Archive for the ‘The Times of India’ Category

By Rasana Atreya
Published in The Times of India, Pune Edition

Geography lessons from textbooks? That is so passé! Articles from in-flight magazines, a piece from a travel book – those are what might go into a “subject file” for the students of Sanskriti School.

Principal of Sanskriti, Devyani Mungale used to be part of the conventional school system; in fact she taught at the Delhi Public School, NOIDA for 10 years. But something was missing. Mrs. Mungale says, “I got an opportunity to attend many wonderful workshops. You came back recharged, but once you came back to your classroom, it was so difficult to implement them with large numbers; you were always racing against time because you needed to finish things just because the other section had done that.” Disillusioned, Mrs. Mungale decided to start her own school, and Sanskriti School was born.

Mrs. Mungale realized that in conventional schools, only the brightest or the most mischievous students got noticed in class. Often times, the kids that really needed help the most fell through the cracks. This is what she has set out to remedy in her school. The soft-spoken principal insists, “There is nothing wrong with the children as such.” Nothing that some loving, individualized attention won’t remedy. Towards that end, she has 8 teachers for the 32 students in her school, a ratio of teacher to student which would be unimaginable in a conventional school.

Sanskriti differentiates between kids by assigning them to different “learning groups”. For example, a child could be in class 5, but if her Maths skills are not up to par, she would work on lower-level Maths until she was able to catch up.

In Sanskriti if a child is distracted, he might be sent off to tend to the 2-3 plants he is assigned; he could work on a puzzle, or play a board game. To learn a poem, the child might choose to sit on a bench in the front yard. And vocabulary building isn’t by memorization, he’d play Scrabble instead.

Presently located in a bungalow in Baner, the school hopes to move to a 7 acre plot near Chandi Chowk by June. Mrs. Mungale says, “I intend to have farming patches for them where they can actually see the rabi and kharif crops rather than reading in the books about them.”

For examinations, the school follows the National Open School system which is based on CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education). Mrs. Mungale says except for English, all other subjects in NOS are on par with CBSE. But, says Mrs. Mungale, this should not matter, because the English her kids are exposed to exceeds even CBSE’s specifications.

As to what the kids can expect to get out of this school, Mrs. Mungale just hopes to inculcate a love of learning in a stress-free environment.



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By Rasana Atreya
Published in The Times of India, Pune Edition

That Pune is one of the most polluted cities in India is beyond dispute. But what is especially worrisome is that one of the more significant causes of pollution, a brick kiln, which emits harmful gases, is located right next to a prominent school where hundreds of children are being exposed to its toxicity on a daily basis.

The school, Delhi Public School in Mohammadwadi, has been actively trying to have the brick kiln moved to an alternate location. According to the school headmistress Mrs. Chakrabarty, “This school is for children, so we want this out”. Says Col. Sinha, the school’s Chief Operating Officer, “The school has a written notice from Mr. Prabhakar Deshmukh, the Pune District Collector, that the kiln will be moved out by July”.

Pune’s Municipal Commissioner Dr. Nitin Kareer, has this to say, “The PMC has asked the government for alternate land for brick kilns, and it is also trying to incentivise the conversion of land from use of brick kilns to residential”. He adds that the relocations of all kilns close to populated areas will on hinge on how soon the government can allocate land, though he isn’t able to comment on a specific kiln.

Meanwhile, according to Dr. Ajay Ojha, Program Manager of Pune’s Air Quality Management Cell, work is being done to move all kilns out of the city. He adds, “I hope that this will be done in the next 6 months. The plan is complicated because we need to make sure that standards are complied with.”

Brick kilns are known to be a significant source of pollution. Some of the toxic emissions from the kilns are Carbon Monoxide and Sulphur Dioxide and also PM10, a major air pollutant consisting of tiny particles that can settle in the lungs. All these pollutants together are known to cause asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, chronic coughs, impaired vision, reduced brain function, and even death.

With all the conflicting statements on the relocation of the kiln, it is unclear what the real timeline is. Meanwhile the children of DPS continue to breathe in the toxic air.

