Haryana’s folk artists and performers dissatisfied with Government

By: Ashmita Mukherjee

Chennai, February 22: At a folk festival in DakshinaChitra museum, artists and performers expressed their discontent with the government for not effectively aiding them to earn a livelihood and gain access to education.

DakshinaChitra is a living-history museum located 25 kilometres to the south of Chennai. The Navyug Haryana Art and Culture Centre organized the Navyug Haryana Sanskriti group to perform at the museum for a nine-day festival which commenced on February 16. The festival also includes an exhibition of wood craftsmanship of Mahavir Prashad Bondwal and his son, Chander Kant Bondwal from Bahadurgarh, Haryana.

Navyug Haryana Sanskriti group performers from Haryana

Every February, DakshinaChitra museum hosts a national festival for over a week informed Sahana Rao, program officer.

“Last year the focus was on the culture of Goa and next year we plan to bring in artists from Nagaland. The museum is a project of Madras Craft Foundation, a non-profit organization. We get funds to pay every artist a daily fee of Rs.800.”

On the contrary, Rahul Bagdi the head of the folk music and dance group said,

“All our expenses are paid for by the Ministry of Culture which includes food, travel, daily allowance and accommodation cost.” Bagdi informed that the Navyug Haryana Sanskriti group was created by him six years ago, “to save folk music and culture. We wish government did better to conserve Haryana’s folk culture. The Ministry of Culture spends more money for classical musicians and dancers by booking them flight tickets and paying them a better daily allowance. We are made to travel in train by sleeper class and our allowance is much lower.”

Mahavir Prashad Bondwal, a wood carving artist who was honoured by the government with one national award in 2004 followed by an award by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) the same year said that he used to work on ivory carving until the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 1991 banned the trade of ivory. Since then he has been working on carvings made of sandal wood, kadam wood and ebony wood with his family. He said,

Award winning wood carving artists, Mahavir Prashad Bondwal and his son, Chander Kant Bondwal from Haryana

“But with the new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we are forced to pay 12 percent Goods and Service (GST) Tax on import of wood. The taxation is based on sale and it does not take into consideration the money we spend on labour and the hours of work.”

Sandeep Singh, 24 a folk dancer who has been performing since the age of 16, finds himself unhappy with the lack of investment by the government on impoverished youth in Haryana. He said,

“I had been fortunate enough to complete my graduation (Government College of Education in Bhiwani, Haryana) but the others have not been so lucky. Several young men from poor families join the folk troupe because they lack technical skills and have no education. They learn folk dance or song to earn a livelihood. The older generation of singers cannot get other jobs because they are not able-bodied for manual work and lack education for any work that requires any qualification.”

Rahul Bagdi added,

“The Lok Kalakar Union sent an application to the government of Haryana with a list of demands asking for better artists’ pay, access to education through scholarships and introduction of folk music and dance in the academic curriculum of government schools and colleges. We observed a peaceful protest this year as we danced and sang through the streets of Haryana.”

Regressive rules hamper female students

Akshara Srivastava and Bharat Sharma

CHENNAI, Feb 22: Colleges in Chennai have been infamous for enforcing regressive rules pertaining to dressing and intermingling between male and female students. Justified in the name of maintaining discipline, these rules are mostly patriarchal and oppressive in nature.

The crackdown is usually on female students because of an enforced dress code which forces them to cover up. Calling it the “proper” way to dress, colleges have a plethora of instructions laid down for girls, which range from wearing only suits to covering their pelvic areas. They’re also disallowed from wearing short sleeved or sleeveless tops complemented by a full-fledged ban on skirts and shorts.
Such rules are not specific to co-ed institutions but are also laid down in women’s colleges. “We were never really given a real reason for it, except that during cultural activities boys also visited and hence the cover-up,” says a student from MOP Vaishnav College on the condition of anonymity.

Major engineering colleges, like the Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) have stricter rules that and no redressal mechanisms.
Apart from a strict curfew and its stringent enforcement, the college has also specified the time limit of a handshake between a male and female student.
“We are not allowed to physically embrace each other in any way except for a handshake, which too is supposed to last not more than five seconds,” said a student on condition of anonymity.
Apart from laying down such a peculiar rule, VIT also has an official disciplinary committee, which comprises ‘Red-Tags.’ These Red-Tags are guards with a red ID card who ensure that no sort of physical interaction occurs between students. “They often stand behind bushes as if hiding there, or you’ll feel their eyes on you from afar. It’s all extremely creepy at times and makes some of us uncomfortable but we can’t raise our voices or complain to the management,” said another student on the condition of anonymity. VIT has disallowed its students from forming a union.

