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November 16 2013

Cricket Icon Sachin Tendulkar Awarded India's Highest Civilian Award

Iconic Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar. Flickr image by junaidrao, CC By-NC-ND 2.0

A billion hearts were choked with emotions today, 16th November, 2013, as Indian cricketing icon Sachin Tendulkar retired from the game after a legendary career that spanned 24years. Acknowledging Sachin's contribution, the President of India, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, has awarded him the prestigious Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award.

In India, the Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India) is awarded in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavour. Any person, without distinction of race, occupation, position or gender is eligible for this award. The 40year old Sachin Tendulkar  will be the first sportsperson and the youngest person to receive this honour.

Social media was abuzz with reactions and congratulatory comments.

In a discussion on Quora, Bala Senthil Kumar expressed firm opinion as to why Sachin deserved the Bharat Ratna. According to him,

Bharat Ratna is literally translated as ‘Jewel of India'.
Is Sachin a ‘Jewel of India'?
Please,without a doubt,the answer is an overwhelming ‘YES'!
I challenge anyone to come forward and refute this.

On another similar discussion thread in Quora, Vaibhab Sharma, a cricket lover and die-hard fan of Sachin Tendulkar, pointed out his reasons for Sachin deserving the prestigious award. He commented:

There is no doubt about the fact that Sachin has achieved the performance of highest order in cricket. You can confirm it from his peers, his opponents, retired legendary cricketers, ICC, Wisden who rated him as the second best of all time behind Bradman, his statistics which feature on top of almost every batting list compiled and many more endless sources. [...]

Sachin's batting was the balm to Indian people's troubles. Caste, creed, race and sex do not matter when Sachin comes out to bat. Everybody loves him which was pretty evident in his farewell today when every person I know who follows cricket was crying. Nobody told them to but they automatically did. Such is the impact of this great man.

As the announcement of the award filtered in, Twitter too was abuzz with congratulatory comments and reactions.

Indian entrepreneur Kiram Mazumdar Shaw (@kiranshaw) tweeted:

Anurag Thakur (@ianuragthakur), Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha) and Joint Secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), tweeted:

Actor and social activist Rahul Bose (@RahulBose1) tweeted:

Varanasi Ramprasad (@smarttrainers), a management consultant, tweeted:

Vaneet (@Vabo18), a cricket fan, was ecstatic. He tweeted:

While the mood of the nation was largely congratulatory, there were also a few voices of dissent, which either felt that there were other equally deserving candidates for the award or felt that the award should be given to non-sportspersons, to those who were perhaps older and had spent a lifetime working for a larger national cause.For example, independent journalist Shivam Vij (@DilliDurAst) felt that this was a populist gesture by the government. He tweeted:

However,on this day, these voices found themselves in the minority, drowned in the adulation of a doting billion.

November 15 2013

VIDEO: Tear-jerking Google ‘Reunion’ Ad Warms Hearts Across India and Pakistan

A series of short ads by Google India showing how their search engine can facilitate the bridging of hearts and help re-connect people separated by distance and man-made barriers has gone viral across India and Pakistan.

Released on 13 November, 2013, the Google Search: Reunion ad from Google India, is seen to be emotional and engaging. There is a playlist of five ads in this series, including ‘Fennel’, ‘Cricket’, ‘Anarkali’, and ‘Sugar-free’, but the most widely circulated one is ‘Reunion', which has already garnered over 1,523,788 views.

The three-and-a-half-minute ‘Reunion’ ad is about friendship, fond childhood memories, separation and reconnecting to a tender past. In the ad, available on YouTube with English sub-titles, an Indian Punjabi is shown telling his granddaughter Suman about his fond childhood memories in Lahore, Pakistan. He mentions his childhood friend Yousuf and the sweet shop his friend's father owned in old Lahore, and how he and his friend were separated by the partition of 1947. Suman then searches on Google the whereabouts of her grandfather's childhood friend and contacts him. Finally, the two friends re-unite.

The Reunion ad touches upon the sensitive issue of partition and how it separated friends and families. In 1947, prior to their departure from India, the British rulers partitioned India into the Dominion of Pakistan (later Islamic Republic of Pakistan and People's Republic of Bangladesh) and the Union of India (later Republic of India), primarily along religious lines, to stem the growing tensions between the Hindu and Muslim communities. The partition however, left both the nations devastated. People were forced to migrate across borders in massive numbers and rioting and acts of violence left deep scars on people's psyche. Till date, the wounds left by partition have not healed and the relationship between the two countries is often strained, marred by wars, border disputes, military stand-offs and a continuing conflict over Kashmir.  The partition tore apart friends and families, many of whom have not been able to find each other and/or reconnect. Though the two countries have made attempts to improve their relationship, even today the relationship is fragile and it is very difficult for Indian and Pakistani nationals to travel across the border due to stringent visa procedures.

Given this backdrop, it is interesting to see how the ads touched an emotional chord, with bloggers across the two countries reacting positively to the heartwarming ads.

