Women's organizations on indefinite relay fast in imphal

Women's organizations on indefinite relay fast in imphal

Women's organizations in Manipur, co-ordinated by 'meira paibee' (mothers' organization), have come together as 'sharmila kanba lup' (save sharmila group) to launch an indefinite hunger strike since the international human rights day, 10 December 2008, this year, with the slogan 'save sharmila, repeal AFSPA'.

Hundreds of women from nearby areas arrive every morning and sit for the entire day and next day it is the turn of women from another locality. With a strong network of 'meira paibees' in manipur the movement is self - propelling. Groups of women are coming in by reading about the protest in local newspapers.

The fast is going on at PDA complex, next to Jawahar Lal Nehru Hospital in Imphal, where Irom Chanu Sharmila is under arrest in a hospital ward. She is charged with attempt to commit suicide.

It is now the 8th year continuing of Irom Sharmila's fast! Her demand is very simple - 'Repeal Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)'. But the government has now even stopped talking to her. Recently in protest she even gave up nasal feed, which has kept her alive, but later the doctors and jail staff convinced her to resume nasal feed. One can only imagine how she can go on being fed through nose every day for 8 years.

I met her in the hospital today along with some journalists. To meet her one has to get permission from the offices of Chief Minister (CM), Principal Secretary, Joint Secretary, Director General of Police (DGP) and jail authorities. Sharmila's brother Singhjit arranged the permission for me.

Since the last time I met her in September 2007, she has become paler - because of lack of nutrition and sunlight. But in spite of being disappointed that Sonia Gandhi has not responded to her letter that she gave us last time and which National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) activist Faisal Khan had handed over to Ahmed Patel, she is determined to continue her struggle. She has tremendous faith in God and is certain that she will succeed one day.

I've extended NAPM's total support to the struggle of women of Manipur. Earlier Bela Bhatia had also come here to express solidarity with the women's movement in the early days of the ongoing fast. I think more activists from other states of India must come out to Imphal to support this extraordinary struggle.

Contact's in Imphal: Irom Singhjit Singh (brother of Irom Sharmila): 9862696184, Shanti devi (one of the women coordinators of meira paibee): 9856192286

Dr Sandeep Pandey, Imphal
29 December 2008

(The author is a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee 2008 and a senior social activist in India. He is the national convener of National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and can be contacted at: ashaashram@yahoo.com) --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Read a related CNS article online at: September 2007: Anti-AFSPA fast ends on a positive note

Urdu writer Bilquis Jahan passed away

Obituary

Urdu writer Bilquis Jahan passed away

The noted writer and Government of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare awardee (1997) Ms Bilquis Jahan passed away while working in the CSM Medical University (formerly known as King George’s Medical College (KGMC) Lucknow) on 12 December 2008.

She was credited with authoring the first urdu language book on comprehensive tobacco control, titled “Phool Jakhmi Hain”, whose hindi version “Rakh Ke Dher Par” received the award by Government of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 1997 and UP Government’s Hindi Sansthan too.

Her active participation in strengthening tobacco control movement in Lucknow over the past many years was undoubtedly enormous.

Citizen News Service (CNS), Indian Society Against Smoking, Abhinav Bharat Foundation, ASHA Parivar, National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), SAMADHAN Samiti and others, express their deep grief

Living with floods is their destiny

Living with floods is their destiny

25 years old Mr. Shravan Kumar becomes very happy when he sees his growing agriculture fields. He did his post-graduation and Bachelor of Education form Gorakhpur. He says proudly, 'I love doing farming in my village rather than doing a job in the city. This way I can sustain myself and my 12 family members and also save about 8000 rupees annually.' He owns merely one acre of land, which is often troubled by floods. In this small piece of land he produces more than 20 varieties of crops. His village Laxmipur in Maharajganj district is in the Rohini River Basin and situated just 100 meters away from this river. This village faces heavy floods every year and almost all the crops are washed away. Mr. Kumar said, ' Five years ago I had no idea how to manage crops in the monsoon season. However, when I came in contact with Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), I learnt many adaptive methods and also got indigenous technical knowledge to strengthen agricultural production.' Now he can easily manage his crops' production and has becomes an ideal young farmer not only in his native village but in surrounding areas too.

Floods are a natural phenomenon occurring in the majority of the rivers in India. . The north-eastern region of Uttar Pradesh like Bahraich, Sidharthnagar, Maharajganj, Gorakhpur, Kushinagar and district Gazipur in south-eastern Uttar Pradesh are located in aheavy monsoon prone region. People in this area have been used to living with floods, and they have no hope of getting any help from the government to come out this bane. During monsoons, they have to spend many months on temporary shelters and community made embankments. Children can't go to schools as schools remain closed until the flood waters recede. They also face acute drinking water shortage.

"The state-built embankments near rivers did little beyond providing an elevated area for people to shift to, during floods. But with human beings and livestock under the same roof and in the absence of proper health and sanitation facilities, villagers had to endure inhuman conditions three months a year. Access to safe drinking water has been an annual problem during monsoons" said, Mohna Devi, who lives in Manoharchak, a heavy flood prone village in Maharajganj district.

According to Mr. Amit Kumar, Coordinator, Research and Advocacy working in GEAG , 'Human activities also play a major role in flood creation. Ponds and lakes meant for storing rainwater are being converted into land for housing or agriculture. Also, post monsoon, farmers intensively cultivate the newly created fertile silt stretches left behind by the receding floods. Subsequently, this encourages expansion of human settlements closer and closer towards the rivers, which only adds to the problem. Over a period of time, the decrease in natural water reservoirs and increase in human activities along riversides further impedes water drainage and causes floods.'

