Monthly Archives: May 2016

My short brush with life in Kashmir

 

Photo: Richa Nagaich, My Short Brush with Life in Kashmir | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Richa Nagaich

Kashmir: the word instantly draws two emotions in most people- fear and contentment. Fear, for those for whom it brings to mind imagery of machine gun trotting soldiers every few feet, gunfights, stone pelting, frequent bandhs, shutdowns, curfews-different words for the same thing— normal life in a constant state of suspension. It brings a sense of contentment to those who can imagine picturesque scenes of Shikara rides at the Dal Lake, cabins in the woods, pristine and lazy streams flowing against the back drop of snowcapped mountains. Yes, I am talking about the same place. Kashmir. Before I continue to write, I must clarify that I do not consider myself knowledgeable enough of the impasse’ that the situation in Kashmir is today or the history of it. My experience there has led me to learn that the situation is layered and complex, and I do acknowledge the complexity of the matter that has brought upon unimaginable suffering and pain to people involved on all sides. In August 2015, Leher, as a technical partner of UNICEF and KFORD, initiated a Child Protection District Need Assessment in Budgam district, 30 KM from Srinagar. This research work took me to Kashmir a few times. Kashmir and her people did touch me, and give me a lot to think about. I would love to share some of my experiences with you.

Getting to work on our first day

On our first day in Srinagar, ready to leave for work, my colleague and I asked the hotel staff for help with finding an auto rickshaw. Out came a gentle demeanored man, the owner of the hotel, who insisted on dropping us. He waited till we were let into a courtyard through a very large, tall iron gate (I noticed soon enough that all the homes in Srinagar have tall iron gates that you cannot see over), gave us his number and told us not to hesitate to call him for a ride back in the evening. I couldn’t help but notice that both he and the person who let us into the gate looked at each other rather searchingly. Letting go of some of the lingering anxiousness of the events so far, excited to meet the team, we entered the office of the NGO.

Meeting our research team

As we walked inside the office and introduced ourselves, a young man, returned our warm greetings with a serious, non-smiling, stiff, hello. No pleasantries exchanged, he looked at his watch and said, “let’s start, it is time.” I also noted that every time the iron gate creaked open, everyone momentarily looked outside the window to see who it was. We started our conversations on child protection and the study with a video, which talked about childhood, followed by a discussion on experiences of childhood. The same young man who let us into the office was the first to go. He said, “At the age of 7 my family and I were driven out of our home and village. Since then, I have never had a place to call home. We have moved too frequently. I still yearn for my home and my place. It was taken down in a gun fight.” As facilitators, words of solace were hard to find. I look at my colleague and she looked back at me. In that moment, we learned that listening is sometimes the highest form of understanding and acknowledging.

Over lunch in a fast food restaurant

On a subsequent day, we went to a popular local fast food restaurant for a quick lunch. We were instantly drawn to a group of vivacious teenage girls, dressed in their school uniforms, giggling and taking selfies. A few minutes later, the restaurant staff brought out a large cake, which was cut as everyone in the restaurant joined them in singing ‘happy birthday’. They shared their cake with us, and were also a little curious about us, so we talked a little. As their party continued, they are joined by a teenage boy, also in the same uniform. The birthday girl went all shy and coy. We suspect he was the ‘crush’. This could easily be a scene in a restaurant in Delhi.

“People will not trust you. This is Kashmir…”—No, Sorry—They did!

Doing research on child protection for the first time in a region known to be affected by conflict, we were intent on gaining a more nuanced understanding of how living in a situation of conflict affected childhood, the protection and safety of children. We set out with our research team to test the research tools in the community. Before we left, many warned us that the community would not accept us, they would not let us into their homes, they would not talk about their experiences with violence. We were told to expect hostility. Our experience was to the contrary. A village teacher, not only gathered a group of children, she let us in her home with them so that we could have our conversation. She made us refreshments and left. Later, we were joined by adult members of the community who spoke with us with more ease than we expected. They were willing to talk about their children, safety, and experiences with violence. Later, as we were preparing to leave, the teacher’s husband walked into his home filled with people, and begged us to have a meal and stay the night.

