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 Pramila…one who stood her ground   By Madhavi Kulkarni,  Navi Mumbai.

I still remember the staircase of the hospital where I was sitting, three months pregnant along with my 13 month old on my lap. The sky came crumbling on me two years ago carving the incident on my consciousness.

I was really happy… actually there was no one from my in-laws. But when we decided to stay separately ‘Pratham’ was already in my womb. I trusted ‘him’ and he loved me immensely…what more could an ordinary girl like ask for? But I think the destiny wasn’t happy with the arrangement. So I was left alone with one child on my lap and the other in my womb and suddenly my husband was no more….vanished …forever. Whole and hearty with age even below thirty, he got a massive attack of paralysis. The attack was so strong that nothing was left behind only a huge vacuum. I got married at 18 and at the age of 21 everything was lost… I was down in the dumps.

With three years of marriage, a S.S.C. pass stamp and no one from in-laws, I just didn’t know where to begin. The future of my young ones seemed bleek. When my father broke the news of his demise, I couldn’t even cry. My mind and my soul were frozen for the entire night. As reality set in I was all tears. The sight of ‘Pratham’ wrenched my heart. My stomach churned as I looked into his innocent eyes. In such times my only support was my parent’s home. But even they were struggling in terms of money. My father worked a laborer. I had three elder sisters who were already married off and a younger brother. I gave birth to my second son in this scenario, a month after my husband passed away. I was still not my normal self. I was struggling to do something positive for my two little ones. Both my father and my brother opposed a lot. They were ready to on the responsibility of my children. But I myself badly wanted to something constructive for the sake of my children. I neither had enough education nor enough confidence even to step out of the house. But still my mind was made up to be on my own. And a chance meeting with Mrs. Vidya Dhumall, a relative changed my life. Vidya Tai was working with SureStart as a CHW.

I understood nothing when she told me about “SureStart” and “Mother and Child Health”. When I learn’t that even a less educated girl can do this job, I went to Vashi to meet Prajakta madam. The first reaction I got from Prajakta madam was like I, being so low in confidence and education, ‘what can be expected from me?’ She only agreed to let me stay after hearing my condition from Vidya Tai. But she had one condition. She said, ‘first enroll in this course which will be helpful in building your confidence, you will get used to the outside world’

I felt much better after talking to her. I enrolled in the customer care course started by Kotak education foundation. After paying the fees of Rs.300/- at CBD Belapur, I completed the course.  Then I worked in a mall at Vashi for some time. Within a few days I concluded that I was not cut out for this work. I left the work and visited the SureStart office at Vashi. I was a little more confident now. But there was a written exam to be passed for qualifying as a CHW, of which, not a single answer, I knew.  What does and iron tablet mean? What is the importance of diet? Why is a blood test necessary? ….though I had given birth to two infants, I was never troubled with such questions and till today I never felt the need. But now I needed all the answers to pass the written test. Not knowing what to do I casually looked here and there. And there it was, right in front of my eyes, a chart hanging on the wall. And in it was the answer to each and every question asked in the question paper. Immediately I got it all down in my notebook and studied intently. I passed the test. Looking back I still wonder how. But at the time that chart on the wall had become my saviour. After I joined the project I got all the information and in-depth knowledge about it. And now I am spreading awareness of the same among the women staying near me. I will complete one year since I started working for SureStart, this December. I have educated many women from Indiranagar, Turbhe, about the care that has to be taken at the time of pregnancy. Roaming around our settlement I have seen life in its real sense. I forget my woes while solving their problems when possible. Sometimes they only need the moral support to face their life and sometimes they only need a good listener just to lift the heavy burdens their little hearts carry. Each of them has a different story. Some are manhandled by their husbands while some are tortured by their mother-in-laws. Today, thanks to SureStart, I can provide for my family. And I forget my tears in the midst of so many currents of tears that are eroding the life of so many women everyday.

‘Pratham’ comes running to me when I go back home from work in the evening. Once he said,”Aai, neighboring Pappu got a toy car from his dad today. Why don’t I have a Daddy mommy?” I felt a surge from inside me and thought I would throw up any moment. But then I pull him near me and say,”My dear, I can’t get you your father back but surely I can bring the toy car for you tomorrow.” Surestart has given me the strength to say that to my little one. I am happy once again.

