grassroots

A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting reportage on the human condition
Rs 25 January 15, 2013

‘World’s youngest headmaster’, a real hero

Babar Ali is 19. But he is the headmaster of a school he founded some years ago in his native Murshidabad. He is a student himself, fortunate to have gone to school, but driven by the lack of facilities for primary and secondary education in his village, he started his own initiative to educate children. He began by calling a few of them to his backyard and teaching them all he had learnt in school that day. Today, Ananda Shiksha Niketan in Bhabta is home to 1000 students, all thanks to a boy filled with a rare sense of duty, direction and patriotism
shoma chatterji, Kolkata
aj Govinda School stood 10 km away from Babar Ali’s home. He would climb on to an auto-rickshaw for eight km and walk the remaining two to reach school. In the Bhapta neighbourhood

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amount and sent their children off to work, missing out on education,” he recalls. “My parents were very poor and the nearest school I could attend as a student was very far away from where “In the beginning, I think I was just play-acting, teaching my friends. But then I realised these children will never learn to read and write if they do not get proper lessons. I felt it my duty to educate them, to help our country build a better future,” he adds. The focus defined itself in a manner of speaking because more willing children began to drop in, including children from neighbouring villages, till Babar found it impossible to handle the growing crowd. But he could not turn them away, so he called his classmates and asked them to pitch in. Today, Babar, 19, runs a fullfledged school called Ananda Shiksha Niketan in Bhabta in Murshidabad that gives education to more than 1000 students who can now take their public board exams from the school. In a world where you are measured by the materials you own, (house, cars, clothes, etc) it's amazing to see a young man making the most of Jason, a Malaysian schoolteacher says, “Babar Ali is a rare soul, who at such a young age is filled with a sense of duty, direction and patriotism. Maybe if more youths of today were like him, the world would be a much better place. I will share this story with my students. I hope that more will be inspired to be like someone like Babar Ali.” Murshidabad District in West Bengal boasts of rich and archival historical monuments and happens to be a major tourist attraction. But most of the people who live in the district are sucked into the vortex of poverty. According to the 2001 Census, it is a densely populated district. Though demographic records boast a literacy rate of above 65 per cent, the educational infrastructure is inadequate to support the demand. Add to this the lack of education among elders who do not like to send many of their children to school either because they do not understand we lived. On my way back, I would see girls and boys of my age coming home from work instead of coming home from school. Instead of going to school most of the boys help out their families by working as mechanics, day labourers, grass cutters, livestock herders, etc whereas girls work as maid servants in the village where they cook, clean, wash clothes and dishes for their employers,” says Babar. “I asked around eight of them to come to my home in the evenings. I would make them sit in the backyard of our home and teach them all I had learnt in school that day. More children began to drop in. At that time, I had no definite focus and no certain purpose in mind. I experienced how education improved my knowledge base, was teaching me to think differently and how necessary it was for life. The focus came later,” he goes on to explain.
Photos: Babar Ali

INSIDE

Unable to walk, talk or write, yet she is a successful entrepreneur 2

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Youngsters bridge the divide, show they have what it takes

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Rural women show great awareness, adapt to climate change 4

Babar Ali teaching small children in the backyard of his home.
of Gangapur Village in West Bengal’s Murshidabad, Babar lives with his three siblings and his parents in a thatched house, approximately the size of an average city kitchen. Unlike most children in his village, he went to school and got formal education. He was better off being the son of Nasiruddin Sheikh. Nasiruddin is a jute seller and a dropout who believes that education is man’s true religion. He supported his son’s venture with his own income in the initial stages. Raj Govinda School is a government-run institution where Babar did not have to pay any tuition fee. “But there were the costs of the rickshaw ride, uniform and books, which meant that my family needed to spend around Rs 1800 a year just to send me to school. It is a lot of money for poor families like the one I come from. But I still managed to go while many parents could not spend that

She is 20, weighs 30 kg, and toils 16 hours a day 5 Cooking meals out of nothing, after floods washed away all hope

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Babar with some girl students who show off their certificates.
what resource there is. He is trying to improve not only the quality of his life, but the lives of others around him,” says Andrew Anastasi of London. the urgency of education or because schools are few and far between. (Continued on page 3)

Meeting challenges of erratic rain, unexpected drought

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Learning together: A lesson from craft economics 8

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grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

January 15, 2013

FOCUS

grassroots

Unable to walk, talk or write, yet she is a successful entrepreneur
Bhavna Botta was born with athetoid cerebral palsy, which makes her unable to walk, talk or write. Yet, she obtained a Commerce degree from a mainstream college, and turned entrepreneur. Her textile enterprise, Saahaagika, is “business with a social conscience”. A clear-headed young woman, she instinctively knows what she wants and handles communication and negotiation herself. Backed by loads of grit, she faces challenges and does not believe in shortcuts. A story of amazing courage
hema vijay, Chennai
er sparkling eyes seem to speak. Indeed, they actually do. Bhavna Botta was born with athetoid cerebral palsy, which makes her unable to walk, talk or write. But nothing has been able to stop the gritty young woman from chasing her dreams. She is perhaps the first person in India – and one of the very few in the world – to have completed a full-fledged Commerce degree from a mainstream college, the Ethiraj College in Chennai, by using the eye-pointing technique. What is more, she scored nearly 70 per cent in her final examination. Eye-pointing works like this: The person scrolls with his or her glance a chart (or computer monitor) that displays alphabets, letters or words, arranged in designated numbered columns, and with signs for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to enable verification. This is tracked either manually or through a computer that keys in the sentence spelt out by the glance. Today, there are even speech synthesisers that convert sentences into words and play them out, allowing the person to carry on a conversation. The brilliant British physicist, Stephen Hawking, uses a speech synthesiser, although his medical condition is quite different to that of Bhavna’s. Bhavna’s rehabilitation process began when she was just six months old. And before she got started on the eye-pointing technique, she was provided with all kinds of support during her school years. At Vidya Sagar (formerly the Spastic Society of India, Chennai), founded by Poonam Natarajan, who is now the chairperson of the National Trust of India for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities, a simple alpha-numeric chart was developed specially for Bhavna. Today, her Commerce degree is no longer a benchmark for an amazing woman. Barely out of college and just 23, Bhavna is already an entrepreneur. Her textile enterprise, Saahaagika, is no run-of-the-mill textile boutique either. It is, as Bhavna puts it, “business with a social conscience”. Saahaagika sources organic textiles from the Jharkhand Silk Textiles and Handicrafts Corporation, which in turn sources its merchandise from tribal people in the region. Ahimsa