He further said that large parts of Uttar Pradesh are regularly affected by floods, which not only disturbs the livelihood of the people but has a deep physiological impact on them as well. The Government too, seems to be focusing more abrupt mitigation of flood devastation rather than a elongated and adaptive policy of flood diminution.'

"We can save food-grains and can increase agricultural production by adopting pre and post flood cultivation. Pre-flood crops are sweet potato, maize, cucumber, barnyard millet, finger millet, and some varieties of paddy like Narendra-97. Deep water crops are; Neel Kamal, Tal Makhana, Kamalgatta, Karmua and Tinni paddy. Post flood crops are Lobia, Oil seeds, potatoes, arkil peas, lentil, kulthi, boro paddy,' said Dr. Shiraj A Wajih, Senior Environmentalist and President, GEAG.

It is evident that there is no purpose of taking up development schemes like construction of roads and bridges without finding a permanent solution to the problem of floods, as the money spent on such project will only be washed away by the flood waters of the mighty river Rohini and its tributaries.

Close coordination with the neighboring states and the country of Nepal is also necessary as time and again gushing flood waters come down from Nepal. Despite the fact that a sizeable portion of the funds and time and energy spent on various development schemes are washed away by floods every year, the Government does not seem to be taking effective steps to solve the problem. If the Government is really serious about the development of Uttar Pradesh, especially eastern parts of Uttar Pradesh, then it has to adopt a multi pronged strategy to alleviate the sufferings of the flood victims.

Amit Dwivedi

(The author is a Special Correspondent to Citizen News Service (CNS). Email: amit@citizen-news.org, website: www.citizen-news.org)

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Land of agriculture is facing food crisis

Land of agriculture is facing food crisis

A few years back, at an interactive session on economy in Missouri, United States President George W Bush argued that, 'prosperity in countries like India is good but it triggers increased demand for better nutrition, which in turn leads to higher food prices and food crises.' However it is not true, though India is facing the problem of food crisis. According to The United Nations Population Fund, (UNFPA) report ,India is projected to be the most populous country in the world by 2050, overtaking China. Its population, now 118.6 crores, is projected to be 165.8 crores by 2050. Increasing population growth and construction activities on agricultural lands is likely to reduce the area under agriculture. This can lead India towards food crisis.

This year, food security, scarcity and food riots combine came up for an open discussion in the month of March for the first time ever. That time Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) arranged a meeting which focussed on the riots around the world for seeking of food grains. Not only drought prone areas of Africa but also the rest of the developing countries are facing similar types of problems related to food and hunger.

Uttar Pradesh has always been a food surplus state in India. However, being one of the most populous states of India, it is more likely to face food crisis. According to the U.P. Human Development Report, 2007, U.P. ranked 15th in terms of per capita income out of the 18 major Indian states considered for the study. And its 32.8 percent of the population was below the poverty line in 2004-5. Every 6th malnourished child in the country lives in U.P. It is the third poorest state in India with a per capita annual income of US$200. Some 80 percent of the people in U.P. live in the rural areas; and 66 percent depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Rural women continue to be denied their rights of land holdings and other financial decisions. This makes them more vulnerable to food problems during famine, floods and recession time.

A survey done by Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group in Uttar Pradesh revealed that 90 per cent of the agricultural work is being done by women farmers. However, despite this fact they are still fighting for their rights.

Dr Shiraj A Wajih, President, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) said, " Now, it is high time that the Indian government realizes that those small scale farmers, who are the worst sufferers of liberal agro-economy, should be made a key to the solution of food crisis. The agricultural sector of India is mainly covered by small and marginal farmers. So our government should promote small scale agriculture. Besides, the agriculture sector should be solely covered by the public sector from investment to marketing and distribution. Even if there is any kind of corporate investment ,it should be properly regulated by the public authorities."
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He further said, "The Indian economy has been growing rapidly at an average of 8.5% over the last five years. This growth has been mainly confined to manufacturing industry and the burgeoning services sector. Agriculture, on the other hand, has grown by barely 2.5% over the last five years and the trend rate of growth is even lower if the past decade and a half is considered. Consequently, per capita output of cereals (wheat and rice) at present is more or less at the level that prevailed in the 1970s. The current crisis in Indian agriculture is a consequence of many factors - low rise in farm productivity, unremunerative prices for cultivators, poor food storage facilities, high debt on farmers, pro-industry policy by the governments resulting in high levels of wastage, a fall in public investments in rural areas, especially in irrigation facilities."

Though India has not yet experienced riots over rising food prices that have hit other countries like Zimbabwe or Argentina, but what is worrying everybody is that the current rise in inflation is driven by high food prices.

The present crisis reveals that food has transformed from something that nourishes people and provides them with secure livelihoods into a commodity for speculation and bargaining. The defining feature of globalization that we are witnessing today lies in the change in the principle function of capital. Instead of being an investment for production , it is largely involved in short term speculative activities. The integration of the global food economy has resulted in food grains' metamorphosis into an object of speculation.

Amit Dwivedi

(The author is a Special Correspondent to Citizen News Service (CNS). Email: amit@citizen-news.org, website: www.citizen-news.org)

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Arbitrary and illegal arrest of 'Nishan' Editor Lenin Roy

Arbitrary and illegal arrest of 'Nishan' Editor Lenin Roy

Lenin Kumar Roy, the editor of Nishan, a Left oriented quarterly magazine published from Bhuvaneshwar (Orissa state in India) was arrested on 7 December 2008 around 1-1.30 pm and sent to jail on charges of writing provocative literature which as per the police version and the official report would disturb communal peace and harmony.

