February 15, 2013

Congratulations to SAMTFMACS on being chosen as the Community Enterprise of the year! And kudos to Naandi Foundation’s Livelihoods team for this remarkable achievement. The fruit (in this case ‘cherry’) of over 8 years of painstaking work with the farmers in the Araku Valley of Andhara Pradesh.

Naandi Foundation

Andhra Pradesh based cooperative named Community Enterprise of the year at the Citi Micro Enterprise Awards.

“Small and Marginal Tribal Farmers Mutually Aided Cooperative Society awarded for its exemplary work in improving the livelihoods and income of tribal coffee growers in Araku Valley”

Small and Marginal Tribal Farmers Mutually Aided Cooperative Society (SAMTFMACS) was recognized as the Community Enterprise of the year at the Citi Micro Enterprise Awards(CMEA) for its meaningful contribution to the community at a ceremony held on January 12, 2013 in New Delhi. The Honorable United States Ambassador to India, Nancy J. Powell, together with CEO of Citi Inida, Pramit Jhaveri and the Governing Council Members of the Awards program, presented the award to the enterprise.

Currently in its ninth year, CMEA has focused on enterprises that are driven by social mission and/or owned and managed by local communities, whether it is producer companies, Cooperatives, self-help groups or social businesses.

SAMTFMACS was shortlisted…

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Given that the fight against corruption in our country has only just begun, it might be worth examining ourselves, attempting corrections while steading our resolve to create a better India

November 4, 2011

An interesting point of view though it is slightly dated. And given that the fight against corruption in our country has only just begun, it might be worth examining ourselves, attempting corrections small and big, singularly and collectively while steading our resolve to create a better India for us and our subsequent generations…

Amplify’d from www.nytimes.com
In Fight for Better India, Best to Look Within
Published: July 1, 2011

NEW DELHI — I have entered India from the sky five times over the past year. Those flights started in airports where norms, rules and authority carry weight — Hong Kong; Doha, Qatar; Newark, New Jersey; Frankfurt. But in waiting to board, I have come to a troubling realization: Airport workers around the world have learned the hard way that my people — Indians, resident and diasporic — cannot be boarded the way other humans are.

No: We will not make a line, no matter how the overwhelmed airline staff plead. No: We will not board according to service class or row number; we will push in as early as we can. No: We will not obey the instruction to bring just one piece of carry-on luggage; we will often pretend not to hear, then perform a Tony-worthy pantomime of surprise if confronted.

In Frankfurt recently, I was amazed that even the Teutonic staff of Lufthansa was unable to thwart this behavior. They allowed a kind of mob to form, then dejectedly welcomed its members aboard. I asked about it. A steward shrugged and said that, on flights to India, they give in.

If you make it on board, and soar above the Hindu Kush, and fall at last into India, you will learn that the nation is in the midst of a fit of rage over corruption these days. Hunger strikes are being called; the heads of some scapegoats in power are rolling; protests are swelling here and there.

The overwhelming tone of this rage is “us versus them.” The “us” is the ordinary people of India, the “man on the street,” as they too-literally call him here — hard-working, diligent, scrupulous; the “them” are the bums in politics and the bureaucracy — lazy, deceitful, imperious scoundrels.

But what the airport observation suggests, alongside volumes of other evidence, is that the blame cannot so tidily be placed on the “them.” This may well be an “us” problem as much as a “them” one, in which case the revolution being called for will have to be a revolution within.

To be fair, India is a place of deep, improbable kindness. A society where villagers will do anything for the chance to serve a guest tea, where flight attendants are truly hurt when you forgo food, where the caring that flows through the many wings and generations of a family can make other societies seem cold by comparison. The average Indian tends to be flexible, understanding and tolerant by the standards of a difficult world.

But India is also a place where that abundant kindness fails, far too often, to extend into the anonymous civic sphere, to those beyond one’s little community and beyond one’s sight. In India, to be someone’s house guest or son-in-law or teacher can be delightful. To be a stranger beside the same person at the cinema or bank or airport is another experience altogether.

If a sociology of that Lufthansa gate were to be made, it might pick up certain ideas in the crowd’s behavior.

There is an idea that low-ranking gate staff don’t need to be listened to. There is an idea that you, the individual, are the best judge of how the system should run, not the people whose system it is. There is an idea that rules are mere hints, to be applied when useful. There is an idea of ruthless maximization of one’s interests, the world (and that old lady in front of you) be damned.

And, like it or not, these are ideas that govern how so many Indian lives are lived today: how people drive on the streets of this sprawling capital city; how people seldom hold open a door for a stranger at the mall, or thank you when you do; how people pay off the traffic police instead of waiting five minutes for a ticket to be written; how so many rich men make their billions; how individuals choose to report their income; how adults bribe and influence-peddle their children into top schools; how cellphones are bought tax-free on something casually called the “gray market.”

A heart-rending example involves ambulances. Several times in the past few years, I have been in traffic in a major Indian city and suddenly heard an ambulance behind. To watch it forge fitfully ahead is to observe thousands of drivers make the choice to ignore it. Some people genuinely cannot pull over. But many can. Mostly, they don’t. Not a small number of Indians must die each year thanks to that collective refusal to be bothered.