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silk (silk obtained without killing the silkworm) is sourced from Sri Kusuma Rajaiah, who pioneered the technique. Now, Bhavna has also tied up with Auroville’s Upasana-Paruthi

stocks saris, kurtas, kurtis, shirts, saris, stoles and dupattas. Saahaagika means natural. “It has to be organic,” Bhavna points out with her eye. She first researched into these

Bhavna Botta was born with athetoid cerebral palsy. She is unable to walk, talk or write, but continues to chase her dreams regardless.
project that markets organic cotton textiles and outfits, and supports the cotton farmer community. Saahaagika fabrics through the Internet and other sources. Before starting out, she made sure to visit a dozen boutiques and

survey customer behaviour, besides quizzing her family and numerous friends. Incidentally, before honing in on the idea of Saahaagika, Bhavna had considered starting a mobile library that would home-deliver books to the physically challenged. Bhavna is a hands-on entrepreneur. She handles all her official communication, including interactions with the customers at her shop. An assistant follows her to support her physically, but the negotiations are all hers, including those with significant sums of money – like the loan for two lakh rupees she needed from the Indian Overseas Bank for setting up her shop. Says Kalpana Rao, her mother: “I am not sure how she manages it, but when she comes back home, she has the job done.” Kalpana is always at hand to help out. When technology fails, Bhavna can always depend on her mother. Her laptop had literally crashed on the weekend I met her but her mother was at hand to read aloud Bhavna’s eye-pointing from the chart. With such innate resilience, it is hardly surprisingly that Bhavna had been voted Miss Smiley and Miss Final Year in college. Here then is a clear-headed young woman who instinctively knows what she wants. Recalls Kalpana, “She has always been like that. In school, even as an eighth grader, she was sure that she wanted to do business.” Bhavna took Accountancy in Class XI and chose Entrepreneurial Development as her elective in college. When she entered college, her mother had suggested that she take up Science – since Science was her own major and was a subject she thought she could help her daughter with. Bhavna, however, had other ideas. She was already perceiving the steps she needed to take to fulfill her entrepreneurial interests. At every stage she made her own choices. “After her Commerce degree, the family wanted her to acquire an MBA. But Bhavna wanted to set up shop straight away,” reveals Kalpana. Bhavna is now all focused on opening another outlet of Saahaagika in Anna Nagar, near south Chennai. This means a fair bit of commuting and her mother tried to counsel her to bide her time, but Bhavna can hardly wait to take up a fresh challenge. Short-cuts are not for the rising

entrepreneur. She could have taken a loan from her parents to set up her business, but Bhavna decided to go for a bank loan. Clearly, the idea of being self-reliant is something she cherishes deeply. Like all young women, she can be headstrong but there can also be no denying the determination and grit. So how is business, I ask her. “Going on,” she replied, “Dull after the Diwali rush.” Now her clientele tends to be older women, but Bhavna is looking at trying to expand the youth market and get youngsters to root for her organic outfits. She agrees though that she may have “to do some kind of campaigning for this”. Her ultimate vision is to establish an adda or hangout that doubles up into a library-coffee shop-gallery-boutique. Technology has proved to be a true blessing. Bhavna uses Erica, an eyegaze technology, which tracks eye moment and types the letters chosen by her glance. Then there is a noncontact switch called Aditi, designed by IIT-M, Vidya Sagar and the Chetna Foundation, that gives Bhavna the left click of the computer mouse to access the computer. Many friends and associates have done their bit, such as close friends Meenakshi Subramanian and Sujatha Shriram. Then there is Bhavna’s sister, Nandini, and her band of enthusiastic friends. Nandini and friends Ashwath, Akshay, and Sridhar together created the website, logo and brochure design for Saahaagika, while Aishwarya, an engineering student, became a model for Saahaagika garments. Among the most important of the many things that remain in your mind, long after you have stepped out of Saahaagika, is Bhavna’s quiet confidence, which perhaps flows out of an oasis of will power. Even though she has already created a stir by showing how much is possible – whether you are physically challenged or not – one can’t help feeling that this is not the last one has heard of this courageous young woman. <
(Courtesy: Women's Feature Service)

Photo: Hema Vijay/WFS

Ja n u a ry 15, 2013

grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

3

Youngsters bridge the divide, show they have what it takes
Many people, institutions or organisations who work for the benefit of children or youth from disadvantaged communities rarely associate themselves with the latter while discussing their needs, aspirations and challenges or in deciding what to do with their lives. What is heartening, however, is that there are exceptions. Youngsters such as Sarasu, the first in her family to obtain a college degree, and Mani, physically challenged and an artist, are making a palpable difference, as are Lokanayaki, Sangeeta and Tamizharasi, feisty, teenaged Dalit girls from Madurai who are braving discrimination all the time
pushpa achanta, Bengaluru
t was a busy yet unforgettable Sunday evening in July 2008 for then 17-year old Manikantan V. (known as Mani), and Saraswathi G (Sarasu for short) and their friends Renuka, Radha, Sita and Santosh, who were also teenagers at the time. The occasion was the inauguration of the Ambedkar Community Computing Centre (referred to as AC3) near their homes in Sudarshan Layout of Gurupanpalya, a neighbourhood populated by financially challenged people living in southern Bengaluru. All youngsters who were studying in high school or in the pre-university programme did their best to ensure that the adults and children present that day would remember it for as long as they could. Says Sarasu, “I might have ended up as another girl who did household chores and perhaps some odd jobs irrespective of whether I had an academic qualification or not. This not only gave me the determination to complete my graduate degree but also to seek employment in a private firm and to speak with confidence to individuals and in front of a gathering”. So, what was so special about AC3? Well, it would not have materialised if it were not for the initiative of the youth under the leadership of Sarasu
Photos: Pushpa Achanta

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Clockwise from top left: twelve-year-old Mamata (right), a member of the Kishori Sangha in Karnataka; Mani, co-founder, AC3, with his Young Achiever Award; Sarasu, co-founder, AC3, addresses social activists; and young voices: Loknayki, Tamizharsi and Sangeeta.
and Mani. The two of them trained themselves and the children around them in free and open source software such as GNU Image Manipulation Program, GNU Linux, etc with the assistance of people associated with the Bangalore chapter of the Association for India's Development (AID), Free Software Movement Karnataka (FSMK), Stree Jagruti Samiti and Ambedkar Yuva Sangha. While AID is a non-profit body that