The police did not stop here.

It also arrested two employees of Sovan Press, Bhubaneswar, after conducting a raid on it for printing the book ‘Dharma naanre Kandhamalre Raktara Nadi’ published by Lenin Kumar. This was done at the Sahid Nagar Police Station.

When the activists came to know of this from Mrs Rumita Kundu, Lenin’s wife, they contacted the officer in-charge of police station in the night who told them that he had been picked up for verification and he would be released within one hour or so.

In the meantime, the police was planning something nefarious. They were writing down documents preparing grounds for his so-called “Maoist links”. The said book was alleged to be ‘Maoist literature’. Next day, he was produced in the court and the police alleged crime under Section 153-A and 295-A of Indian Penal Code (IPC) which relate to ‘publishing provocative literature which can disturb communal peace and harmony’. The police cited page 38 to 41 of the above book. And what do those pages have in them? They produce a letter allegedly written by the RSS (Hindu right-wing fundamentalist group) to its members for anti dalit, anti minority activities and also have some of Lenin’s comments on this.

So, in India (and particularly in Orissa) it is a crime to write anything against the RSS or to produce an RSS letter or to comment upon it- more so if the government is supported by the BJP!

But the actual reason goes even more deeper. In reality, Lenin had become a pain in the neck for the Navin Patnaik government which has completely failed in protecting the minority rights in the Kandhamal episode and has proved to be blatantly partisan and completely ineffective on law and order front. Unfortunately, he has been consistently raising voice of dissent for last one year or so in the pages of Nissan on all these related matters, a fact that was to great distaste of the establishment, be it the Chief Minister and his party or the supporting ally BJP. In August 2008, Nishan was labeled as a Maoist organ by SP Jagatsinghpur though the editor had protested this allegation.

This is not the lone instance of the Orissa government coming up heavily against the dissenting members of the intelligentsia and the media who are critical about the government’s activities. A few months ago, Rabindra Prasad Panda, a prominent Oriya writer, was sent to jail by the Orissa government for writing a book, using similar Sections of the IPC.

Thus as the NDTV has rightly said- “Orissa cops have taken the term gag order to a new level altogether.”

I am never able to understand what does the police force in this Nation want to prove by arresting people like Lenin Ray. Is it not completely shameful and highly deplorable and atrocious? What is Lenin's fault- that he writes Maoist literature, that he speaks the language of Marxism, Leninism and Communism? Is this a free country we are living in?

I don't think there can be anything more condemnable than this- to arrest a magazine's Editor just because he sympathizes for a cause which every right-minded must be and internally is. I have not seen any sensitive person in the world who is not sympathetic to the poor and the downtrodden, who does not want all these differences and economic disparities and exploitations to end, who wants every person to be able to live a good life.

While the police force of this country is completely helpless before the terrorists and the extremists who kill them whenever they feel like, they never leave a chance to arrest such law-abiding and righteous persons who have a definite purpose in their life and are sacrificing it for the common man.

I don’t know what will happen to our country where such local dictators who only want bards and sycophants around them. While it can be the case with the political persons, how can this be true also with the intellectuals and the Media? Is this the way our Constitution makers had envisaged our Chief Ministers and governments to behave? The Media is known as the fourth estate and the watchdog of a democratic society. But can any society function properly if its chosen representatives are so intolerant, biased, personally stymied and spiteful as to pursue matters on a personal level and stop any person from expressing his/her views.

Lenin's arrest is a blot on our society and must be resisted by each one of us as an example of complete dictatorship. Is this a free Nation?

Dr Nutan Thakur

(The author is the editor of 'Nutan Satta Pravah' and also represents Institute for Research and Documentation in Social Sciences (IRDS) in Lucknow. She can be contacted at: drnutanthakur@yahoo.com)

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PUCL-PUHR Report on bomb-blast accused Abu Bashar

PUCL-PUHR Report on bomb-blast accused Abu Bashar

Case of Abu Bashar arrested in connection with serial bomb blasts in Ahmedabad

Mufti Abul Bashar Qasmi Isalhi or Abu Bashar for short, 22 years in age, was literally dragged and kidnapped from his house in Village Beena Para in Azamgarh District of U.P. on 14th August, 2008 at 11 am, by unidentified plainclothesmen who came in two vehicles. Complaints were immediately filed with the local police station as well as faxes sent to the District Magistrate and the CM. Local newspapers reported this event next day. Two days later, on 16th August, 2008, the UP ATS showed his arrest from Charbagh, the Lucknow Railway station area, and the Gujarat Police chief P.C. Pande, in a press conference in Ahmedabad, named him as the mastermind in July 26, 2008, Ahmedabad serial bomb blasts. He was also held responsible for the conspiracy of bombs planted in Surat . After being taken to Ahmedabad by the Gujarat police since then he has been shown to have been arrested a number of times while in police custody in different cases, one after another on 31/8/08, 15/9/08, 30/9/08, 8/10/08, 23/10/08, 6/11/08 and again twice recently, without granting bail in any of the cases, so that his police remand could be extended for what has been a very prolonged interrogation.

The Gujarat police also claimed that he had traveled to Kerala and Gujarat in connection with imparting training to others and was also involved in planning Jaipur and UP court campuses blasts. P.C. Pande also claimed that Abu Bashar was the President of Indian Mujahiddin, a cover for SIMI, which sent e-mails claiming responsibility for some of these blasts.

