Sunday, 20 August 2017

This family did not send their children to school, but taught them by creating a forest

Sarang Hills is a repository of knowledge gathered over 30 years of saying no to formal education, living close to nature and learning from everyday life.

Thirty-six years ago, Gopalakrishnan and Vijayalekshmi decided that their yet-to-be-born son will not go to school. As government school teachers, they were themselves disillusioned with the limitations of formal education and how it left children unprepared to deal with life.

They dreamt of a school environment that is close to reality- open, democratic and with fluid boundaries.

This dream school, which they fondly named Sarang, was to be nothing like what traditional schools were – no certificates, no rote learning, no ‘one-size-fits-all’ curriculum.

In 1994, the couple quit their jobs and started working on Sarang. Their first student, naturally, was their son, Gautham. Slowly, a few other children also joined – from close families, neighbourhood children from poor families and dropouts from regular schools. These kids were introduced to each other not as classmates, but as brothers and sisters.

Instead of staring at black boards, the children set off their learning on a massive canvas – a barren land that Gopalakrishnan and Vijayalekshmi bought in Attappady, near Palakkad, Kerala.

Their land, starting with one acre and later adding some 12 acres, stands on the slope of a hill, degenerated and eroded of topsoil. There were very few trees, and the only water source had dried out completely. But this would be a perfect place for the children to learn about life and survival.

The children of Sarang, friends and well-wishers joined Gopalakrishnan and Vijayalekshmi in their dream to revive the land. The task was by no means ordinary or easy. While their neighbours gave up their battle with the harsh terrain and left the hills, the Sarang family stayed on the hilltop, determined to bring greenery back to the hills.

They earmarked a major portion of the land to create a forest, and in the rest, they would build their house and grow their food. They built their house with their own hands, using mud, thatching grass, and bamboo.

They built check-dams in the watershed, dug out percolation-pits and mulched heavily to protect the land from soil erosion and to conserve water.

One of the most important tasks at Sarang was to protect the land from forest fires. The children’s army surveyed the land, ensuring that the agave fences and fire boundaries were intact, and all possible triggers of forest fires were put off. All vegetables, fruits, and grains that were needed for Sarang was grown right there on the land using natural farming methods. A lot of thought went behind what would be grown so that the soil could be naturally enriched.

The hands and brains of the children of Sarang came together in all these activities.

They learned their physics, biology, geography, mathematics, chemistry and environmental science by seeing, feeling and doing. They also learned language, art and culture and expressed themselves through a medium that they chose and loved the most.

The work on the once-barren hill started showing tremendous results. Within 15 years Sarang Hills turned into a lush green forest – abundant in water, birds and animals.

Barking deer, mouse deer, rabbits, squirrels, hedgehogs, civets, snails and some rare species of frogs also became dwellers of Sarang Hills.

But the children who started this work could only be part of it for two years. By the end of 1995, the 50 odd children who learned at Sarang had to discontinue their wonderful journey. The Sarang dream was rocked as it became financially demanding for the couple to run the school. Internal issues with the staff also crept in. Within just two years of functioning, the family found themselves deep in debt, and they were forced to shut down the school.

Shutting the school down was deeply hurtful, not just for Gopalakrishnan and Vijayalekshmi, but also for the children. But Gopalakrishnan and Vijayalekshmi truly believed in the Sarang dream which they kept alive through Gautham and later his little sisters, Kannaki and Unniarcha. They continued to live in the hills, experimenting and nurturing the Sarang way of living and learning.

Gautham, who is 36-years-old today, did not go through formal schooling throughout his life. Gautham says, “I saw other children going through the pressures of school while I found myself curious to learn. When I was just 10-years-old, I stayed away from home with my cousin to learn the martial art of Kalaripayattu. We were on our own, cooking our food, washing our clothes and being responsible for each other. Out of curiosity about how a radio works, I became an apprentice at a local radio shop. I cleared the amateur wireless operator’s exam at the age of 14 and became a Ham Radio hobbyist”.

At home, there were always visitors keen on debate and conversation, which further strengthened Gautham’s outlook. “My parents did not keep me away from these discussions though I was only a child. I got to hear various perspectives. Also, life was busy with engrossing activities and learning at the farm that there was simply no time to miss school.”

For many years, the debt incurred by the school continued to trouble the family. To repay the debt, Gautham took up a full-time job with Organic Farming Association of India in Goa where he could use his experience from Sarang. He also underwent courses in web development which came in handy in turning into a freelancer. Meanwhile, Kannaki and Unniyarcha wanted to learn classical dance, and the parents decided to move with them to a town where they could find professional teachers. Sarang Hills became silent, but thankfully only to return with more vigour.

Though Gautham’s job kept him busy, his heart felt the pull of the unfulfilled dream of Sarang School. During this time, Gautham got married to Anuradha, an engineer who was also enchanted by Gautham’s wish to reclaim Sarang School.

In 2013, after repaying their debts, Gautham and Anuradha, moved back to Sarang Hills. They are rebuilding Sarang now, with the aim of developing it into a rural university that disseminates the knowledge that the family has gathered over the last thirty years.

Sarang today is facilitating alternative education for children across the country and the world. The students are not necessarily physically present in Sarang. No regular classes happen here like in conventional schools. “Parents who seek alternatives to conventional schooling methodologies bring their children here regularly. Through regular camps and workshops, we equip parents to become facilitators of open learning for their children and nudge children to learn out of their own curiosity. We encourage parents and teachers to start their own schools since we have no wish to make Sarang into another centralised solution. We believe in decentralisation. We support parent groups in forming curriculum, activities, etc.”, says Anuradha.

Apart from the educational focus, Sarang is also an eco-zone.

Sarang runs completely on solar power. Food is cooked on a specially-made fire stove, and all waste is composted. They have dug out soil pits for toilets, where faeces get covered with soil and ash, which later becomes natural fertilizer for the soil. The buildings that one sees in Sarang are built by students, their parents, volunteers and by Gautham’s family.

The structures are made out of mud, bamboo and wood – all available in and around the campus.

As they are actively learning and experimenting on natural architecture, they are limiting the use of concrete and modern building materials to a bare minimum. Natural farming, forest conservation and water conservation also continue, like in those times when the family first settled here.

Gopalakrishnan and Vijayalekshmi are now witnessing many children learning the Sarang way, including their own grandchildren – Gautham’s three kids.

Their idea has survived the test of time, and the school of their dreams is finally coming alive, slowly but steadily.

You can write to Gautham at Visit

(Source: The Better India)

Deception, lies and trafficking: How a 77-yr-old Omani Sheikh married a teenager in Hyderabad

The teenager was sold for Rs 5 lakh, the case has exposed the elaborate trafficking network.