Someday this project will be over and then I do not know what will be my plan. But I will never be the same ‘Pramila Ghule’ as I was before the project. I realize that I now stand on a strong foundation of my personality and that is mine forever.  This is the confidence SureStart has given me today and forever. So today I stand my ground with my parent’s strong support, Vidyatai’s timely interjection and the trust shown by Prajakta m’am. The destiny faltered against all these people and tomorrow I can be a pillar for my children to rest on.

Translated by: Rashmi Kulkarni, Thane.

 

Speak up…Write out….. Medha Kulkarni

Why can’t we take the value of brotherhood to the people just like we sell soap using advertising? The basic point is turning people to your side, to make them a part of your agenda, to inspire them to fulfill their responsibilities, to guide them towards ‘action’ by making them hold the finger of ‘thought’, to convince them that you are doing their work and to include them in the task some way or the other. This is in fact a long winding road. Technology is an aid, a medium. The modern-times technology has made this long route to reach people short and easy. But have our social, political workers, leaders realised this?

Speak up…Write out…..
Since 2006, a project on the issue of Mother n Newborn Health is being implemented in seven cities in Maharashtra. After reading words like ‘Mother-Newborn- Health’ and ‘project’, one might mistake this to be the same old routine, social (boring) ‘ngoetic’ stuff. But anything related to human being, anything related to its existence is never boring, can’t ever be! And where there is a mother, a child, there exists an entire human culture. Thus this is one subject that remains as fresh as ever. Those working in Media can identify, reveal a human aspect in any issue. Well, aren’t otherwise believed to be mundane figures and statistics use to denote existence of mankind?

A series of workshops which we (Sampark Network) organise for the volunteers participating in the above mentioned project are based on the same principle. If these volunteers aspire to expand the scope of their work, if they want to take their work to the people with the help of Media, if they wish people to contribute their fair share in solving social problems, then these volunteers must make the human angle in their work visible by thinking beyond the purview of their project. Supporting facts, figures, case studies and resolutions related to every topic are always readily available. Importance of information is paramount. But what is the use of mere information? One must be able to team up information with a human face. When this happens, effective Social Marketing is possible. Yes, Social Marketing. A contemporary term which in the past was termed as ‘Enlightenment’. Today, it is also branded as Advocacy, Social Marketing.

In the year 1952, J. D. Webb, a professional from the field of advertising in America presented a question - Why can’t we take the value of brotherhood to the people just like we sell soap using advertising? Webb conducted a comparative study of material marketing and social campaigns of that era and propounded that social campaigns which adopted the exact technique of material marketing were a complete success (Reference: Journal Of Marketing – Issue No. 35, 1971). In the US, marketing of the Presidential election is quite an old tradition. Recently, during the election campaign of Barak Obama, we witnessed an extensive and clever use of all information and audio technologies, right from radio to modern facilities like internet. Obama had even requested the citizens to suggest him points for his post-oath-taking-ceremony speech and American citizens participated enthusiastically, happily to prepare a format of their newly elected President’s maiden speech. A special blog created for this purpose was flooded with people’s opinions, desires and expectations.

The basic point is turning people to your side, to make them a part of your agenda, to inspire them to fulfill their responsibilities, to guide them towards ‘action’ by making them hold the finger of ‘thought’, to convince them that you are doing their work and to include them in the task some way or the other. This is in fact a long winding road. Technology is an aid, a medium. The modern-times technology has made this long route to reach people short and easy. But have our social, political workers, leaders realised this?

Here I would like to mention the observations during my stint at Aakashvani and while advocating social issues on behalf of Sampark. Social activists always voice their grievance that the space social issues command in Media is getting sparse. Earlier the blame was put on newspapers which were looked upon as agents of the capitalists. Now things like globalisation, corporatisation of media are held responsible for the same. Some days back, during a training programme organised by us for its Zilla-level members, one national party observed that these members saw the world from a certain fixed angle. Because of this, limitations arise in understanding the changing world. It is important for the party workers to understand their party, its role and must have faith in it. But to extend the scope of their work and to help it reach people outside the party, they must assume that the people outside their party think differently than the party workers. You must have a main stream Media to reach them.