Beena Sarwar, a journalist, blogger, human rights activist and lead campaigner for Aman ki Aasha, a campaign for peace between India and Pakistan, tied the ad into the ‘Milne Do’ campaign against visa restrictions between India and Pakistan:

If it doesn’t move you, you’ve got a heart of stone. And if oh, it was that easy. For Pakistanis and Indians to get visas to visit each other’s country is just short of impossible… If the Reunion ad moved you, go to the Milne Do (Let people meet) petition link and sign (and share) the campaign against India Pakistan visa restrictions. Every voice counts.

Blogger Mehreen Kasana wrote on her blog:

Many families in Pakistan don’t have family in India including mine, but at the same time there are many who have loved ones across the border. This is probably the most beautiful video I’ve seen on the subject…Got a little teary, not gonna lie.

Umar Alam from Pakistan, commented on the YouTube video of the ad:

Such an Awesome effort by Google. Love and respect from Pakistan

There are interesting tweets from both India and Pakistan discussing how the ad had an impact on viewers, leaving them touched and emotional.

Pakistani author and publisher, Musharraf A. Faroqi tweeted:

Anthony Permal, known as Tony Khan among twiterrati in Pakistan, tweeted:

Blogger Muna Khan tweeted about how the ad made her father nostalgic and eager to connect with his old friends:

Journalist and photographer Sukanto Mukherjee (@Humerus) from Kolkata, India linked to the actual sweet shop featured in the ad:

Indian journalist, Tripti Lahiri tweeted:

Twilightfairy (@twilightfairy), a professional photographer based in India, commented:

Roopa Gulati (@roopagulati), chef-blogger from India agreed. According to her:

Some people were more critical of the ad. For example, Shivani Mohan, a corporate communication professional from India, tweeted:

Some netizens also pointed out that the idea and storyline for the Google ad was “stolen” or “completely inspired” from a Pakistani short film called “RESPECT”, a short film about friendship and the power of communication in the context of Pakistan and India produced by Pak Sar Zameen Productions in August 2012.

Taha Kirmani (@TahaKirmani1), who directed the film, responded:

Here is the YouTube video of the aforementioned short film, which shows a young man using technology to reconnect his grandfather with his childhood friend, separated by the Partition of 1947:

Thumbnail image: Screenshot taken from the YouTube video, Google Search:Reunion

India: Sixty Million Diabetics And Growing

With over 60 million diabetics [pdf] and another estimated 77 million people being considered pre-diabetic, India is caught in the throes of a diabetes crisis. On World Diabetes Day on November 14, India renewed its pledge to fight the growing diabetes menace in the country.

Writer and blogger Prem Rao points out the various symptoms of diabetes and suggests that those who have not had themselves checked for sugar/diabetes in the last six months, should do so promptly.

November 07 2013

Mobile App Offers Indian Women Lifeline in Fight Against Rape

Rape is the most common crime against women in India, where the number of rape cases have doubled between 1990 and 2008. Amidst the search for a solution, people are turning to technology, such as easy-to-use and free mobile application for the ubiquitous cell phone.

The Smart Suraksha App is an Android application focused on giving Indian women a greater sense of security. It can send a distress message to five pre-chosen contacts at the press of a single button. Along with the message for help, it also sends information about the user's current location even if the GPS option on the cell phone itself is switched off. Thus, women can be reassured that their call for help will always reach someone.

smartsuraksha contest

Indian blog directory Blogadda recently arranged a blog competition titled “I wish I had Smart Suraksha” to spread the words.

Kalyan Panja, a contestant, wrote about the app:

The App has as main objective to make smartphones, today a commonly used tool, a valuable ally for the safety of women in situations of potential or actual danger, providing a simple and timely aid, such as sending SMS rescue, and a set of rules that allows us to take conscious behaviour in case of need. [..]

The program allows to configure a list of 5 phone numbers to send a standard text such relief message (along the lines of: “I'm in trouble, call me!”), as well as to communicate your location, using GPS technologies or relying on a network Wifi. [..]

The operations are designed to be carried with ease and in the shortest possible time, precisely in order to ensure the use of the app also under difficult and uncomfortable situations. The focus is directed on prevention, with tips and tricks that they do not want in any way undermine women's freedom, but to advise the appropriate behaviors to be taken in dangerous conditions in the interests of defense.

Click the image for link to the app

Click the image for link to the app

Blogger Prava Vathi, another contestant, wrote:

This app is primarily created for women’s safety, which can track your whereabouts and at a single touch will text to the pre-listed five contacts simultaneously and also the police. It comes with an additional feature to give details of the would-be offender, and allows you to record info like model of the car or clothes he is wearing, in your text, provided if you are in such a situation. Use this app as a weapon that can prevent you from becoming an unfortunate victim.

Blogger Confused Humanity wondered if an application like Smart Suraksha would have made a difference in the lives of rape victims:

The BPO employee who was raped and killed by the car driver, who changed the route and took her to a remote place. If she had this app with her, could she have alerted her friends/family or company authorities. With the approximate GPS location, could they have found her and saved her life?

In the case of the latest Mumbai rape case, could the victim or her friend have pressed the button and alerted their company or friends about the suspicious behavior of the culprits, without inviting their attention and could the tragedy been have averted?

The blogger also suggested additional features, such as recording the snapshot of the perpetrator:

Now only if the state would set up a helpline or something, that could accept and act on such emergency messages (which comes with the location of crime) by informing the nearest police station or patrolling team(or medical centers), wouldn’t it be a miniature emergency service system like the ’911′ in itself?