Houses converted to illegal lodges. A web of brokers to procure certificates, clothes, passports and air tickets. And a qazi to perform the wedding. That's the laundry list of players who get together and run the elaborate trafficking racket in Hyderabad.

It has been three months since Fathima*, a resident of Nawab Saheb Kunta in Hyderabad, has seen her 16-year-old daughter.

"I don't want to talk to anyone. I just want my daughter back," she says in between sobs.

The Hyderabad police on Friday arrested two men who performed the marriage of Fathima's minor daughter, with a 77-year-old Omani national.

According to the police, the Omani national, identified as Ahmed, married the 16-year-old in May at a guest house in Jalpally.

He returned home after the marriage and sent a visa for the girl, who later joined him in Muscat.

The case
The case had come to light earlier this week, after Fathima approached the Falaknuma police station, alleging that her husband's sister, Ghousia Begum, and brother-in-law, Sikander, 'sold' the girl to the Omani man for Rs 5 lakh.

"My husband works as a daily wage labourer in a marriage hall. When Ghousia and Sikander approached me with a marriage proposal for my minor daughter, I rejected it then and there," the complaint states.

"Without my knowledge, the duo approached my daughter and lured her by showing her photos and videos of the lavish Gulf lifestyle. In spite of my objection, my daughter was married off to the sheikh," she wrote.

Though the complaint stated that the man was 65 years old, police have found that he is in fact 77 years old.

The police also said that the girl informed her parents over the phone that the Sheikh was mentally and physically torturing her.

"She wants to return to Hyderabad. When I insisted that they return my daughter to me, Sikander offered a phone and cooler to my husband and asked him not to pursue the case. I spoke directly to the Omani national, who said that he had 'purchased' my daughter for Rs 5 lakh," the mother says.

The parents say Ahmed agreed to send their daughter back, only if he was repaid.

The police have registered a case of cheating and criminal intimidation against the Omani, the girl's father, his sister, her husband, the qazi and others.

"The qazi who performed the marriage is also under surveillance," said Deputy Commissioner of Police V. Satyanarayana. The qazi could not be formally arrested as he is recuperating from a bypass surgery.

A police officer said the girl's father may also be taken into custody for being lured by the money, and submitting a false affidavit showing her age as 21.

The larger problem
"The girl's parents are extremely poor, this makes them easy targets," says Amjed Ullah Khan, a local politician belonging to the Majlis Bachao Tehreek (MBT).

Amjed Ullah Khan with the girl's parents
Amjed says that there are several such 'agents', who facilitate the nikaah (marriage) of minor girls with old sheikhs and other foreign nationals.

"There are several houses in areas like Barkas and Chandrayangutta, where homes are illegally converted into 'lodges', to provide accommodation for these sheikhs, and even provide them with a change of clothes," Khan alleges.

Two photos of the sheikh that have emerged also strengthen Khan's claims, as one of them shows the Omani national in traditional attire, while the other photo shows him in a pant, shirt and a jacket.

"That's not all. They need a qazi to cooperate as well as a travel agent to book tickets to the foreign country. There are also other agents who duplicate Aadhaar cards, Electoral Photo Identity Card (EPIC), Passports etc. There is a large nexus involved," Amjed says.

"The nexus also involves politicians and local leaders who immediately rush to the police station when such agents are caught, and try to throw their weight around, and get the accused released," he adds.

"This is nothing short of human trafficking," says Achyuta Rao, a Hyderabad-based child rights activist with the Balala Hakkula Sangham, and former member of the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR).

"The government must take steps to curb this, by ensuring stringent action against those found indulging in such activities," he adds.

Achyuta suggests that security personnel at airports must be better trained to identify such cases.

"We pay so much attention to baggage at airports. If anything suspicious is found, we detain the passenger for hours, and do a thorough check. Why can't the same attention be paid to minors?" Achyuta asks.

"Authorities should be vigilant, and keep a lookout for any suspicious activity. They should ask anyone accompanying the child, to declare what their relationship is. If the documents claim that they are married, and the age difference is evident, then officials should detain them," he adds.

Additionally, Achyuta argues that airport authorities should accept government based certificates, over certificates issued by any religious body, irrespective of religion.

"The religious certificates are easier to fake, while the government certificates are more valid. We must take such factors into consideration," he says.

"Also, at the local level, qazis indulging in this should also be booked," Achyuta adds.

Amjed Ullah Khan also says that the police can put an end to this, only if there is political will.

"It is a very dangerous system that targets extremely poor families. There is an urgent need to break it, and agents should be punished severely," he adds.

Meanwhile, the police also said that they were making all efforts to bring the girl back to Hyderabad safely.

Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi had on Thursday described the incident as "deeply disturbing", and urged External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to intervene.

Authorities said they were keeping a close watch on 60 brokers who were identified during the investigation of such cases in recent years.

However, brokers based in Mumbai and even abroad are carrying on their activities by duping poor and illiterate families.

(Source: TNM)

I'm stuck in a miserable marriage for my son

I've been married for 5 years now. My husband and I never had a good relationship apart from the first few months of our marriage. Ours was an arranged marriage, we met on a matrimonial site and as he was of the same community, our families approved and we got married within 6 months. But whatever little love and respect we had for each other, it all faded away too soon.

Now, he is forcing me to leave him. I loved him so much and we have an adorable three-year-old son. Now he is asking me to leave him. But I can't leave my son.

Since the beginning, we never had any sort of chemistry between us. Our ways of looking at life is very different. We both are equally responsible for spoiling our married life.

Because of difference in thoughts and ideas, our discussions turned into arguments. And slowly these arguments turned into fights. We started drifting apart. We completely stopped sharing things, reduced our talks and even the physical intimacy was almost absent. He was never there for me when I needed him the most and he never cared about my existence. He didn't need me in his life anymore.

The worst part is - he never accepted that there was something wrong between us. He always said that all couples are like this. He is a manipulative person. He is a typical IT guy, who loved his laptop and gadgets over everything. Never a day has passed where he didn’t disrespect me and abandon me to live a miserable life. Staying in the same house, where we both share expenses, responsibilities towards our kid and acting like roommates is the only relationship we have now.

I am a working mother, and despite no family support (from my husband's side), I have been handling the office, home and the upbringing of my son, including his needs, wants, and education.

I remember how I fell into this situation. A few months after marriage, we started having a lot of compatibility issues, fights etc but my mother in-law forced us to plan a family to fix our problems. I wasn't aware of this at that time, and seeing his changed attitude and behaviour, assumed that things are getting better between us and I gave in.

As he heard the news of my pregnancy, initially he was happy. Eventually, he started disrespecting me again. Throughout the trimesters he had no time to accompany me during any of my routine check-ups. I faced a lot of health issues, but he was too busy with his office work. And, he never let me rest like any other pregnant women. I wasn't even allowed to rest like other pregnant women.