Every social, political organisation has its own mouthpiece. However, its readership is limited. If one has to increase the circulation of these mouthpieces, then it must include content that will appeal to those who believe in an ideology different than yours. We then took up the task of reading and analysing content of several main stream newspapers. By the way, today this activity is an inseparable aspect of Sampark’s Media Training programme. After we finish reading and analysing any newspaper, the common reaction of the workers at all times we get that they had never read the newspapers in such a manner, with such an ‘open’ mind. Mainstream Media is all-inclusive by nature. There is a scope for everyone to play a role in it. And like I said in the beginning, whatever is related to human being, whatever is related to its existence can never be boring. What we learn here is that we must have the skill to use the position we get to its fullest.

While producing programmes on the social issues on Akashwani, one hurdle I faced was that a person having a grip over a particular topic couldn’t present his thoughts in a way compatible to the medium of radio. If the interview is slotted for 10 minutes, then the interviewee use to think that his topic was so vast, so important, and with so much to tell how can he finish it all in just 10 minutes? Now TV channels have shrunk the same time to mere seconds. Since all social, political activists have this habit of speaking lengthy for hours in meetings and public gatherings, they find it difficult to keep their talk short and to the point.

Basically, studying how to speak and write, practicing it, experimenting in it and attempting to influence using it, is not given much of an importance in social and political arena. The general assumption is that people take it casually & are sick of doing study. But now due to the growing power of Media and call for turning the young generation towards oneself, time has come for the workers & leaders to pay attention to the detail while communicating, speaking and writing everything, everything right from formatting an SMS to preparing a format of a speech.

The point is, it is important to keep talking and writing in Media for social & political workers. Mainstream Media has interests of its own. In such times, one can surely reach people through a regulation-free e-medium. Again, the language of e-Media is different. If one wants to reach the young generation, then e-Media is more important. We began the training programme for the young volunteers of the earlier mentioned ‘Mother n Newborn health’ project which is being implemented in seven cities in Maharashtra with newspaper reading and news writing. Now they have reached a level where they recently organised an advocacy campaign called ‘Jananni Surakshaa Jagruti Abhiyaan’. This is replicable. To influence government’s policies, to make work the implementing machinery, role of Media is vital. Also, such social marketing definitely has enough power to influence political processes.

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Qwerty Ram's Job Search

I, Qwerty Ram knew it. The increasing water crisis world over was going to cause something serious. Back in Haryana, my i.e. Qwerty Ram’s herd of cows and buffalos was facing problems due to water crisis. Suffering from dehydration they had started giving milk powder!
Qwerty Ram was forced to quit that occupation. I, Qwerty Ram shifted to Mumbai and tried his hands at fashion design. Qwerty Ram’s revolutionary design of ‘Lungi with a zip’ was not received with expected warmth. Like a good Indian (and like a better civil servant) Qwerty Ram knew when there was nothing to do, it was high time to flow abroad.
I, Qwerty ram decided to undertake a multi-nation Survey and crafted just one question:-- "Would you please give your honest opinion about solutions to the shortage of food in rest of the world". Qwerty’s plans to achieve results met same fate as his earlier occupations had seen. The survey was a massive failure. The reason was:

  • In Africa they didn't know what 'food' meant.

  • In India they didn't know what 'honest' meant.

  • In Europe they didn't know
    what 'shortage' meant.

  • In China they didn't know what 'opinion' meant.

  • In the Middle East they didn't know what 'solution' meant.

  • In South America they didn't know what 'please' meant.

  • And in the USA they didn't know
    what 'the rest of the world' meant.



 

Qwerty Ram Searching for God's E-mail id

My name is Qwerty Ram. Bill Gates must have squirmed in his dreams the day my Pa C. Chand gave me this name, though Melinda could not have forgotten to wish him sweet dreams when kissing him goodnight. Now, this ‘C’ before a ceremonious ‘Chand’ in my Pa’s name itself is a confidential matter as to what it could possibly stand.

It could be anything from C for Calculator to C for Cursor to Chip to Customize….and so on. When Qwerty Ram last saw a bomb blast or a communal riot on TV news, I -- i.e. Qwerty Ram was very annoyed with God on what type of a world He had created. Qwerty Ram decided to shoot an email to God expressing his i.e. my displeasure. The problem was where to find God’s email.