And this is the issue with the anger now raining on official Delhi. In its focus on those in high places, it ignores a much wider culture of corruption: a culture of rule-breaking, callousness and Hobbesian self-preservation that flourishes with special flagrance in the corridors of power, to be sure, but is hardly confined to it.

If the “them” at the very top are unacceptably corrupt, it may be because the “us” taught them everything they know.

So what to do about it?

Misdiagnosis is dangerous. If the problem remains in the public mind a problem of bad people in power, it may well remain unsolved. If it can be acknowledged as a deeper pattern of Indian life, perhaps something can be done.

That something will have to be more than removing 10, 100 or 1,000 scoundrels from office.

It will have to turn practices now thought acceptable into practices that disgust. It will have to use shame and achieve what other movements of moral suasion — the anti-slavery movement in the 19th century, the anti-smoking cause in modern times — achieved: persuading millions of people, one by one, that the old ways will no longer do and that life will be better for everyone — for them and for their rivals at the airport gate — on the other side.

Read more at www.nytimes.com


A simple rule for leadership…

October 16, 2011

Start from the ‘why’ of a product, service or cause and then move to how and what! Great insights by Simon Sinek in this inspiring TED Talk.

How does China feed its nearly 1.5 billion people

September 15, 2011

While the article below is laced with humor, it does not take away from some serious lessons for the rest of the countries most of all India. Apart from copying China’s policies to deal with our own food security issues, we are the most vulnerable if food from across our border starts to become the mainstay much like toys, electronics and a host of goods from around the world but with “China’ inside…

15 Sep, 2011, 02.20AM IST, ET Bureau

How does China feed its nearly 1.5 billion people

How does a nation of nearly 1.5 billion people feed a growing population? Throughout its history, China has wrestled with the problem and come up with ingenious solutions. It adopted techniques like river water management, extensive irrigation, pig and poultry farming and so on centuries ago. Today, science is at hand, helping boost crop yields and growth rates.

Alas nothing, not even science, is perfect. Intensive farming, with plenty of chemicals thrown in has ended badly for many rice producers: the heavy metal cadmium, poisonous for people, has been detected in Chinese rice. Melamine, another toxic agent, has turned up in milk; soy sauce has been unwittingly laced with arsenic and mushrooms with bleach. Chicken farmers routinely boost the weight of the birds by feeding them barites, a heavy clay used while drilling for offshore oil. China is a large pork producer, but beef is scarce and expensive.

It’s tempting for pork growers to garnish the meat with the detergent borax, which makes pork look like beef. But nobody expected what would happen when farmers sprayed their fields of watermelons with a chemical called forchlorfenuron, which helps fruits and vegetables grow faster. Instead of growing, the watermelons started exploding spectacularly, spraying swathes of land all around with shrapnel of pips, skin and mushy red insides.

Thus, in a little over two days, over 130 acres of watermelon blew up in the area around Danyang. The Chinese government is alarmed. It doesn’t want anything, not even watermelons, blowing up in its face. Indians import much from China, but should avoid importing its farming practices. We might live down an exploding watermelon or two, but what if coconuts went ballistic?

Read more at economictimes.indiatimes.com


Perhaps time for us to take a long hard look at our current notion of capitalism…

July 13, 2011

Scary isn’t it… that ‘The Development Set’ penned 35 years ago still manages to paint a near perfect picture of the situation that faces us today. With the failure of aid organizations and the erosion of trust in the various arms of the capitalistic juggernaut led by large banks and corporations in solving the world’s most pressing issues around poverty, education, healthcare and human rights, it is perhaps time for us to take a long hard look at our current notion of capitalism…

Amplify’d from www.owen.org

The Development Set
by Ross Coggins

Excuse me, friends, I must catch my jet
I’m off to join the Development Set;
My bags are packed, and I’ve had all my shots
I have traveller’s checks and pills for the trots!

The Development Set is bright and noble
Our thoughts are deep and our vision global;
Although we move with the better classes
Our thoughts are always with the masses.

In Sheraton Hotels in scattered nations
We damn multi-national corporations;
injustice seems easy to protest
In such seething hotbeds of social rest.

We discuss malnutrition over steaks
And plan hunger talks during coffee breaks.
Whether Asian floods or African drought,
We face each issue with open mouth.

We bring in consultants whose circumlocution
Raises difficulties for every solution –
Thus guaranteeing continued good eating
By showing the need for another meeting.

The language of the Development Set
Stretches the English alphabet;
We use swell words like “epigenetic”
“Micro”, “macro”, and “logarithmetic”

It pleasures us to be esoteric –
It’s so intellectually atmospheric!
And although establishments may be unmoved,
Our vocabularies are much improved.

When the talk gets deep and you’re feeling numb,
You can keep your shame to a minimum:
To show that you, too, are intelligent
Smugly ask, “Is it really development?”