Finally, after doctor pressurized me to take some rest, I felt a little better. And then I was blessed with a new member in the house, our baby boy. As we got our son home, my husband's attitude changed so much, as if he had given me a toy to play with and his work was over. Handling a baby all by me was so difficult but I learned eventually. We started sleeping in different rooms. My son was growing and seeing him always brought a smile on my face and made me forget my loneliness.

But, now we just were parents, our marital relationship has ended. I tried to make the things work between us but he ends up insulting and avoiding me. Finally, I got the courage to speak to my parents and my in-laws about our mutual decision to get divorced. Despite of being an independent woman, he has made sure that I am left with no savings at all. I am broken, shattered, depressed and at times I feel like running away from all my responsibilities. My son is my only inspiration.

Recently, I caught my husband watching porn and flirting with young teenage girls. This made me feel so uncomfortable and out of great courage, I confronted him. He denied everything and asked me to mind my own business, as this is his life and he would do whatever he wanted to and that I’m no one to control him. My son is very attached to his father and that is the only reason I have to bear him every day. I do all the cooking, cleaning and laundry, take care and play with my son and keep our relationships moving. But I have no one to talk to. I have got no hopes to make our dead relationship work.

I was in a relationship for four years with a Maharastrian guy. I am Sikh. I had to end our relationship because he was too protective. At times I fought with him as I needed some personal space. He needed sometime to get settled in his life.

I happened to meet him in a mall while I was shopping with my son. I was delighted to see him after years. He was very caring, loving and responsible. I found a ray of hope after meeting him.

I got to know that he too was married but got divorced after two months of the marriage as it was a forced marriage. He got to know about me and cried seeking forgiveness for letting me go back then. He proposed to me again.

I am in a state of mind wherein my husband doesn't care if I exist or if I am dead. I am just a full-time maid to my husband. In fact, I'm that maid who earns and brings money. On the other hand, my ex-lover loves me and is ready to accept me with my son. But I am too scared to be committed to any new relationship again. I am definitely scared of living alone. I am scared of spoiling my son's childhood for my own selfish reasons. I am scared to give myself a second chance. I am scared of being happy again.

(Source: AkkarBakkar)

New free app helps residents learn to speak Arabic like a Qatari

If you’ve ever wanted to learn to speak like a local, a new app designed in Qatar could help.

The Qatari Phrasebook aims to teach non-Arabic speakers more than 1,500 common Arabic words and phrases, all in the Qatari dialect.

The brainchild of Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) Arabic instructor Hany Fazza, the app provides pronunciation of handy phrases. It also has the actual Arabic text and their phonetic spellings.

The app is divided into sections such as Travel, Shopping, Food & Drink, Emergency and Weather.

It also works offline so you don’t need to have a data connection, is searchable and allows users to star their favorite phrases for easy retrieval.

Authentic Qatari dialect
Five Qatari GU-Q students volunteered to read the phrases for the app. This was to ensure that the pronunciations are as authentic as possible.

Fazza, who is a mobile learning specialist, came up with the idea after speaking to expats who were frustrated that they couldn’t communicate in the local language, but had no time to attend classes.

He said he decided to focus on the Qatari dialect after realizing that it hadn’t been taught in app-form before.

“The common mobile applications we have are for Modern Standard Arabic – you will find very few applications that have something to do with the dialects,” he added.

The app, which is free to download from the Apple App Store and on Google Play, was funded by a GU-Q faculty research grant.

(Source: Doha News)

Why do I write?

My latest: Why do I write? Today's Vishwavani Virama. Here's the link: 

Gulzar’s 1988 movie ‘Libaas’ to be finally released later this year

Zee Classic and Amul Mohan, the son of the producer Vikas Mohan, will release the film.

Gulzar’s unreleased movie Libaas (1988) will finally be out later this year. Produced by Vikas Mohan, the marital drama wasn’t released over differences between Mohan and Gulzar. Mohan died in 2016, and his son, Amul Mohan, will finally bring the movie to cinemas along with Zee Classic.

Starring Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi and Raj Babbar, Libaas was screened for the first time at the International Film Festival of India four years after it was made. Mohan wanted a different ending to the story, but when Gulzar refused, he decided to can the film.

Based on Gulzar’s short story Seema, Libaas is about Sudhir (Naseeruddin Shah) and Seema (Shabana Azmi), whose marriage collapses after Seema leaves Sudhir for his childhood friend TK (Raj Babbar). The movie boasts of a winning soundtrack by RD Burman.

Papa's life long dream is finally coming true! @ZeeClassic and I are going to theatrically release Gulzar Saab's  later this year.

(Source: Scroll)

The most racist places in America, according to Google

Where do America's most racist people live? "The rural Northeast and South," suggests a new study just published in PLOS ONE.

The paper introduces a novel but makes-tons-of-sense-when-you-think-about-it method for measuring the incidence of racist attitudes: Google search data. The methodology comes from data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. He's used it before to measure the effect of racist attitudes on Barack Obama's electoral prospects.

"Google data, evidence suggests, are unlikely to suffer from major social censoring," Stephens-Davidowitz wrote in a previous paper. "Google searchers are online and likely alone, both of which make it easier to express socially taboo thoughts. Individuals, indeed, note that they are unusually forthcoming with Google." He also notes that the Google measure correlates strongly with other standard measures social science researchers have used to study racist attitudes.

This is important, because racism is a notoriously tricky thing to measure. Traditional survey methods don't really work -- if you flat-out ask someone if they're racist, they will simply tell you no. That's partly because most racism in society today operates at the subconscious level, or gets vented anonymously online.

For the PLOS ONE paper, researchers looked at searches containing the N-word. People search frequently for it, roughly as often as searches for  "migraine(s)," "economist," "sweater," "Daily Show," and "Lakers." (The authors attempted to control for variants of the N-word not necessarily intended as pejoratives, excluding the "a" version of the word that analysis revealed was often used "in different contexts compared to searches of the term ending in '-er'.")

It's also important to note that not all people searching for the N-word are motivated by racism, and that not all racists search for that word, either. But aggregated over several years and several million searches, the data give a pretty good approximation of where a particular type of racist attitude is the strongest.

Interestingly, on the map above the most concentrated cluster of racist searches happened not in the South, but rather along the spine of the Appalachians running from Georgia all the way up to New York and southern Vermont.

Other hotbeds of racist searches appear in areas of the Gulf Coast, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and a large portion of Ohio. But the searches get rarer the further West you go. West of Texas, no region falls into the "much more than average" category. This map follows the general contours of a map of racist Tweets made by researchers at Humboldt State University.

So some people are sitting at home by themselves, Googling a bunch of racist stuff. What does it matter? As it turns out, it matters quite a bit. The researchers on the PLOS ONE paper found that racist searches were correlated with higher mortality rates for blacks, even after controlling for a variety of racial and socio-economic variables.