Then Qwerty Ram i.e. I remembered the Celestial media man Narad Muni with his ceaseless tagline “Narayan Narayan”. And, look and behold! Narad Muni appeared with his roving Veena to cover the event of a sole soul named Qwerty Ram searching for God’s email!! Narad ji told Qwerty Ram only God could guide him i.e. me to His email address. Where could God be found?

Narad ji explained when God was at Kailash Mountain, people searched Him and disturbed Him there. When He shifted to Kashi, people chased Him there. When He tried to hide in Mandir-Masjid-Gurudwara people never left Him alone. Narad ji then counseled Him there was only one place where people would never search for God – the core of humans’ heart! Since then God was living undisturbed within men and women.

Qwerty Ram i.e. I was prompt enough to look inside Qwerty Ram assured of God’s abode and sent the email: To : God@QwertyRam.com Cc : My Pa (Qwerty Ram was not ready to accept there was any CC other than his Pa C. Chand) Equally promptly came the “delivery failure” mail. Narad ji admonished Qwerty Ram: “As long as you don’t see the same God in THE other, you won’t know God’s real email address".


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Bhopal : Poisonous Gas Leakage : The Pain and the struggle still on. by Anil Shaligram

The nightmare began 25 years ago, when, on 3rd December 1984, poisonous gas leaked out of Union Carbide pesticide plant. It was a massive blow on the town of Bhopal sleeping peacefully. The poisonous gas affected over 5 lakh of population and took its toll on 8 to 10 thousand people in less than 72 hours killing 25 thousand more till date. 1984 was a catastrophic year - Operation Blue Star, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the slaughtering of Sikhs in Delhi, the gas leak in Bhopal. And also the rise of Rajiv Gandhi.

These incidents did have a great impact on the Indian social scenario but after a lapse of a quarter of a century, they are now history. But the wound of Bhopal is still bleeding. Because the then and the subsequent generations are still being affected by it. The second reason is the fight for justice which still continues. And the lastly because the problems caused by industrialization and globalization are now becoming prominent on the global platform. Union Carbide has always maintained that this was an act of sabotage and the company is not responsible for it.

But in fact Union Carbide had selected harmful and hazardous production processes for pesticides just to save expenses. All over the world such industries are located away from the town as a rule, whereas it was located in the midst of densely populated areas of Bhopal. Many security measures were abolished so as to cut costs. The company had ignored many warnings given by employees union, as also the experts in the field.

Apart from those who died, around 2 lakh people are suffering today from various kinds of disabilities and diseases such as eye ailments, difficulties in breathing, heart diseases and ailments related to reproduction. Disabilities in new born babies are very common e.g. six fingers on the hand, legs that cannot stand and so on. So many still under treatment. Sambhavana Trust, formed by local activists is doing commendable work in this regard. Modern medical facilities as also Ayurvedic treatment is being provided free of cost made available to the people absolutely freely, without any cost.
The efforts and the excellent standard of the services of ‘Sambhavana’ have won recognition all over the world today. The 25-year old incident is akin to the havoc wrought on a city by war or by a bomb blast. But even more shocking is the apathy of the system in punishing the guilty. And the victims, suffering for the past 25 years, have continued their unequal fight against the injustice done to them. The gas-affected people are being treated as offenders by the government and the local administration.
The victims have had to organise three long marches to Delhi in 1989, 2006 and 2008. They had to suffer police lathicharge and complete indifference from the arrogant bureaucracy. Union Carbide spent crores on media campaigns but refused to give any compensation to the victims. The out of court settlement done in 1989 was an eyewash and applied salt on the people’s wounds.

The victims have still kept on with their fight through long marches, fasts, dharnas, demonstrations, boycotts, wall posters, etc. and through performing arts like musical concerts, plays, street plays, cartoons, etc. The matter does not end with the nightmare of an accident that took place in 1984. The amount of waste chemicals and drainage water which the hazardous processes of the company have been releasing into the environment, has rendered the entire area poisonous.

Tons of toxic material are scattered all over the place even today. Union Carbide disowned any responsibility after the gas leak. Then this particular plant was bought by a company named Dow who say that cleaning of the environment is the responsibility of the former owner company and not theirs. The residents of Bhopal however have to suffer the consequences till today.