Or say, “That’s fine in practice, but don’t you see:
It doesn’t work out in theory!”
A few may find this incomprehensible,
But most will admire you as deep and sensible.

Development set homes are extremely chic,
Full of carvings, curios, and draped with batik.
Eye-level photographs subtly assure
That your host is at home with the great and the poor.

Enough of these verses – on with the mission!
Our task is as broad as the human condition!
Just pray god the biblical promise is true:
The poor ye shall always have with you.

Adult Education and Development” September 1976

Read more at www.owen.org


Lowering the bar…

July 2, 2011

280,000 engineering seats in AP and only 95,000 were filled last year. Lowering standards seems to be the way forward to sustain the colleges. Please spare a thought to the rest of us who will be serviced by this lot of engineers!

Amplify’d from www.deccanchronicle.com

AICTE lowers cut-off for tech courses

The All India Council for Technical Education has reduced the cut-off marks in Intermediate for admissions to engineering courses, bowing to pressure from several states, including Andhra Pradesh.

It has brought down cut-off marks in 10+2 to 45 per cent for students from open category and to 40 per cent for reserved category students.

The AICTE had in January made it mandatory for students in the open category to secure 50 per cent marks in 10+2 group subjects (maths, physics and chemistry), and 45 per cent marks for students from reserved categories, in order to improve standards in engineering education.

However, several states have opposed the move, arguing that it will prevent students from studying engineering, particularly those from reserved categories and rural areas.

To date, getting pass marks (35 per cent) in the Intermediate was enough for a student to get admission in BE, B.Tech courses, apart from securing 25 per cent marks in Eamcet.

For students from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, even a ‘zero’ in the Eamcet would fetch them BE, B.Tech seats if they managed to pass Intermediate.

This has led to a deterioration of standards in engineering colleges. The state currently has 2.8 lakh engineering seats of which 95,000 seats remained vacant last year.

Read more at www.deccanchronicle.com


More power to these brave filmmakers…

April 24, 2011

Documentary films are telling the uncomfortable truth

Saibal Chatterjee
New Delhi


A few years ago when Haobam Paban Kumar, then a student of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) in Kolkata, would return to Imphal for his holidays, the neighbourhood would be agog with excitement. He was the only one in the locality who had anything to do with making films. “Back then, I would get special treatment. Today every neighbour in Imphal seems to be a filmmaker,” he says.

What is true of Imphal is true of many other parts of the country. Independent documentary cinema in India has indeed received a dramatic shot in the arm in recent years thanks to the infusion of young blood. The ranks of aspiring filmmakers have swelled all over India as they find that access to the medium has become less cumbersome than ever before.

Easy-to-handle digital cameras, computers loaded with user-friendly editing software and an increasing number of funding agencies have empowered a new pool of talent to turn to documentary filmmaking as a means of narrating untold stories and exposing the myriad social and political ills that beset this land. India’s indie documentaries, both in terms of substance and approach, have acquired a new vitality and sense of purpose.

But that certainly doesn’t mean that the problems facing independent documentary filmmakers have vanished altogether. One, equitable availability of funds is still a major stumbling block and the medium remains largely an elitist pursuit. Two, the exhibition network has yet to acquire the requisite reach even as trusts and foundations in Delhi and elsewhere do their bit to streamline the distribution of these films. Three, the big city-small town divide continues to be yawning. And last but not least, a myopic interpretation of archaic censorship laws poses a huge challenge to documentary films, especially those that seek to articulate uncomfortable, unspeakable truths about the Indian reality.

Says Ranchi-based documentary filmmaker Shriprakash: “There is still little financial support available for those working outside the metros. The funding structure needs to change. The process of democratisation has to be hastened in order to link the movement to the Internet and other new modes of distribution.”

“Money isn’t available,” he asserts, “for young filmmakers in small towns and villages. Even if a boy here does manage to make a film, marketing it is virtually impossible. This domain is still in the control of big media players in the urban centres. So it’s still a race between a thoroughbred Arab horse and a donkey.” Shriprakash himself belongs to a family of peasants and grew up in a village.

Shriprakash, whose films include a series of hard-hitting exposes on the horrific impact of a lopsided development model on the indigenous population of Jharkhand, is, however, quick to admit that he has been able to do all his work out of Ranchi. “Thanks to the new filmmaking and communication technologies that are now available, I do not have to go to Delhi or Mumbai to make my films,” he adds.

One of Shriprakash’s early films, Another Revolt, made in 1995, dealt with the struggle of the tribals of Jharkhand against the Koel Karo dam, the first such movement in India against dams and the displacement caused by them. Since then, he has made films like Buddha Weeps in Jadugoda on the effects on local communities of uranium mining and the dumping of radioactive waste; The Fire Within about how a century and half of coal mining has played out in the benighted lives of Jharkhand’s tribals; and Kiski Raksha (Whose Defence?), which exposed how an army firing range in Netarhat could have destroyed Adivasi homes.

“I have never claimed that I am out to change the system,” he says. “But I do use the medium to whatever extent I can to support people’s movements.” Two of these movements – the ones against the Koel Karo dam and the aborted Netarhat army firing range – have yielded results, illustrating as much the power of the people as the efficacy of documentary films as a vehicle of protest.