‘World’s youngest headmaster’...
(Continued from page 1) There are less than a dozen secondary schools across the entire district. “I realised this and I was firm that my open school would give free education to everyone and would not bother about caste, class and communal factors. My friends (nine of them), all students like myself who are collegians, have helped me greatly by remaining beside me and teaching with me without any salary. Our own students often become teachers in our school and this marks a definite milestone in education,” says the young pioneer who was bestowed the Youngest Headmaster in the World Award by the BBC in 2009. CNN (India) gave him the title of Real Hero for his contribution to social work, making him one of 20 chosen for the same title for their contribution in different fields. NDTV bestowed on him the Indian of the Year Award. Discipline is an integral part of education, Babar believes. When the children gather in his school they begin by singing the national anthem, with Babar standing on a podium and lecturing them about the significance of discipline in everyday life. This is followed by regular classes following a time-table like any well-organised school. Some children are seated in the mud, others on rickety benches under a rough, homemade shelter. His students come from nearby villages, some even walking four km to reach his house. In order to induce better attendance, Babar has managed to get government officials to distribute free rice at the end of the month. “Once, I discovered that attendance was falling drastically. That is when I hit upon this idea. As my school is not recognised by the government, I could not have got free rice. But government officials helped me,” says Babar. Today, the school is registered and recognised by the West Bengal State Government. This means that students graduating from Babar’s school are eligible for transfer to other local high schools. “I dream that my school will grow and expand to other parts of the state and country where children want to, but cannot go to school,” says Babar. <

supports a number of grassroots initiatives and campaigns for socioeconomic advancement and human rights in India through a network of volunteers, Stree Jagruti Samiti champions the rights of domestic workers in Bengaluru and a few towns in Karnataka. “Geeta Menon, the co-founder of Stree Jagruti Samiti, which helps mothers of some of the kids who are domestic workers, introduced us to them. Initially, we used to tutor high schoolchildren of the area in Mathematics, Science, Accounting and a couple of other subjects during weekends. This was when the kids showed an inclination to acquire computer skills, which led to the formation of AC3 eventually,” say Balaji Kutty and Senthil Sundaram, who volunteer with AID and FSMK and were responsible for mentoring Sarasu, Mani and their friends. Sarasu, 22, and Mani, 21, have bridged the digital divide and have been instrumental in equipping several youngsters with skills. The two have participated in seminars and exhibitions on Free and Open Source Computing in Thiruvananthapuram and Bengaluru and also spoken at conferences on human rights, youth and technology. When Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU Project and Free Software Foundation in Boston (who met Sarasu and Mani at the event in Thiruvananthapuram) heard of their accomplishments, he visited AC3 in December 2008 and praised the youth there for their activity. Incidentally, Eben Moglen, a professor of Law at the Columbia Law School in New York and founding director, Software Freedom Law Center, also visited AC3 to express his appreciation for the children associated with the initiative. Mani, physically challenged and an artist, is in the final year of a three-year diploma programme in Computer Science. He has exhibited and sold his paintings with or without the help of GIMP at conferences that focus on the politics of copyright, issues of social development, etc. Mani donates his earnings to AC3 or to children in need, despite his economic constraints. Sarasu, the first person in her family to obtain a college degree, is employed and

plans to do her post-graduation in Commerce with the help of distance education. Similar to Sarasu and Mani in terms of surpassing the boundaries of age and financial constraints in enhancing their lives and those of others are Lokanayaki, Sangeeta and Tamizharasi. These feisty, teenaged Dalit girls from Madurai District of Tamil Nadu are supported by an NGO, Vidiyal (means freedom in Tamil). Explains Lokanayaki: "Almost everyone is aware of the unsatisfactory facilities, teaching and infrastructure that exist in most schools run by the government across this country. But children like us who hail from economically backward families cannot afford to study in any other type of school. These institutions are supposed to provide free education, school uniforms and books. However, there is hardly any accountability either from the administrators or from the members of the school. That is probably the reason why they tend to ask students to pay money for some facilities or services that we are entitled to, free of cost. When that happened in our case, we raised our voices in protest and lodged a complaint with the block education officer". Thanks to the intervention of the officer, the school discontinued the practice. "When money was missing from the purse of one of our teachers, the suspicion was laid on all kids belonging to the Dalit community. Finally, she managed to locate the amount but did not offer an apology for having humiliated us in front of everyone," Tamizharasi says, pointing to the discrimination children face in terms of caste and social order. Dalit students are subject to other forms of segregation such as separate seating, use of specific utensils and insufficient, substandard quality or stale food during noon meals. Such practices continue in government schools across India although they have been brought to the notice of concerned authorities. Children from Andhra Pradesh are united under the banner of Indradhanush (or rainbow), one of the largest children's movements in India. The children who hail from traditionally marginalised groups have been successful in ensuring that government schools function and are properly maintained. By lodging complaints with government officials, the children ensure that the municipality clears garbage regularly – something that the elders were hesitant to do. And then there are girls such as 12-year old Mamatha who are members of the Kishori Sangha in northern Karnataka. With support from local NGOs, community based organisations and individuals, they have been able to alert relevant government and police officials who have intervened to stop the marriage of girl children below the age of 18.

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grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

January 15, 2013

Rural women show great awareness, adapt to climate change
Innovative measures by resilient women (farmers) across India are helping several poor families adapt better to climate change and keep hunger at bay. Studies show that women have disproportionately higher rates of malnutrition than men. In Uttar Pradesh, for instance, 90 per cent of the children examined were suffering from acute malnutrition. Things are not very different in Rajasthan, Odisha, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. Thankfully, rural women now understand better larger issues such as climate change and how it affects them directly. They are training others in adaptation techniques. Encouraging indeed, because in many ways women hold the key to food security
aditi kapoor, New Delhi

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xplains Sursati from Village Janakpur, District Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, “Earlier, we could not produce enough food for a year because our village would get water-logged by the flood waters. Now, using early maturing paddy varieties and organic manure to revive soil fertility, we can at least eat for all 12 months from the same piece of land.” Sursati is one of the many women being helped by a local NGO, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group, in the flood-prone areas of eastern Uttar Pradesh, where climate vagaries have been impacting agricultural production for some years now. Many farmers in Gorakhpur District, for instance, have stopped growing pulses because “winters are so late and so short these days.” Yet,