Afshan Shaik asked in a poem, “if only people were smarter than the apps”:

If only people were smarter than the apps.
If only every one had the courage to face the mobs.
If only wits, actions and bravery over powered the fear.
If only we had super powers we would have saved a tear.
If only every one was loved , protected and fathered.
If only instead of an app a fellow human being bothered!

Your confidence is the best weapon, says Knitha Urs, and this app can give women the confidence. Its better to be prepared than be sorry, reminds Swati.

Shivani Gayal provides a list of other apps that are similar to Smart Suraksha.

Check out more submissions to the contest in the comment section of this post and on this Facebook page.

November 05 2013

Complaint in Blogpost Goes Viral Prompting Reply From Service Provider

Jay Harish Shah, an Indian passenger who travelled on Air France and had an unforgettable experience, did not stop at filing complaint with the airlines. He created a blog titled One Night In Paris sharing his plights which went viral prompting the airline to reply quickly. He shares his subsequent communications with the airlines in the same blog.

November 04 2013

Abuse of Workers and Our Daughter From Nepal

Indian blogger Kiran Kumar Karlapu tells a real life story of the plights of a Nepali girl, who was pushed back by her employer from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She was left stranded in Mumbai airport with not enough money to buy ticket to go back to home and some fellow passengers helped her secure a ticket.

November 01 2013

Guidelines For The Use of Social Media for Election Campaigning In India

Citing certain violations of the Electoral Law in the social media, the election commission of India has issued some guidelines for the use of Social Media for election campaigning. Nikhil Pahwa at Medianama analyses the guidelines.

October 27 2013

Legendary Indian Playback Singer Manna Dey Dies

Legendary Indian singer Manna Dey, whose original name was Prabodh Chandra Deydied of a heart attack in Bangalore on October 24, 2013. He was 94. Dey recorded more than 4,000 songs during his career spanning from 1942 to 2013, and was famous for his playback work, recording songs for hundreds of movies for actors to lip sync to.

He sang mainly in Hindi and Bengali, and ventured into several other Indian languages. The singer was popular in both India and Bangladesh.

Netizens revisited his memory after his demise.

Venkataramanan Ramasethu, an academician and blogger, remembered him:

A legendary icon and a musical genius on his own right who ruled the bollywood musical arena close to 40 years, at times I felt he was an unsung hero.

Akash Upadhyay posted 10 lesser-known facts about the legendary singer.

Radio jockey, author and blogger Reema Moudgil noted:

So many songs. So many versions of one, exceptional voice.

India Today (@IndiaToday) portrayed Manna Dey's career in numbers:

Writer and blogger Madhulika Liddle in a tribute post for Manna Dey wrote:

That is what I love and admire about Manna Dey: his versatility, his immense range of songs, his ability to imbue his songs with so much emotion—whether that emotion was a deep love for one’s motherland, or pathos, or a rollicking don’t-give-a-damn. This was the man after one of whose songs a restaurant chain (Bhojohorimanna) was named.

An era has gone. Manna Dey, the last of the great male playback singers of the golden years, has passed on. His voice will live on, though, and that will be some consolation. Some.

Manna Dey received the Padma Bhushan, India's third-highest civilian honour in 2005. Image by D Chakrabarty. Copyright Demotix (24/10/2013)

Manna Dey received the Padma Bhushan, India's third-highest civilian honour, in 2005. Image by D Chakrabarty. Copyright Demotix (24/10/2013)

Journalist Abhinay Dey recounted a legendary song of Manna Dey that was popular among Bengalis which narrates the story of seven friends who met regularly at the legendary Coffee House at College Street Kolkata. The Coffee House has a historical significance for being the rendezvous of numerous scholars, editors, artists and writers based in Kolkata:

The song penned by Gauriprasanna Majumdar recounts the Coffee House days of seven friends, who sat over endless cups and cheap charminar cigarettes burning between their lips with dreams to make it big.

But life has taken a toll on them, DSouza is now dead, Amal is dying of cancer, Rama is in an insane asylum betrayed by his lover, Sujata is married to a rich man, Nikhilesh is in Paris and Moidul has gone back to Dhaka. The seventh friend is the unnamed narrator pining for the old carefree days of Coffee House.

There is not a time when I don’t get a lump in my throat listening to this song. The pain in his voice makes you die with DSouza, the guitarist of Grand Hotel, it makes you suffer as Amal, the failed poet, it makes you stare at nothingness like the insane Rama, the love less, failed actor.

He was also popular in Bangladesh. Blogger Professor Hijibijbij at Sachalayatan wrote:

আমার কৈশোর আর তারুণ্যের উদ্দাম দিনগুলিতে অবিচ্ছেদ্য সঙ্গী ছিল মান্না দের গান। সঙ্গী এখনো। কৈশোরের সেই দিনগুলি ছিল অসাধারণ – সারাদিন গান শুনতাম। দিন যেত, আর আমি একের পর এক আবিষ্কার করতাম মান্না দের গাওয়া এক একটি গান। গান তো নয় যেন সুরের জাল দিয়ে গেঁথে তোলা শব্দের মালা, যা অবলীলায় প্রকাশ করে আমার মনের একান্ত অনুভূতিগুলো! বাসার পুরানো ক্যাসেট প্লেয়ারে আমি শুনি মান্না দের গান। একবার শুনি, বারবার শুনি, কিন্তু গান পুরানো হয়না।

Manna Dey's songs were close to me during my adolescent days. They still accompany me. I listened to his songs everyday back then. As the day progressed I discovered more of his songs. Songs like necklaces of words sewn with music, which expressed my intimate feelings. I still listen to his songs in an old cassette player. I listen to them over and over, but they do not grow old.