Many times people stone pelt to protest against bad roads, electricity shortages. It’s not always about separating from India.

In a focus group discussion with children, as we discussed stone pelting and the frequency of such incidents in the village, a boy not more than 12 years old, in a casual tone said that stone pelting was a common occurrence in their village—about 2-3 times in a month. We were taken aback. The children went on to explain that the stone pelting were most often angered protests due to irregular supply of electricity, and deplorable conditions of the roads. It was almost a relief to hear that Budgam had some problems that were similar to what is experienced in several other rural villages in the country. Finally, our travels to Budgam did come to an end and the study was completed. I trolled Gulshan Publisher’s store at Srinagar airport and have 4 new books on the valley and its people. I have a desire to return. I don’t think I need to think more about why people look behind you while talking to you, look searchingly around you, or are distracted every time a gate opens. I think it is because of constantly being in a situation of ‘expect trouble at any time’. People probably do not even realize that they are subconsciously always prepared for trouble. It is an unimaginable way of life for me. As strange as it may seem, I find peace in the fact that despite the constant state of tension, restrictions and disruptions, there is some normalcy in every-day living. I feel happy for the ordinary things which happen—kind acts by strangers, birthday celebrations, people welcoming you warmly into their homes. Even anger about inadequate public utilities is a familiar normal to me. I hope there is more conversation, more listening and more understanding. I hope for peace in the valley.

Lens man Ravi Kanojia dies on assignment covering drought


34 year old, @lensmanravikanojia was on assignment in Jhansi to photograph the drought in Bundelkhand, UP. As part of the drought coverage for Indian Express, Ravi climbed on top of one of the wagons, to capture the quality of water inside. He opened the iron lid but came in contact with a high-voltage overhead electricity line, that ended his life instantly.

Known for his award-winning work during the Muzaffarnagar riots and his recent investigation titled District-Zero, tracking how dismal indicators of education for children in Nabarangur, Odisha are slowly changing, that day (9th May), Indian Express lost one of its finest photographers.

What makes Ravi special for us is that his imagery pushed the agenda for children during the course of his career.

Here’s a look at his remarkable work, that is going to leaving a last impression for years to come.

With an annual pass percentage of 100, the Korchamal residential school is one of the schools the district administration holds up as a success model. Rashmita Harijan, on the bunk bed, has been in this school since she was eight years old and calls it her “home” (Photo:Ravi Kanojia)
With an annual pass percentage of 100, the Korchamal residential school is one of the schools the district administration holds up as a success model. Rashmita Harijan, on the bunk bed, has been in this school since she was eight years old and calls it her “home” (Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
A boy jumps into a baoli at Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi (Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
A boy jumps into a baoli at Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi (Photo: Ravi Kanojia)

 

A refugee boy selling balloons as muslim refugees from Muzaffarnagar offer prayers during the Eid celebrations in open at a foggy and cold morning, near the relief camps at Malakpur village in Shamli district, Uttar pradesh (Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
A refugee boy selling balloons as muslim refugees from Muzaffarnagar offer prayers during the Eid celebrations in open at a foggy and cold morning, near the relief camps at Malakpur village in Shamli district, Uttar Pradesh (Photo: Ravi Kanojia)

 

