Beacon of Hope for Indian Agriculture

The WORT initiative has made water available to drought-hit villages like Dolsane | Photo: Nayan Das
The WORT initiative has made water available to drought-hit villages like Dolasane | Photo: Nayan Das

Kumbharwadi, a remote, drought- prone village lying in the rain shadow region of Maharashtra, has been in despair with erratic rains, excessive runoff and soil erosion. A rocky soil bed and a depleting ecosystem has made Kumbharwadi unfit for agriculture. Farmers have shifted to shepherding and many more migrated as farm laborers to greener pastures.

But those who chose to stay put, understood the urgency for a complete overhaul of the existing agricultural patterns for survival. They approached, WOTR- an NGO that provides water shed management to villages across India, from then began a journey of enlightenment. The villagers took training to understand how to harness available resources, enhance agricultural output and better their livelihood.

Bhagwat Mallari Garge is the new Jal Sevak of Kumbharwadi. His primary responsibility is to check the Rain Gauge System, record and inform villagers on water levels in wells.A Water Committee has also been instituted to chalk out the water budget of the village. He says, “We keep a record of all the wells in the village and record the water level every 15 days. By this, we get to know what the status of water is and around that we build the water budget.”  The water budget helps villagers know the level of water present and will grow crops accordingly. “There is an understanding that during summers, when water levels are low, no villager will grow plants that require a lot of water like tomato and onions. This way, not only us, but the future generations will benefit,” he added.

The SMS alert system provides information on various agricultural aspects. Started by WOTR in collaboration with the Pune Water Board, members of the Shetkari Mandal (farmer’s organization) can get information oncropping patterns, seed improvement, fertilizer use and trending rates at the nearest mandi. Damodar Jarag, a farmer was quick to take out his mobile phone to demonstrate, he says that this facility allows him to make “wise decisions on farming.”

Vegetables that require abundant water like tomatoes can be grown in plenty due to water harvesting | Photo: Astha Prakash
Vegetables that require abundant water like tomatoes can be grown in plenty due to water harvesting | Photo: Astha Prakash

Garge speaks of how the media has been instrumental in helping agriculture. “‘Amchi Mati, Amchi Mansa’– an agriculture welfare related program on Doordarshan  and the weather reports after the evening news gives us a lot of information on cropping  and matching rain patterns to crop cultivation. Earlier we were skeptical of these things, we wondered what difference this could make to our agriculture, but now that we have understood, we judiciously follow and implement the advice”

Today, the image of men and women bent over pulling out plants after harvest has been replaced by a rotor blade machine that chops remnants of the crops after harvest and mixes them with the soil. Farming equipment has metamorphosed from buffaloes tugging at a plough to a tractor that does the work in half the time.

“Now we can use the leisure time to supplement our income. The dairy cooperative that was started two years back is bringing us good money. This has changed our lifestyles, our eating habits and breathed new life into us,” says Jarag

The vermicompost bed, kept prominently next to the village water tank seems indicative of the holistic development that the village is witnessing.

“Soil fertility depletion was affecting our agriculture Fertilizers were very expensive and often ineffective, so we shifted to organic farming. This has reduced the menace of pests on crops, “says Damodar Jarag. He explains how they soak leaves from plants like neem and garlic for 21 days, extract the water and use it as a pesticide. “It is a good alternative to the harmful chemicals that we used before.”

Vittal Kale, an 80-year-old farmer who has witnessed changing trends speaks of his experience.“ In the early times, we used organic methods for farming, the yield used to be excellent, after fertilizers came, people used all kinds of medicines to treat the crops, this only resulted in reducing the quality, going back to old methods of organic farming is a positive move.

From famine and drought to green fields a plenty, Kumbharwadi today is a picture of hope and prosperity. The pathos of the Indian agriculture system is witnessing a sea of positive change.  A village that stands on such solid ground exemplifies the benefits of inclusive growth.

Surrogacy Posed for a Remake

“A foreign couple on a surrogacy visa was caught at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. They confessed that the reason they were opting for surrogacy was to get an organ transplant for a sick child back home”

Report by Centre for Social Research

Representational image | Image: nomblog.com
Representational image | Image: nomblog.com

As a $ 2.3 billion industry, surrogacy in India is booming beyond its boundaries. Corruption, manhandling and deplorable sub-human conditions constitute its nuances. With only guidelines from the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) Bill and no concrete laws to fall back on, surrogacy in India has been a sensitive topic in international forum.