Bangladeshi Blogger Zuberino (@zuberino) tweeted:

Indian writer and blogger Harini Calamur (@calamur) reported:

Anuradha Warrier, writer and blogger, listed a number of legendary songs of Manna Dey as a tribute.

Bollywood Actor and anchor Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) remembered him:

Mapping Recent Reports Of Dengue Fever In India

Vidyut at Aam Janata blog has created a map of the Dengue outbreak in India from various reports published in print media in the last couple of months.

October 26 2013

VIDEO: The Human Cost of Development in India

In the latest blow to the people of Jagatsinghapur's fight to keep their homes and livelihoods in the face of development, the South Korean and local Indian governments behind a massive steel plant slated to be built there rejected a UN panel recommendation to halt the land-grabbing project. 

The residents of Jagatsinghapur, a town and a municipality area in Jagatsinghpur district in the Indian state of Odisha, have been resisting the POSCO project, a plan to construct a steel plant worth 12 billion US dollars, for eight years. In June 2005, the state government of Odisha and the Korean conglomerate POSCO signed a memorandum of understanding for the project, which would initially need 4,004 acres of land, of which 2,900 acres is forest land and the rest is private land.

But rights over that forest land to be used for the project is claimed by the locals, who have made their living there for decades.

A signboard outside the village of Bailatutha. The bus stand behind it now serves as a make shift Police camping spot, keeping an eye on the movements of people in, out and around the proposed area. Image by Ayush Ranka. Copyright Demotix (22/7/2011)

A signboard outside the village of Bailatutha. The bus stand behind it now serves as a make shift Police camping spot, keeping an eye on the movements of people in, out and around the proposed area. Image by Ayush Ranka. Copyright Demotix (22/7/2011)

If the project is implemented, over 22,000 people could be forcibly evicted thanks to the acquisition of land, destroying a thriving economy dependent on betel leaf cultivation, cashew plantations, and fisheries. 

On 7 October 2013, both the Republic of Korea and the Odisha government stated that work would begin on the proposed plant in 2014, despite the UN Human Rights panel's recommendation that moving ahead with the project would mean the displacement of thousands of people and the disruption of many more livelihoods. 

Commenting on the situation, Terra Lawson-Remer, an assistant professor at The New School and Fellow at Council on Foreign Relations, noted on Kracktivism blog that:

the tension between aggregate economic growth and the property rights of vulnerable groups is a longstanding development challenge. Often, growth-enhancing land acquisitions financed by foreign investors forcibly displace the original resource users and ignore their property rights claims, intensifying property insecurity and resource scarcity — even while bringing macroeconomic growth.

An old woman inside the transit camp of POSCO-India. They have suffered for the last four years in overcrowded, unhygienic living conditions with only Rs.20 (50 cents) per person per day to live on. Image by AYush Ranka. Copyright Demotix (22/6/2011)

An old woman inside the transit camp of POSCO-India. They have suffered
for the last four years in overcrowded, unhygienic living conditions with only Rs.20 (50 cents) per person per day to live on. Image by AYush Ranka. Copyright Demotix (22/6/2011)

Delays have bogged the proposed facility since its inception. A large portion of land have been already acquired by the state, but construction has been delayed by regulatory hurdles and public protests against plans to clear more than 1,600 hectares of mostly forest land

The project has attracted controversy not only for its impact on the local people and the environment, but also for how police have dealt with protesters against the plant. 

There have been numerous protests, and a recent one in March 2013 claimed the lives of four anti-POSCO activists, reported Subhash Gatade at Kafila blog, when bombs thrown at the group exploded. Police allegedly dragged their feet in responding to the violence.

The protesters demands included:

1. Ongoing forcible land acquisition for POSCO plant be immediately stopped.
2. Police force be withdrawn immediately from proposed POSCO plant area.
3. Suspend the District Collector and Superintendent of Police of Jagatsinghpur District immediately.
4. False criminalisation of the protesters be stopped immediately.

With the steel plant project forging ahead, Video Volunteers, an international media and human rights NGO, has released a documentary film highlighting powerful testimonies from the residents stating how their livelihoods will be adversely affected:

The documentary was shot by Video Volunteers’ community correspondents during a fact-finding mission carried out by a number of human rights organizations in November 2012. The mission also resulted in a report (pdf) titled “The Price of Steel”.

From the film's YouTube page:

The film evidence comes at a critical juncture as the affected areas and protest are recovering from the aftermath of cyclone Phailin. The people of the affected area have shared concerns that the destruction of 170,000 trees by POSCO and the Odisha Government made them extremely vulnerable to effects of the cyclone. In previous years the forest cover had mitigated the worst effects of cyclones. [..]

