Time to revolutionise the Indian education system

Dear Rahulji,

The state of India’s higher education is desperate and deplorable. Look beyond the IITs and IIMS, which off course caters to only a handful of our young pupils, and the dearth of quality education will be self evident.

The United States and the United Kingdom together earn over Rs. 50,000 crores from Asian students studying there. This is more than twice our entire educational budget per year. You must already be aware of this.

You have shown that you feel strongly about this. During your journey to the village schools you had asked the young students “Bete bade hokar kya banoge?” (What do you want to become when you grow up). The blank stares had disturbed you. And you had recounted it in your maiden Budget speech in the Lok Sabha.

Rahulji, you had also talked of higher education and of the need to develop India as ‘‘a global education hub’’. With a better mandate and more power in hand, can we expect that you and the UPA will do something to ensure that every child is able to answer the question ‘‘Bade hokar kya banoge?”

My best wishes,

Dipu Shaw

The three political stalwarts of 2009

Until recently, he was busy discovering India. Now, India has discovered Rahul Gandhi: says the lead of an article in a leading Indian magazine. No need to mention that this is about the Congress’s emphatic victory in the 15th Lok Sabha elections.

One cannot dispute the fact that the 2009 elections in the world’s largest democracy saw three straight winners: the young and dynamic Rahul Gandhi, son and grandson of former prime ministers Rajiv and Indira. Considered by many to be a prime minister in waiting, Rahul was marketed by Congress to appeal to India’s 43 million first time voters.

The engineer-turned-politician Nitish Kumar, seen by many as the first leader to have transcended all complications in Bihar. After all Bihar is known for its fragile and competitive caste calculus. This makes the 2009 mandate stand out as the first post-caste election in the state.

The man with a clean and simple image: Navin Patnaik. With his decisive victory in Orissa, he became the first leader to become chief minister for the third consecutive term. His party Biju Janata Dal became the first regional party to come to power on its own in Orissa. Just before the elections, he snapped his electoral alliance with the BJP. It was a calculated risk to go it alone and the gamble paid off in spades.

Bindeshwar Pathak receives Stockholm Water Prize

Bindeshwar Pathak has won the 2009 Stockholm Water Prize. As the founder of the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, Dr. Pathak is known around the world for his wide ranging work in the sanitation field to improve public health, advance social progress, and improve human rights in India and other countries.

“The results of Dr. Pathak’s endeavours constitute one of the most amazing examples of how one person can impact the well being of millions,” noted the Stockholm Water Prize nominating committee in its citation.

Since he established the Sulabh Sanitation Movement in 1970, Dr. Pathak has worked to change social attitudes toward traditional unsanitary latrine practices in slums, rural villages, and dense urban districts, and developed cost effective toilet systems that have improved daily life and health for millions of people.

Sulabh: A Simple device

The Sulabh technology is a simple device. It consists of two pits, used alternatively. After one pit fills, excreta is diverted to the second pit keeping the first in rest period where the excreta converts to solid, odourless, pathogen free manure. This does not require manual cleaning of excreta. In comparison to a traditional 10 litre flush, this technology requires 1.5 litres.

In an ideal situation toilets must be connected to sewerage networks. But, according to the 2001 census, only 232 out of 5,161 towns in India have a sewer network, that too partial coverage. The system is not complete unless a sewer line is connected to a sewage treatment plant.

As sewerage based toilets remain out of the reach of the majority in India, the challenge is to have toilets which are affordable, upgradable and easy to maintain.

Dr. Pathak will formally receive the 2009 Stockholm Water Prize at a Royal Award Ceremony and Banquet during the World Water Week in Stockholm this coming August.

“There are still 500,000 scavengers in India cleaning toilets manually”, informs Dr. Pathak. So, the task is not finished yet. He argues that nationalized banks must give loans to construct toilets, just as they provide loans to purchase fertilizers and seeds.

Declining readership of Urdu newspapers

Readers of Hamara Samaj, the well known Urdu daily of the capital would have been amused to find the same news repeated on two subsequent days. The newspaper on its issues dated 9th May and 10th May had the same “Delhi Shahar” page. It meant that all the news content of the third page of the newspaper on 9th May was repeated the next day.