Abu Bashar is the eldest of six brothers among seven siblings. His family is very poor, sometimes living on the verge of starvation. Neighbours have to often take care of this family. Father has been affected by paralysis and brain haemorrhage and mother too is not fully physically fit. They live a mud house. Abu Bashar is physically very weak, probably not weighing more than 40 kg. He could not even ride a bicycle. Neither did he know how to operate a mobile phone.

He studied to become a Maulvi at Madarsatul Islah. In 2004 he went to Darul Uloom, Deoband to become a Mufti. In 2005 he went in search of a job to Hyderabad and was teaching for Rs. 2000 p.m. in a Madarsa belonging to Maulvi Abdul Aleem. He was forced to return to his village in February, 2008 to look after his ailing parents. Except for his visit for study and job he never traveled for any other purpose.

The headmaster of Intermediate College in Beena Para, Abu Sufyan remembers him as a lean, shy and confused boy. The headmaster said that he never spoke to Abu Bashar because he thought that Abu Bashar was not capable of any intellectual conversation.

Mahendra Chaudhary, Addl. S.P. belonging to Rajasthan Police and investigating officer in the case of accused in Jaipur Blasts, Shahbaz Ahmed of Lucknow, has confirmed to us that Gujarat Police does not have a single concrete evidence against Abu Bashar.

Abu Bashar was never a member of SIMI. Shahid Badra Falahi, President of SIMI when it was banned in 2001, has also denied the SIMI membership of Abu Bashar. Abu Bashar’s only contact with former SIMI office bearers was in a national seminar of Islamic scholars in 2006 where Abu Bashar was also a speaker.

Conclusion: We think that Abu Bashar is innocent and it is a case of mistaken identity. He did not possess the skills required to carry out operations for which he has been charged as an accused. We find it surprising that a person with the abovementioned description has been framed in serial bomb blasts in Ahmedabad, among other cases.

He has probably been arrested because of his association with the madarsa of Maulvi Abdul Aleem in Hyderabad . Abdul Aleem’s son Moutasim Billah has been made an accused by Hyderabad police for obstructing police officers from performing their duty. Billah’s brother was shot dead by Gujarat police officer Narendra Amin in October 2004 when he was part of the crowd assembled outside a police station to protest the arrest of Maulana Nasiruddin. Maulana Nasiruddin and his two sons, Yasir and Nasir, have also been made accused in different cases. Maulana Nasiruddin and Maulvi Abdul Aleem are neighbours in Hyderabad .

Hence Abu Bashar’s involvement in either terrorist incidents or with SIMI is too indirect and far fetched to be taken seriously.

Members of Fact Finding team:

(1) S.R. Darapuri, IPS (Retd.), 9415164845, sdarapuri@yahoo.co.in

(2) S.M. Naseem, IPS (Retd ), 9839123786

(3) Ramesh Dixit, Professor, Political Science, Lucknow University , 9415103162

(4) Rajeev Yadav, Social Activist, 9452800752, media.rajeev@gmail.com

(5) Shahnawaz Alam, Social Activist, 9415254919

(6) Laxman Prasad, Social Activist, 9889696888

(7) Maulana Zahir Ahmad Siddiqui, Social Activist, 9935221456

(8) Sandeep Pandey, Social Activist, 0522 2347365, ashaashram@yahoo.com

Report brought out on behalf of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), UP Chapter, and People’s Union for Human Rights (PUHR).

Heart of gold

Photo by wheat_in_your_hair‘I crossed the ocean, for a heart of gold . . .’ Neil Young sang over the radio as I drove home last night. He might have been on an endless search for a ‘heart of gold’ but I have already found one.

Below is the transcript of an interview I did with the eight-year-old daughter of a woman critically ill with an AIDS-related illness in northern Thailand. Her mother is in hospital in a coma and it is unclear where she and her one-year-old sister will live.

She didn’t want her name disclosed but she wanted her story to be told.

When did your mother become sick?

Heart-of-Gold: She has only been sick for the past year. She was a waitress where she met someone and conceived and later my younger sister was born. A month after delivery, she developed fever everyday, lost body weight and eventually tested positive for HIV. But she didn’t tell her HIV status to anyone, not even us. When she told us about her HIV, it was already too late.

I used to cry so hard but now I feel good by taking good care of my mother and my younger sister. My relatives told me to be strong and accept this reality.

How did you take care of your mother?

Heart-of-Gold: I cleaned her body, change her clothes, regularly wipe the saliva, blood or other body secretions that come out of her mouth, sometimes she vomits so we need to clean the vomit and her bedding or clothes, and also be of help in taking her to the toilet and cleaning her after she pees.

Don’t you think it’s dirty?

Heart-of-Gold: For my mother, I have to do it. I also need to take care of my one year-old-sister since my mother is sick with AIDS and tuberculosis (TB). Sometimes she fell from her pillow and cried because of hunger but am busy taking care of my mother and I don’t have time to prepare milk or hold her.

Have you ever angry at your mother for the situation?

Heart-of-Gold: I am not angry but sometimes I feel frustrated because there is nothing I can do to save my mother. My mother used to ask me to buy her coconut water or poison because she wants to die. But I can never buy that. I will take care of her. I’d rather see her alive even she must be suffering than to let her die.

Do you feel tired carrying your sister around for a long time?

Heart-of-Gold: Yes, sometimes in the night I felt tired, but then I switch her to my other arm. She used to wriggle hard, pinch my head, pull my hair and sometimes slap my face [laughs]. But she is too small to realize what she is doing. When she is too naughty, I will just say ‘quiet – or I will not walk you around’ and she will become quiet [smiles].