“People in the project-affected area have reportedly been subjected to violence, harassment and intimidation, as well as arbitrary detentions and false charges, as a result of their activities to assemble peacefully and collectively defend their human rights”, said the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai.

More UN special rapporteurs have given their opinion, calling for the project to be stopped:

The construction of a massive steel plant and port in Odisha, India, by South Korean steel giant Posco must not proceed as planned without ensuring adequate safeguards and guaranteeing that the rights of the thousands of people are respected.

The transit camp of POSCO, India that has been set-up for the few villagers who are so-called Pro-POSCO. Image by Ayush Ranka . Copyright Demotix (22/7/2011)

The transit camp of POSCO, India that has been set-up for the few villagers who are so-called “Pro-POSCO”. Image by Ayush Ranka . Copyright Demotix (22/7/2011)

Chai Kadai blog reported that some of the videos were filmed by Debendra Swain, an IndiaUnheard community correspondent who is also an anti-POSCO activist:

He was arrested on 3rd February 2013 by the police on false charges, taken to Kujang prison where he stayed for 26 days and released on bail on 01 March 2013. 

For its part, POSCO India has strongly denied having any role in the abuse of human rights:

Posco has always urged the government of Odisha to first safeguard the human rights and livelihood of innocent villagers and rejects/deplores any unlawful violence against them.

More information can be found on the Stop POSCO campaign and Video Volunteers website.

October 25 2013

Tipaimukh Dam -A Threat To Nature And Native Culture

The Tipaimukh Dam in the Indian state of Manipur, has been planned for flood control and hydroelectric power production. However, In Search For Greener Partures blog reports that this dam will lead to severe changes in climate condition, affecting the livelihoods of over 20 million people in the lower riparian areas including neighboring Bangladesh and leading to temperature changes.

How Women Can Stay Safe In India

The crimes against women are on the rise in India. Writer and blogger Shilpa Garg provides some tips on how women can stay alert and safe.

October 17 2013

‘Can We Call Ourselves Free?': Indians Talk #HumanRights On Blog Action Day

Blog Action Day LogoFor Indian bloggers on Blog Action Day on 16 October, a day in which thousands of bloggers from around the world write on a single topic, this year's theme of #humanrights hit home. The fight for human rights in India, where child labor, indigenous exploitation, entrenched stereotypes and other violations remain a problem, is far from over, they wrote. 

Richa Singh shed light on the lack of human rights considerations in the tourism sector, especially involving the indigenous population:

Safari. Human. Human safari. What do these two words explain to you? Put etymology to it and despite that, the worrisome details of this ‘trip’ will not be exposed.

Jarawa tribes. Andaman Nicobar islands. Does this not bring to mind the gory details of that video which went viral all over the internet and finally surfaced on the news channels.

Fifteen thousand rupees (US $250) that's it. That is all it took a couple of people to go on a human safari. Where they could watch scantily clad women dance, men beg for food and of course poor children also not spared in this. This particular tribe has been an endangered species for quiet sometime. And Supreme Court of India has repeatedly been demanding a closure of the highway which leads to their inhabited areas. But govt has been reluctant to follow through because there could be possible ‘connectivity’ issues.

Irish expatriate blogger Maria Perry Mohan, a blogger and mother of four who lives in India, focused on child labor in India:

Because India is in the far east and is technically what is known as a developing country, westerners find it very hard to believe that many people here live in unimaginable comfort. There are kids who have laptops, access to modern educations aids, smartphones, pizza delivery, digital television, even a fancy vehicle to move around in – you name it, they have it.

The very same kids often live in homes where there is flagrant use of child labour. I kid you not. Because of the profusion of dust, the harsh climate and a cooking system which is still quite labour intensive, pressure cookers notwithstanding, a housewife's work is never, ever done. So for those who can afford it, domestic help is a must.

Indian children go to work on World Day against Child Labour

Ural Rahul, 15-years-old, works in a garage in Dimapur, Nagaland, India. Image by Caisii Mao. Copyright Demotix (12/6/2013)

Columnist, writer and blogger Shaksi Nanda described human rights violations in the mental health sector:

Despite progressive legislations and zealous spread of awareness, conflicts and vagaries arise when human rights of the mentally ill are under question, not just in India but universally. [..]

Grey areas remain in the legal technicalities and implementation, questions of ethics and professionalism. Grey areas are also housed within our own minds, and mentalities, in our social attitude towards our mentally ill. These being the two biggest deterrents in ensuring human rights of the mentally ill.

Rajlaksmi talked about discrimination based on skin color and body size. She asked:

How about just being human for a while, accept and appreciate people for what they are?

Ashrayam Rural Development Society distributed Food and Clothes to much needy tribes of Nelliampathy Palakkad, India. Image by Prashanth Randadath. Copyright Demotix. (24/8/2010)

Ashrayam Rural Development Society distributed Food and Clothes to much needy tribes of Nelliampathy Palakkad, India. Image by Prashanth Randadath. Copyright Demotix. (24/8/2010)

World Food Day also fell on 16 October. The right to food is also an essential human right, yet many in India cannot afford three meals a day. Writer and blogger Nischala suggested ways to bring about a change:

* Eat to live ; and not live to eat. Don't make food the focal point of your life every single day
* Don't throw away food. Learn ways to re-use as-is or in new ways. There are so many interesting things one can do with left-overs. Google it!
* You have the power to control food waste – Stop your friend from doing it
* Skip a meal 1 time in a week. It can be the fodder for someone else, and does wonders to your perspectives on “food”
* At a regular frequency, sponsor the meal of someone who can't afford it (In your community, in a religious place, in a social welfare group, etc.)