Shriprakash’s latest film, Eer – Stories in Stone, produced by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT), traces the oral history traditions of various Adivasi communities of India – Mundas and Hos in Jharkhand, Ramnamis in Chhattisgarh, Bhils in Madhya Pradesh, the Warli tribals in Maharashtra and the Banjaras of the Gujarat-Rajasthan border.

Eer – the title is a Bhillari word loosely meaning gatha or story – isn’t, on the surface, an activist film of the kind that Shriprakash is associated with. But it is certainly of a piece with the critical work that he has done in documenting the lives, cultures and memories of those whose voices are rarely heard in the mainstream media, dominated as it is by urban filmmakers who have had a middle class upbringing. “I’ve done enough activism in my time,” says Shriprakash.” Eer was an opportunity for me to do something different.”

Paban Kumar, by his own admission, is not an activist filmmaker. But like Shriprakash, several years his senior, he is today able to ply his trade from his hometown in Manipur and reflect upon the political situation there. But it took him several years to break into SRFTI. Paban Kumar worked with veteran Manipuri filmmaker and cultural doyen Aribam Syam Sharma for six years before he passed the admission test and joined the Union government-run Kolkata institute.

In his second year there, in 2004, he was back in Imphal for a break when 32-year-old activist Thangjam Manorama Devi, branded a member of the separatist People’s Liberation Army, was raped and killed by the paramilitary Assam Rifles and the resultant outrage snowballed into a full-fledged street civil disobedience movement demanding a repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958.

“It was a watershed incident. Manorama Devi was the first woman ever to be killed in custody by the armed forces. With the help of a journalist friend (Sunzu Bachaspatimayum, also a filmmaker himself), I began to record the events as they unfolded and the public anger that spilled over on to the streets. It was like a video diary. I did not have a full-fledged film in mind at that point,” recalls Paban Kumar.

The random recordings eventually yielded a powerful feature-length documentary, AFSPA 1958, which instantly catapulted the young documentary maker and the cause he was espousing into the global limelight. Not only did the 2006 film fetch Paban Kumar the highest national recognition – Swarn Kamal for the best non-feature of the year (making him the first Manipuri director ever to win the honour) – a rough-cut version of the film, Cry in the Dark, made for a foreign TV network, travelled to the Toronto International Film Festival and many other events around the world.

The SRFTI grad’s march has continued unabated since then, with another National Award coming his way in 2010 for his next documentary, Mr India. The film is the story of a remarkable man, Khundrakpam Pradip Kumar Singh, who learnt a decade ago that he was HIV-positive but went on against all odds to become a champion bodybuilder.

Paban Kumar is now working on a documentary about three generations of a family of Nupshabis, the female impersonators of Shumang Lila, a form of traditional Manipur courtyard theatre in which men don the guise of women. “The shoot is over and the film is in post-production,” he says. This film will mark a return for the young filmmaker, who is also currently working on the screenplay of a feature film, to the cultural documentary territory on which his mentor, Aribam Syam Sharma, stamped his authority through a body of work made up of both critically acclaimed fiction films and evocative documentaries about Manipur art and dance forms.

Suparna GangalManipur, a small state whose cinematic output was minuscule until the last decade, now produces 60 to 70 digital feature films every year, besides a huge number of documentaries and short films. “Cultural documentaries were once the norm in Manipur,” says Paban Kumar. “Today, more and more young filmmakers are dealing with contemporary political issues in their work.”

Of course, when Paban Kumar shot AFSPA 1958, it attracted no attention worth the name from the security forces, working as he did with an unobtrusive digital camera. “But now the armed forces personnel are far more conscious of cameras,” he says.

Paban Kumar could well be talking about all of India. Independent documentary films have proliferated all around the country, and not just in the metropolises, where resources are still largely concentrated. The themes of many of these films are driven by a spirit of activism although not every filmmaker in this space is necessarily comfortable carrying the ‘activist’ tag.

“In the wake of the digital revolution,” says Kolkata-based Supriyo Sen, who has seven internationally feted titles behind him, “the independent documentary movement has acquired a new vitality and dynamism with films being made in small towns and rural areas on a wide variety of subjects.”

He points out that a new audience for documentary films is emerging in the big cities in India although its size is still pretty small by global standards. “We show our films only to a select group of people: friends, cineastes and members of civil society. It’s all over with 10 to 15 screenings in all,” he laments.

Sen, of course, hasn’t so far had to depend too much on the domestic circuit for survival. His latest film, Wagah, made as part of a commission from the Berlin Film Festival to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, questions the relevance of the border that separates India and Pakistan. The film views the daily ritual of the closing of the border gates, seen through the eyes of three children who sell DVDs to the visitors who stream in every day to watch the extraordinary spectacle.

Sen, a journalism graduate from Kolkata University who is now preparing to mount his first fiction film, began his professional life as a freelance scribe before venturing into filmmaking in the mid-1990s. “A border has a special resonance for me,” he says, “because I am from a family of refugees.”