Has your sister ever fallen from your arms?

Heart-of-Gold: Never.

I heard your sister calls you mom . . . does she call your mother and your grandmother ‘mom’ too?

Heart-of-Gold: No, she doesn’t. I don’t know why she calls me ‘mom’ when I am just her sister.

How about your school?

Heart-of-Gold: I cannot go to school since I have to take care of my family.

Would it be easier if your sister stayed with someone else?

Heart-of-Gold: I want to take care of my sister but I am too small, and don’t know how to earn money. If my younger sister is separated from me she may grow up in a better place [she shakes with sadness].

What do you think of AIDS?

Heart-of-Gold: [she holds her body tight.] I don’t want to be infected with AIDS.

Do you know how people can get HIV and AIDS?

Heart-of-Gold: By not wearing a condom.

Who told you that?

Heart-of-Gold: I used to read a banner that said ‘by wearing condoms, you will not get AIDS’.

What would you like to tell other people living with HIV or AIDS?

Heart-of-Gold: If they are like my mother who didn’t talk about her HIV status because of shame till it was too late, then, I would tell them to think of how their children and other family members would feel if they lost them. So please talk and get help when there is still time.

I will also like to say to other family members of people living with AIDS to take care of them as much as possible.

Is there anything you want to ask me?

Heart-of-Gold: Where will I stay after this? [A brief pause]

Where do you want to stay?

Heart-of-Gold: I don’t know. Wherever, but I’m afraid that people will take me and hit me, sell me or rape me. I heard in Bangkok they do that. I’m scared. My father doesn’t really care about me anymore. He has married again and has a new family.

If you can have one wish from an angel, what would you ask for?

Heart-of-Gold: I wish that no one is the world would ever get sick again.

What about you? Don’t you want to ask for something for yourself?

Heart-of-Gold: I wish that nothing bad will happen to my mother and sister. If anything bad happens to them, I’ll be dreadfully sad.

Do you want to go to the hospital to visit your mother?

Heart-of-Gold: No . . . I am afraid . . . If . . .

[She puts her hand to her eyes before the tears start falling. I couldn’t ask her anything else]

As the curtain of the 17th International AIDS Conference in Mexico falls today, the real life stories of countless children affected by HIV continue to pose questions that need an answer.

If only everyone could see the way her little thin hands carried her sister with care, courage and strength.

. . .

Has your sister ever fallen from your arms?

Heart-of-Gold: Never.

. . .

I hope that she would never will.



Jitima Jantanamalaka-CNS

Rhapsody 2008 - a symphony of different cultures for medical professionals

Rhapsody 2008 - a symphony of different cultures for medical professionals

A thing of beauty is a joy forever, and yet we have ‘no time to watch at beauty’s glance, and see how well her feet can dance’.

Well, this is the price we seem to be paying for our economic development. Today’s world of cut throat competition and cutting edge technology has lacerated our soul. Any activity of a non competitive nature with no financial gains is looked down upon. In our quest for professional knowledge, we have given up the pursuit of happiness, feels the legendary teacher and Surgeon Professor (Dr) Rama Kant.

The erstwhile King George’s Medical College of Lucknow (now Chhatrapati Sahuji Maharaj Medical University - CSMMU), which is more than 100 years old, used to boast of a vibrant cultural ethos along with academic excellence, in the not so distant past. Once upon a time, its Annual Cultural Fest used to be the talk of the town. But something went wrong somewhere along the dreary desert sands of time. Its academic/ moral decline seemed to be linked to the disappearance of aesthetics from its campus life.

So it comes as a breath of fragrant air that some right minded faculty members of this Medical University are trying to rouse the dead Georgian Spirit. ‘Rhapsody-2008’, a three day extravaganza (December 14th to 16th) will go a long way to revive the cultural spirit of the medicos. It is for the first time in the history of this medical university that medicos from other private medical colleges have been invited to participate in events ranging from Utopia to Eurhythmics to Sports to Skits to Symphony to Fantasia to Glitterati (in common parlance this would mean debating, quizzing, singing, dancing, photography, calligraphy, athletics, dramatics, fancy dress etal).

The moving spirit behind this Revival is a dedicated team of medical students and teachers, ably guided by the Head of the department of General Surgery at CSMMU, Professor (Dr) Rama Kant, who also happens to be the President of the Dramatics Society of the college. Prof (Dr) Rama Kant is a class by himself. He is too many things rolled into one - an internationally acclaimed surgeon, author of several highly-acclaimed medical books, a social activist spearheading public health movements, winner of innumerable international/national awards, a trained photographer, and a sensitive poet.

Prof (Dr) Rama Kant's enthusiasm is so infectious that he seems to have succeeded in channelising the energy of the students in a creative manner. This automatically kills their destructive tendencies. He defines Rhapsody as a symphony of different cultures, a harmony in diversity. This is so very true of the fraternity at the Medical University (as also of other professional colleges) which has students coming from far off places with diverse cultural/ social/economic backgrounds. Events like this present them with an opportunity to showcase as well as hone their inherent skills and talents.

Let us hope that Rhapsody-2008 will infuse a sense of identity and pride in the participants as well as well as the audience and infuse in them an appreciation for the finer qualities and beauty of life, which is so essential for peaceful co existence.

Let the fragrance of music, poetry, dance and drama mingle with the unmistakable sanitized hospital smells of ether and medicines. Let there be a flow of positive energy which will banish negativity and make health care more humane.

Shobha Shukla

The author writes extensively in English and Hindi media. She serves as Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS).

