Saturday, August 24, 2013

Rapes, outrages and letting go: Delhi (ites), Kolkata (ns), Mumbai (kars) and others

Medical teachers and students express their protest against Delhi rape case while taking out a candle march in Chandigarh on Friday. - Photo: Akhilesh Kumar (From The business line)

Kaleidoscope like many others have a strong faith on the public sphere and civil society movements but he is afraid of the increasing politicisation of civil which ultimately makes each of such movements futile. It starts with the Delhi rape case, continues with Kamduni case and showing similar voices in yesterday's Mumbai rape case in which till now two accused have been arrested. Public media, opposition and important others comment on the lack speedy trial, police patrolling (i.e. law enforcement), and a fearlessness among the people at large are the reasons for these heinous crimes. One thing that often ignored is the socialisation practice with which Kaleidoscope's society up-brings their children and the nature and extent of reluctance to take preventive measures.

Gangs of Kamduni and gangs of neighbourhood:

In Kamduni case the place of rape was a relatively empty road (BDO office road) which connects Kamduni crossing to Madhyamgram. The stretch goes through fisheries allegedly infested with fish mafias. Taking a girl away even in the daylight has been quite easy.

Similar rape hotspot can be found anywhere in and around the city of Kolkata. Take the instance of Kaleidoscope's place. Kaleidoscope with his post Belghoria Expressway life has changed the route to reach the city. He goes through a small alleyway which connects his house with the expressway. In post lunch sessions Kaleidoscope reluctantly sees a gang of young to middle aged persons playing cards. They occupy more than half of the alleyway with their circled sitting arrangement just beside the numerous apartments under construction. The play session goes on till night. Although apparently they play cards, but clearly they gamble, drink country liquor, use slangs, and stares at passing-by girls and women. Kaleidoscope is amazed with the reluctance from his locality and indifference from the houses in-front of which they play cards. In post evening when most of the Kaleidoscope's neighbours are busy in watching television mega-serials they can do whatever they want in the apartments under construction, hence, the vulnerability of a girl passing through that alleyway is potentially quite high. There are empty rooms in hundreds of incomplete apartments, there is an relatively empty alleyway which connects to an expressway, and there are intoxicated card players. 

What happened to the community? 

The question that Kaleidoscope asks himself before looking at the public sphere "Why Kaleidoscope is reluctant? Why don't he say something to that gang?" The answer is the image of fear. They are supposedly having strong network with both politics and local mafias. They are involved in construction business and are also the middlemen. Taking steps to stop them from playing cards is difficult, primarily because apparently they are just playing and relaxing with their circles of friends, so Kaleidoscope really does not have a strong ground to oppose what they are doing. Furthermore, because of their nexus with the local politics getting the leader's support for removing them is highly unlikely. 

The only hope is the civil society/public sphere/community of the locality in which Kaleidoscope resides. They are too busy (as Kaleidoscope too is) with other matters, and since, there is not a single incident happened so far, people do not bother to look at the potential threats and do not take preventive measures.

On the other hand, each of the families of Kaleidoscope's locality is moved by the Delhi or Kamduni cases. They frequently show frustration with the depressing performance of law enforcers but fail to account for the fact that society runs on largely informal social controls and that law enforcement with law enforcers in every corner of our country is impossible. Hence, Kaleidoscope along with others shouts, protests against the rapes, criticises government and legal systems but do not mobilise against what happens at the very next alleyway everyday. 

Socialisation practices:

When Kaleidoscope speaks about socialisation practices he not only means the formal socialisation institutions like family and schools he also entails to focus on the informal mechanisms of socialisation including television, internet, pornographies, advertisements, peer groups, local/regional/school/college gangs and so on and so forth. When the card-players play at the link-road towards Belghoria expressway, Kaleidoscope sees many young adults (12 - 15 years of age) are watching and enjoying the games. They look and tend to imitate their lifeways, hence, these card-players dens are also actively a breeding grounds of the future card-players.

What happens next?