(Left to right): in Uttar Pradesh's Gorakhpur District, women who are farmers discuss innovative adaptation practices to ensure food is available 12 months in a year. In the Sunderbans where families have survived the worst impacts of cyclone Aila, farming different crops at different levels ensures that at least some will survive the adverse weather. A village grain bank run and managed by women. In many tribal areas of Odisha, grain banks have become the traditional coping mechanism and their recent revival has been welcomed by village women. Innovative layered farming practices and fishing ensures food security in saline soils of the Sunderbans.
malnutrition levels in India has been significant. Take Peddaka, a farmer from Village Chinnajalalapuram in Andhra Pradesh’s Anantapur District. She has been wrestling with the changing pattern of rainfall. “It is some five years since we got a good crop because rains have got scattered and erratic,” she says. According to the Environment Ministry’s Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment Report 2010, climate change impacts will lead to a reduction in the winter wheat, or rabi, crop production, lower yields from dairy cattle, a decline in fish harvests and quality changes in fruits, vegetables and even basmati rice. “With less food to go around, it is invariably the woman who gives up her share to feed the family,” Harsh Mandar, appointed by the Supreme Court to advise it on the right to food, had once observed. A malnutrition report submitted to the Supreme Court noted that “women of every age have disproportionately higher rates of malnutrition than men. In India, two out of three women are anaemic.” In May 2010, Mandar and Dr N.C. Saxena, commissioner of the Supreme Court, both of whom are also members of the National Advisory Council, wrote to the UP chief secretary on the shocking findings of an inquiry in Shankargarh block of Allahabad district. The evidence included the chilling fact that 90 per cent of the children examined were suffering from acute malnutrition; and many were eating mud, probably to stave off calcium and other vitamins deficiencies arising out of living with starvation and hunger. UP is one of the six severely affected states listed by the World Bank in its study on malnutrition in India. The other states where every second child is underweight - one of the indicators of malnutrition - include Rajasthan, Odisha, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. The World Bank report made headlines when it came out with the statement that India has the world’s highest prevalence of underweight children, nearly double that of Sub-Saharan Africa. Four states – UP, Rajasthan, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh – account for more than 43 per cent of all underweight children in India. The recent Rajasthan draft statelevel Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) recognises malnutrition, especially among women, as a major concern in the wake of climate change. The SAPCC states that a third of the women in 2005-06 had lower than normal body mass index; more than half of the married women between 15 and 49 years, and 80 per cent of children between 6 and 35 months, were anaemic; while about 44 per cent of children below 3 years of age were found to be underweight. In Odisha, protein consumption is as low as 48 gm per capita, compared to the national average of 57 gm. Not surprisingly, 61 per cent of the women in the state are anaemic, compared to 34 per cent of the men. The Odisha SAPCC predicts that “drier areas will become drier and flood-prone areas will be subject to more flooding.” Agriculture production and dairy operations are also expected to be adversely affected due to pest and disease outbreaks following climate variability. All this will have decisive impacts on food production and people’s nutritional status. There is an urgent need to focus on sound adaptation measures, especially those that benefit women directly. With gram panchayats now made responsible for village development plans, they can, in the wake of climate change, make Local Action Plans on Adaptation, or LAPAs, to climate-proof their development plans, much like poor, developing countries are today making NAPAs – National Action Plans on Adaptation –part of the UN climate agreements. The Madhya Pradesh SAPCC already mandates panchayats to include adaptation measures in their annual plans. Some women-friendly adaptation measures that can be promoted as part of LAPAs include village-level grain banks, which have proved popular in disaster-prone villages across states, including in Bengal and Odisha. Run and managed by women self-help groups, members store and borrow local millets and rice in times of need and repay in kind. Dakshin, a tribal farmer in the Kerandimal tribal area in Ganjam District, Odisha, puts it this way, “Grain banks mean our men will not migrate when the crops fail and that we will have enough to eat, too. We women have often starved because we preferred giving the available food to our husbands and our children.” In many tribal areas of the state, grain banks have become the traditional coping mechanism and their recent revival has been welcomed by village women. The women of Bankra Village in 24 North Paraganas District, West Bengal, emphasise that their families survived the worst impacts of cyclone Aila because of their kitchen gardens and poultry. Villages in the region have been facing multiple storm threats due to the increasing frequency of severe cyclonic episodes in the Bay of Bengal. Guided and assisted by a local organisation, Development of Research and Communication Service Centre, women here are now slowly taking the lead to grow multiple crops in their kitchen, or ‘nutrition gardens’ as they call them, to ensure there is something to eat when cyclones destroy their farmlands. “It was only in 2008 in Bali, Indonesia (at the UN climate summit) that gender groups began to focus on gender and climate change,” says Govind Kelkar, well-known feminist with UN Women and author of a recent research report on how adivasi women are engaging with climate change. “Women’s voices have to be heard and their ideas have to be incorporated in planning,” she adds. What has changed is greater awareness. Women, even in rural India, now understand better the larger issues like climate change that affect them directly, as is evident in this declaration adopted at a training programme on Gender, Climate Change and Food Security on November 16, 2011, at Saharanpur in UP: ‘... Women hold the key to food security, and it is important that women’s contributions to agriculture and food security be documented, recognised and celebrated.’ <
(Courtesy: Women's Feature Service)

Photos: Alternative Futures/WFS

A farmer from drought-prone Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh. The district has been wrestling with the changing pattern of rainfall and according to some women, "it's been some five years since we got a good crop because rains have got scattered and erratic."
there are some farmers like Kamlavati, from Village Janakpur who now train other women in adaptation techniques. “I go as a trainer to the government’s Agriculture Technology Management Agency farmer field school,” she reveals. While world leaders at the December 2011 Durban meet may have postponed taking hard decisions, the impacts of climate change on farming activities and hunger and

J a n u a ry 15, 2013

grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

5

She is 20, weighs 30 kg, and toils 16 hours a day

grassroots

get one healthy meal a day, then their grandmother is quick to respond, even claiming that she has spotted rat droppings in the cooked rice children consume. Both Laxmi and Shiva are underweight. Suraj narrates how her

In Jaipur, there are pockets where government beneficence does not reach and where hundreds of families work to eke out a survival without any social security. In the bustling Rajasthan state capital there are hundreds like Seema Vairva who works day-in-and-day-out in the informal sector and yet is unable to scrape together one nutritious meal a day for herself and her children. It’s a wild world where people cannot afford health care and women die in childbirth. Every day is an uncertain struggle
anumeha yadav, Jaipur

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ansarovar is one of Jaipur’s largest residential complexes. It is a city of 30 lakh people that is bustling with