Kalpana Solsi commented on education and the amount of work that remains to be done to perfect the sector. Despite implementing the Right To Education Act and the recognition of education as a basic right, there are many illiterate people in India. 

Journalist Vishal Bheeroo blamed the lack of political awareness for failing to ensure universal human rights in India:

Today, the fight for universal human rights is a real challenge since there are so many people who are deprived of proper meal, exploited by the middlemen, don’t have access to good education, proper sanitation and healthy living. They are also deprived of justice and fairness in society because of their social, caste or sex status. It’s a tragedy since lack of political willingness and mindset in the system permeates discrimination in society. Can we call ourselves Free? I’m sorry to say no and universal human rights seems to be a distant dream.

You cannot ignore human rights because human life matters. It's not just about the state of being alive, but also the quality of life. Bloggers Shilpa Garg and Rainbow Hues collaborated on publishing the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights in simple language, courtesy of Youth for Human Rights. There are 30 human rights that are not optional, including the right to life, no torture, no discrimination, the right to an education, and a free and fair world for all. Everyone deserves them, and no one can take those rights away.

As Nischala says:

BE HUMAN first
The RIGHTS will FOLLOW
It starts with YOU!

Please check the Write Tribe for links to more posts on Blog Action Day 2013.

October 11 2013

Blank Noise's The Action Hero Game Sets New Rules For Street Behaviour

Blank Noise, a volunteer-run community project that seeks to confront public sexual harassment, or eve teasing as it is known in India, has launched a reality game called the Action Hero meant to tackle the fear that many Indian women have toward their cities.

According to the project blog, anyone and any number of people can participate in the game, which is played simultaneously across cities, countries, towns and time zones. The player will have to be equipped with a Twitter account and a basic mobile phone that allows him or her to receive text messages with instructions and tasks, and also has to start from a location that is unfamiliar to him or her.

The website explains why this game is necessary:

At Blank Noise we have largely used the web space to build dialogue on the issue of sexual violence. We announce events, build participation, work towards growing a community of men and women who take ownership and responsibility of sexual violence. We intervene across spaces with multiple forms of media (live street actions/ t shirts/ posters/ sound installations/ interviews) but rely largely on the web to build testimonials of sexual violence. There are spaces and communities this blog space hasn't accessed. That's also where we count on you.

Imge courtesy Blank Noise. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

Image courtesy Blank Noise. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

Founder of Blank Noise Jasmeen Patheja explained the game further to the Indian Express:

The Action Hero Game is designed to deal with fear and to make the ‘action hero’ player acutely aware of his or her presence in his or her city. Through the ‘tasks and challenges', it enables new behaviour, thus building new associations and memories with a public space.

She further explained to the Deccan Chronicles:

Jasmeen Patheja, the originator of Blank Noise explains that being defensive and hyper alert does not lead to “feeling safe” and that was when she conceptualised the idea. She says, “We keep ourselves safe by building defense rather than making it familiar.” The project hopes that each individual has the ability and power to influence change in one’s society.

On October 5, 2013, the game was played in these cities of India:


View Action Hero Game #1 in a larger map

Anjali Manakkad from Bangalore described what tasks were she given and how she responded. Her fourth task was to sit and stare at the clouds:

I went to one of the benches down the road and I left my camera pack on the side and I stretched myself and bent my head backwards. This was actually very peaceful and no one seemed to be curious or mocking by my actions. I don't know if anyone really noticed me as I was looking up most of the times. But I knew for sure that no one was sniggering or talking about me as I heard a few footsteps pass me by with no reaction.

Laura Valencia, a participant, said in an article in The Alternative:

The first few instructions were straightforward. I walked with my arms swinging, sat in a place and got comfortable, and made small talk with strangers. As time went on, I found myself less obsessed with checking to see if a new instruction had come as I sank into playing the game. I found my temporary happy place about two hours in while standing on a street corner and giggling.

Action Hero Game 1. Image courtesy Blank Noise. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

Action Hero Game 1. Image courtesy Blank Noise. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

In the Blank Noise Action heroes blog, participants shared their reactions:

Action Hero Ash thought:

The funny thing about all this is our general attitude to it. It is something that we women expect to experience. We ‘modern’ women may have stopped taking it lying down, and take action when we can. Nevertheless, it’s a sad fact of life that eve-teasing is a normal part of life. We Bombayites even considered ourselves luckier, because at least we weren’t like our sisters in Delhi – who’d travel in busses with their arms crossed at their chest, pointed needles poking out of their fists at either side!

The next game is scheduled for October 19, 2013. To register for free, email blurtblanknoise@gmail.com.