Next, Kaleidoscope posts this text in his blog, shares it in facebook, awaits comments and likes until another news breaks. If it is not in Kaleidoscope's alleyway he feels a momentarily secured until something really happens on the way to Belghoria Expressway.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Studied, played and got buried: mid-day meal poisoning in Bihar and beyond

One of Kaleidoscope's maternal uncle is a school teacher. He teaches in a primary school where mostly first generation learners come. He is a brilliant multitasker.
He is an
census worker
disaster manager
and finally a teacher.

After the Bihar incident where 23 children died after consuming a midday meal that was found to have been laced with a deadly organophosphorus insecticide, Kaleidoscope calls him up and he reluctantly but sadly says that this is something quite obvious. There is no infrastructure for teaching as there is no infrastructure for cooking and feeding the children. Kaleidoscope finds that first, it was policy makers' eagerness to decrease the dropout rates without looking at the quality of education service being offered, and now, the policy runs itself into more complicated situations in which a teacher becomes cook, students see schools as a community dining place, local political elites find another seep in the long pipe of India's so called pro poor policy now injected by more than 13,000 Crore and guardians find a place where they can keep their child safely (?) and do their regular works. 

The case of Bihar - the case of India:

Kaleidoscope finds a repetition of the earlier customs of food offering. Earlier kings had tasters who used to taste & test the food bring offered to the king. Bihar government with severe criticism suspends the headmistress, and directs teachers to taste the cooked food before serving them to children. These superficial measures indicate the lack of seriousness and political will to take a corrective measure so that incidents like these can be avoided. The particular school in that day was run by the headmistress only as the only other teacher was on leave, which means on that particular day students were waiting for their meal and not for any lesson. Perhaps this is the picture of our primary education system. In severely understaffed schools, teachers are expected to maintain accounts for the midday meal schemes, procure and store the raw materials for cooking, help in cooking, work in the Census, perform election duty, prepare electoral list, take part in disaster-relief (legitimised by RTE Act, section 27) and finally teach and create good human resources for our country. People who cook midday meal works for Rs. 1000/- per month that too for 10 months with a hope that someday their welfare state will make them permanent and they will be paid in pay-scale. There is barely any clean and shaded kitchen a separate place for dining or quality meal for the students as there is no job security and fair wage for the workers and even these schools do not have first aid kit available.

... and beyond: 

Kaleidoscope in many of his fieldworks found midday meal schemes running in schools popularly known as "khichuri school" (khichuri or khichri means the meal being offered there). In one particular incident the school was adjascent to a Panchayat office in Purba Medinipur. That day the children were very happy as in addition to the rice and dal of their regular meal cauliflower curry was prepared that too because we (on behalf of  GoWB) were supposed to visit the Panchayat office. 
Children at the Purba Medinipur in 2009

Moments of joy before joining for the midday meal at Purba Medinipur 2009
There is hardly any nutritious meals being offered. There are often instances of lizard, cockroach infested meals being offered. Centralised system of midday meal such as those run by International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), Nandi foundation and corporates like Vadanta is equally depressing. They offer meals that rot on the way, there is virtually no regulations on what they offer in the meals, and there is reported gap between the amount of raw materials they said to use and number of meals they provide. 

Kaleidoscope like many finds that "participation" or participatory approach is most frequently projected as one win-win solution to all of India's problems. Perhaps, this is trend of all neo-liberal policies. Whatever you (state) cannot handle, hand it over to locals. As a result Panchayats are extremely overburdened. In this particular case of schooling system where governance is now largely handed over the local people, "the school management committee" under RTE act are not performing as it is expected to perform. As other sectors like decentralised irrigation management is failing too.

Sadly, when we look at one case, we often loose to focus on the other related issues as well. Kaleidoscope was mapping Dharmasati Gandaman Primary School's case to answer "why so many children died?" (22 have survived) The quick answer is like this.

1. The school lacked first aid kit
2. Primary health care centre is 7 km away with poor connections
3. Nearest civil hospital is 50 km away
4. Patna medical college is 75 km away.