A tribal girl balances the water pots on her head after she fills them at a handpump in a village in Nabrangpur District, Orissa (Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
A tribal girl balances the water pots on her head after she fills them at a handpump in a village in Nabrangpur District, Orissa (Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
Child labourers return home after a day's work at the Katra railway station, Gonda, UP (Photo:Ravi Kanojia)
Child labourers return home after a day’s work at the Katra railway station, Gonda, UP (Photo:Ravi Kanojia)
At Santemera village in the district’s Jharigam block, Banvas Majhi’s sons Durjan, 11, and Devsing, 5, are ready to go to school. But before that, they head to a nearby field to pick mahua flowers, a good source of income (Photo:Ravi Kanojia)
At Santemera village in the district’s Jharigam block, Banvas Majhi’s sons Durjan, 11, and Devsing, 5, are ready to go to school. But before that, they head to a nearby field to pick mahua flowers, a good source of income (Photo: Ravi Kanojia)
A boy looks at a burnt house of a Muslim family at Lisad village in Muzaffarnagar district, UP (Photo:Ravi Kanojia)
A boy looks at a burnt house of a Muslim family at Lisad village in Muzaffarnagar district, UP (Photo: Ravi Kanojia)

Drought-ed into prostitution

Drought-Ed into Prostitution | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization

A serious drought has been developing across India, placing millions of children at risk. Reports suggest an increase of children being forced into child labour, trafficking, child marriage and deification into the devadasi system. Yogesh Pawar travels extensively in the drought affected region and in a recent article in the DNA documents how the parched lands of Telangana or Rayalaseema in Andhra Pradesh, Gulbarga and Bellary in Karnataka, or Marathwada, and Solapur in Maharashtra, is forcing families to push their young girls into prostitution in the name of ‘dedicating’ them to Yellamma, a goddess associated with devdasis. Offering girls as child brides to the Goddess had been made officially illegal since 1984. However, the ghastly practice still continues in some parts of Karnataka and Maharashtra. According to the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development there are more than 50,000 devdasis in India. ‘Dedication’ is preferred to selling them directly to the flesh trade because the former is given sanction by religious tradition. According to news reports “the tradition of dedicating girls from lower castes created by upper castes to sexually exploit them is making a huge comeback across the drought belt.” This is also the first time girls are being brought to be dedicated to Yellamma as early as April. Traditionally, these ‘dedications’ would happen only between October and February but because of the drought that has left fields barren and people facing starvation, parents are selling their daughters for sustenance. The police is as complicit in this ghastly child-sex trade as the priests. Everybody wants to maintain the status quo. One of them was quoted by the DNA article as saying, “I’m not here to be a social reformer to make enemies of other priests. Look at the cops, they simply need Rs 500 to look the other way. They’re happy, the girl’s family is happy, the temple’s happy. I don’t want to stick my head out to disturb that.” Complicit in this are also local agents, sahukar’s and even family members who all enable the continuance of this exploitative tradition in the name of religion. The family gets a pittance compared to the money they make and the lack of efficient social support or state care for children makes it impossible for poor families to resist the offer of liquid cash. Is there a way out of this vicious cycle ? ‘This is an issue related to the rehabilitation of devdasis, not generic children, so you will have to speak to the concerned authority’ says Arun Nirgatti, Belgaum District Child Protection Unit (DCPU) of the Women and Child Department. A telling response indeed from a body charged with the care and protection of children in the district!

For the full story, read here: Daughters of drought – The vicious cycle of poverty in the parched lands of Karnataka and Maharashtra

#waterchangeseverything: 5 campaigns by charity water that you must follow

Photo: Charity Water, #Waterchangeseverything: 5 Campaigns by Charity Water That You Must Follow | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Charity Water

Drought does not come alone. It comes with an overflow of problems. The starting point– access to clean drinking water. To fulfil this most primary need, children bunk school to fetch water from far off water pumps, they are at a risk of drinking water that carries diseases, their parents spend time fighting for water from wells instead of working, and the list goes on, spiraling a cycle of poverty, ill-health, incomplete education and disempowerment. Amidst this dry-spell, a New York-based non-profit works with the mission to bring clean drinking water to people in developing nations. Every year, Charity Water picks one country to bring about large-scale change, and in 2008 it turned its attention to India.On the ground it partners with Gram Vikas, Water For People and Jal Bhagirathi Foundation At charity they believe ‘building a water project is the easy part. Keeping clean water flowing over time, however, is a complex business that requires money, training and innovative thinking.’ What’s striking about these water warriors is that while they work with local experts and community members to find sustainable solutions in each place, be it a well, piped system, biosand filter or a system for harvesting rainwater, their breathtaking imagery, innovative campaigns and visual narratives compel you to take notice of the water crisis around the world and support the belief that water does change everything. It’s time to #fightdirty