The subjective and the informative coalesce in Sen’s films in subtle ways. In Way Back Home (1999), he traces his parents’ journey back to Borishal, Bangladesh, where they grew up, and in Hope Dies Last in War, he focuses on the story of Indian PoWs stranded in Pakistan since the 1971 war and the struggle of their families to locate them in the hope of bringing them back.

Interestingly, none of Sen’s seven documentaries has been funded in India, nor have any of them been telecast on Doordarshan. “I’ve made a living entirely by making films and all my funding has come from abroad,” he says, alluding perhaps to the apathy that documentary makers still face in India. “Documentary films tend to be political in nature. That is perhaps why state funding for such films is limited at best,” he says.

Over the years, Sen has received financial backing from the Sundance Documentary Fund, Jan Vrijman Fund of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) and the Asian Cinema Fund of the Pusan International Film Festival, among others.

For Pune’s Suparna Gangal, too, the urge to make films sprang from purely personal impulses. The management graduate-turned-filmmaker, who assisted Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni during the making of the successful Marathi feature film, Valu, trains her camera on the inequities that surround her in a city that is in the midst of an economic boom and fuelling rapid urban expansion.

Gangal, a former HR professional, has been making films for eight years but without depending on external agencies for funding. “I do corporate films and documentaries for clients and use part of the earnings to fund my own films,” says the filmmaker, who has obviously benefitted from her MBA degree. It’s a self-sustaining model that allows her to create documentary content through small films as a launch pad to bigger projects.

Urali Devachi – A Living Hell, a six-minute film about a village 25 km from Pune that has been turned into a dumping ground for the mountains of solid waste that the burgeoning city generates, has brought her into the spotlight. A UN agency now wants her to make a longer version of the film but she is still in two minds on whether she wants to go down that path or explore other options that lie ahead.

Urali Devachi village was once a very fertile area known for its onion produce. Today, due to its proximity to the overflowing dumping ground, it is a toxic wasteland where malaria and dengue are a constant threat. “While Pune prospers, its surrounding areas suffer,” the film asserts, capturing the essential dichotomy of the development model that urban, middle class India seems to favour.

Yet another short film made by Gangal, Life Goes On…, homes in on an ageing ragpicker couple who collect trash from outside an upmarket Pune hospital and expose themselves on a daily basis to life-threatening health hazards. They are aware of the danger but are too poor to forgo the `100 they make every day.

Gangal is now researching for a documentary on the situation in Kashmir. “It will obviously contain political elements but will essentially document the situation in the Valley from the point of view of the common people of Kashmir,” she reveals.

For Gangal, the explosion of activity in the independent documentary space is a godsend. “It is wonderful to see the dramatic increase in the number of young people making documentary films: the more, the merrier. It is like when you want to produce a sporting champion, your chances of getting one improves if you have a pool of talent that is large and constantly replenished.”

That is certainly happening in India’s independent documentary cinema. Filmmakers are increasingly tackling themes and issues that rarely find space in the mainstream media. And in doing so, they are coming into conflict with the censors, who continue to place major hurdles in the way of getting these films out into the public domain. It is a battle that old hands like Anand Patwardhan and Rakesh Sharma, both of whom have dealt with the rise of rightwing politics and communalism, have fought for years for the filmmaker’s freedom of expression.

As the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), the government-mandated body that sits in judgment on the suitability of films for public viewing, continues to apply antiquated laws that have been overtaken by the constant evolution of technology, film makers like Patwardhan and Sharma have had running battles with the establishment. Governments come and go, but the control mechanism stays firmly in place.

During the reign of the NDA at the Centre, CBFC had ordered nearly 20 cuts on Patwardhan’s anti-war, anti-nuclear documentary Jung aur Aman (War and Peace). He appealed to the Mumbai High Court. He won the right to screen his film without a single deletion. During the same period, Sharma’s film, The Final Solution, an exploration of the politics of hate in the light of the Gujarat riots of 2002, was banned. It saw the light of day only after the NDA went out of power.

Nothing has changed several years down the line. Ashvin Kumar, nominated for an Oscar in 2005 for his short fiction film, Little Terrorist, is currently fighting to rid his new feature-length documentary, Inshallah, Football, of the ‘A’ certificate slapped on it by CBFC, headed by veteran actress Sharmila Tagore. The argument put forth by her is that the film contains “graphic description of torture” and is, therefore, suitable only for mature viewers. She has, however, said that “it’s a beautiful film and I want everyone to see it.”

Inshallah, Football narrates the true story of an 18-year-old Kashmiri footballer, Basharat Baba, who struggles to acquire a passport when he is selected by a FIFA-certified Argentine coach to train at Santos Football Club in Brazil and then play professional soccer. It tracks his dreams and frustrations in the face of attempts by the authorities to stymie his promising career only because his father is an ex-militant. Basharat’s plight is no different from that of many other Kashmiri youngsters grappling with overwhelming prejudice and lack of opportunities.