A frail Seema Vairva, 20, and her eight-month-old son, who weighs six kilos, a case of 'moderate malnutrition' by Integrated Child Development Scheme standards, have been diagnosed with anaemia.
traditional bazaars, offices and modern buildings. In the middle of the securelybuilt, comfortable houses are abandoned stone structures that migrant construction workers and those working as domestic workers for local households, call home. Seema Vairva, a Dalit, lives inside one such dilapidated, dingy structure. Seema, a domestic worker, who has an eight-month-old son, has just finished making 20 rotis on the chulha (stove) but has not eaten any. “I don’t feel hungry, I don’t feel like eating,” says the frail 20-year-old. She weighs 30 kilos and she along with her son has been diagnosed with khoon ki kami (anaemia). Her infant son weighs six kilos, a case of ‘moderate malnutrition’ by the standards of the government-run Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). The dismal nutritional profile of women working in the informal sector is a recurring story throughout Jaipur. Despite her condition, Seema has stayed away from doctors. She did purchase some prescribed

medicines for her son once, but never for herself. “The last time we went, he asked for Rs 800 for treatment for both of us, and Rs 200 as consulting fee. We cannot afford it,” she says. Private health care is beyond her means and the one time she went to a government clinic, she returned disappointed. “It was very crowded and the nurse almost turned me away,” she recalls. The family has exhausted Rs 15000 savings on a surgery she had to undergo for “a tumour” in her stomach. Seema’s husband works as a helper in a small restaurant in the neighbourhood, earning Rs 160 a day, a little over the state minimum wage for skilled work of Rs 155. Till her son’s birth, she worked as domestic help in four houses, earning Rs 100 a day. Currently, she has taken a break. Seema’s day begins at 5 am. She makes several trips to the hand pump a few hundred metres away, to fill six buckets of water and an earthen pot. Her mother- and father-in-law work as construction workers. The family of four had moved to Jaipur more than five years ago from their village, Pasrotiya in Tonk District, but do not have a ration card here. So they cannot get the 25 kilos of subsidised foodgrains, the entitlement for ration card holders living below the poverty line. The young woman then cooks a morning meal of rotis on the earthen chulha using wood as fuel and inhaling a lot of smoke in the process. She packs lunch for her mother-inlaw and father-in-law, who leave for work at 7 am. Usually the family eats dal left over from the previous night and sometimes she cooks a seasonal vegetable. Soon after, she leaves for work. “I come back at 1 pm, then clean the house and wash clothes. I usually don’t feel like eating in the afternoon. Then, I leave again at 4 pm to clean utensils in the same houses,” she says. It’s mostly Seema’s mother-in-law who buys household provisions – fuel wood, wheat flour, dal or a seasonal vegetable, sometimes a litre of milk, but almost never any fruit. To boost the nutritional content of her infant son’s meal, every now and then Seema tries to include suji (semolina) and banana. However, there is never any for her, though she clearly needs it. The situation was pretty much the same during

her pregnancy when she continued her grueling work routine – typically she has a working day of 16 hours – almost till the day she gave birth and lived on roti and sabzi. “I had a craving for oranges, so sometimes I would eat roti with oranges,” she smiles. What about visiting her neighbourhood anganwadi, centres where infants, children, pregnant and lactating mothers can get food free of cost under the ICDS? Sadly, Seema is not aware of any in her area. The results of the city-wide health camp tests organised recently by the Mehnatkash Kalyan evum Sandarbh Kendra (MKSK), an NGO working on the issue since 2005, reflected the general neglect of nutritional health: of the 114 women from Parvati Nagar who underwent haemoglobin tests, all were found to be anaemic. The lowest haemoglobin level tested was 5.8 gram/100 ml, while just four recorded the highest reading of 10, with most women registering a reading between 7 and 8, which is far below the normal minimum level required of 12. Moreover, two-thirds of the women in the camps were underweight. According to Harkesh Bugalia, secretary, MKSK, “The anganwadi (nursery) workers are not doing enough to tell these women about the services meant for them in their centres. Hardly any of these women go there.” In the Parvati Nagar Khadda basti, a few kilometres from Mansarovar, Suraj Devi shakes her head when

asked whether she has ever been to her nearby anganwadi. She is finishing sweeping the one-room kacha (in a raw state) house where she lives with

Suraj Devi's grandson Shiva's mother died in childbirth. Though Shiva managed to survive, his mother Deepmala and his twin succumbed.
daughter-in-law, Shiva’s mother, Deepmala, died in childbirth three years ago. “When she started having labour pains in her eighth month of pregnancy, we rushed her to the government hospital in Chandpur, eight kilometres away, but they refused to admit her saying they had no space and that she was not yet nine months into her pregnancy. Deepmala gave birth to twins that night; Shiva survived, she and the other baby died within an hour,” Suraj recalls. Medical negligence apart, Deepmala’s death can surely be attributed to the lack of proper nutrition and additional supplements that pregnant women need, but those like Deepmala and Vairva can’t afford. Suraj’s neighbour, Arati Devi, a domestic worker, who migrated from Bihar 15 years back says after years of struggle her husband, who works as a mason, and she manage to earn enough to afford a private school fee of Rs 400 for their two children. But they struggle under debt. “I fell very ill with a stomach illness and was in the hospital for a month. And we wanted to build a pucca (solid) house. We borrowed Rs 80000 at 60 per cent interest rate from a moneylender. I don’t know how we will repay that,” she says. The above poverty line ration card the family got last year after years of trying helps, she says, but every day is an uncertain struggle. <
(Courtesy: Women's Feature Service)

Photos: Anumeha Yadav/WFS

Her limited means have prevented Suraj Devi, a sanitation worker living in Parvati Nagar Khadda basti, from being able to provide proper food for her grandchildren, who are underweight.
her three sons, a daughter-in-law, and four grandchildren. They belong to the Valmiki Community that has traditionally earned its livelihood lifting night soil despite a Supreme Court ban on the practice. Suraj and her sons work as sanitation workers. They collect garbage from 10 to 15 households every morning, earning Rs 50 a month per household. To supplement the monthly family income of Rs 3000, her sons at times earn an additional Rs 1000 to Rs 1500 by unclogging neighbourhood gutters. Although Suraj has not heard of the anganwadi, her grandchildren Laxmi, 6, and Shiva, 3, get food through the mid-day meal scheme being run at the government school in the slum. The school is a brick structure with no roof and open on two sides. But if you thought that at least the kids

This is the government school of Parvati Nagar Khadda basti where Suraj Devi's grandchildren study. Though a mid-day meal is provided here Suraj Devi says she has often spotted rat droppings in the cooked rice children consume.

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grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

January 15, 2013

Cooking meals out of nothing, after floods washed away all hope
In 2009, a village in Odisha’s coastal district of Bhadrak was washed away by flash floods. Many were evacuated and sent to relief camps; others braved the odds and moved to slums elsewhere. One such is Narayani Basti in Bhubaneshwar, where life continues to be bitter struggle, where one member of the family starves to save food for another, where people have learnt how to eat little and still survive, and where women forego tea and are content wearing torn saris if it can help them save money for a small child or even an alcoholic husband
sharmistha chowdhury, Bhubaneswar
osmita Barik, 19, shivers with cold as she deftly makes parathas (fried unleavened flat-breads, as opposed to the plain roti) on the mud chulha in the single room in Bhubaneswar’s Narayani Basti (slum) that is now her home. Parathas are a rare treat for the family but today a few are being cooked for dinner because her five-year-old nephew has bluntly refused to eat. The indulgent aunt says, “We cannot afford to cook any vegetables so we generally eat rotis with salt and green chillies. But my nephew is too young to take to the taste of green chillies so, every now and then, he rebels.” However, there are no parathas for Rosmita, who lives with her elder sister, an alcoholic brother-in-law and her young nephew. She and her sister will not deviate from their daily rotissalt-chillies routine. Rosmita is lives in Bhubaneswar today because her home in a village in Odisha’s coastal district of Bhadrak was washed away by the flash floods that hit the state in 2009. At the time, she was repeating a year in Class Ten.

