Friday, December 08, 2006

Ray of hope

The Other Half

The Hindu Sunday Magazine (December 3, 2006)

LAST month, a depressing story in a newspaper related how in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, where Japanese Encephalitis is recurrent, the wards in the district hospital were full of boys. Was it possible that no girls had contracted the disease? The answer, sadly, is rather obvious. When faced with a choice of loss of several days of paid labour, poor families chose to treat only their sons leaving their daughters to either succumb to the disease or be permanently impaired as a result of contracting it.

This is only one of the many harsh realities of women's health in this country that begins at birth, goes on through girlhood to adolescence and adulthood — an unchanging story of callous neglect. Every year, the statistics of infant mortality or maternal mortality only tell part of the story. For, the real burden of a shamefully inadequate public health care system in this country, particularly in the poorer and more deprived regions, has to be borne by women. It is like living under low-intensity conflict; you can never be sure from which direction you will be attacked and whether you will live to see another day.

But sometimes out of this gloomy scenario you catch glimpses of light, of something positive that is being done. In the midst of a serious discussion on the repercussions of conflict on women's health, at a National Dialogue on Women, Health and Development held recently in Mumbai, I chanced upon that glimmer of hope.

(For the rest of the article, click on the link)

Why are Maharashtra's Dalits so angry?

The Hindu (December 2, 2006)

WHY DID Maharashtra burst into flames on Thursday following Dalit protests, almost without warning? To those who have not been monitoring what is happening among Dalits, and more specifically amongst the followers of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar this year, it would appear that the protests came out of nowhere. Yet the signs of anger have been more than evident, particularly over the last two months since the murder of four Dalits in the village of Khairlanji, 100 km from Nagpur on September 29. Ironically, just three days after this atrocity in which the mother and three grown children of the Bhotmange family were brutally killed, a major event took place in Nagpur bringing together the national leadership of Dalits. On October 2, Dussehra Day, Dalits marked 50 years since Dr. Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism. On October 14, the actual date of the conversion, once again lakhs of people gathered in Nagpur. Not a whiff of the atrocity so close at hand disturbed the occasion.

The first protests against the Khairlanji killing emerged more than a month later, first in Nagpur and then in Amravati and Yavatmal. In each case, the protesters appeared as if out of nowhere and caught the police off guard. They seemed to be leaderless but did not escape the full force of police brutality, particularly in Amravati and Yavatmal. The anger that fuelled those demonstrations was clearly linked to Khairlanji and the State Government's failure to move swiftly to deal with the crime. Although since then, the State Home Ministry has taken some steps by suspending the officials who were lax in registering the atrocity and in the follow-up to it and arresting the sarpanch and upa sarpanch of the village, suspected of having led the mob, the general perception remains that the incident has not been taken seriously enough.

(For the rest of the article, click on the link)

Before the year ends

ulti khopdi

I have been lazy about keeping this blog updated. One of the reasons is that there are not many who access the blog. Nor have I made the time to let more people know about it. At the moment, most of the postings are links to my articles in The Hindu (have to post a few more).

As 2006 draws to close, I am struck by how quickly this year has passed. Does every year rush by like this? or do we feel this about years where so much happens that the days merge into weeks into months and before you know it, you are on the cusp of another year.

For Mumbaikars, this year really seems to have been non-stop with events stumbling onto each other -- another flood (not as bad as 2005), the July 11 serial blasts, the judgment in the 1993 serial bomb blasts case, the Dalit demonstrations and violence and the 50th death anniversary of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar that passed off peacefully, as it does each year, despite the dire predictions of those who believe that when large numbers of poor people get together, there is bound to be a law and order problem. They refuse to accept that the eruptions, such as the one on November 30 were the result of pent up anger that had built up over decades. (Read my article on this).

As we move into the last three weeks of the year, the weatherman says that Mumbai is "smoky". In fact, it is polluted and overcast because of a pollution haze. People step out in the morning to walk and improve their health. Instead they inhale vast quantities of the poisonous air and end up coughing, sneezing, wheezing. Do we have to accept this as the inevitable consequence of globalisation?

More on this when I get over my bout of sneezing!