So, Inshallah, Football isn’t just one boy’s story. It is also the story of a man, Basharat’s father, who believed in the cause of azadi and was willing to go the whole hog to achieve his goal, even if that meant joining a militant training camp on the other side of the border and taking up arms. It is also the story of an incredible football coach, Juan Marcos Troia, who lives and works in Srinagar with the sole purpose of identifying and promoting talented Kashmiri footballers.

“An ‘adults only’ certificate for Inshallah, Football defeats its very purpose,” says Kumar, who was born in Kolkata, grew up in Delhi and now lives in Goa. “It is only a genteel critique of what’s going on in the Valley. But it is also, importantly, targeted at children around India so that they can see what children in Kashmir are thinking.”

Officially, the CBFC has informed Kumar that Inshallah, Football has “characters talking about graphic details of physical and mental torture they had to undergo” and that “the theme of the film is mature and some dialogues can be psychologically damaging for non-adult audiences.” On his part, Kumar, in a blog addressed to Ms Tagore, has asserted that the real purpose of this censorship is to avoid causing embarrassment to the Indian government with regard to the conduct of the Indian armed forces in Kashmir.

In his open letter to the CBFC chief, Kumar has accused her of appropriating powers that far exceed her mandate. “This is why you find yourself defending conservatism and championing regression and devolution. This is illustrated by your pronouncement that the ‘censor board will work in the same manner as it has been working and it’s not going to back’,” the filmmaker has written.

“If this is to be taken seriously,” Kumar goes on, “it would appear that your organisation has no qualms in openly declaring that its philosophy, purpose and mandate is to remain stagnant while the society to which you are ultimately responsible becomes increasingly dynamic…”

Kumar’s battle with the censors is still on. “I have appealed against the certification. I have received an acknowledgment from the Delhi censor board, but am still awaiting a final decision,” he says. Questioning the very logic behind the CBFC decision to restrict the film’s viewership to adults, he asserts that Inshallah, Football is simply a fervent appeal for humanity to prevail in the Valley.

Interestingly, another of Kumar’s films, Dazed in Doon, set in Doon School, is facing similar suppression from the school authorities who commissioned the film in the first place but are now determined to prevent its distribution because it is not in line with what they consider appropriate. “It is sad that the Doon School authorities, who should be leading the way in the fight for artistic freedom, are themselves as intolerant as Sharmila Tagore and her band of censor board members,” says Kumar, himself an old boy of the Dehradun-based school.

Encouragingly, in early March, Bangalore-based documentary film maker Shabnam Virmani won a landmark legal battle when the Delhi High Court ruled that her 100-minute film, Had Anhad, about the relevance of the living traditions of Kabir in today’s fractious world, be given appropriate certification. The court also directed the Union government to pay Rs 10,000 to the filmmaker to cover her litigation costs.

Lauding the maker of Had Anhad for her creative diligence, Justice S. Muralidhar said: “The impugned orders dated 28 May, 2010 of the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) and the order of 5 November, 2009 of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) are hereby set aside.”

In June last year, another documentary film, Flames of the Snow, a 125-minute cinematic account of the Maoist movement in Nepal, was denied a certificate by CBFC. The makers appealed against the order and a month later the film was cleared by a CBFC Revising Committee without deletions but with the imposition of a rider that Flames of the Snow would carry a disclaimer that the substance of the film was collated from various media publications.

“That was ridiculous,” says the film’s director Ashish Srivastav. “ Flames of the Snow isn’t just a collation of what has appeared in the newspapers nor is it only a mere reflection of the makers’ point of view. It is a documentary and we could not have put words in people’s mouths. The film records what actually happened in Nepal. It was shot in the heart of Maoist camps and contains the views of top political leaders, including the then Nepalese Prime Minister Prachanda.”

Srivastav asserts that his film does not glorify guerrilla violence. “Our aim is to understand the whys and wherefores of a people’s movement provoked by over two centuries of monarchy and feudal exploitation,” he adds.

The film, produced and scripted by veteran journalist Anand Swaroop Verma, who has been covering the pro-democracy movement in Nepal since the early 1990s, was released across 42 theatres in the Himalayan country. “For India, we have received enquiries for distribution, but not yet for the theatrical circuit,” says Srivastav.

The independent documentary movement in India is alive and kicking. But multiple obstacles still dog its progress. Many battles have been won. But the war is still on. The happy augury is that those battling for the right to provoke thought and question received wisdom are fighting fit.

Read more at www.civilsocietyonline.com


Right step: Restoration of bamboo rights

April 24, 2011

Bamboo was traditionally inseparable to the way of lives of the tribals until the British imposed false boundaries upon the local people with the intent of aggregating the potential wealth that could be generated. This was in line with their global strategy of laying claims on forest and natural resources across its colonies. But what is astounding is that it has taken our own government over 60 years to restore this right to its people.