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than not. But they prefer to think that their younger daughter is ‘better-off’. Misfortune, however, has made it a habit of dogging Rosmita’s footsteps, following her from Bhadrak to Bhubaneswar. The Narayani Basti, in which she lives with her sister, is one of the poorest of the 337 slums that dot Odisha’s capital city. None of the houses here are made of concrete or even bricks. There are no toilets and the only source of drinking water – government taps – is some way off. Yet, some 300 families have made it their home. In June 2010, government bulldozers razed the slum to the ground and Rosmita was caught in the midst of anti-demolition protests by those who lived here. For three months, she, and all the other families here, camped under the open skies. With help from some local organisations, community meals were cooked daily. Rosmita, who had come to escape a flood-related disaster, fell headlong into another crisis. “My nephew was very small then and things were so bad that my sister could not breastfeed him.

Flood survivor Rosmita Barik (in blue), 19, is now battling poverty and hunger in her new home in a Bhubaneswar slum where she lives with her elder sister's (in yellow) family.
serve as a roof bear large holes. There is no cot to sleep on and, in fact, there is not a single piece of furniture in the space which the two women keep immaculately clean. To beat the cold, they have placed cardboard sheets on the floor, layering it with newspapers scavenged from city homes. This is covered with a mat and a ragged bed-sheet is spread over it. Needless to say, when the weather turns cold, the ‘bed’ hardly keeps them warm and Rosmita’s racking cough is evidence of that. But she takes her cough stoically. Can’t afford to go to a doctor or buy expensive medicines, so no point worrying about it, she says. In illness or in health, Rosmita’s day begins at 4 am. First, she and her sister fetch and store the day’s supply of drinking and cooking water. “Since there are no toilets and we defecate in the open, we have to finish all that while it is still dark,” she adds. By 6 am, it is time to start cooking and that’s the most challenging part of the day according to her “we have to think of what to cook with the very few raw food items at our disposal.” Rosmita’s sister, Soni, has to leave the house by 7.30 am. She works as a domestic worker in three houses. “My sister eats in one of the homes where she works. They usually give her leftover rice from the previous night and she has that with salt and maybe half an onion, if her mistress is feeling generous – which is not often. I eat the same at home. But we have to cook breakfast and lunch for my brother-in-law, who is a casual labourer,” she states. They usually cook rice and arhar dal, because the man of the family cannot be served stale rice. The child, too, has the same. In winter, when vegetables are cheap, they sometimes add vegetables to one meal, but after Soni’s husband and the child have eaten, there is very little left for the sisters. Eggs, fish or meat are simply unimaginable. What about getting food grain through the public distribution system? Interestingly, most of the slum dwellers, including Rosmita’s family, neither have ration cards nor below poverty line cards. Things would not have been so dire for them, if Soni’s husband didn’t spend all his earnings and most of her wages on alcohol. Reveals Rosmita, “No matter how much my sister screams and shouts, he will come home drunk every day and ask for more money from my sister. Our house badly needs repairing, especially the roof. But when there is no money for even three meals a day, how can we afford that?” The monthly family income is not stable – Soni’s husband gets work 15 to 20 days a month and his wages are Rs 100 a day; while Soni makes Rs 800

by working as a maid. As for resuming her interrupted education, Rosmita has simply dropped the idea. “How is it possible?” she asks. “My sister has to go out to work and I have to look after the child and also do other work at home.” Her slum life has taught her quite a few lessons though. For instance, how to eat little and still survive? How to dodge illness despite living in decrepit conditions? Both she and her sister are still young and have a lot of fight left in them. Their infrequent meals, low-nutrition fare and unhealthy living conditions have seemingly not yet taken a serious toll on their health. But they are almost certainly anaemic although they have not undergone any tests. Soni puts it matter-of-factly, “We women can make do with very little. But I have to make sure that my husband gets at least enough to eat so that the drink does not ruin his health.” But clearly both Soni’s and Rosmita’s prime concern is the child. They are ready to starve to keep him healthy. “Now that he will go to

Photo: Sarada Lahangir/WFS

Photos: Sharmistha Chowdhury/WFS

Rosmita and her sister, Soni, keep the bare, mud and brick shack they call home immaculately clean.
school next year, I worry that I will not be able to give him nutritious food.” But Soni is even willing to risk her husband’s wrath to ensure that. “My sister has been beaten up for buying eggs for the child instead of handing over the money to him,” says Rosmita. “Our saris may be in shreds, we may have to do without even so much as a cup of tea every day, but we are determined to give the child a better life. He is our future,” she says, in the midst of a present that holds little hope. <
(Courtesy: Women's Feature Service)

Unhygienic living conditions are common in most of the 377 slums that dot Odisha's capital city Bhubaneswar.
Desperate to finish school she hoped to get a job that would help pull her family out of its crushing poverty. But the floods washed away all hope. Her parents, who were among the 62200 flood victims that were evacuated from the 15 affected districts, took shelter in an NGO-run relief camp and sent her off to live with her sister in the city. Today, two years on, Rosmita’s parents are still submerged in debt and have to starve more often Instead we tried to feed him on the thin gruel that we were being served and, I remember, he had a severe attack of diarrhoea.” The acute crisis may be over, but life continues to be bitter struggle for Rosmita and her sister’s family. Most of the slum people have rebuilt their homes but one can hardly call these structures ‘homes’. The shack in which she lives has thin mud and brick walls, and the plastic sheets that

Ja n u a ry 15, 2013

grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

7

Meeting challenges of erratic rain, unexpected drought
Buffeted by natural disasters such as floods and plagued by droughts, Odisha is fighting back with innovations and new agricultural practices to keep food in its cooking pot. Food availability is crucially linked to agricultural production, which has been impacted in many regions of the state by climate change. That’s where the challenge to keep the paddy lands cultivated in times of extreme weather is a tough one and often it is women who are in the vanguard of this battle being waged far away from the national gaze
manipadma jena, Nayagarh

grassroots grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

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grassroots

Director V. Murali murali@pressinstitute.in Editor Sashi Nair editorpiirind@gmail.com Editorial Assistant R. Suseela asst.edit@gmail.com Manager N. Subramanian subbudu.n@gmail.com Assistant Manager / Librarian R. Geetha rindgeetha@gmail.com Office Staff B. Rajendran