During these bleak hours, suggestions by the Directorate General of Health Services(DGHS), Dr. Jagdish Prasad’s suggestions to provide surrogacy services to infertile couples only of Indian origin stands as a beacon of light.

The suggestions forwarded by the DGHS to the Department of Health Research aim to regulate the industry and provide a greater hold of power to the Health Ministry.

Among the many proposed steps to regulate the industry, the DGHS added that surrogacy options could not be made available to foreign nationals unless they are married to a person of Indian origin. Also, he proposed that an Indian woman can serve as a surrogate only once in her lifetime. “The woman must be aged between 25 and 35 years and not have more than two children of her own” DGHS Prasad was quoted.

The implications of this move are plenty. India is one among the few countries in the world to legalise commercial surrogacy (surrogacy in exchange of money). With lax laws and behind-the-door transactions, India has been a favoured destination for surrogate procedures. According to a survey by a Delhi-based NGO, foreigners make up to 40 per cent of the total clientele. With the power to provide more money, foreigners are sought after. The survey also points out that an estimated 2,000 children are born every year in India through surrogacy, by restricting the options to only Indian couples, this number is posed to fall drastically.

A report by the Centre for Social Research, a lobby group for women’s rights paints dark pictures of the surrogacy industry. While surrogate mothers are kept in hostels by infertility clinics to avoid the stigma that surrounds the procedure, many commissioning parents go for multiple surrogate options where more than one woman is implanted for guaranteed results. Clinics across India even provide a discount for the same.

The Planning Commission that has been in a tussle with the Health Ministry to involve NGOs while drafting the Bill in the Parliament and is stalling the creation of reliable laws. With women being offered only 1- 6% of the fees collected by clinics, surrogacy is an issue that requires urgent debate.

The Female Gazes

Pallavi Singh's Palyboy on Acrylic
Pallavi Singh’s Palyboy on Acrylic

Gender violence has closely been avoided by the art folk. Afraid to brand themselves as ‘feminists’, the quiet among these people has stirred a curator who feels that more than a gender problem, violence is a humanitarian issue that needs urgent brooding.

The personal perhaps has never before mingled so closely with the political when hordes of angry Indians surged through the streets demanding an answer for the December 16 Delhi gang rape case. The genuine protestors and the provocateurs painted a large canvas of frustration and an overall break in the silent bearing of gender violence that this patriarchal country has comfortably kept up.

Silence has largely been the language of women across the world. While a woman had to be seen not heard, as the popular adage goes, they have silently withstood and witnessed gender violence. Rare Acts of Political Engagement, an art installation aimed to break the stereotyped woman who did everything apart from rising to defend herself. The exhibition is not, as would seem ostensibly, an upheaval of feminist anger, rather it is a feminist critique of the atrocities against women and an aesthetic production of a political engagement that the artists infer as their right.

Johny ML, the curator of the show stands apart from the 24 women with feminist leanings as the only man involved in the project. What he says of this speaks of a silent art community that is otherwise considered as sensitive. “As a male curator and art critic I waited for some female curator to come up with a project that would discuss gender disparities at the wake of Delhi Gang rape issue. But for a month or so I did not see anyone doing it.” He explains that many from the art fraternity are reluctant to be branded as feminists, this he blames on ‘social perceptions’ and ‘market realities’.

Rare Acts of Political Engagement acronymed R.A.P.E is not simply a dig at sensationalism or a reiteration of a topical event. According to Johny, the show is rare in the fact that these women have been given complete artistic freedom to express how they look at themselves being a victim of circumstances of patriarchy and dominance. It is a direct result of the personal realm affecting the political sphere, a much needed change of course that follows gender violence.

Works such as ‘Touch Your Hymen is Still Stuck With Your Vagina’ by Arshi Irshad is a commentary on the over sexualised body of the woman that often leads to physical torture. Through her intricate work of alternating body parts and writing in Urdu, Irshad aims to raise the viewers’ sensitivity of how violence of the female body has been a fetish since history. Kavita Singh Kale in ‘Gear Up’ brings out the irony in the governmental system of surveillance which is male chauvinistic and intrusive in its gaze and fails to pin-point evils in society that hoodwink this ‘ever-seeing’ eye and indulge in gender atrocities.