"Results from our study indicate that living in an area characterized by a one standard deviation greater proportion of racist Google searches is associated with an 8.2% increase in the all-cause mortality rate among Blacks," the authors conclude. Now, of course, Google searches aren't directly leading to the deaths of African Americans. But previous research has shown that the prevalence of racist attitudes can contribute to poor health and economic outcomes among black residents.

"Racially motivated experiences of discrimination impact health via diminished socioeconomic attainment and by enforcing patterns in racial residential segregation, geographically isolating large segments of the Black population into worse neighborhood conditions," the authors write, summarizing existing research. "Racial discrimination in employment can also lead to lower income and greater financial strain, which in turn have been linked to worse mental and physical health outcomes."

(Source: The Washington Post)

RBI to introduce new Rs 50 notes soon

Reserve Bank of India has decided to shortly issue Rs 50 denomination banknotes in the Mahatma Gandhi (New) Series, bearing signature of governor Urjit R Patel.

The new denomination has motif of Hampi with Chariot on the reverse, depicting the country's cultural heritage. The base colour of the note is Fluorescent Blue. The note has other designs, geometric patterns aligning with the overall colour scheme, both at the obverse and reverse, the central bank said.

A few bundles of the new Mahatma Gandhi series Rs. 50 notes ready for circulation. Photo credit: Reddit

All the banknotes in the denomination of Rs 50 issued by the Reserve Bank in the earlier series will continue to be legal tender, the central bank added.

(Source: DH)

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Some important things you should know before you start using Sarahah

Sarahah has become the talk of the town. Everyone on social media, be it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat, is talking about Sarahah, an app that allow users to send anonymous messages to others registered with the app. The key highlight of Sarahah is that it doesn't reveal the identity of the sender of the message at any given cost. This is where Sarahah stands out from other similar applications available on the Play store.

Sarahah is introduced by a Saudi Arabian developer -- Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq. The interesting bit about the founder of Sarahah -- Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq is that he was once a part of an Indian IT firm - Wipro and gained his programming knowledge from an Indian university, this he revealed himself in an exclusive interview with India Today Group. Sarahah has become popular in absolutely no time. It was rolled out as an app on June 13, and in just a matter of two months, the application gained wide success with over 10 million downloads and Play store and has also become the top trending application on Apple's App store.

The app became popular, rather went viral only for two reasons. One, because it is a very simple to use. All you need to do is sign up for it and then share your ID with friends, or foes for that matter. After that you will get messages, which come up in a simple and easy-to-read chat bubble. Posting messages is simple and the receiving them is simpler. But the big reason why Sarahah app is popular is because it panders to the narcissist within us.

For a generation that has grown up on Facebook and Instagram, the social media platforms which are essentially all about self-obsession, Sarahah is another such outlet that help web users smart under the impression that the world revolves around them. By giving the sender an option to anonymously send a message, Sarahah allows a user to get the direct feedback from the world. It could be great feedback, bad, nice things or nasty messages. But all of them are about the user. Probably that's the reason why most Facebook users are drolling over the app.

While some may already know about this application or how it works, there are still many who are surprised by the craze. And many still have questions like what is Sarahah, how does it work, where to download it from, how to use it and so on and so forth. Well, we explain it all in 10 simple points. Below are all the details you should know before you start using Sarahah.

1. Sarahah is a brainchild of Saudi developer ZainAlabdin Tawfiq. He introduced Sarahah about six months ago as a website. However, he later realised that Sarahah would do wonders as an app. That's when he created the Sarahah app, which is now available for both Android and iOS users. The app hit both Google Play store and App store, and in absolutely no time Sarahah has become one of the top trending apps with over millions of downloads.

2. Sarahah is Arabic term means 'honesty'. The key idea behind designing the app is to allow people send creative messages to each other. But that's not what has been happening, Instead, people are -- also or rather mostly -- using the application as a means of cyber bullying and trolling others while keeping their identity a secret.

3. It is on June 13 that Tawfiq rolled out the app to for both Android and iOS users. In just two months time, the app reached over millions of downloads on both Google Play store and App store and has become the most trending app today. After downloading the app, users will have to have to register to it with their email ID, password and user name.

4. There's no way to directly reply to the received messages via Sarahah. However, Sarahah is reportedly working on the reply option. In the 'About' page of Sarahah website, it is clearly mentioned that the developers are studying the reply option. "You can't respond to messages now. We are studying this option," Sarahah mentions on its website. Further, Sarahah founder also said that the team is working on several other features, which the "users will like". People who know your Sarahah profile link will be able to send anonymous messages. Further, there's also a search bar to find who all are registered with Sarahah.

5. There'll be no name, no information about the sender of the message anywhere. However, because of the anonymity built in the application, some users are misusing it as a cyber bullying platform. ZainAlabdin Tawfiq, the founder of Sarahah in an exclusive with India Today Group said that in some exceptional instances if a user doesn't follow the app guidelines, his/her identity could be revealed. Hence, the application should be used diligently.

6. Sarahah is designed in a way that allows users to send constructive messages. Tawfiq believed that there was a need for constructive feedback in his workplace and that is when he thought of creating something like Sarahah. He thought that keeping this feedback anonymous for the employees a good option. However, like Oscar Wild once said, "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth." This phrase fits perfectly when it comes to Sarahah. Most people are registering with the app to send unsavoury and offensive messages to people instead of "constructive feedback".

7. The application has raised concerns among parents and teachers. A review that was posted on Google Play reads, "My 13-year-old sister uses this and she got a death threat aimed at our 2-year-old brother." After such incidents took place, many parents have reported that the app and said that this is "the newest platform for cyber bullying".

8. Sarahah is still in developing stage and comes with a lot of security concerns. There is no way to directly block a user on Sarahah. However, if a user receives an offensive message on Sarahah, they can simply long press on the message and block it. After which the user will not receive any message from the particular sender.

9. Several people worry about their identity being revealed. There are a few reports circulating on the web that Sarahah details will be revealed. However, commenting on the same, Sarahah founder said that the app comes with "strict privacy policy" and no information will be revealed without the users consent. He further said, "We will never reveal the identity of the sender unless we get his consent to do so. You can see also the terms and conditions of privacy policy regarding disclosure of information about revealing the identity in certain circumstances where there is a violation." But if a user follows the rules and regulations of the app his/her identify and information will be completely safe and will not be revealed.

(Source: India Today)

Trees are aware of their neighbors and give them room

I could write about trees until I was green in the gills; and I do. And it's probable that every time I write about them, I slip into anthropomorphising them. Maybe they don't walk around and fly to the moon, but they are truly remarkable organisms with gifts and talents all their own. They are some of the planet's most noble workhorses – we'd be nothing without them – and they deserve all the respect they can get.