The Times of India, Pune Edition

July 9, 2006

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By Rasana Atreya
Published in The Times of India, Pune Edition

Though consumerism has arrived in India in a big way, consumer awareness is still in its infancy. So who is a consumer? One who pays to avail of services or products, says Consumer Activist Aroona Nafday.

Convener of the Consumer Empowerment Centre (phone number 2543-8559), Nafday says their mission is to educate consumers about their rights. Herself a lawyer, Nafde sees the court only as a last resort because of the time and money involved.

Nafday says, “The Centre is like a helpline. We also take up larger policy issues, where you need to regulate.” In addition, they offer mediation. Nafday says though, for mediation to work, both parties have to be willing. As a matter of principle, her organization will not accept any funding from the government or from any corporate bodies; they prefer not to run into any “conflict of interest” situations.

Nafday is very emphatic that consumers first need to be aware of their duties before they can demand their rights. She says, “We ask, don’t actively take decisions that are bad for consumers. They may be good for me at that moment in time, but in the long run, they are likely to be bad for other consumers. If I am going to purchase something on the black market, then how good a consumer am I? How many of us even ask for a bill for the purchases we make?”

But what really gets Nafday going is the consumer apathy she’s witnessed over the years. “The Indian consumers are a completely apathetic lot. They do not want to fight for their rights. They only want to get free aid, and free help, and free counseling.” She is rues the fact that even after cases are satisfactorily resolved, people will seldom pay the fees to become members of the Centre.

As an example of the apathy, she talks about a case of overloading of auto-rickshaws with school-going children. After a couple of accidents, they decided to get the school management and the PMT involved. They chalked out bus routes so children could travel in safety. And yet, not many parents
bothered to sign up for the buses.

Nafday says unless consumers come together to do things collectively, it is difficult to bring about change of any kind. To illustrate the power of collective action to get results, she gives the example of a shoe store that has sold a defective pair of sandals that they refuse to repair or replace. She says, “You can just get together a group of people in front of the shop standing quietly and telling other shoppers about the issue.” Once other shoppers become aware of the problem, the management is going to want to resolve the issue pretty quickly.

Nafday says collective action is especially necessary because initially businesses were a little afraid because of the Consumer Protection Act. Now that they’ve realized that cases may take as long as 2-3 years to get resolved, they’ve reverted back to being unresponsive. She says, “Even though my organization lobbied for this Act, and we welcomed it, we must also do something. Sending every case to court is not going to help. There are too many cases and not enough judges to try these cases.”

Nafday talks about the time the Centre took the Consumer Awareness campaign to go to schools. She says, “There were very few schools who would respond. It was more the vernacular schools that were interested. It is an issue where you’d think a particular class would be more responsive. But that class is the couch potato class. Though they are huge consumers of products and services, they don’t have the will to do anything.”

Nafday says, “People need to realize, if you can have Nobel Laureates in America leading a march on a civic issue, why can’t people in Pune do the same?” She adds on a note of finality, “I’ve studied this psychology for a long time, and I’ve come to the conclusion that we are very selfish and individualistic people.

Published in The Times of India, Pune Edition

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By Rasana Atreya
Published in The Times of India, Pune Edition

“The 4-wheeler class is killing theatre!” exclaims Mohan Kulkarni in despair. Kulkarni, of the theatre promotion company Manoranjan, is convinced that this class is “abandoning theatre to go to multiplexes.”

Kulkarni says, “Only the hardcore audience comes. New audience is not getting created. The youth is not interested at all in serious drama. This is because they don’t have too much knowledge about Marathi literature.”

Manoranjan does its bit for experimental theatre by offering concessions, but Kulkarni isn’t too sure about the future of serious Marathi theatre. He says comedies, or what he calls the “tapori” shows, are what bring in the crowds – the raunchier, the better. This is especially true of the younger, college-bound, mostly male audience.