The staff in the disciplinary committee seems unfazed by such draconian policies. “Our work is to enforce the rules,” said one.
A teacher at another premier engineering college in the city remarked, “I don’t see anything wrong with the rules. They are made keeping in mind our culture and are necessary to ensure that vulgarity is not displayed openly, especially by students coming from cities like Delhi and Mumbai.” The teacher requested anonymity.  

Destigmatisation: Mentally ill patients to receive formal documentation

by Akshara Srivastava, Bharat Sharma

Chennai, Feb 22: The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in Kilpauk is slowly inducting its patients into the Voters List before the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. With assistance from Disability Rights Alliance (DRA), they have enrolled more than 129 people as of now, including 62 men and 67 women.

Most government schemes and services can only be availed with a valid proof of identity. In lieu of this, the Institute intends to extend access to formal documentation to people with mental illnesses. This will include getting them Aadhar cards.

This is the Institute’s first initiative that involves patient participation. “This is the most progressive step we’ve ever taken… our society has never fully accepted mentally ill people as our own”, said Poorna Chandrika, Director of the institute.

Most of their patients were destitute or abandoned by their families. Owing to this, there are no documents proving their citizenship.

After screening their 900 patients, they figured out that 150-160 of them are mentally equipped to make a rational decision while casting their vote. According to D. Sumethi, Head of Voters Department and Social Welfare Officer at IMH, the voter patients are those who have been in recovery for a long time and continue to show signs of improvement.

“Only the improved patients will vote this time… We have many patients who have shown significant improvement over years. We’re starting with them”, she said.

129 patients have been registered with the Election Commission as of now. | The Hindu

Equipping patients with the right to vote is not enough. Awareness about politics is intrinsic to exercising one’s right responsibly. “We’re teaching them our political scenario and the history of Indian politics to help them choose their leaders wisely”, said D. Sumethi. 

Out of the 129 people who have been enrolled until now, six are patients with a history of crime. According to her, their improvement warrants inclusion in the list.

Besides this, all patients have access to television and regularly watch the news. “Someone will read the newspaper to them in the recreational hall so they can understand clearly”, added D. Sumethi.

Within the ambit of Representation of People Act, a person with an ‘unsound mind’ can be disqualified from registering and voting.

The Institute, with help from DRA intends to multiply the number of enrolled patients by three times next year.

The institute is curating a list of people below 60 who will be slowly registered over the next year. | Bharat Sharma

Providing a family like environment remains IHM’s priority. “We have always and continue to treat them as normal people who need extra care and medical attention”, said P. Chandrika. Asserting that voting is every citizen’s birth right she said that “this is why we’re doing this for them”.

ThinkEdu Conclave 2019: Heavy focus on the nexus between politics and education


Anand JC

Chennai, Feb 15: The idea of giving freedom to State governments to decide their own education policies, reserving seats for Parliamentarians below 30 years of age, targeting Urban Naxals were discussed at the New Indian Express’ ThinkEdu Conclave 2019 at the ITC Grand Chola here yesterday.

Many writers, experts and government representatives talked on how education can be improved and and the influence of the current political scenario on it. 

The day started with a talk on what the education policy of India needs. The panel was chaired by Anil Swarup, Former Secretary,  the Government of India. “It is time we got rid of meaningless discussions and formulated an action plan directly targeting the issues that plague our education system,” he said.

Padma Sarangapani, Chairperson, Centre for Education Innovation and Action Research, TISS said that in a stratified society like ours we have deep rooted inequalities. “We need to address these issues in our education policies. We all believe in the myth of born teachers, but we need to train them to get the desired results.”

J Krishna Kishore, CEO, AP Economic Development Board addressed the need to include the happiness quotient in our education system. “We can follow Finland’s education system. Happiness after all has a direct linkage with productivity.”

Other panelists included R Subrahmanyam, Higher Education Secretary, the Government of India, Anil D Sahasrabudhe, Chairperson, All India Council for Technical Education, Dr S Vaidhyasubramaniam, VC, SASTRA Deemed-to-be University.