Kanika Sharma uses sanitary pads with text printed in red to juxtapose the unreasonable statements by political, religious and social leaders. The pads are physical metaphors to the taboo that surrounds womanhood and chastity. The natural path of pubescence and menstruation is seen as a ‘ruthless application of power to enslave’ a woman in the garb of physical incompetence and fatigue. Bold statements such as ‘My body is mine and no one has the right to violate it’ speak of a larger picture of exasperation that women have felt toward gender violence.

 

Meena Kandasamy, noted poet and social activist speaks of the multifarious channels of female suppression that happen in a Hindu scenario. Her triptych, ‘Bondage and Submission’ is a photography of a rarely photographed female body that is weighed down by societal markers like the ‘mangalsutra’, the sacred thread and the fulfilment of religious requisites have made her an adorned object of subjugation.

The phallic metaphor is mostly visible in most of the works. A reversal of the ‘male gaze’ is seen in Pari Bhaishya’s ‘Uniform’. Drawing from a personal experience when a policeman tried to show her his nudity, Baishya, by showing a complete nude man with a police cap and a flaccid penis aims at closure.

The fragmentation of the female body into parts has been explored by Megha Joshi’s ‘Object’ where surrogate silicon nipples are attached to a horn, daring the man to think of the implications of groping a female.

The works at the installation question hegemonic masculinity that men use against women and the trashing of a perverted physicality that they seem empowers them. Sex has been seen as a duty to be fulfilled by women and by questioning this mis-conception, these gifted artists are inching closer to building an egalitarian approach to gender by both the sexes.

As Meena Kandasamy speaks of the power of art in the course of change, “I think art always is a talking point and a space for dialogue. Because art makes a statement, it deserves and calls for a statement in return. While I have the lived experience of what it means to inhabit a lower caste woman’s body, I was making this statement on a larger basis. “

 

Booze and Music Reign at Condolence Meet

Officers being offered snacks at the condolence meet
Officers being offered snacks at the condolence meet

What is befitting a condolence meet to remember the thousands that died and many more displaced by the Uttarakhand floods? You observe silence for two minutes, then gorge on food and liquor courtesy funds that common people put together at the behest of a chief minister.

Or atleast that is what senior officials and district authorities of Shajehanpur District Hospital in Uttar Pradesh thought.

On June 26, a gathering was held to pay homage to the victims of the Uttarakhand Floods. While officials binged on food and liquor, “sad” Bollywood songs played in the background. The only address to the actual intent of the meet was a two minute silence that the officials observed, with probably much anticipation of the feast that awaited them.

This unique condolence meet came to public knowledge after a patient present at the hospital decided to leak it. Songs from the Shah Rukh Khan starrer- Devdas were of most demand and perhaps the image of a man drunk beyond his wits fitted the the mood.

The meet was sponsored courtesy donations from common people of Uttar Pradesh at the request of chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. A local Samajwadi Party memeber, on hearing if this misdeed has registered a complaint against the hospital authorities with the district’s guardian, Om Prakash Singh.

The Chief Medical Superintendent, Dr. Narayan Das Arora did not offer any justification to the activity but was more incline to question why only he was being targeted. Staff at the hospital reported that most of the officers present at the meet were in an inebriated state.

The chief minister refused to comment on the event.

‘If You Indulge in a Sexual Relationship, You are Considered Married’

 

premarital sex

The headline is what a bench of the Madras High Court while ruling on the separation between an unmarried couple who have sired children.

According to the ruling, consummation in a relationship is the indicator of marriage between two people, there need not be an official marriage certificate or other such evidences to attain the status, as the court put it “Once the sexual relationship between a man and woman is consummated, they become husband and wife, and rituals are but formalities for societal satisfaction.”

The statement came about while deciding a case of alimony between a former Coimbatore couple. The man had fathered two children and separated, the woman was not given alimony on the grounds that she was not legally wedded to the man.