I learned about the tribals dependence on bamboo during a visit to one of tribal villages in the North East where an elderly farmer talked of how the inner lining of bamboo is used to cut the umbilical cord of a new born, what follows is an entire saga of the tribal life enabled by the bamboo – toys, hunting implements, storage, homes, fences, etc. culminating on the final rights performed on a bamboo pyre…

Amplify’d from www.hindustantimes.com
Mendha Lekha to be first village to harvest bamboo

Over 150 years after a traditional right of poor tribals — to harvest bamboo — was snatched by the British government, it will be restored next Wednesday in a small tribal village in naxal-infested Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra. 
Mendha Lekha village in the district will become first vill

age in India where harvesting bamboo will be recognised as a community right of tribals and other forest dwellers.

Since 1857, bamboo has remained under the grip of India’s forest bureaucracy, which has refused to let go of this money-spinning forest product. It finally became a legal right for forest bureaucracy when the British enacted the Indian Forest Act in 1927, which categorised bamboo as a tree, thereby preventing local forest dwellers from harvesting them without requisite permission from the forest department. The regime had been followed in independent India.

The change became possible after environment minister Jairam Ramesh in March informed the state governments that bamboo will not be treated as a tree under Indian Forest Act anymore and will be considered a minor forest produce like tendu leaf.

Congress-ruled Maharashtra was the first state to leap on the opportunity provided by Ramesh, a Congress minister in the Centre. The right will be granted to Mendha Lekha village in presence of Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan and Ramesh next Wednesday.

Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, April 23, 2011

Read more at www.hindustantimes.com


There is a strong case to empower and hold States accountable while the Centre focuses on policy…

February 19, 2011

India has seen 11 5-year plans go by and there is little doubt that a lot has been achieved. But as we get into the throes of getting our 12th five year plan in place, it might be good to reflect on Nitish’s recommendation. In the post independence era, Central schemes might have been the way to go primarily necessitated by weak local infrastructure and governance. That is no longer the case today and with States having increasingly demonstrated that they can shoulder the responsibility of development, it might be time for the folks in Planning Commission to let the States set the priorities for what they consider vital in their development trajectory. The Centre can still set the national policy and armed with an annual collection in excess of of 3.7 lakh crores in taxes, it wields substantial power to ensure that the Sates follow through on their promises…

Have faith in us, end central schemes: Nitish

NEW DELHI: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Friday asked the central government to abolish all the schemes it sponsors and confine itself to broad policy complemented with technical and financial support to states, setting the tone for a radical shift in India’s economic policy.

“The Centre needs to trust the states and confine itself to broad policymaking,” said Kumar, credited with returning governance and growth to India’s poorest state, at the Economic Times Roundtable for Combating Food Inflation that focussed on tapping the farm potential of eastern India.

The nearly hundred schemes that more than 25 central ministries and departments oversee are the showpiece of the United Progressive Alliance government’s development and pro-poor credentials. The call for decentralised planning is equally significant because centralised planning has been one of the cornerstones of India’s socialist economy. The large number of centrally-sponsored schemes adds to the confusion in their implementation, said Kumar said at the event that discussed concerted efforts to boost farm produce in eastern India.

Kumar’s alternative system envisions states implementing schemes and the centre acting as a monitoring and advisory agency. The central government should provide policy direction, planning prowess and technical expertise, leaving the states to chalk out a long-term development plan for themselves, said Kumar.

The centre frames and almost entirely funds centrally-sponsored schemes. Kumar has proposed the current system of the centre deciding almost every thing from prioirty areas and the allocation should be replaced with a more participatory process.

“We can give them good governance and they should tell us what they expect of us. They can fix targets and leave it to us to achieve them.”

He suggested working groups comprising representatives of the states and centre and independent experts to prepare focus areas, schemes, its beneficiaries and the micro-level impact.

Though the United Progressive Alliance government at the centre is unlikely to easily yield ground to the states, Kumar’s proposal found resonance in some policymaking quarters.

Planning Commission member Mihir Shah said there is a lot of merit in Kumar’s perspective. “We at the Planning Commission also feel that the wide proliferation of CSS (centrally-sponsored schemes) needs to be looked at,” he said, adding that The Twelfth Plan will attempt to rationalise the number of schemes and give more flexibility to states.

Referring to agriculture, Kumar said though Bihar is being touted as the center of the next green revolution, the state needs firm and long-term policy assistance from the central government to make it a reality.

“There is talk about Bihar having a lot of potential but there should be policy assistance from the centre,” he said. Kumar also demanded allocate adequate resources from the centre to harness the potential of eastern states. He called attention to a new sub-scheme under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana that was launched with an outlay of 400 crore for bringing green revolution in eastern India. “It is a small amount compared to the development deficit in these states,” he said. Likewise, the launch of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act is welcome but it is creating labour crisis for agriculture. Instead, the scheme should direct agriculture labour in the fields sharing the costs with farmers.

Kumar also lamented the neglect of Bihar by central government agencies. Food Corporation of India has 73.73 lakh MT storage capacities in Punjab whereas it is only about 6.72 lakh MT in Bihar. Similarly, Central Warehousing Corporation has built a storage capacity of 6.95 lakh MT in Punjab whereas it is only 1.26 lakh MT in Bihar. These agencies must create additional storage capacity in the state, he said.