So is it any wonder that my heart flipped and futtered when I read Robert Macfarlane's ‏word(s) of the day on Twitter? (Macfarlane writes about nature and language, and his Twitter feed is a profound and poetic thing.)

Word(s) of the day: “crown shyness” - phenomenon whereby individual tree crowns avoid overlap or touch, forming striking canopy patterns.

And many are the photos that flaunt this beautiful behavior.

The phenomenon has been studied since the 1920s, and is also known as canopy disengagement, canopy shyness, or intercrown spacing. It doesn't happen in all tree species; some species that do it only do it with trees from the same species – some species do it with their own as well as other species. There is not one proven theory behind the reticence; it's believed that there actually may be several mechanisms across different species for this adaptive behavior. A case of convergent evolution.

One explanation is that it is a matter of self-pruning, of sorts; as trees rub against each other in the wind, they become stand-offish in order to stop the abrasion. Another theory suggests that it has to do with light and shade avoidance responses. One study showed plants arranged their leaves differently when growing amongst kin or unrelated specimens, shading neighbors of different species, but allowing important light to reach their to kin. Finally, it could quite possibly be a way to protect neighbors from traveling pests.

Whatever the reason, there is obviously some smarts at play. And the ensuing result for us admirers – rivulets of sky peeking down like a ceiling map of rivers – provides the perfect excuse to ponder our clever arboreal allies and remember this: They may not be concerned with keeping up with the Joneses, but they're clearly aware of their neighbors.

(Source: Tree Hugger)

9 women authors who pioneered postcolonial feminism

As a student of English literature, several seminal texts such as Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Beauvoir’s The Second Sex among others made up my list of essential readings. While these texts have been enlightening to read, it is crucial for us to look beyond them to understand feminism in our own socio-cultural and geographical context.

Women in Asia, the Middle-east and Africa face double marginalisation on account of their race as well as sex. The emergence of black feminism as a challenge to mainstream white feminism that either marginalised the voices of women of colour or subsumed it within its larger discourse, was a watershed event (or rather a gradual process) in the history of feminism. Given below is a list of women authors whose writings have established the contours of feminism for us, as post-colonial subjects and as women of colour. This list, however, is not exhaustive and I have incorporated authors whose readings have helped me comprehend feminism better.

1. Toni Morrison 

Nobel Laureate Morrison is an American novelist. Born in the African-American community, her works draw upon her own experiences of growing up in a racially segregated America. One of the key authors to bring ‘Black Literature’ to prominence, Morrison’s novels are lyrical, marked by experimental narrative styles and strong women characters subverting the patriarchal and racist society of which they are a part. Morrison’s Beloved is a revisionary slave narrative that is both terrifying and beautiful and employs the stream of consciousness style of writing. Song of Solomon is a linear narrative with a male protagonist and explores the complex relationship that Macon Dead, grandson of a former slave, shares with his family and the white society. Her other works The Bluest Eye and Sula are equally riveting reads.

2. Audre Lorde

She calls herself a ‘black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet’. Lorde’s prolific literary career exhibits a long-drawn fight against ingrained sexism, racism and homophobia. She empowers the female body in her writings and the admirers of her work include her contemporary feminist poet Adrienne Rich. In her collection of essays and speeches Sister Outsider and poetry collection The Black Unicorn, she subverts racial and sexual binaries. Zami is a lovely autobiography that traces the life of a young, blind girl growing up in Harlem and explores the themes of isolation, lesbianism and disability.

3. Jean Rhys

I will confess that the only work of Rhys I have read is her famous postcolonial novel Wide Sargasso Sea. A response to Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the novel magnificently exemplifies Bill Ashcroft and Gareth Griffiths phrase ‘The Empire Writes Back’. Rhys dismantles binaries of barbarity and civilization and madness and rationality, the former associated with the racial ‘Other’. The novel delves into themes of miscegenation, madness, the loss of Antoinette’s Creole identity as Rochester (unnamed in Rhys’ novel) robs her wealth and sanity. Set in the picturesque backdrop of the Carribean, Wide Sargasso Sea captures vividly the life of Antoinette before she was transformed into the vile Bertha Mason of Bronte’s novel.

4. Nawal El Saadawi 

Hailed as the ‘the Simone de Beauvoir of the Arab World’, Saadawi is an Egyptian feminist author. In her non-fiction texts, she critically attacks religious fundamentalism in the Middle East, which intertwined with modern-day capitalism, is at the root of all oppression. She has also spoken against female genital mutiliation and veiling. Her novel The Fall of the Imam, translated from Arabic by her husband Sherif Hetata, explores the life of the tyrant Imam and the brutal lynching of a woman.

5. Flora Nwapa 

Considered a literary forerunner for many succeeding women authors in Africa, Nwapa was also one of the first women publishers in the continent. She chooses the novel form over short story, though many African women authors prefer the latter. Nwapa’s stories are ‘matri-focal’ and capture the strong spirit of women protagonists under duress. They defy convention by marrying outside their community or by gaining the upper-hand in marriage through their financial acumen. Moreover, her stories depict a role inversion – men are prostitutes and kept-men, women control finances and are the dominant ones in sexual relationships.

6. Chimamanda Adichie 

Young Nigerian author Adichie inspired us all with her Ted Talk ‘We Should All Be Feminists’. My personal favourite is Half of a Yellow Sun, that explores the tumultuous relationships of two upper class Nigerian twin sisters vis-a-vis their patriarchal family and lovers in pre and post war-torn Nigeria. The massacre of the Igbo community and a painful secession form the backdrop of the novel. Her other novels, Purple Hibiscus and Americanah also revolve around powerful women protagonists attempting to reconcile personal relationships in an unstable socio-political world order.

7. Alice Walker

The name needs no introduction. Walker’s prize winning novel The Color Purple is a part of university curriculum across the globe. The epistolary novel traces the journey Celie, a timid God-fearing woman who is raped by her stepfather and then forcibly married to a cold stranger who is never named. The novel is about Celie’s transformation into an economically, mentally and socially independent woman who comes to terms with her sexuality and religious belief as she searches for her long lost sister. The novel deals with a myriad of themes such as sexual violence, arbitrariness of law, repression of female sexuality and the nature of language itself to question oppression.

Her collection of essays In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose is a powerful read and gives an insight into Walker’s sexual politics and the concept she has famously coined ‘Womanism’. A lesser known novel Possessing the Secret of Joy tells the story of Tashi, a minor character in The Color Purple, who undergoes facial scarring and mutilation as a part of her community ritual and her harrowing memories of the same.

8. Urvashi Butalia 

Feminist author and publisher Urvashi Butalia is no stranger to Indian readers. Her most famous work The Other Side of Silence digs the unheard tales of women survivors of the Partition, who faced double violence during the exodus, one from the perpetrators of violence from the ‘enemy’ community and the other, their own ‘guardians’ – fathers, brothers and husbands, who slaughtered women to protect their ‘honour’. The accounts are chilling and grisly. This book is a reminder that in all religious, racial and political conflict, the worst victims are women.