The court further pronounced that if a girl did not get pregnant in due course of a relationship, but if strong evidences pointed to consensual sex, then the couple could not separate without a decree of divorce from a court. This opens floodgates of conflict especially in a day and age of live-in and homosexual relationships.

A cause of concern lies in proving the evidence of a consensual sexual relationship. Parameters of this cannot be water-tight and hence can be misused.  This also opens floodgates of conflict especially in a day and age of live-in and homosexual relationships.

Sneha Suresh, a 25-year-ols student says that the statement is fraught with loopholes, saying “Sex is no more a taboo and youngsters are increasingly indulging in sexual activities, this does not mean they wish to marry their sexual partners.” The ruling is closely connected with the cultural traditions of India where, most say that sex is explored only after a prerequisite such as marriage or the intention to marry is present, yet in changing times, this may rake up a dissent.

However, a silver lining is the option of support being granted to single parenting women who do not have evidences of marriage and especially help grey areas such as child births as a result of prostitution, promiscuity and polygamy.

Uttarakhand Floods: Mule-ing the Disaster

It has been 12 days since the first heavy rainfall in Uttarkhand. With over 800 fatalities and thousands stranded, 2013 has been marked as India’s most fragile year with respect to natural disasters. Sadly, the year also shamefully marks the end of India’s compassion towards the most harmless and the most hard-working beings of Uttarkhand- its mules.

12 days of intense rescue operations, funds flowing from America and all Indian states sadly no one paid heed to the apathy of the animals stranded in artificial lakes made by debris. Hunger and helplessness were given a blatant blind eye as the government continues to boast of numbers of humans rescued.

To reach Kedarnath, pilgrims have to pass Gaurikund which is the last stop for vehicular movement. The treacherous trek of 14 km is either made on foot and the old and infirm opt for mules which carry them up the mountain to the holy spot. An estimated 12,000 mules commute the area and of them, over 4,000 have perished in the floods, some washed away, some succumbing to injuries and many others of starvation. Furthermore, debris from landslides and destroyed buildings have contaminated surrounding water, rendering it unsafe to drink.

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Rescue operations by PFA in Uttarakhand | Photo Courtesy: my.opera.com

While chief ministers boasted about the number of people they helped rescue, they did not bat an eye for hapless animals that were and are at the moment struggling to make sense of the situation.

The Indian Army however, rose to the occasion by sending veterinarians and disaster management officers to Gaurikund to rescue 8,000 mules stranded in the area. People for Animals, an NGO headed by Menaka Gandhi is conducting rescue and rehabilitation operations.

Only yesterday, teams from People for Animals were airlifted to Gaurikund and Hemkund axis to assess the situation and start rescue operations. While the Uttarakhand High Court had placed a ceiling of mules at 4,500 on the Gaurikund-Kedarnath route this year, it was ignored. Members and volunteers are now stranded at Hemkund after the collapse of a bridge has rendered them stationary.

The irony lies in the figures that the government proudly exhibits. Manmohan Singh conducted an aerial survey to assess the situation, soon Rs.1000 crore was demarcated as relief funds, state government pledged funds to the tune of Rs.25 crore as is in the case of Uttar Pradesh, the United States of America diverted USD 1,50,000 as relief fund. The Army has deployed 10,000 soldiers, the Air Force has sent 36 helicopters and the Indian Navy, 45 naval divers. Yet, People for Animals is waiting for funds and volunteers to help in rescuing animals from what is soon being seen as a response to illegal constructions on river banks.

The apathy of India lies in the fact that the government chalked out plans to rebuild temples, rehabilitate people and breathed a sigh of relief when notified that the sanctum-sanctorum at Kedarnath wasn’t destroyed, yet found little compassion to act towards saving what actually matters.

National Security Advisor speaks to Symbiosis Students

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NSA Shiv Shankar Menon addresses the audience, along with other dignitaries on stage

 

Symbiosis International University, Lavale gears for a tet-a-tete with National Security Advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon on the topic ‘India and its Neighbours’. The event sees the presence of Symbiosis International University’s Chancellor- S.B. Majumdar, Principle Secretary, Dr. Vidya Yeravdekar, R.K. Lakshman Chairperson Dileep Padgaonkar among others. It marks the establishment of the Ram Sathe Chair in International Relations