The Bihar CM outlined various initiatives in the areas of improving the quality of seeds, adding value to agricultural produce and encouraging marketing and invited the private sector to take advantage of and complement these initiatives. Kumar told private companies that law and order has improved in the state.

(By Devika Banerji)

Read more at economictimes.indiatimes.com


There’s a strong case for toggling careers across the pvt, academic & govt sectors. Everyone stands to gain…

February 13, 2011

There’s a strong case for toggling careers across the pvt, academic & govt sectors. Everyone stands to gain…

Amplify’d from www.hindustantimes.com
India needs you

Samar Halarnkar, Hindustan Times
February 09, 2011
A lawyer from Chennai goes to Britain. He gets a degree from London School of Economics; returns to India to be a government officer; becomes a professor of economics; enters the legislative council; swings back to the government as director general of statistics; enters the private sector and

serves as vice-chairman of Tata Steel and Tata Motors; re-enters quasi-public service as president at the Indian Institute of Science; then winds up as minister for railways and the finance minister of India.

In an India where public and private sectors are largely watertight compartment, this sounds quite a fanciful resume. Yet, John Mathai lived in an India that allowed talent to follow its fancies, to toggle between diverse careers and experiences. In 1950, he resigned as India’s finance minister, accusing his prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, of wasteful expenditure and disagreeing with the need for planning. (Some irony here: the 1944-45 Bombay Plan, of which Mathai was one of the architects – JRD Tata and GD Birla were among six others – recommended State intervention in the economy and segued into the first five-year plan.)

Once the public sector and the civil service took charge of the commanding heights of the economy and India itself, the flow of talent between public and private service halted. Now, mindful of the revolution of expectations redefining public life and politics, governments eager to show results are trying to bring some shine back to the rusting frame of India’s vast, largely inefficient, civil service.

Whether NDA or UPA, successive government haven’t had the courage – or inclination – to restructure the powerful bureaucracy. In this era of coalition governments, it’s hard to imagine something so drastic. Yet, it’s obvious that national and state administrations require the disruptive force of innovation if they are to respond to the myriad needs and demands of emerging India. So, efforts to bring in ‘outsiders’ grow.

At senior levels, this is not new. In 1984, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi chose an Indian expat in the US to be his technology advisor. Satyanarayan ‘Sam’ Pitroda energised India’s telecommunications revolution. In his latest avatar as innovations advisor to Manmohan Singh, Pitroda is trying to construct the National Information Infrastructure, a project to take broadband to India’s panchayats, so that real-time, transparent administration can stretch from parliament to village.

There are others in the government’s top echelons who have been hired from among India’s global elite. India’s chief economic adviser, Kaushik Basu, who is presently involved in writing the 2011 Economic Survey, is still a professor at Cornell University. Rhodes scholar and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, gained lateral entry into the bureaucracy after a bright career at the World Bank. Nandan Nilekani, former CEO of India’s second-largest technology company, Infosys, is chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, the agency that aims to provide 600 million Indians with a 12-digit identification number by 2014.

Nilekani’s organisation is a harbinger of the new civil service. At his agency, Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers work with engineers and other professionals – many on sabbatical, paid and unpaid – from a slew of private-sector companies, including Cisco and Intel. Why do they do this? As one investment banker from Singapore, now working for Nilekani, told me, “Where else in the world would I get an experience of this scale and complexity? Public service and a beefed-up resume.”

Nilekani also heads an expert group that last week recommended that the government should use India’s vast private-sector technology talent for public purposes: set up private companies (with a majority government stake) that will be nimble, flexible and independent enough to handle the complex job of grafting technology onto administration. For now, Nilekani’s group has suggested these companies run projects that could handle various taxes, pensions and expenditure worth billions of dollars. It would be a pity if the government doesn’t give the group more ambitious tasks. With five government officials, Nilekani and Nachiket Mor, president of a foundation for inclusive growth set up by ICICI, India’s largest private-sector bank, the expert group is an amalgam of talent that represents the new world it seeks to create.

But how can this new world enter the lower and middle bureaucracies? How can they be infused with private-sector talent to ensure delivery of services?

The draft of the Right to Food Bill, the contentious effort to make food a constitutional right, has one suggestion – give people from any walk of life, between 35 and 45 years of age, a one-time, five-year shot at public service. The drafters of the bill, the National Advisory Council (NAC), have a great worry – it’s all very well to provide a raft of new economic entitlements to the poor, but who will enforce these? Their answer is the district redressal officer, who will – and this is controversial, to say the least – sit in judgement over the district collector, the undisputed king of the district for more than a century. “You can select people from the pool of idealism across India,” an NAC member told me. “This will be a mid-career, lateral entry [into public service]. Can we not find 700 idealistic people for 700 districts?”

This is laudable. It could also mean another layer of bureaucracy over the bureaucracy. The fundamental challenge remains: how does India increase the opportunities for professionals to enter public service on a large scale? When can a John Mathai waltz in and out of public service – as easily as he could more than 60 years ago?

Read more at www.hindustantimes.com