does not die immediately. The pellet creates a gaping hole in the small body and the victim takes hours, even a few days, to die. The hole becomes infected, flies lay their eggs in it and these turn into maggots that eat the victim's body. Cows or donkeys make easy targets. When they boast to their parents about their kills, and the parent who has given them the gun merely smiles, then that child is lost to civilized society - we have created a monster.

At the very least it teaches children that violence is easy and condoned by adults. It teaches them that all species other than humans are dispensable.

It is not just animals. I have seen children using it on servants and poorer children. I have seen them laugh when they hide and shoot at random passersby. They often do not tell their parents. This is extremely dangerous.

The torture and killing of little animals can be an early sign of a psychological disorder. The shooters are often just showing off to their friends. This leads to a situation where violence becomes power and then other children ask their parents for guns as well so they can be part of the group.

Some children intentionally hurt animals because they enjoy hurting things, or because it makes them feel powerful. Many of these people would hurt other people if they could get away with it; they just choose to hurt animals because animals are more helpless than people. Killing animals is simply training for when they move on to larger people. Children are not stupid: They know they are being cruel, and when they excuse it by simply saying it is a game, these children who subconsciously believe that violence is o.k. grow up to be insensitive and more violent than normal people.

I am sure Pataudi and Salman Khan were given these guns as children and you can see the result now. The jails are filled with violent criminals who started out life, according to every survey done, by killing small animals and birds as children. It also puts other children in jeopardy.

On 13th July 1962 the Government of India brought out a notification exempting airguns/ airrifles/ airpistols from the provisions of the Arms Act. Obviously no bureaucrat or politician applied his mind while passing this arbitrary order. For while a child of any age is allowed to possess and use airguns, and indeed buy them from toyshops or roadside vendors, if the same gun is used by a Rifle Club, it is mandatory that the person should be an adult above 21 years and all the rules of the Arms Act apply to him/her!

So children are exempt but not adults??

The government, we argued, has a duty to create conditions in which children develop a humane and civilized character, the kind of people who assist rather than harm. But this exemption is completely against that constitutional duty. Article 51 A imposes a fundamental duty " to have compassion for living creatures”. The allowance of weapons to children violates this.

The Government in its defense argued that these airguns were allowed as long as they did not perforate a target made of wood of the thickness of one inch. However, children don't use these on one thick wooden piece. They use them on birds. A sparrow has a skin of less than one millimeter. In the judgement the judges have said " it is difficult to comprehend as to why such a category or firearms would be made freely available in the market." " It does not stand to any reason as to why air rifles,air guns and air pistols which can be used for the same purposes as other guns would be taken out of the purview of the Arms act" The judges also noted "there cannot be any doubt whatsoever that the provisions of the prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 would be violated" by allowing these guns to be freely sold.

Who do you think opposed us in this case (and the judges found this very curious too) - The Ministry for Environment and Forests, then headed by the DMK minister, Baalu! The lawyer gave examples from Nagaland where boys go on bird shooting sprees at the age of 10 - to the extent that the Chief Secretary of Nagaland had contemplated the regulation and sale of airguns to the general public, the Environment Ministry argued that these were non lethal weapons and suggested awareness and education as a remedy instead of banning guns! They were supported by the Ministry of Agriculture. The Bureau of Police Research and development added their two bits by saying that the muzzle of the guns should be reduced so that the energy of the guns would come down.

The Court ordered a consultation between the Home and other Ministries to take place. Months passed. Not a single meeting took place. We went back to court. The Court realised that the government was going to take no action. They passed an order quashing the notification GSR No 988 dated 13-07-62 "issued under subclause (vii) of clause (b) of subsection (i) of section 2 of the Arms Act by the Central Government whereby and whereunder air guns, air rifles and air pistols have been exempted from all the regulations and controls as provided under the Arms Act. This judgment applies to the whole of India.If you see any airguns being sold, you can have the shopkeeper arrested.

Maneka Gandhi

To join the animal welfare movement contact Smt Gandhi at or 14,Ashoka Road, New Delhi -110001


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Blogosphere 2006 is a revolution you brought

They react, they express their views, and sometimes, they do rap songs. Bloggers are changing the face of the world by turning the web into a forum – for the people, by the people and of the people


You made it to Time’s Person of the Year, helped get justice for Jessica, spoke out against reservation… and did a lot of that through blogs. And ‘You’ encompass the millions around the world who have made their voice heard through blogs. And it is no longer about chronicling your day online, this new online activism is issue specific, educated and very, very powerful. The reason: It is person to person.

And it is just going to get sharper and better from here. A recent study by the US analysts Gartner has predicted that this trend will plateau at about a 100 million dedicated blogs next year. DT focuses on people who are driving this revolution of ideas…

Dawn of the individual

As blogging in India comes into greater focus, how powerful a voice is it now? Very, if filmmaker Anurag Kashyap is to be believed. “But it’s still under the surface,” he says. “It’s a bit like a revolution.”

Even filmmaker Shekhar Kapur shares that belief. “Blogging is going to be a rising phenomena that will bring information to a far more democratic level than anyone ever believed possible. The governments and the power structure will have to contend with the power of the individual blogger,” he says.

‘Me’ is the word

Many like Kapur find a release and satisfaction in keeping a sort of a diary that they can share with others online through their blogs. Saket Vaidya, an avid blogger, feels many bloggers have evolved in their writing.

“Take any Indian blog which has been running for more than a year, and compare the writing that you see today with the writing in the archives over a year ago. Veteran bloggers often get a ‘Seriously, I wrote that!’ feeling while browsing through their own archives.” It’s a chance for people to look at a computer screen and wonder who’s out there looking back at them. This translates into the success of sites like YouTube, Orkut etc.

As Kapur says, “Blogging is no longer for the casual blogger. It needs commitment. You’d better be seen as someone who is passionate about what you are doing.”

The other side of things

Influential bloggers also say that encountering conflicting views has enriched their perspective. Bombay Addict, a blogger, is among them. “We have our own causes and beliefs that we support or defend when we write posts or comment on other blogs. Personally, I know that I’ve gained a lot in terms of insights and appreciating the merits of opposing views when I read blogs.”

“Because of the scale of users on blogs today, and the democratic nature of the discourse, blogs are making mainstream media take notice of online conversations. This is perhaps what is enabling blogging conversations to emerge in the public sphere,” says a representative of My Times, My Voice – the Times of India’s reader-interactive platform that incorporates multiple blogs. “Someone who otherwise does not have a visible platform to speak from, can also become a powerful voice through a blog on a popular site like Blogs are today opinion builders in their own right,” says a senior official of the site.