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omen like Santi Khanda, 45, of Balabhadrapur Village, which lies 110 kilometres from the district headquarters of Nayagarh, and is home to just 27 tribal families is such an example. The livelihood of the families has traditionally come from one annual rain-fed paddy harvest. And since rice is the staple in most parts of Odisha – of the 61 lakh hectares of cultivated land, 44 lakh hectares are under paddy – the majority of interventions have focused on rice cultivation. In 2011, when the rains failed in 17 out of 30 districts in Odisha, drought loomed large for a second year in succession, and Khanda’s district of Nayagarh was one of the worst affected. After an initial spell of rain in the first week of June, the skies dried up and yielded not a drop until the second week of July. Since most of these poor farmers had started sowing seedlings by mid-June, they were left high and dry. With no follow-up rain, transplantation could not be done on time. Fortunately, Khanda was trained in cultivating paddy using the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) method popularised by non-profit organisations in the state, including the Centre for World Solidarity (CWS), which is supported by the Odisha Government’s Panchayati Raj department. Thanks to Khanda’s industry, she was able to supplement food for her family of five by harvesting 30 kilos of paddy from her four decimal land holding (1 acre is 100 decimals) despite the erratic rains. Her success has attracted notice. Today, Khanda has become a village level leader of sorts, guiding other farmers in SRI and organic farming. “I will encourage all the farmers here to adopt SRI on their land,” she says. Many already have. In the neighbouring village of Godipalli, 190 farmers who opted for the SRI method for their recent sowing operations are happy. “Ame dhana karu thilu, kintu emitia dhana kebe kari na thilu (we are paddy farmers but had never used this method),” they reveal. So how does SRI work? Under it, single 12-day-old seedlings are transplanted at a precise spacing of 25-sq cm. Each plant is thus allowed to grow to its full potential, sending out up to 60 to 150 shoots. This

leads to the maximisation of grain bearing potential since healthier plants develop more grain bearing stems. This method entails a saving of water because only the roots are

knowledge centres, and cooperatives of collectors of non-timber forest products. If drought has affected Odisha, so have floods. So much so that the

Since rice is the staple in Odisha, the challenge to keep the paddy lands cultivated in times of extreme weather is a tough one.
required to be kept moist. Fertiliser, too, is applied only to the roots and not all over the cultivated area. In other words, the method requires less water and fertiliser but yields more in contrast to conventional paddy cultivation practices, which raise seedlings in flooded nurseries for up to 30 days before transplanting them. With no regular spacing between these clumps of plants, the fields in the conventional method need to be inundated with water. In 23 out of 30 districts in Odisha, the SRI method has already been introduced, as compared to 246 out of 564 districts at the all-India level, according to the Directorate of Rice Development, Patna, Bihar. Globally, the SRI method of cultivation is now used by farmers in 40 countries including India, with the Central Government having included it in its National Food Security Mission since 2009. According to Rekha Panigrahi, who is in charge of the Orissa Resource Centre run by the CWS, the organisation has helped to popularise SRI as a method of rice cultivation. The CWS Centre also promotes and nurtures diverse institutions like farmer’s clubs, women self-help groups, women sub-circles, village

In Odisha's Nayagarh District, use of the System of Rice Intensification method of cultivating paddy has led to the maximisation of its grain - bearing potential.
frequency of flooding episodes have almost doubled of late, with their unpredictability and intensity also having risen. About one quarter of the state’s paddy land lies in chronically flood-prone areas. This is where research done by the Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack (CRRI), along with several agricultural universities in collaboration with the Manila-based International Rice Research Institute, has helped. One of the outputs of the joint research initiatives has been Submergence-1, or Sub1, a paddy variety that withstands water submergence for as long as two weeks. Sub1 appears to be the answer for the flood-hit rice farmers of Dekheta Village in Nimapara Block of Puri District, living right next to the unpredictable Dhanua River. Visit the village and you will notice that because of flood-induced migration forcing the able-bodied young men to leave home in search of daily wages in the towns and cities of other states, it is the women who have been left to bear the burden of keeping the farms going. For them, Sub 1 has come as a last hope to fight the floods and, perhaps, even get their sons back home.

In ideal conditions, the conventional Swarna seeds yield two tonnes of rice per hectare, but they cannot withstand the floods. It is here that the hardy Sub1 variety comes in handy, providing yields of even 3.5 to 4.5 tonnes per hectare. Vandana is another innovative rice variety from CRRI and is meant specifically to safeguard farming families from food insecurity in the cyclone-prone coastal areas of the state. Vandana is an early rice variety sowed normally when the first showers make their appearance in mid-June, but it matures in 90 days – 30 days ahead of the conventional variety – and just before the OctoberNovember cyclone season. Even though Odisha registered a growth rate of 9.57 per cent in the first three years of the 11th Plan (2007-12), its monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) is among the lowest in the country. MPCE – an important indicator for calculating the standard of living, extent of poverty and levels of nutritional intake – for rural Odisha stands at Rs 559, compared to the pan-India average of Rs 772, according to the 64th round of National Sample Survey 2011, undertaken in 2007-2008. So when rice farming in the state is supported by innovative research, the dividends are immense. This is why the words of S. Ayyappan, director general of Indian Council of Agricultural Research, speaking on Feeding Crores for Ever during the 99th Indian Science Congress at Bhubaneswar recently, are so important. Said Ayyappan: “The work of scientists in the areas spanning pesticides, agricultural machines, rural development, renewable energy sources, materials technology, molecular plant breeding and genetically improved grains is changing our agriculture and spearheading a remarkable silent revolution which is shaping our country's progress through this decade of innovation.” This, according to Ayyappan, is an opportune moment for the country to review its food priorities and rethink its food production and research methods. Rice farmer Santi Khanda, in distant Balabhadrapur Village, would agree.