October 10 2013

Media Ignores Farmers and Disabled Advocates Occupying Mumbai Train Station

An unexpected coalition of drought-striken farmers and disabled people brought a south Mumbai railway traffic to a standstill this week for about four hours as they occupied a station in protest, but the incident went largely unnoticed by media outlets and social media. 

Vidyut at Aam Janata reported that hundreds of disabled people from across the state and farmers from drought and flood affected regions of Vidarbha occupied Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station on Wednesday, October 2, 2013.

The Asian Age reported:

The protest has been named Dera Andolan, which means all the protesters will camp themselves in the city till the government gives a time limit for fulfilling their demands.

The incident went under-reported in mainstream media, and the reasons for protesting were not explored, probably due to the lack of political clout the demonstrators have. But Vidyut suggested the possible issues of the protests:

I have no idea what the farmers were protesting, but God knows they have plenty to protest about when it comes to their conditions in Maharashtra.

The deaf-dumb people seem to be demanding for Indian Sign Language to be formally included in curriculums and recognized as an Indian language as per this photo.

The Mid-Day however reported that the government had promised financial help and a raise in pensions for the physically disabled and the needy. But with progress on that front after seven months, people protested.

Vidyut continued:

Strangely our newspapers are not interested in what could have got farmers and disabled people to travel overnight to occupy space in a train station. The one journalist who did click a photo and comment wondered if they had purchased tickets. Then wondered at the speed by which they “took over” the station. A few thousand people taking over the largest station in the city is a bit extreme considering that a single train carries several times that number easily.

Journalist Rajendra Aklekar (@rajtoday) tweeted the incident:

The Times of India reported that the protesters were met with force and now face prosecution:

A day after a mob of 2,000 farmers and physically challenged people laid siege to CST, security agencies registered criminal cases against them and are scrutinizing footage from CCTV cameras to identify the accused. The RPF has booked the protestors under the Indian Railway Act for trespass, obstructing the running of trains, obstructing railway employees in their duties, drunkenness or nuisance and endangering safety of commuters. The GRP has also booked the protestors for unlawful assembly and wrongful restraint.

Protests are common, but punishing peaceful protesters is less so. The actions of police are an unfortunate show of how those with less political muscle are easier to punish with law.

Thumbnail image courtesy Rajendra B Aklekar (@rajtoday)

October 06 2013

India: Happy Hours At Hospitals To Lure Patients

Kamayani at Kracktivist reports that the Happy hours discount concept, which is popular across bars, restaurants and multiplexes, is now catching up in the Indian health care sector. A Bangalore based private hospital has recently started offering 30-75% discounts on key services, including diagnostics, radiology, and consultancy, during off-peak hours. Other leading hospital chains are preparing to follow soon.

September 30 2013

India: The Prime Minister Nominee & His Criminal Records

“Can a person with Criminal Records become the PM of India?” – asks Dr. Abdul Ruff while discussing the nomination of the right wing leader and Gujarat chief-minister Narendra Modi. He is the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance for the upcoming 2014 Indian general elections.

September 27 2013

Documentary Films Tackle Child Sexual Abuse in India

deviantART image of Little Red Riding Hood by Sebastian Moya, CC BY-SA 3.0

Spray painted image of Little Red Riding Hood by Sebastian Moya, deviantART, CC BY-SA 3.0

Child sexual abuse is rarely discussed openly in India. Lack of proper education among adults, queasiness around explaining sexuality related matters to children and the culture of children being expected to respect adult members of family without question, often put children in an abuse situation which they may not be able to report. In this post, we look at a few documentary films that inform and also urge both adults and children to break the silence around child abuse.

Chuppi Todo (Break the Silence) a film by documentary filmmaker Sanjay Kumar Singh, took shape in 2011 when Sanjay, in an effort to educate his six-year-old daughter and children like her about abuse, decided to make a film for children on how to recognize abuse, raise their voices against it and report it to a responsible adult. The film was supported by Plan India, an NGO working with children. Since then, Sanjay has created many more films and TV spots with the same theme, as awareness building tools against abuse.

The film, which is the first in the series and available on YouTube, is largely enacted through mime with a voice-over. The narrative follows two children Rahul and Sania who are close friends and enjoy reading and playing together. One day while playing hide-and-seek in a neighbor's house, Rahul is urged by his neighbor to hide behind him and is then covered with the shawl that the man was wearing and pulled onto his lap. A frightened Rahul runs away and later relates his ordeal to Sania who informs him that once a similar incident had happened to her but that her mother had taught her to say NO. She takes a shaken and embarrassed Rahul to her mother, reassuring him that she would be the right person to help him. Sania's mother calms the children and then  educates them about safe and unsafe touch, to say NO to the latter and run away. The children are also taught how they should not keep these things a secret (even if the abuser entreats/ threatens them to) and report it to their mothers or other responsible adults. The film also teaches children that even if they are not able to clearly identify the nature of a touch, if it makes them uncomfortable, it is best to refuse and report it.

The film asks children not to stay silent, not to keep secrets from their mothers and other responsible adults but to speak up about abuse. But why don't children report abuse? What holds them back? In her blog post on Women’ Webblogger Divorceddoodler explains some of the reasons why children do not confide in their caregivers or other responsible adults, namely that children lack the proper words to describe what has happened, they are afraid of being disbelieved, they feel it's somehow their fault or that they may have been threatened into silence.