9. Mahasweta Devi

The short story collection The Breast Stories by Mahasweta Devi (translated by Gayatri Spivak) is a vocal critique of institutionalised patriarchy. Using the breast as a motif of empowerment in all the stories, Devi narrates the stories of three women, all oppressed in varying degrees in a patriarchal paradigm. Her women protagonists hail from marginal sections of society. Their tales expose the power dynamics of sex, economics and culture which collectively tyrannise them all.

(Source: Feminism in India)

How maulvis take money for one-night stand with divorced women trying to save marriage

India Today's investigative team has exposed the dark side of nikah halala and found out how religious scholars are charging money for one-night stands with divorced Muslim women.

As awful as that may sound, a number of religious scholars are offering themselves up for one-night stands with divorced Muslim women trying to save their marriages under a disputable Islamic law, an India Today investigation has found.

They charge anywhere between Rs 20,000 and Rs 1.5 lakh to participate in nikah halala, a controversial practice that requires a woman to marry someone else, sleep with him and get a divorce again in order to be able to remarry her first husband under personal laws, the probe discovered.

India Today's investigative team has blown the lid off the taboo tradition that has remained largely unnoticed amid intense debates over triple talaq on the media and in the country's top court.

The probe found many Islamic scholars putting themselves up on sale for women desperate to restore their broken marriages.

At a restaurant in Ghaziabad, the undercover team first met Mohammed Nadeem, an imam at Madina Masjid in Moradabad's Lal Bagh neighbourhood.

The cleric, the investigation found, was already married. Still, he negotiated his role-play as a husband for a night with India Today's reporters posing as relatives of a divorced Muslim woman.

"Will your wife object to it?" asked India Today's reporter.

"No, no. She won't have any objection," imam Nadeem replied.

"Have you spoken with her?" prodded the reporter.

"No, I haven't spoken with her. I haven't told her. What's the need to tell her?" Nadeem shot back.
The Moradabad imam admitted he had officiated several nikah halala marriages before. This time, he proposed a package deal for the entire service, including sex.

"It's Rs 1 lakh," he demanded. Imam Nadeem guaranteed issuing divorce after spending a night with the bride for her to become eligible to go back to her first husband in accordance with the personal law.

The business of one-night grooms is widespread, the India Today investigation observed.

At Delhi's Jamia Nagar, the team met Zubair Qasmi, a qualified maulana married with two wives. He nominated himself up for a third at the prospect of nikah halala, in exchange for money.

"I spend many nights out. It's much easier to manage this with two (wives). One would think I am with the second. And the second would think I am with the other. It's not at all difficult with two (wives)," he bragged.

Zubair Qasim based his fee on mehr - money or gift the groom pledges to his bride during Islamic marriages.

"Don't worry about anything. I'll make every arrangement. If Rs 30,000 is set as mehr, it will be either 40,000 or 50,000 (in return for participation in nikah halala). No problem in it," Qasim said.
The rot runs deep.

Next, India Today's investigative journalists visited Mohammad Mustaquim of Delhi's Darul Uloom Mahmoodia Madrasa.

Educated in Islamic studies, he was keen to do what he had done several times before -- sleeping with divorced women to consummate nikah halala.

"There was a woman in the room. I went there and had sex. Before leaving at 2-3 am, I divorced her," he confessed.

Mohammad Mustaquim performed nikah halala even without formal marriage.

"So you have taken part in three nikah halala. You actually married on one occasion, right? The other two nikha halala were without marriage," the reporter asked.

"Without marriage," he admitted. "After sleeping with her, I left at 1 am."

Mustaquim's fee for this service included donation for his madrasa. "You'll have to pay Rs 20,000 for the madrasa. I am ready to do it for whatever amount. I have done it several times before," he said.

As India awaits the Supreme Court's judgement over triple talaq, the dangerous trapdoor of nikah halala remains wide open for divorced Muslim women, the probe noted.

In some cases, potential deals were found to be brokered by clerics themselves.

At Bulandshahr's Til Gaon, imam Zahir-ul-lah of Mewatian Masjid introduced India Today's undercover reporters with a prospective groom for nikah halala.

Arif, the groom-to-be, was quick to boast about his masculinity despite his old age.

"My programme is all set, today, tomorrow or the day after. I am always fit 24x7, mashallah!" he remarked. His price: Rs 25,000 for a night.

In western UP's Hapur district, the team next met Mohammed Zahid, who runs a madrasa at Sikheda village.

He marketed his services for nikah halala as a professional.

"We'll see to it. We have the men. It will be done through them. If you don't trust them, I am always available for it," he said.

"How much money in total would you like us to organise for you?" asked the reporter.

"Between 1 lakh and 1.5 lakh," he answered. "Not above Rs 1.5 lakh and not less than Rs 1 lakh."

Rising above their political differences, Hindu and Muslim leaders called nikah halala a criminal act after India Today broadcast its investigation.

They demanded that the perpetrators should be prosecuted for rape.

"This is lust. It's not permissible in Islam. This is a criminal offence committed in the name of religion," said Maulana Maqsood-ul-Hasan Qasmi, the head of the Imam Council of India. "These people should be thrown out of the mosques. They should be booked."

Zafar Sareshwala, chancellor of the Maulana Azad National Urdu university, blamed personal laws for certain regressive practices in Islam.

"These people should be put in jail and charged with rape," he said, demanding strong action against men participating in nikah halala for one-night stands. "I think the genesis of the problem lies in the Shariat Act of 1937," he insisted. Authors of the personal laws, he added, had been "millions of miles away" from the teachings of Islam.

Maulana Ansar Raza of the Gharib Nawaz Foundation called for immediate ex-communication of religious scholars offering themselves for nikah halala. "They should be beaten with shoes and thrown out of mosques. They should be charged with rape. Nikah halala is a regressive un-Islamic practice," he said. "I salute India Today for this story."

In his comments, BJP spokesman Gaurav Bhatia, himself a lawyer, underscored the need for abolishing nikah halala like the sati practice in Hinduism. "Nikah halala and polygamy, as triple talaq are regressive. Sati is abolished. So should be these practices," he said. "India Today's expose will help the civilised society to come forward for human rights and dignity."

(Source: India Today)

The struggles of being a feminist in the Middle East

Earlier this month, women across the world celebrated after the Jordanian and Tunisian parliaments repealed a clause in its penal code that allowed a rapist to avoid punishment if they married their victim.

Victims of rape in Lebanon have now won the same victory, with the Lebanese parliament following suit and repealing a similar law from their penal code.