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Addressing diabetes is vital for strengthening tuberculosis control

Addressing diabetes is vital for strengthening tuberculosis control

Patients with type-2 diabetes may be at increased risk of contracting tuberculosis (TB) because they generally have a compromised immune system, which results in life-threatening lung infections that are more difficult to treat

Research at the University of Texas School of Public Health Brownsville shows that type 2 diabetes, especially when it involves chronic high blood sugar, is associated with altered immune response to TB. Patients with diabetes and TB take longer to respond to anti-TB treatment, and that patients with active tuberculosis and type 2 diabetes are more likely to have multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). Almost six percent of people with diabetes had MDR-TB, reported this study. 30 per cent of those with MDR-TB also had type 2 diabetes.

According to World Diabetes Foundation (WDF), it was estimated that in 2007 there were 246 million people living with diabetes, 6 million new cases were diagnosed and 3.5 million people died due to diabetes.

According to the Global TB Control report, published by World Health Organization (WHO) for the same year, there were 14.4 million people living with TB, 9.2 million new cases and 1.7 million died due to this disease. While it is recognized that 95% per cent of TB patients live in developing world, it is not so well known that 70 per cent of people with diabetes also live in developing countries, especially in Southeast Asia and the pacific region.

India has a strong TB control programme in the world, referred to as the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP) or Directly Observed Treatment Shortcourse (DOTS). However, we need to focus more for its effective implementation. Public- private partnership can alleviate the problem of TB in people living with diabetes, said Dr Anthony D Harries, senior advisor, International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IUATLD, The Union).

Dr Harries was of the opinion that, "there are many risk factors for TB, which include HIV/AIDS, silicosis, malnutrition and smoking. While the link between TB and diabetes has been known since roman times, it is only recently that unequivocal evidence has been gathered to show a strong association between the two diseases. With an estimated 21 million adults with diabetes and 900000 incident pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB) cases in 2000, diabetes accounted for nearly 15% of pulmonary TB and 20% of smear- positive pulmonary TB. Diabetes therefore appears to increase the risk of active TB."

Dr Harries advocated that "there are three pronged approach for the DOTS strategy for TB control: 1) identify TB patients through passive case finding, 2) diagnose TB through sputum smear examination and 3) put the patients on anti-TB treatment."

Dr. Harries further said "In most of the developing countries there are no systematic ways of monitoring or evaluating patients with non-communicable diseases (NCD). This has to change. The DOTS framework for TB control, developed by the IUATLD and WHO, has allowed structured, well-monitored services to be delivered to millions of TB patients in some of the poorest countries of the world. In a resource poor-country like Malawi, the DOTS model was successfully adapted for scaling up and monitoring antiretroviral therapy (ART) to people living with HIV (PLHIV). This model can be adapted for NCDs, such as diabetes, as well. With treatment cards and registers, it would be feasible to make comprehensive quarterly reports on diabetes treatment outcomes, which would include the monitoring and evaluation of co-morbidities such as TB."

The Millennium Development Goal number 6, specifies that the incidence of infectious diseases such as TB should be halted and reversed by 2015. To succeed in achieving this target, it is important to focus on resource-poor countries not only on for HIV/AIDS but also on the burgeoning epidemic of diabetes as a significant epidemiological risk factor.

Amit Dwivedi

(The author is a Special Correspondent to Citizen News Service (CNS). Email: amit@citizen-news.org, website: www.citizen-news.org)

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Drug Policy Control

Crop insurance is the life insurance scheme for farmers

Crop insurance is the life insurance scheme for farmers

Uttar Pradesh is one of the most important states of the country in terms of agricultural production. More than 85% of its population is rural based and depends on agriculture for its livelihood. Small and marginal farmers, having less than 2 acres of land are in a majority in the state.

Uttar Pradesh is divided into nine agro climatic zones from ecology point of view. Some of these zones are quite vulnerable to natural disasters. For example, Eastern Uttar Pradesh is prone to floods whereas Bundelkhand and Vindhya region are drought prone. Central U.P also suffers from flood and drought. These disasters mostly damage the livelihoods of farmers who are dependent on rain. Hence, to save farmers from these losses, the Agriculture Insurance Company of India (AIC) launched a new crop insurance programme in India, including Uttar Pradesh in 2000.

Several government institutions were given responsibilities to execute the programme with specific and defined roles in which AIC was identified as the main implementing agency.
'Though the government of India has made state and district level monitoring committees for the proper implementation of crop insurance, these committees are not working properly. Commercial Banks are not performing their assigned roles because of which the entire process of crop insurance is suffering. Banks do not collect, compile and submit the premium amount to lead banks on scheduled time which causes delay in compiling the list of insured farmers. Monthly co-ordination meetings of government departments are not being held properly which is mandatory at district level. Co-operative banks are performing well in comparison with Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) and commercial banks. Inter department co-ordination is very poor. This insurance scheme is a multi departmental approach which needs a strong co-ordination amongst various departments . They need to compliment each other's work and if there is no co-ordination between them then the entire process gets hampered,' said Mr. K.K Singh, Coordinator, 'Economic Justice Campaign' working in Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group a non governmental organization working on sustainable agriculture and environment in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

He further said that, 'Mutual efforts of NGOs and government departments are required to improve the reach of the crop insurance scheme. They should try to advocate this scheme so that the state government can take up the issue in the mainstream of development works. Banks are not active enough to collect and compile the insurance premium which causes delay in insurance premium submission. Generally, compensation process takes more than one and half years which is too long a wait period for the farmers and it defeats the very purpose of the scheme. The involvement of several departments makes the process of timely compilation of premium and disbursement of losses very complex.'