Photos: Manipadma Jena/WFS

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(Courtesy: Women’s Feature Service)

8

grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

January 15, 2013

Learning together: A lesson from craft economics
The Crafts Council of India and its partners have been making concerted efforts to ensure a place for artisans and crafts in the national accounting systems, the absence of which has been a critical gap in Indian planning, affecting millions. Extracts from a backgrounder that explains the case for sustainable livelihoods through heritage crafts
ashoke chatterjee, Ahmedabad
t has been such a long journey, and yet the journey has only just begun. The August Business Meet in Chennai provided an overview of CCI’s first incursion into what should perhaps have been its foundation: what it takes to make the case for sustainable livelihoods through heritage crafts. We can look back on the seminar which the CCWB (Crafts Council of West Bengal) and CCI together organised in the Victoria Memorial in February 2008 as a Council watershed. We had by that realised the scale of ignorance of the contribution artisans make to national wellbeing. Their economic contribution translated into national production and income figures was needed if wellbeing in other terms (social, political, environmental, cultural, spiritual) was to receive acknowledgement. The consequences of ignorance and neglect had become apparent. Like other activists in the sector, CCI and state chapters seemed destined to run between pillar and post begging for support that awareness could have made automatic. Why had such a lacuna come about in a country with the world’s longest tradition of living craft, where craft had been at the centre of its struggle for Freedom, had been incorporated in to national planning once Independence came, which only the other day was tomtoming its achievements in ‘craft renaissance’, and where even its president acknowledges handcraft as the largest source of Indian livelihood

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India has a long tradition of living craft and the skills of its craftsmen cannot be matched.
after agriculture? What could be done to resolve the lacuna? Who would do what needed to be done? How long would it take? The Victoria Memorial may have seemed a strange setting for such reflection. Was it not a symbol of a Raj that had forced the decline in Indian handcrafts so as to encourage British exports of machine-made products, a strategy Gandhiji would later counter through his Swadeshi Movement? Yet as Gopalkrishna Gandhi reminded us, perhaps our setting was not bizarre. After all, Victoria Memorial was built by Indian artisans. They had brilliantly adapted traditional skills to what was for them a contemporary need of commemorating Her Royal Majesty. It was precisely their capacity of innovation and moving with the times which CCI has endeavored to support and promote since its inception. What became clear in Calcutta was that our fears were genuine: there was indeed no reliable data on our sector, little appreciation of the cost of this ignorance to national progress, and no place where the responsibility for change could be clearly assigned. Yet change was needed --- and quickly, to counter a growing prejudice that dismissed craft heritage and activity as a ‘sunset’ industry irrelevant to Shining India. The change agent, it soon become apparent, would have to be CCI. No one else seemed to be around to do the job. CCI might lack experience in data-gathering and statistical methodologies. It might lack economists on its teams and even contact with research institutions. As a small NGO, it could hardly claim the national reach that a data-gathering task like this requires. Yet first steps were needed, studies would have to

begin, pilot demonstrations would have to be made --- not tomorrow, but starting yesterday. For this, CCI would require partnerships entirely new to it: with economists and other disciplines related to statistical analysis and planning. As I write, CCI is preparing for another round of discussions in New Delhi, Raghav Rajagopalan in Chennai (who took courage from his development background to lead the Craft Economics and Impact Study team) is interacting with new partners representing national planning for skills, Shikha Mukherjee (who has strengthened the CEIS team with her economic reporting and networking skills) in Kolkata has just unearthed a treasure-trove of livelihood data and insights, and Ruchira Ghosh at the Crafts Museum is contributing economics know-how not usually associated with the collections in that marvellous institution. Wisdom has come from many sides, with amazing generosity. Development Commissioners for Handicrafts and Handlooms have given us opportunities to participate in the drafting of the 12th Five Year Plan, enabling us to bring to the table knowledge and concerns generated by the CEIS. Far from suggesting that CCI should leave economics to the experts, Planning Commission economists have appreciated the CEIS as a step that had to be taken to impact a much larger context of national policy and action. For them

as with others, the CEIS is all about learning together. Learning the economics of handcrafts is just the beginning of what is needed if India is to walk its decades-old talk about our glorious craft heritage. The work on cold statistics is enlivened by fresh understanding of values and issues that go well beyond numbers. We now have evidence to back past hunches of how ‘organised’ and innovative artisans really are (challenging the labels of ‘unorganised’ and ‘informal’ imposed on them), the resources of creativity and innovation they bring to industry well beyond crafts (machine tools, space applications, watches, industrial design), the huge contribution of women to the sector (as much as 50 per cent in key production processes), the critical importance of craft activity to millions still on the margins of our society (women, minorities, tribal communities and those in remote and sensitive regions), the importance of hand production to environmental sustainability (use of local materials and the huge advantage of low carbon-footprint), the deep commitment of communities (including youth) to their heritage…. the list goes on. This is a ‘sector of sectors’. To strengthen it demands bringing together many streams of knowledge and experience. Economics is clearly one of these, and yet only one. The future of Indian handcrafts now demands inter-disciplinary teamwork on a scale we have yet to imagine. CCI is familiar with building teams of artisans, craft activists, designers, marketing managers, administrators and planners. Tomorrow’s teams may include the economists we now know and a range of other expertise: livelihood management, sociology, anthropology, finance, corporate management, human rights, environmental science, and media. <
(The writer is a member of the executive committee of the Crafts Council of India and its honorary advisor.)

Photos: Internet

Shift to e-journal
only through education. Be it healthcare, poverty, population control, unemployment or human rights, there's no better place to start than in the corridors of education. In a country where primary and secondary schools are few and far between, organisations such as Bhumi play a very important part. “Teaching is not just a duty. I enjoy spending those hours with them every weekend,” says Rufus Roshan, a volunteer. Currently, there are seven projects: Kanini, Make a Difference, Little Einsteins, Dronacharya and Ekalavya, Think Green, Siragugal and Joy to the World. Each project ensures that learning is made fun. “I wait for the weekends, not to teach them, but to learn from them,” says Nikita, another volunteer. < Neha Tayal, Chennai Dear Reader, With increasing printing costs, the Press Institute of India, a non-profit trust, has been compelled to stop publication of the printed edition of Grassroots. This issue onwards, Grassroots will be published only as an e-journal. The annual subscription to the e-journal (which can be assessed by clicking the Grassroots logo on the home page) will be Rs 300 and payment (in the form of DD favouring Press Institute of India) can be sent to the Director, PII-RIND, RIND Premises, Second Main Road, Taramani CPT Campus, Chennai 600 113. Existing subscribers will receive either a PDF version or a password to log into the e-version. We look forward to your support always. Director

Mentoring children for a better future
It was a Saturday morning and I was at the Seva Chakra Children’s Home in Choolaimedu, one of the several centres where Bhumi operates. A little kid came to me wearing an innocent smile, welcoming me with “English Akka has come.” Because that was probably the English class I had stepped into and the cute girl made me realise a million-dollarthing in one single smile. In 2006, an ophthalmologist and his three friends started an NGO called Bhumi. Aimed at the holistic development of underprivileged children, it works with children in orphanages, slums and village community centres. Bhumi is one of India’s largest independent youth volunteer nonprofit organisations. Its volunteers comprising students and young professionals work for the holistic Karnataka, Maharashtra, New Delhi, Rajasthan and several other parts of the country. Educating and mentoring children
Photos: Neha Tayal

Shining Stars at Seva Chakra (left). Little Einsteins and their thirst for knowledge.
development of underprivileged children and for the conservation of the environment in Tamil Nadu, for a better future has been its pillar since inception. Realisation of an individual’s potential is possible

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