Women's rights activists are rightly hailed and recognised for their contribution as victories on this level are achieved. They are upheld and congratulated on matters which have long been taboo, but are now being viewed in a more humanitarian light.

Sometimes, depending on the magnitude of the victory, the activists are even seen as national heroes and a source of pride for the collective Arab identity.

But such praise doesn't always last long. Women often quickly return to being shamed and marginalised when addressing other issues deemed ayb - or culturally inappropriate - until they break yet more barriers.

"Being a women's rights activist in the Middle East is not easy," says Palestinian feminist Suad Abu Dayyeh. She is a Middle East and North Africa expert for Equality Now and campaigned to abolish the clause to free rapists from punishment if they married their victims.

"Doing what I do makes it difficult in many ways. Over the years, I had to break many barriers, both professionally and socially. I also had to deal with my family and their traditional mind-set," she told The New Arab.

A recent UN report showed that only 26 percent of men aged 18 to 59 in the Middle East believe in gender equality. The report also found that up to 52 percent of women showed active symptoms of depression.

Questioning traditions
In the Arab world, many traditions are seen as unshakable foundations of society. Much of the time, these traditions set high restrictions on gender roles, which actively infantilise girls and women and strip them of their autonomy, while being lenient on boys and men.

"The society I grew up around tried to force me to be submissive in more than one way, but living under systematic patriarchy made it all the worse"

"I experienced this myself," Suad said. "I began questioning our traditional gender roles when I was sent to boarding school, whereas my brothers were sent to private schools. It seemed unfair to me. I would always question why my mum would treat us differently based on our genders."

Growing up in Palestine, her identity had also been stigmatised not just because of her gender, but by her race - living the realties of life under the Israeli military occupation. "I had to break barriers brought by both patriarchy and occupation," she explained.

"The society I grew up around tried to force me to be submissive in more than one way, but living under systematic patriarchy made it all the worse."

Despite asking questions from a young age, Suad's feminism took shape at the age of 25 when she moved to the Netherlands to study a Masters degree.

'They said I ran a prostitution ring'
Ever since, Suad has dedicated her life to breaking down barriers of patriarchy for herself and others. She began working for Women's Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLA) in the occupied Palestinian territories, where she faced the bleak reality of more extreme cases of women's suffering under patriarchy.

"We had to deal with cases of domestic abuse, help women who had run away from home and even focus on abortion cases. It was risky," she said.

Because her job involved a brand of women's rights that did not conform to what society deemed acceptable, many people attempted to undermine her personally:

"One of the rumours that spread about me - people started to say that I was running a prostitution ring in the centre because I was helping out with abortions and helping women in ways that were seen as unconventional to Arab customs. I was also sexually harassed."

In societies across the Arab world, women are emotionally blackmailed with the concept of breaking certain customs, despite the fact that thesew customs have always changed through time.

Suad's case of being shamed and harassed is not an isolated one. Statistics on sexual harassment vary from country to country across the Middle Eastern and North African region, but numbers can reach as high as 99.3 percent of women being sexually harassed, such as in Egypt.

Women are often stuck living in a paradox in which their personal autonomy is suppressed, yet their bodies are objects for men to prey on. The state and household environment commonly hold women accountable for their own "purity", yet hold women responsible for actions of men who make unsolicited sexual advances on them.

Breaking 'faux feminism'
Another challenge faced by feminists in the Middle East is breaking faux feminist standards. The word "feminist" is often thrown around, as though identifying as such automatically emancipates women and upholds the so-called respect a "feminist man" has for women, regardless of problematic notions they may sustain.

"It isn't just men who take advantage of feminism for their own personal gain, it's women too," Suad explains.

"A man doing it is bad, but there are women who would bring their own personal morals and bias on topics like sex outside marriage and abortion and will treat these topics as a red line. This is not real feminism."

This issue refers back to women constraining their activism to what is safe. It is easy to jump on a bandwagon that has already picked up momentum after taboos have already been broken and discussion has reached the public sphere.

What isn't easy is dealing with the consequences of breaking taboos to allow topics to reach the public sphere for the greater good of all women, even if you may not personally agree with the principle being discussed.

"We must liberate ourselves first and foremost before trying to help others"

Even with matters less controversial than abortion, many activists restrict their activism according to their personal comforts.

There are many women who are comfortable with being domesticated, for example. Though, in Jordan, Suad says she has seen a school curriculum which teach children as young as the age of six that the "home life" is the only option for girls.

Some women who refuse to campaign against conditioning children to conform to such gender roles will still call themselves a feminist, despite her putting her experience before the needs of others.

There are also some women who find talking about sex and the feminine anatomy uncomfortable for the same reason. This becomes a problem when women stay silent, or even oppose educating girls about sex at school.

"At the end of the day, no one is asking anyone else to give up their own personal morals, but what we as individuals may believe should not skew our activism to match our own moral compasses," Suad said.

'Liberate yourself first'
Despite years of struggling, and an outlook that's less than positive for the near future, Suad refuses to give up.

"The situation across the region has deteriorated and women are more likely to be subjected because of the political uncertainty around us," Suad said. "But this is not an excuse for us to give up. We must liberate ourselves first and foremost before trying to help others."

For Suad, the solution lies in putting self-emancipation first. Women ridding themselves of the internalised misogyny they have been conditioned to carry since childhood is paramount to the feminist cause.

"Only when we achieve this will we achieve a genuine feminist movement. We don't have a feminist movement in the Middle East. We only have women's rights organisations. The only way we can bolster a movement is if we deconstruct and work for the good of the collective, not for the personal ego."

(Source: The New Arab)

Friday, 18 August 2017

Indians taught me programming and my first IT job was at Wipro: Sarahah creator

You have seen Sarahah screenshots. You have heard of it. You have also probably used it. But do you know who created this app, which has become an overnight sensation. Well, that is ZainAlabdin Tawfiq, a Saudi national. He created the app because he wants people to have "honest" and involve in frank conversation.

We don't know right now whether Sarahah is a force for good, something that would one day be as big as WhatsApp if not bigger, or if it is just a fad. But Tawfiq, in an exclusive interview with the India Today Group, tells us that he has big plans for it. In a way, he hints that this is just a start. Excerpts from our conversation with ZainAlabdin Tawfiq, the Sarahah creator.

Sarahah surely is viral right now. But what is next for it?
There's good thing about Sarahah... yes, it is viral. But how can I keep the hype? Our objective is clear, its self-development through constructive feedback. I think that can help us a lot. However I know the challenges of this project in general and I have planned for lots of features. We have lot in plan.

Do you think you can take on WhatsApp?
Sarahah is different so the objective here is different. WhatsApp is a general communication platform, Sarhaha is a constructive feedback platform. So whatsapp or other messaging apps are not our competitors.

