Visi Tilak is an award winning journalist, writer, talented musical and visual artist, and craftswoman. She is passionate about the arts, culture, and avidly tracks the news and current events. This blog is a reflection of her varied interests. and is meant to be a proverbial "watering hole" or "office fountain" for discussions, commentary and opinions on these various themes.
School Is a Right, but Will Indian Girls Be Able to Go?
By Nilanjana Bhowmick / New Delhi
The day the Indian government made education a fundamental right for 192 million children, Dimple Yadav, 11, woke up at 4:30 in the morning. Eyes heavy with sleep, she cleaned her house (in a village about 24 miles outside the capital), made tea and got busy preparing food for her family. After her parents, who work as laborers in Delhi, left at 6 a.m., Dimple fed and clothed her 5- and 7-year-old siblings and made her way to the local school with them in tow. By the time she took her seat in class, she relaxed for the first time since waking up, and was soon lulled into drowsiness, missing most of the day's lessons. "I like school," she said later. "But I do not know how long I will study. My mother has been saying that she needs me to be home so that someone can look after my brother and sister."
For Dimple, April 1, the day when the Right to Education Act (RTE) came into being to mandate free and compulsory education for all Indian children between the ages of 6 and 14, has no significance. She may read about it in high school — if she can continue her education till then. But in all probability she will drop out of school soon, adding another number to the 50% of young girls who have done the same across India, for as simple a reason as having to take care of siblings. The RTE does not protect children from being taken out of school for agricultural work or housework, nor do laws against child labor consider housework or agricultural work to be child labor. (See pictures of a recycling business in Dharavi, a slum in Mumbai.)
The RTE is ambitious, to say the least. In the next five years, the government aims to provide free and compulsory education to millions of children, build new, accessible schools, improve infrastructure, train existing teachers and recruit new ones. The biggest challenges will be bringing in the whopping 10 million children who are out of school already and filling the shortage of trained teachers. But infrastructural gaps are part of the problem too. Forty-six percent of public schools do not have toilets for girls; it's one reason parents are reluctant to send their daughters to class. The Prime Minister himself admitted that passing a law was by no means the end of the road: "To think that we have passed a law and all children will get educated is not right," said Manmohan Singh. "What we have done is prepare a framework to get quality education. It is for the entire community to contribute and participate in this national endeavor."
But many have questioned how the law will address the widespread problem of young girls dropping out to help at home. Children across India are being put to work at the cost of their education, but girls like Dimple have the additional burden of being caregivers in households with working parents. A 1996 International Labor Organization report said 33 million girls ages 10-14 worldwide were working, as opposed to 41 million boys, but that figure did not take into account the full-time housework that girls undertake at home. According to a National Commission for Protection of Children's Rights (NCPCR) report, in India, girls ages 6-14 spend an average of nearly eight hours a day caring for other children in the family. Government statistics show that while about 25% of girls drop out of school between the ages of 6 and 10, that rate doubles to more than 50% for girls ages 10-13. "There are girls in this school as young as 7 or 8 who work like slaves at home," says Neeta Goswami, Dimple's teacher in the Wajidpur Government school. "I cannot blame them for falling asleep in the class. I see so many of them with so much promise, but it all ends with dropping out before finishing primary school." (See pictures of India's health care crisis.)
By Sumon K. Chakrabarti / New Delhi and Omar Waraich / Islamabad
"At 53, she was bored, alone and attractive. Single, but definitely one step ahead to mingle." That's how the man who led the operation to bust Madhuri Gupta, the first Indian diplomat to be found spying for Pakistan, described her. For most of her two years in espionage, Gupta was a lone wolf, conducting a classic spy operation from her base in Islamabad. Old-school "dead drops," in which she passed off information without even meeting her Pakistani handlers, were her signature style. Yet it was a silly indiscretion — sending e-mails to her spy bosses from her office computer — that finally led to her arrest.
Gupta had not exactly been near the center of Indian decisionmaking, posted as a second secretary in the media section of India's high commission in Pakistan's capital, where her job was to provide English and Hindi summaries of Pakistan's Urdu-language newspapers. On April 22, the 53-year-old was summoned back to New Delhi ostensibly to help colleagues prepare for the ongoing South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) summit in Bhutan. After landing at Indira Gandhi International Airport, she was whisked away by officials of the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau (IB), India's internal intelligence agency, to an interrogation chamber in an undisclosed location. Twenty-four hours later, she was handed over to Delhi police and charged with treason and accessing confidential documents under India's Official Secrets Act. (See pictures of Pakistan's class divisions and ethnic rivalries.)
"Her spy game was up the moment a joint secretary — an IB officer — inside the Islamabad mission suspected her around October 2009 and reported back," a high-level IB case officer in New Delhi told TIME. The IB launched a massive counterintelligence operation, in which even its counterparts in the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), the country's external intelligence agency, were kept out of the loop.
Over the next six months, Gupta's every step was monitored. She was found to be taking undue interest in informal discussions among the senior embassy officials regarding important policy matters, including India's strategic plans in Afghanistan and resuming a dialogue with Pakistan. She was even fed with incorrect information to be passed on to her Pakistani handlers, suspected to be from the Inter-Services Intelligence agency. (See pictures of Pakistan's vulnerable frontier with Afghanistan.)
The strange but true tale of a phony currency, shame, and a grass-roots movement that could go global
By Jeremy Kahn | April 4, 2010
NEW DELHI — What good is a currency that is not even worth the paper it’s printed on?
That’s the intriguing question raised by the new “zero rupee note” now circulating in southern India. It looks just like the country’s 50 rupee bill but with some crucial differences: It is printed on just one side on plain paper, it bears a big fat “0” denomination, and it isn’t legal tender.
The notes do, however, have value to the people who carry them. They’re designed as a radical new response to the pervasive problem of petty corruption. Citizens are encouraged to hand the notes to public officials in response to the bribery demands that are almost inescapable when dealing with the government here. Bribes for access to services are so common they even have an accepted euphemism — asking for money “for tea.”
The notes, printed and distributed by a good-government organization called 5th Pillar, include the phrase that the bearer “promises to neither accept nor give a bribe.” The idea is that by handing one of these zero rupee bills to an official, a citizen can register a silent protest — and maybe even shame or scare a corrupt bureaucrat into doing his duty without demanding a bribe for it.
In one sense, the idea seems absurd — fighting a serious problem like entrenched corruption with something that looks like a prank.
But remarkably, the zero rupee note appears to work, as 5th Pillar says it has found in hundreds of cases
And in its success, the worthless bill is upending the conventional wisdom that cleaning up petty corruption is a monumental task requiring complicated and expensive solutions. Along with the success of some other simple anticorruption ideas being tried in other countries, the zero rupee note is reinforcing research widely considered to hold promise in a vexing global battle: Big improvements in ending corruption, it suggests, can come from small changes in the environment that allows it to happen.