Prasad Vanarase emphatically disagrees with Kulkarni. Marathi theatre, he says, is a thriving, vibrant entity. And young people today are more interested than ever. With his involvement in FLAME (Foundation for Liberal and Management Education) and as director of ACE (Academy for Creative Education), which he started, Vanarase has been involved in the promotion of experimental and amateur theatre in the city and interior Maharashtra for years. He is trying to create awareness about grants for theatre that are available from the Ministry of Culture, and the major concession the Railways offer to traveling troupes.

Vanarase, a National School of Drama graduate, credits the Maharashtra government for having taken a major initiative in 1955 to organize state-level competitions. This, he says, “actually converted many people, who would have remained theatre goers, into theatre makers.” Vanarase feels this initiative kick started a huge industry. In state-level competitions there are about 450 groups performing in 22 different centers. This involves thousands of people in acting, directing, marketing, backstage work.

Another entity, the Maharashtra Cultural Center (MCC) has been involved with theatre, both children’s and mainstream, for the last 15 years. They have their own theatre, the Sudarshan Rangamancha, where they subsidize plays.

MCC President Dr. Mohan Agashe has imported from Germany a branch of theatre called GRIPS. GRIPS portrays the world through the eyes of children, but is performed by professional adult actors. It does not offer solutions — the intent is to make children think. This has been extremely popular with school children, MCC’s Shubhangi Damle says.

About the “sleaze” factor in theatre, Vanarase says that it is like a wave, demand goes up and down. But he is convinced that serious theatre is not going anywhere. “How do you define success?” he asks rhetorically. “If you base it on the response of the theatre goers, we are very successful.”

Like Vanarase, Damle doesn’t believe either that cinema is affecting theatre, “Because theatre lovers love theatre and come to the theatre despite films.”

Published in The Times of India, Pune Edition

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By Rasana Atreya

Published in The Times of India, Pune Edition

Sini recoils in horror at the idea of sex education for kindergarteners. “They’re too young!” she exclaims. Mother of a 4 1/2 year old boy, she is fuming at the recent decision by the Central Board of Secondary Education to introduce sex education for children as young as 3 years.

Psychotherapist Niloufer Ebrahim says, “The problem is, the moment people hear the word “sex”, they think of two people doing something. They do not realize that this is more about self-awareness.” About Sini’s response, Ebrahim says, “She is frightened, because she thinks her 4 1/2 year old is going to be taught how to do it! He is not.”

According to Ebrahim, ideally sex education would be imparted to kids in very small increments, in an age-appropriate manner, taking into account the levels of understanding of the children.

Ebrahim says, “Done right, it would start with making children sensitive to the differences between men and women, an awareness of hygiene. Gradually, as the children got older, they would be more aware of their bodies, and bodily changes, which should be normal and not something to be ashamed of.” She says, “There would have to be awareness of so many things before we even touch what we call “sex”.”

Sex education would help children recognize sexual abuse, by teaching them to distinguish between “good” touch or “bad”. Ebrahim says, “Kids need to be taught that if anybody touches them in areas that are covered by clothes, it is not acceptable. That if such a thing were to happen, they should tell.” Unfortunately though, there is a common perception that such things do not happen in “good” families.

About the general disbelief that boys can be molested too, Ebrahim says, “Yes,boys do get molested, by other males, by females. Mostly, the molester is known to the family; it is person who you probably care for very much, or consider part of your family.”

Ebrahim says emphatically, “One thing we must remember, just because you teach a person what sex is, doesn’t mean they will run out and have sex. You know that if you take a knife and stab somebody; you can kill that person, does not mean you go get a knife and stab somebody.”

India Today recently did a survey about children today being sexually active from a very early age. With AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases becoming a hard reality, to not make these kids aware of responsible sexual behaviour, and the use of condoms, is an epidemic waiting to happen. Ebrahim says grimly. “They are likely to get diseases, they are likely to get pregnant. People are using plastic bags, can you imagine? Milk bags instead of condoms?”

Published in The Times of India, Pune Edition
Friday, Nov 10, 2006

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