Even after seven years of launching the programme, there is no awareness about this scheme even in different stakeholders, forget about the farmers. A study done by Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group in Uttar Pradesh revealed that only 2% people knew about crop-insurance scheme whereas 98 % of them had never heard about it. But they were eager to know about it. More than 70% of farmers have Kisan Credit Cards and hence they are covered under crop insurance by default. . Government orders do not reach the departments in time due to improper communication. Most of the farmers were eager to get involved in such schemes but had no resource to get information. Major Recommendations at Village/farmers' level to strengthen crop insurance scheme:

- Information about crop insurance scheme should be disseminated to farmers by concerned departments. Information should be in published form and on the Kisan Credit Cards.

- Regular counseling camps should be organized by Insurance authorities and banks at local level.

- Multi agency approach should be minimized by recruiting agents for insurance. These agents should be appointed from the villages and should be accountable for information dissemination and promotional activities of insurance scheme sat village level. They should be able to demonstrate the new products of the company and act as counselors also.

- Gram Panchayat should be made accountable for insurance and disbursement of losses to farmers. It can act as an authorized institution of people for reviewing and promoting the scheme. Gram Panchayats should be included in disaster declaration and loss assessment also.


- Farmers should be compensated within 90 days of losses so that they can make preparations for their next crop.


- There is a need to activate DLMC (District Level Monitoring Cell) and ensure monthly meetings.


- Regular Multi Stakeholders dialogues at district level to review the progress should be held.

- Proper communication among departments and meetings at regular intervals should be organized regularly.

- District level departments should be made accountable to run a crop insurance education campaign in district.


Proper knowledge and implementation of Crop insurance scheme can increase the food-grain production in India and can reduce the risk of crops losses. This will instill a sense of security in the farmers.

Amit Dwivedi


(The author is a Special Correspondent, Citizen News Service (CNS). Email: amit@citizen-news.org, website: www.citizen-news.org)

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Comment: What is it like to live in the World without AIDS?

"ALL THE YOUNG PEOPLE STANDING WERE BORN AFTER THE PANDEMIC. WE DO NOT KNOW A WORLD WITHOUT AIDS"

Dear SEA-AIDS members,

According to UNAIDS around half of all people who become infected with HIV do so before they are of 25 years and are killed by AIDS before they are 35.

Yet there's little involvement of youth leadership in responses to AIDS.

With few weeks before the World AIDS Day, it may be worth remembering youth voices at 8th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) held in Sri Lanka.

A statement from the only youth representative at 8th ICAAP, Ari Yuda Laksmana (Indonesia), a member of Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GYCA), on Youth Participation in HIV and AIDS responses, shouldn't be forgotten.

At the beginning of Ari's speech, he invited the participants who attended the Youth Forum at ICAAP to stand up and remain standing during his remarks. Only about 15 people out of a thousand stood up.

"To the rest of you who are seated, I have a question for you. What is it like to live in a world without AIDS?" he asked, allowing a few minutes for his question to bounce in the deafening silence.

"All the young people standing were born after the pandemic. We do not know a world without AIDS. We are already responding in our own way to HIV and AIDS. We are running programs, educating peers, pushing for social change and uniting in this fight around the world" he added.

He called for better participation of youth in decisions that affect their lives.

"We strongly urge you to begin viewing us as equal partners in the response to HIV and AIDS and to move beyond the rhetoric of youth participation by funding youth-led initiatives, engaging in true youth-adult partnerships and meaningfully involving young people in policy that affects our lives," he said.

Also, Ari lamented the lack of representation of youth at the conference.

"Look around this room, what does that tell you about youth participation in this congress? Despite the fact that we comprise over half of all new infections, from the 19 plenary speaker at ICAAP, only ONE was young person talking about youth issues," remarked Ari.

"For all the youth issues in the region and around the world, we had ONE chance to meaningfully address the entire congress  me speaking to you right now," he said.

In ICAAP 2007, only one youth speaker out of 19 plenary speakers, one youth related plenary session to be addressed has been cancelled and none of 33 satellite meeting was arranged by youth.

Ari effectively had communicated the pressing need felt by youth - for more participation, more space on the representatives platform, more of young people living with HIV to provide more youth perspectives on large number of issues. He also asked for youth to be given scholarships, facilitate the meeting of youth at the Congress, and high-level policy makers to advocate for youth specific policy and opportunities to seek funding.

"It is our hope that one day when we ask the youth present in the room to rise, they will be the ones who have known a world without AIDS. See you in Bali" with these words he closed his statement with thumping support from the delegates. Next ICAAP is scheduled to be held in Bali, Indonesia in 2009.

The last word of Youth representative in closing ceremony of 8th ICAAP remained etched in audience's heart.

For World AIDS Day 2007,  with the great theme of 'Leadership', let us demonstrate greater commitment for more opportunities to meaningfully engage youth and adult to work together in fighting against the AIDS epidemic. It also presents us with an opportunity to foster leadership in young people to effectively respond to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support needs especially for young people.

With more youth participation, our youth will have a chance to know "What is it like to live in the world without AIDS", one day.

Thanks

Jittima Jantanamalaka
Thailand
Email: jnaton@yahoo.com

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Jittima Jantanamalaka-CNS

A parade for liberty and human rights

Photo by MastaBabaLesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people (LGBTs) took to the streets in Chiang Mai, Thailand on January 26 for the city’s first Gay Pride Parade.

The march was held to mark the end of the two-day 3rd International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) – Asia Regional Conference and was designed to promote the rights of LGBTs.