The discussion on the idea of Urban Naxals and secularism became controversial. Vivek Agnihotri, an openly pro-BJP filmmaker, talked about Hinduism and the idea of secularism. “Without Indianisation, the original form of Islam or Christianity will not be able to serve the secular purpose of the country,” he said. The debate got heated when actress Khushbu Sundar, who is also Congress’ spokesperson, said that she is not ashamed of her real name Nakhat Khan. “To quote Shah Rukh Khan, my name is Khan but I am not a terrorist.”

Rakesh Sinha, Member of Parliament and BJP member said that cow worshippers are the most liberal people. “Beef eaters, on the other hand, are the ones who display the highest level of intolerance,” he added.

Columnist Shankar Aiyar chaired a talk on schools and nationalism. The other panelists included Kiran Bedi, Governor of Puducherry. “I wonder which school Lord Krishna, Gautama Buddha and APJ Abdul Kalam went to. We need to have value-based education. We need to encourage values like volunteerism and gratitude to improve the country.”

Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, National Vice-President, BJP said that the parents need to undergo training as well. “We think parenting is easy. Modern parents need to have a modern outlook. Our education system has not managed to give our students proper knowledge about their purpose in life.

Feroze Varun Gandhi, Member of Parliament talked on what the modern Parliament members can do to address the general issues plaguing the country rather than focusing on political tussles. Some of the issues addressed were poverty, hunger and climate change.

“In my constituency, we worked on something known as the Roti Bank scheme. In this, every household in my constituency gives one-two rotis and sabzi. Eventually we can feed everyone,” he said.

Member of Parliament Dr. Shashi Tharoor discussed how education can uplift the underprivileged and the rural masses. He addressed the lack of youth in the Indian Parliament and how reservation for people under the age of 30 can help solve the problem. “We have the highest population of people under the age of 35 in the world. It is even more shocking that we have the highest number of illiterate adults in the world, 287 million people,” he added.

We have spent `3,000 Cr on a statue in Gujarat. How many IITs and IIMs could that have funded? It only takes `100 Cr to run an IIT or an IIM. I mean, let’s be serious. This government’s priorities are misplaced”

He addressed the need to remove governmental restrictions, increasing the capacity in educational institutes to improve the employment prospects of the working age population.

Smriti Irani, Textiles Minister of India and Farooq Abdullah, Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, who participated in the final session, focused on how the current educational system of India had become divisive.

Minority status no longer at risk for small institutions


CHENNAI: The quashing of the 2018 State Government order that had mandated minority educational institutions to reserve 50 per cent of their seats may not have a major impact on bigger colleges, but for less popular institutions it is a huge relief. The State order had placed minority schools and colleges under risk of losing their minority status if they did not comply with it.

“Suppose we receive 2000 applications in a year, more than 1000 are from minority students. We never faced a problem of fewer minority students as it is a big college,” says M.F. Valan, Coordinator of the Office of Communications, Loyola College. B. Com is the most sought-after course in the premier college that attracts over 6000 applicants every year. However, for less popular courses like Applied History and French, it becomes difficult to maintain the 50 per cent threshold. “Unaided courses are a little expensive and not many people opt for it. If economically backward minorities ask for it, we give them means-cum-merit scholarships,” says Dr. F. Andrews, Principal, Loyola College.

In 2018, the Tamil Nadu government made it mandatory for minority institutions to reserve at least 50 per cent of their seats for the concerned minority, failing which they risked losing their minority status. A petition filed by the Institute of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary contested this order, arguing that Tamil Nadu has only 6.1 per cent Christian population and hence the order forced these institutions to follow an ‘impractical’ rule to retain their minority status. The order was stayed by the High Court in September 2018.

For second grade institutions, the order has come as a much-awaited relief. “How do we fill the 50per cent mandate when we do not even get sufficient applications. It is not practical,” says Dr. A. Joseph Durai, Principal of Patrician College of Arts and Science, a Christian minority college. Catholic representation in the college is only 15 per cent, even after admitting every application, the principal adds. With only 3100 seats, Electronic Media and Journalism courses have still have vacancies at the end of the academic year, which makes it difficult to meet the quota requirement.

While Loyola College has a number of self-aided scholarships to support economically backward students and religious minorities, Patrician College of Arts and Science is only able to provide government scholarships for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Citing the 2018 order unconstitutional, Justice T Raja said yesterday that the State Government did not have the power to pass such orders under the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act, 2004.
The National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act, 2004, defines “Minority Educational Institution ” as ‘a college or an educational institution established and administered by a minority or minorities.’ and does not mention the number of minority seats reserved under any institution.