Photo: Charity Water, #Waterchangeseverything: 5 Campaigns by Charity Water That You Must Follow | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Charity Water

Around the world, 663 million people fight every single day. They fight the heat. They fight the thirst. They fight to stay alive. Against one of the world’s toughest opponents: dirty water. This nearly-invisible bully blocks kids from getting an education, trips women out of the workforce, and steals away the chance to have a healthy life. In 2016, on their 10th anniversary, charity water stood up against dirty water and celebrated those heroes who’ve supported them in the past. #fightdirty has set out as a movement to fulfil the mission of bringing clean water to the 663 million people who still live without it. #thecraziestthingwecandoisnothing

Photo: Charity Water, #Waterchangeseverything: 5 Campaigns by Charity Water That You Must Follow | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Charity Water

Over the past decade, charity water has used clean water to restore dignity in India, reduce disease in Central African Republic and create new opportunities for families in Rwanda. They’ve funded drilling rigs in Ethiopia and brought clean water to the desert in Mali & Niger. And every year, they’ve done it with the help of thousands of fundraisers. In September, 2015, as part of charity water’s birthday celebrations was launched the campaign #thecraziestthingwecandoisnothing – a campaign which was as much about impact as it was about the opportunity to come together with a group of strangers and do something bigger than one would do for oneself. Not addressing the water crisis issue across the world was the craziest things we as a community could do. Building on this campaign, this year the message is #nothingiscrazy – summiting a mountain, growing a moustache, swimming, singing, dancing, doodling and donating – all for access to clean drinking water. #waterchangeseverything

Photo: Charity Water, #Waterchangeseverything: 5 Campaigns by Charity Water That You Must Follow | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Charity Water

663 million people in the world live without clean water. That’s nearly 1 in 10 people worldwide. The majority live in isolated rural areas and spend hours every day walking to collect water for their family. Not only does walking for water keep kids out of school or take up time that parents could be using to earn money, but the water often carries diseases that can make everyone sick. Diseases from dirty water kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. But access to clean water means a better life. For people in developing countries, clean water can change everything, is the basic premise of this campaign. #givehope

Photo: Charity Water, #Waterchangeseverything: 5 Campaigns by Charity Water That You Must Follow | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Charity Water

Everything changes when you give clean water. It bring independence, opportunity and purpose. People who haven’t had access to clean drinking water, now have more spirit, confidence and joy. Clean water gives hope for a better life and that’s the primary vision of charity water. #748million

Photo: Charity Water, #Waterchangeseverything: 5 Campaigns by Charity Water That You Must Follow | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Charity Water

Water is powerful. It can be beautiful and brutal, cleansing and contaminated, lethal and life-giving. Whatever it’s form, water is essential to life. On World Water Day, charity water spoke up for the #748million people who don’t have access to clean water.

The water warriors


The ongoing drought across 11 states in India makes daily headlines, reiterating the need for quick and innovative solutions to conserve water and take collective action for people directly affected by it. While children are undoubtedly the most affected and vulnerable to the ravages of drought, it is heartening to see children across Maharashtra take on the lead as water warriors, bringing promise and hope in times of despair.

7,000 children in Pune schools didn’t want the Maharashtra drought to worsen

 

The Water Warriors | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization

Over 7,000 students and staff members from different schools in Pune have been contributing their leftover water back to their schools for watering plants and cleaning toilets, tasks that were earlier done using fresh water. Many more children are gradually joining the cause. Children across Maharashtra’s schools are beginning to implement this simple but highly effective method of conserving water, at a time when the rest of the state is reeling from drought. What they do is simple: they collect leftover water from their water bottles in a large drum installed in their school. This water replaces the fresh water used to water the plants and clean the school premises. “Our aim is to reach 10,000 children. We have already reached 7,000. Our campaign aims to educate kids about the importance of water and also make sustainable use of the available resources. The simple idea of collecting leftover water in a drum at the end of the day will not only provide an alternative way for water conservation but also help kids understand the concept of sustainable development and use of alternatives,” said Vedant Goel and Yusuf Soni, entrepreneurs of this initiative.