More than 300 LGBTs from 15 Asian countries marched together in beautiful Thai Lanna costumes and other colourful outfits, under the gaze of a smiling and interested crowd.

“The march was not a tourist promotion or commercial gay bar promotion,” said Aung Myo Min, a prominent gay activist from Myanmar and leader of the conference. “We were campaigning for people's rights.”

“The conference organizers received great support from local authorities of Thailand, especially in Chiang Mai, to allow us to have the parade,” said Aung Myo Min. “Some media came and there have been messages across to the public on the issues.”

Aung Myo Min also discussed his concern over perceptions of the connection between the LGBT community and HIV.

“Many LGBTs lack access to HIV, AIDS and TB [tuberculosis] medical services and there's a need to raise awareness among the group,” Aung Myo Min said. “It is important to let people know that AIDS is not a gay disease.”

Duangkamol Donchaum, a local activist with Partners Thailand, a national partnership platform providing information, dialogue and advocacy on HIV and TB issues in Thailand, said the parade also provided the opportunity to promote a greater awareness among Thais of both LGBTs and HIV-related issues.

“The parade received a great response from people,” said Duangkamol. “I think if we can reduce stigma and discrimination between people in society it will be a positive move for people’s rights.

“LGBTs will able to reveal themselves as LGBTs and live their lives with more confidence . . . This could help them to get better access to services, and information on HIV,” she said.

Gay activist, Pongpeera Patapeerapong from MPlus said, “HIV not only affects LGBTs but also the general public . . . The public also know about HIV but not many people take prevention seriously. We should raise awareness and encourage serious action in every group, not only among LGTBs.”

The main aim of the conference was to facilitate dialogue between LGBT community organizations across Asia on issues relating to human rights, stigma and the link between LGBT communities and the HIV epidemic.

“We are trying to find a social space, to show who we are, and to use this space to negotiate for equality in diversity, which is our theme,” said Pongthorn Chanlearn, Mplus’ project manager.

“Now this space has been opened up for people from different cultures and groups,” Pongthorn said, adding that societies were becoming increasingly accepting of LGBTs.

“If we compare nowadays to few years ago, I would say we have developed quite a lot in terms of open discussion on sex and gender and people reveal themselves [as LGBTs] much more than before,” said Pongthorn.

“People understand the issues much better and that’s why we have this kind of organization and activity in Chiang Mai . . . It’s a good opportunity to work with several groups of LGBTs from several countries . . . this will help us to move in the same direction for the same public issues.”

Aung Myo Min said that deliberations from the conference would be compiled into a document that would be passed on to national governments.

“We will have another conference in June, in Quebec, Canada. There will be an election of board members, and male and female representatives. All the discussions and resolutions we had here will be presented more at that conference."

Jittima Jantanamalaka-CNS

American Gangster mirrors themes from Asian consultation on drug use and HIV

Photo by bobbyramakantAs delegates at the First Asian Consultation on the Prevention of HIV related to Drug Use discussed harm reduction in January, Hollywood blockbuster 'American Gangster' was released across the region.

Ironically, the film glamorized crime, violence, sex, corruption, the ‘war on drugs’ and justified the criminalization of injection drug use just as representatives at the Consultation were discussing decriminalization as a means to improve HIV responses.

So which is more likely to influence the imaginations of young people – Hollywood entertainment or an academic session in a conference hall?

The Ridley Scott film features Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas, a drug mafia kingpin, and it opens with a heart-rending shot of Frank pouring petrol on a man tied to a chair before setting him alight. As the man screams in pain, Frank shoots him.

How effective are messages of harm reduction and decriminalization when audiences are being fed these high-adrenaline stories of crime, sex and violence related to injection drug use?

The film attempts to show that as well as being a ruthless and cruel mafia boss, Frank is also a family man who goes to church with his mother every Sunday, holds the hands of his family members during grace and is a humanitarian who distributes food and other gifts to poor communities.

One of the most powerful sequences in the film shows Frank sitting at a dinning table with his mother, wife and extended family, surrounded by delicious food and a palatial house. He asks everyone to hold hands and thank God for his wealth, health, food and a life of love and happiness.

During the sequence, images of people injecting drugs in a small grimy toilet, a child crying beside its mother’s dead body and other heart-wrenching shots of the darker side of drug use flash across the screen.

In contrast with Frank, the film features another strong character–detective Richie Robert (Russell Crowe), who is a good cop but neither a good father nor a good husband.

In another strong sequence, Richie is shown in court during a custody dispute over the right to see his child. His estranged wife claims that being an honest cop doesn’t make him an honest man, since he has had affairs and lied to his child. The film shows the good and bad aspects of both characters and reinforces the message that no one is perfect.

The movie also explores the dark of the police by depicting a corrupt cop who is working hand-in-glove with the drug mafia and takes us back to the 1970s when the Viet Nam War was about to end.

Frank brought heroin directly from Viet Nam and Thailand before smuggling it to the US in the coffins of dead soldiers. Several sections of the film show Thailand and Viet Nam in a bad light, with shots of naked women and injection drugs.

Asia is the only region in the world where the number of new HIV infections among injection drug users is increasing. Asia is also the only region in the world where injection drug use is a leading factor behind HIV transmission.

So many people are talking about the decriminalization of injection drug use as a way to improve HIV responses but how are we going to decriminalize something that is illegal in most countries around the world, not only in Asia?

Does the Goa Declaration which came out on the last day of the First Asian Consultation on Prevention of HIV related to Drug Use, address this concern?

Note: American Gangster is based on a true story.

Jittima Jantanamalaka-CNS