At this point there is no simple solution to world's largest school feeding programme. There should not be severely underpaid workers, become cook teachers, local players looking for a seepage in the now entitle 13000 crore funds and poisoned foods for the children. No doubt the scheme has played a great role in checking dropouts, and provided valuable aid to daily diet but installation of educational system is still far away, meanwhile the incidents like Bihar indicates increasing lacunae of the scheme in action. We will have wait for the concrete measures as told by our PM.

Lastly in the voice of Kaleidoscope's maternal uncle "earlier we used to get empty classrooms... now at least they are filled. At least we have made their parents understand the importance of preliminary education just like a balanced diet."  

Friday, August 16, 2013

Postmodern Travels

Others know a lot about Kaleidoscope's long travel experiences. Some of the facebook posts shows that Kaleidoscope travels with a romantic mood. When his train hops at different stations Kaleidoscope takes snaps. One thing that Kaleidoscope do not report is the postmodern condition in which he travels in the local trains which takes him from Birati to Sealdah and "Super fast" buses that takes Kaleidoscope from Mecheda to Haldia, especially in Mondays.

So here it goes. Monday morning Kaleidoscope says good bye to The Queen at 5:00am. The Queen could only say a few words with her sleepy voice and swelled eyes.

Kaleidoscope boards to a train filled with subalterns. They take revenge by smoking bidis, sleeping on the seats meant for sitting. Some of them goes as far as changing their night dress, i.e. the lungi and wearing the day dress, i.e. Pants before they get down. These subalterns travel regularly. They sit together, literally sleeps on each other. As the train reaches to the Dumdum, some of them are awaken and they happily say good byes, talks to each other with regular slangs, throws sexually charged words to womenfolks who seem to enjoy these chats and travels with them regularly. Most of them gets off at Dumdum or Bidhannagar (ultadanga). These co-passengers are informal sector workers who bring flowers, vegetables and fruits for the urban consumers from remote corners of the urban hinterland. Kaleidoscope increasingly getting a feel that these early morning local trains represents a perfect postmodern habitus. The boundaries [between bodies] are blurred, norms are breached and impositions are compromised.

Kaeidoscope gets off at Sealdah and boards to shared taxi, more popularly known as "Shuttle" to reach at Howrah. When he walks down the pathway from Sealdah station to Mahatma Gandhi Road, jet propelled autos rushes towards Mechua - the fruit market carrying some his co-passengers. In the shuttle, Kaleidoscope presses his body against others as these shuttles must carry more passengers than a car can usually carry.

The train journey from Howrah to Mecheda is pleasant when Kaleidoscope often takes the snaps.

Boundaries do dissolve

Kaleidoscope and his colleagues must loose a number these "Super fast" (popularly Haldia/Mecheda Super) buses in order to secure seats at Mecheda. As these buses are stopped boundaries are dissolved again. Kaleidoscope like others adjusts between the pressing bellies, wallets, mobile phones and reproductive systems. Usually Kaleidoscope sleeps but nevertheless he often remains conscious about the boundaries that continue to dissolves until the bus reaches at City Center. Kaleidoscope finds young girls, college students compromising their bodily boundaries, and limits for an (un)invited postmodern potential of the journey. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

For the sake of her marriage: Compensating for a gendered world

Kaleidoscope has experienced the presence of several domestic helps since his father could afford them. He has seen never ending complains from his mother about the bad performance of these maids. Last week one of  the old maids Tarulata, her now married daughter Krishna and granddaughter Ghutul who is only four months of age arrived when Kaleidoscope was reading Jonathan Glancey's Nagaland. He was quite unaware about the atrocities that people of Nagaland are facing as he has been unaware about Tarulata. Tarulata with her granddaughter on her lap smiles at Kaleidoscope and says "see, this is the reason I choose to work as a domestic help"

When Tarulata in late 1980s gave birth to Krishna, a girl child she was told by her mother-in-law and her husband that she is responsible for the birth of this girl child, and that she must arrange for her marriage. Tarulata cried with helplessness but slowly accepted the challenge and took up the profession of domestic help in many houses including that of Kaleidoscope's. Tarulata's husband over the years have done reasonably well in his shoe and chappal manufacturing business. In late 1990s Tarulata's husband repeatedly requested Tarulata to give up her profession and start relaxing for a while, but that request was futile. When Krishna comes up to sixteen she also accompanies Tarulata and finally in 2009 Krishna is married to a small business man. Over the year Tarulata buys the jewelry, pays off the dowry and now holds a smiling face with her granddaughter in her lap. After Krishna's marriage Tarulata gives up the profession and now helps her husband more actively in his business.