Mumbai school kids pool in Rs. 20 lakh for drought-hit people of Marathwada

 

The Water Warriors | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization

It was a presentation on the drought in Marathwada that really brought home the scale of the crisis for students like Yaashree, from the Cathedral & John Connon School in Mumbai. Powerful pictures of parched lands, abandoned children, some younger than they are, motivated them to raise funds on their own. In the last six months, the students have raised a little over Rs 20 lakh through school events, a fashion show, selling T- shirts and donated to drought relief in Marathwada. “The students, jolted by scenes of parched lands, abandoned children, some younger than them, raised funds. They also pooled in money set aside for sports and social events and even raised funds by selling T-shirts,” said Principal Meera Isaacs.

Students put up water bank in premises, create squads to conserve water

 

The Water Warriors | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization

The Vidyanidhi Educational Complex also set up a large storage drum for water collection in its campus. What’s more, the school has appointed a few students to be a part of a ‘water conservation squad’, an initiative that excites children, especially with special badges on their uniform. At the end of the school-day everyday, students are encouraged to pour out all the water left out in their bottles into the drum. Laxmi Shetty is a fifth grader in the school who is quite enthusiastic about the campaign. “We store the leftover water from our water bottles in the water bank. Every child has to do this without fail before leaving the school.” Chirag Jadhav, in Class 8, is a part of the squad which keeps a lookout for leaking or open taps all day. “There are 20 students in the squad, from Std V-IX. We check taps in the morning – if they are open or leaking – and also before and after recess and end of the day,” he says, his eyes brimming with pride.

In the Nidgi suburb of Pune, students collect unused water to combat drought

 

The Water Warriors | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization

City Pride School has put a simple yet effective mechanism in place where it collects unused water from students and utilises that to combat water crisis. Incubated by the environment committee of the school,comprising 10 teachers from classes I to X and 20 students, two from classes VI to X, their idea was based on the insight that students tend to throw the remaining water from their bottles once school gets over. Assuming every student has 200 ml of water left at the end of the day, collecting it instead of wasting it made sense. As a result, the school has buckets placed at every entry and exit points where students deposit the remaining water from their bottles at the end of the day. With around 300-400 litres of water saved everyday, it is used to mop the floors, water the lawns and maintain the ground.

In photos: Children in search of water

The punishing weather is taking a toll on them. Parched water sources, deaths due to sun stroke, closed schools, halted outdoor activities and migration are inundating daily news as India and its children face one of the worst water crises in the last 10 years. With their villages reeling under the scorching sun and facing an acute water shortage, many are forced to look for ways to support their families in gathering water, often from far-off places. As India battles between rising temperatures and drying up water resources, two contradictory recent images capture the imagination one of a train carrying water to Latur, which has gone completely dry and the second of an upcoming bountiful monsoon, which has sent the stock market soaring in anticipation. Here are some images from across the country that depict the drudgery that some children have to go through on a daily basis just to drink a few drops of water…

A village boy bathes in the remaining water of a dried pond to beat the heat in the outskirts of Bhubaneswar (Photo: Biswaranjan Rout/NurPhoto/Getty Images)
A village boy bathes in the remaining water of a dried pond to beat the heat in the outskirts of Bhubaneswar (Photo: Biswaranjan Rout/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

 