Hamara Samaj was considerate enough to come out with a clarification on May 11th for the mistake. However, the point is that this is not the first instance of such a fault in the Urdu dailies. Often, news reports and pages get duplicated. Facts get twisted and reports are highly opinionated. These are perhaps some of the reasons for the depleting readership of Urdu newspapers. The Indian Readership Survey points out that the readership of Urdu Times and Inquilaab, two leading Urdu dailies of Mumbai was 6.2 lakh and 8.3 lakh respectively in 2007. In 2008, their readership has come down to 4.6 lakh and 8.1 lakh respectively.

Inqulaab, claims to be India’s leading Urdu daily established in 1938. (Mid Day Multimedia Ltd.)

Even though most of the newspapers consist of only about eight pages, the major part of the first and the last page is devoted to provocative advertisements. Hamara Samaj on 11th May carried an advertisement on its first page covering almost half the page. It had the picture of Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav and aratiya Janta Party president Rajnath Singh treating each other with sweets.

The headline was: Congratulations!

The words were thus: “Are SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav and BJP president Rajnath Singh exchanging sweets to celebrate the demolition of Babri Masjid?

To be continued..

Zindagi LIVE?

As news channels reported on the high celebrity and low voter turnout at the polling booths in the third phase of the Lok Sabha elections, IBN 7 telecasted an interview with Shweta Singh, ex-wife of Rahul Mahajan in its talk show Zindagi LIVE.

The show hosted by Richa Aniroodh brings forth personal struggles of ordinary people who have battled adversities. Rahul Mahajan has acquired no less than celebrity status and anything to do with the Big Boss 2 participant is given extensive coverage by the media.

There is nothing wrong in calling Rahul’s divorced wife for a free wielding chat on television. But, continuously harping on the finest details of her broken relationship with her Ex-husband to the point that the interviewee sheds tears on screen is not what you call responsible journalism.

During the course of the interview, more than once Shweta had to repeat, “I don’t want to get into that again”, when put with uncomfortable questions by the host. Her sad story of her troubled married life was masala-mixed with equally depressing music in the background. The camera zoomed in on her sobbing face and the visual was repeatedly used before the commercials to keep viewers hooked to the show.

The tears gushing down from Shweta’s eyes, shown in slow motion depicted a sorry picture of the lady rather than one who has “battled atrocities and chosen life over defeat” as the programme claims it highlights.

The ticker below the screen read: 2006 Marriage, Divorced in 15 months.

The questions too were unmistakeably intrusions of privacy and stemmed from morbid curiosity rather than genuine overriding public interest.

How does it feel when Rahul Mahajan has been talking in the media about your (broken) marriage?

Why did the marriage break?

What was the role of other members in Rahul’s family when there was trouble in your relationship?

Had Pramod Mahajan been alive, can it be said that the relationship would have survived?

How long and how many times were you making adjustments when the relationship was in trouble?

Shweta answered to the questions in a choking voice, breaking down more than once during the show. The other members of her family including her mother also present in the show dejectedly watched as Shweta related her sad story. Her sister wiped her tears.

The larger issue is how much is the media allowed to intrude into someone’s life to share in a personal tragedy. It may be of interest to the public but the more important question is if it is in the larger public interest. In Shweta’s case, it was not.

One may do well to remember the guidelines of The Press Council of India. It lays down that the Press shall not intrude or invade the privacy of an individual, unless outweighed by genuine overriding public interest.

In situations like this it was pertinent for the interviewer to introduce her specific questions with the explicit question whether the guest wanted to talk about a specific aspect of her life or not, whether she wanted to go into details or not. This would have given her the option of saying “no”.

The interviewer could have tried not to conjure up unwanted recollections and the emotions they entail. Shweta and her family members definitely would not like to see her crying face on television.

Quite ironically, the host said in the end, “Whatever happened with you in the past we would want that you would forget them. And move forward”.

If only the media allowed it.

The article was published in The Hoot

Dipu Shaw