Author-blogger Sweta Vikram, writing on Halabol points out some of the cultural factors that could ‘paralyze’ a child at a ‘subconscious level’ thereby bringing down the shutters and ensuring silence. She writes:

“Respect your elders” or “Don't question what the older folks say” or “Elders are never wrong,” is what we are brought up to believe. Children are loved and pampered, not respected as individuals. Their opinions and experiences either hold no value or are labeled as “cute” or “imaginative.” And for those of us who are or were rebellious morons and seek answers to everything illogical even as a kid, we are chastised or labeled as “disrespectful.” How many children or even adults do you think can be okay with feeling like an outcaste?

We are also brainwashed to keep our dirty laundry at home. So, even when the crime of sexual violence is and was happening, many children don't speak up against it because of fear or shock or shame or confidence or lack of support. Or if they were being heard, the reaction might mean: handle matters quietly.

Earlier, in 2010, another documentary film titled Speak Up! It's Not Your Fault!, produced by SCM Sophia Production (Sophia Institute of Social Communications Media, Mumbai) and directed by media professional Dipika Lal tackled the issue of child abuse in India. Using visual analogy from the story of Little Red Riding Hood and having two adults who had faced abuse as a child (one of them being Dipika herself) open up about their experience on camera, the director not only brought out what children feel and go through but also what issues they may face when some of them do open up about it. The film is currently hosted at Culture Unplugged and has been used here with permission.

 

The film also shows that even when children say No, or when they are uncomfortable in a situation, they can be ‘groomed‘ into giving in to the abuser's wishes. Grooming, according to Vidya Reddy, Director of Tulir – an organization working on the prevention and healing of child sexual abuse in India, is a very critical area for adults to understand, in order to be able to create the proper safeguards that are essential to providing a safe and protective environment for children.

In a telephonic interview, Vidya strongly emphasized that unless adult caregivers, to whom we are asking children to report abuse, are themselves educated and informed in a manner that allows them to be prepared and confident to handle these situations, asking children to report abuse will not go a long way to combat the problem. For it is only when adults are educated and informed about the context and dynamics of abuse, can they not only create a protective and safe space for children to speak up about abuse without fear, but can also take proper preventive steps to minimize opportunities for an abuser to get to a child. According to Vidya

Adults around a child should feel prepared and confident to address child sexual abuse and the only way to do it is to give them information that does not overwhelm them and put the shutters down. Rather, it will make them feel capable of addressing it and capable of preventing it. The dynamics of abuse need to be understood by the adults…For example, unless you understand grooming, you will never understand why a child won’t disclose about abuse and that is the crux of it, you know.

Of course, since the time that the film was made (2010), India has progressed when it comes to framing separate laws to tackle child abuse. In 2012, the government of India passed the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act [pdf], which UNICEF India has also highlighted in their ongoing #ENDviolence campaign.

A more recent film, 2nd Saturday, produced by RM films, directed by Rumi Goswami and uploaded YouTube by PocketFilms, is a bold take on child abuse in that it talks directly to the abuser. A man who is abusive towards a minor girl who is the household help, is rudely shocked when his own child asks him why he does not love and caress her the way he does the maid.

There have been a few other films too, and very recently, on 20th September 2013, the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) released a documentary film titled Thank You Ma to generate greater awareness about child abuse and the steps needed to protect children from it.

Films, videos, TV spots – in other words, the audiovisual medium is a powerful tool to generate awareness and educate both adults and children about abuse, it's dynamics and possible actions which can help minimize opportunities for abuse or it's recurrence. It's good to see activists, government agencies, filmmakers and media professionals using the audiovisual medium in an impactful manner to break the silence and taboo around child abuse. We need many more such films to shake us out of our complacency and ignorance, educate, inform and help us tackle child abuse in the way it should be.

September 25 2013

India: Rape? Its Womens’ Fault

The media attention on rape in India and the public notion that women are responsible for most rapes have lead comedy podcast All India Bak**** (AIB), brainchild of comedians Tanmay Bhat, Rohan Joshi, Ashish Shakya and Gursimran Khamba, to protest by posting a satirical video on Youtube “It's your fault” (text-script here). The video went viral and had been watched almost 1.5 million times in the first week.

September 23 2013

Social Media Week Discusses Principles for a Collaborative World

#smw13

Follow @socialmediaweek on Twitter or the hashtags for the event: #SMW13 (general), #SMWBerlin#SMWBog (Bogota), #SMWChicago#SMWLDN (London), #SMWLA (Los Angeles), #SMWMumbai#SMWSP (São Paulo), #SMWTo (Toronto).

Social Media Week, a worldwide event which ”brings people, brands and organizations together to explore how we connect and communicate as a society”, starts today, September 23, 2013.

In the second edition of this year's global conference, with the cities of Berlin, Bogotá, Chicago, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai, São Paulo and Toronto as hosts, more than 1,000 events are expected to take place ”exploring the social, cultural and economic impact of social media”.

The global theme that marks the fifth year of Social Media Week is “Open & Connected: Principles for a collaborative world”.

Related post on Global Voices - Italy: Social Media Week in Milan and Worldwide (2010)
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