Kaleidoscope exhales and comes back to his room with a fear of unknown future of Krishna with her daughter.

[Reasons to worry:
Dowry related register death cases in India in 2010 is 8391 click here
The Hindu reports India looses 3 million girls in infanticide click here]

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Boy-I, an university examination and letting go

When Kaleidoscope immerses himself in his examination management he gets a call from a room number where a candidate appears to feel sick... Kaleidoscope along with AM, rushes there to find Boy-I crying. He has already broken a couple of pens, torn off his university admit card and registration certificate.

Kaleidoscope asks him "what happened?"

Boy - I: I cannot recall anything. (sobs)
K: Do you find the question hard?
B: No, I know everything but cannot recall. (Sobs)
K: Okay, take some time... would you care for some water.
B: No reply...(keeps his head on the hight bench, on the answer-script)

Kaleidoscope thinks for a while to give him some time off... He goes out and then comes back withing 15 mins to find Boy-I being in the same position.

K: (Now that K, knows the name of the Boy-I) Bo- I, come with me, you don't have to write... come with me in another room...


Boy-I listens to... and comes with K, and then falls on the floor. Kaleidoscope holds him and almost carries him to the first floor in Kaleidoscope's department... he runs the AC on and starts talking to Boy-I. What Kaleidoscope deciphers is that

A. Boy-I is having this problem of being unable to recall anything once he sees the question paper after his Higher Secondary examination.
B. Despite of being a poor student he has a honours course in Geography because his maternal uncle has some source in some college
C. He belongs to a poverty stricken family, his father is a farmer
D. He has faced similar problem in the last year, in consequence he had to drop out a year
E. He does not want to live anymore.

Kaleidoscope has AP, who can help him with Geography. So, AP arrives and tries to help him recall something... and he writes something.

Now, that Boy-I is ready to submit his answerscript Kaleidoscope takes his answerscript and asks for a phone number so that Boy-I can be given to a safe hand.

After giving the number Boy-I throws off his quite costly mobile phone (gifted by some elder brother), tears off pages of his geography notes and starts to take out more notes from the bag until Kaleidoscope stops him.

His maternal uncle and his father comes and Kaleidoscope narrates the story and suggests them to take Boy-I to a psychiatrist, or a counselor.


Yes, Boy I's father is a farmer, maternal uncle works as a wage earner. Boy-I reads, writes and attends college regularly but somehow, fails to recall in moments of pressure. Kaleidoscope perhaps will never know what happens after Boy-I leaves the college...

Friday, August 2, 2013

Monsoon in the wonderland

Kaleidoscope by virtue of his occupational status and affection to photography is finding wonderful locations to capture what Monsoon means to the people who surround his workplace. This post, Kaleidoscope is afraid to mention is going to offer only a few snaps to describe (and henceforth not to interpret or analyse) aspects of monsoons.


Kaleidoscope along with others resides in a faculty quarter where outside encroachment often disturbs their sense of privacy, but in monsoon, Kaleidoscope and some others find it okay to watch and photograph these activities.

There is plenty for each of the encroachers...

Showing offs: 

Suddenly a romeo appears in now water logged playground...
Kaleidoscope does not know for sure whether his romeo has been able to get the much deserved attention from the girl next window... in the girls hostel! Well definitely a wonderful attempt.


Kaleidoscope like many others often is moved by the monsoon sky in its strokes and paintings... Some of the reflections that he could capture:

Just before the sunset... even if there is a momentary space for the sun to show its face... reflections are everywhere. 

 Raindrops do provide the ripple effects...

Monochromes are as usual nostalgic...

Kaleidoscope finds enough reason to describe his workplace - a wonderland...