A little girl carries a metal pitcher filled with water through a field in drought-hit Latur n iMaharashtra (Photo: Danish Siddiqui/ Reuters)
A little girl carries a metal pitcher filled with water through a field in drought-hit Latur n iMaharashtra (Photo: Danish Siddiqui/ Reuters)
In a drought-affected village in Dindhori, Madhya Pradesh, children can be seen climbing down the walls of an almost dried-up well to fetch the remaining water. (Photo: Divyakant Solanki / EPA/Corbis Images)
In a drought-affected village in Dindhori, Madhya Pradesh, children can be seen climbing down the walls of an almost dried-up well to fetch the remaining water. (Photo: Divyakant Solanki / EPA/Corbis Images)

 

Catching the last fish in a lake gone dry for the first time in a decade in Maharashtra (Photo: Aditya Waikul)
Catching the last fish in a lake gone dry for the first time in a decade in Maharashtra (Photo: Aditya Waikul)

 

A girl carries a pitcher after filling it with drinking water from a “virda”, a small opening made by villagers manually to collect water, from the dried-up Banas river at Sukhpur village, north of the western Indian city of Ahmedabad. At least 30 virdas have been dug up by villagers in the river. Villagers walk two and a half kilometres to draw drinking water from them, and they say it takes 30-40 minutes to fill a five-litre jar. Occasionally the villagers get their supply of drinking water from municipal tankers but most of the time they depend on the virdas before the monsoon arrives in the region. (Photo: Amit Dave/ Reuters)
A girl carries a pitcher after filling it with drinking water from a “virda”, a small opening made by villagers manually to collect water, from the dried-up Banas river at Sukhpur village, north of the western Indian city of Ahmedabad. At least 30 virdas have been dug up by villagers in the river. Villagers walk two and a half kilometres to draw drinking water from them, and they say it takes 30-40 minutes to fill a five-litre jar. Occasionally the villagers get their supply of drinking water from municipal tankers but most of the time they depend on the virdas before the monsoon arrives in the region. (Photo: Amit Dave/ Reuters)
A boy who migrated from drought hit areas of Maharashtra carries water to his family's makeshift hut in Kukse Borivali, 85 kilometres (53 miles) north-east of Mumbai. Decades of groundwater abuse, populist water policies and poor monsoons have turned vast swaths of central and western India into a dust bowl, driving distressed farmers to suicide or menial day labor in the cities. (Rafiq Maqbool/ AP Photo)
A boy who migrated from drought hit areas of Maharashtra carries water to his family’s makeshift hut in Kukse Borivali, 85 kilometres (53 miles) north-east of Mumbai. Decades of groundwater abuse, populist water policies and poor monsoons have turned vast swaths of central and western India into a dust bowl, driving distressed farmers to suicide or menial day labor in the cities. (Photo: Rafiq Maqbool/ AP)
Piryanka fetches water in Malegaon village, Parbhani district in Maharashtra. (Photo: Amit Haralkar)
Piryanka fetches water in Malegaon village, Parbhani district in Maharashtra. (Photo: Amit Haralkar)
Children from the village of Kankroli look for shells in the dried out bed of the Rajsamand lake near Udaipur in India’s drought-hit state of Rajasthan. The lake has dried up for the first time in living memory. Thousands of villages in Rajasthan are facing an acute shortage of water and animal feed with most sources of water having dried out in what is seen to be the worst drought in 100 years. (Photo: Unknown)
Children from the village of Kankroli look for shells in the dried out bed of the Rajsamand lake near Udaipur in India’s drought-hit state of Rajasthan. The lake has dried up for the first time in living memory. Thousands of villages in Rajasthan are facing an acute shortage of water and animal feed with most sources of water having dried out in what is seen to be the worst drought in 100 years. (Photo: Unknown)

 

Water levels in wells is so low that one cant get enough water from a pail. A girl got into the well to fetch water at a remote village about 180 km from Mumbai. (Photo: Aditya Waikul)
Water levels in wells is so low that one cant get enough water from a pail. A girl got into the well to fetch water at a remote village about 180 km from Mumbai. (Photo: Aditya Waikul)