Thus, it is really a fight for a healthy society though the brunt of the gas leak and of the subsequent fight for justice had to be borne by Bhopal victims. The real culprits in this case are Union Carbide and the corrupt government officials and the stooges of the company who have shielded it. The Indian public has chosen to be a mute witness to the whole sordid drama.

Bhopal gas leak accident poses many questions. Why did the American government not charge Union Carbide when it shunned all responsibility claiming the incident to be an act of sabotage? On the contrary the U.S. government did not hand over Mr. Anderson to the Government of India when he ran away there upon facing arrest in India. The Indian government too should have supported the cause of the victims of poisonous gas leakage in Bhopal and should have tried to get maximum justice to each of the victims.

But ironically, in 1989 the Government accepted Union Carbide’s offer to pay only 47 crore dollars as compensation. And all the criminal charges were withdrawn. Later it was realized that the number of victims taken into account then was far less than the real number. As a result, the victims have, on an average, received only Rs.12490/- each as compensation.

The ‘Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti’ (Committee for Cooperation for the Struggle of Gas Victims) appealed to the Supreme Court, but the court refused to reopen the case of compensation in 2007, but allowed approaching the Bhopal High Court. On 25 November 2009, a date marking the 25th anniversary of the incident, even the high court rejected the appeal.

In short, the victims have been totally overwhelmed by the evil nexus among the main offenders Union Carbide, their protectors, the American Government, and the over-indulgent Indian Government. Yet the questions regarding the protection of environment, the security to life and the health of the society remain unanswered. But the glaring problems like Bhopal Gas leak and the not so glaring issues of degrading environment, both born of the modern day industrialisation are sure to boomerang if not tackled in time.
Translated by : Rashmi Kulkarni.

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“Sure Start” Learnings by  Hemant Karnik
 
Sampark has been actively doing public interest advocacy for more than 16 years now. On a broad level, our activities include disseminating through print and electronic media information relating to pressing social issues, involving opinion makers in a direct dialogue with community activists, pursuing with policy makers for progressive legislation and better implementation, helping smaller organisations in documentation and so on.

We also hold empowerment workshops for the benefit of the activists and employees in voluntary organisations. Such is our 'social career' and we have had a long and concerned involvement in social issues like 'prohibition by public demand', 'land to the landless', 'Right To Information', 'transparent and correct implementation of EGS and NREGA', maternal and newborn health and so on. And we have gained some insights into value-creation on the social front.

However, the feeling that the social capital created out of efforts like ours goes uncounted and unrecognised, has grown over the years. Since 2007, we are involved in the PATH's Sure Start Project in Maharashtra as cross-site partner for advocacy. We have organised site-level training workshops, workshops in which all the 7 Lead Partners participated, we have given inputs on a 'public-interest campaign' and then we also have successfully organised a campaign involving all partners. In addition, our site facilitators have highlighted the project and its various aspects in the media, have documented case studies and have frequently brought about an interface between the project partners and the media.

All such activities were made as a part of our mandate in the Sure Start Project. And all these activities have resulted in creation of value beyond the mandate too! For our own awareness, our contribution in advocacy and media management as a cross-site partner in the project has been a turning point. This is the first time we are making an attempt to measure the value so created though we were creating similar kind of value in the previous projects we were involved in.

Thus the Sure Start Project has been a great learning experience for us. To list the instances of value-creation: 1. sensitisation of local population through local media (both print and electronic) 2. orientation of powerful opinion-makers such as the mediapersons towards a better awareness of issues of maternal and neonatal health 3. empowerment of health-workers to do public-interest advocacy 4. empowerment of female community workers to take responsibilities and make decisions 5. creation and collation of data for urban health services 6. creation of case studies in support of the data and as a study of human nature 7. recognition to Sure Start as a source of comparative study of the efficacy of various models to reach the weaker sections of the society and so on. The purpose behind this quantification of value created is not limited to the context of the project or PATH or other partners.

We believe that our learnings will enable us and the voluntary Sector to evaluate the various tools of advocacy. Such evaluation may initiate comparison of the tools and eventually lead to improvements in each tool. And that will be additional contribution of Sure Start to the voluntary and health Sectors in India. Since the end more than justifies the efforts to be spent on the exercise, we are going to have a series of articles on the aspects listed above.


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