Why did you create Sarahah?
When I graduated from college and joined corporate life I noticed that there is a need for constructive feedback. Since there are barriers (to communication) like position or age, the best thing is to have anonymous feedback.

So I thought what are the solutions, may be place suggestions box on the desk.  But then I am a computer scientist and I thought there should be a way to automate this, so I created sarahah. And even before releasing sarahah I thought why limit this to corporate why not let friends and family be frank and honest with each other.

People are worried about their privacy. Some believe that this app is going to reveal the identity of senders one day.

We do have the strict privacy policy. In the privacy policy it says, that we will never reveal the identity of the sender unless we get his consent to do so. You can see also the terms and conditions on privacy policy regarding disclosure of information about revealing the identity in certain circumstances where there is a violation. But if someone is following the rules everything is good we do have this commitment not to reveal the identity unless we get his consent.

How block feature works?
We will not give the details of blocking feature. If we reveal details it will make abusers or misuse of the app easier.

Sarahah is very simple right now. Do you plan to some features to it, and what they could be?
We have good surprises and we hope that the customers will love them. Regarding new features as you see recently had a big expansion globally. Our focus now is on Sarahah scalability, after that we will bring new features.

Sarahah is also an app that doesn't seem to have any possible revenue model. How do you plan to make money?
There are many revenue models. But right now we are using advertising only for revenue.

Sarahah is now popular in India. Do you have something to say to Indian users?
I am really proud that Sarahah has reached India. The first company that I worked for, actually the only IT company that I ever worked for, was Wipro. And I am very proud and happy to see Indians coming to Sarahah.

Indians have taught me programming in university, Indians have taught me programming in the company. I had Indian colleagues and I also have Indian friends.

Sarahah users are complaining of locked accounts. How can they to unlock the locked accounts?
If a user finds his or her account locked, he or she should wait for 12 hours. It will automatically get unlocked. An account gets locked when there are too many attempts to log into it using wrong password. We are working on measure to fix this issue.

(Source: India Today)

Women in a Goa village make eco-friendly sanitary pads that decompose in 8 days

We are all well aware about the issues related to waste management in our country. With rapid urbanisation we are consuming lot of disposal items which can’t be recycled or reused. One such item is the sanitary pad. These one-time use pads are made of plastic and hence are non-biodegradable. This menstrual waste lands in our landfills or worse in our water bodies, thus polluting our ecology.

According to a 2011 survey, only 12 per cent women in India use sanitary napkins which still makes for at least 9,000 tonnes of garbage and India produces over 1 billion non-compostable sanitary pads every month. And with modernisation this number is continuously increasing.

“Society in India still being largely conservative and patriarchal in nature, menstrual hygiene management has still not been planned well and women face issues in disposing sanitary pads in an appropriate manner,” says Sumit Singh, governance expert on Swachh Bharat Mission, Urban Development Department, Government of Goa. He further adds, “Sanitary pads are generally disposed with mixed waste or in dry waste bin category of door-to-door waste collection if the facility is available. This again poses problems to sanitation staff while segregating waste at processing plants. If the waste is simply dumped at a landfill site, it poses health hazards to waste pickers. In some of the progressive cities, municipal authorities raise awareness about wrapping the pad in old newspaper and marking it with a red cross before disposing it in dry waste bin. Some of the housing societies and girls schools have also started installing small incinerators to dispose sanitary pads. However, initiatives like this cover a miniscule portion of the population and all of the women living in urban and rural areas have to face the issue every month.”

However now there are few initiatives by individuals and groups to manufacture eco-friendly pads.

In collaboration with Aakar Innovations, The Better India is setting up a sanitary pad manufacturing unit in Ajmer, Rajasthan, that will not only produce eco-friendly or biodegradable sanitary pads, but will also employ women from rural communities around the area.

The Self Help Group (SHG) named Saheli in Pilgao village in Bicholim taluka of Goa is the first SHG in Goa to manufacture and sell eco-friendly sanitary pads.

Jayshree Parwar, with the help of three other women, has started this initiative around two years ago. These pads are manufactured at Jayshree’s home where utmost care is taken regarding hygiene and sanitation. Till now they have sold 1000 pads and they manufacture 50 packets in a day. One packet consists of eight pads and its retail cost is Rs 40. They sell it under the brand name ‘Sakhi’ bio-degradable sanitary pads. “We get all our raw material from Tamil Nadu. The main component of it is the pine wood paper. This pad when buried in mud gets degraded within eight days,” says Jayshree who has taken this initiative of making and selling these pads.

She was trained by Dr Subbu Nayak and is now confident of this product and has trained other women—Naseeen Shaikh, Sulaksha Tari and Revati Parwar, who hail from the same village of Pilgao.

Jayshree was the first who showed confidence in accepting this challenge of installing and running a unit for manufacturing sanitary pads in her house. “When the company, Teerathan Enterprises, had approached a federation of 48 SHGs in the Panchayat with the offer of installing the unit free of cost, most of the SHGs shied away from accepting the offer mainly out of a feeling of shame. Jayshree accepted the challenge and has been running the unit for the last two years,” says Singh.

These sanitary pads consist of pine wood paper, silicon paper, butter paper, non-woven paper and cotton. They are UV light radiated which helps kills germs.

“Sanitary napkins made from artificial fibres cause allergies and irritation to the delicate skin in the vaginal area.

These napkins made from pine fibre, as they are natural, will help prevent these,” says Dr Anita Dudhane, allergist and clinical immunologist, practicing in Goa.

Jayshree further informs that eco-friendly pads are a good option for village women. Most of them use cloth pads which may not be a hygienic option and those who use sanitary pads tend to burn them by making a hole in the ground. But this practice produces hazardous gases like dioxins.

Marketing and sale of eco-friendly pads

As there is no retail outlet of this SHG, they sell it at various cultural fests like Lokotsav (annual art and culture festival organised by Government of Goa in joint collaboration of West Zone Cultural Centre, Udaipur in Panaji, Goa) and also at a café like Saraya Art Café at Sangolda. But, this journey is not easy for Jayshree. “Many a time women are hesitant to talk about this issue. Also sometimes girls are hesitant to look at these products when I put up a stall at these events. At that time I try to convince them that it is not something to be shameful about. We all go through this every month and we need to talk about it,” says Jayshree who has her regular clientele from her village and she also supplies to women customers from Kerala, Mangalore and Kolhapur. She is also positive with the response she is getting from her customers and also from her two daughters. She states that now her daughters are more confident and feel comfortable while using this product.

Now due to this product this SHG has got its unique identity. It has also given confidence to Jayshree to go out and talk about this topic and taboo associated with it. Jayshree informs that till now she has 50-odd women customers who are using this product. Most of these customers are the village women of Pilgao. These women are not only choosing it compared to their cloth pads but at the same time educating young girls about it. This product gives them a sense of confidence and freedom to go out and achieve their goals. One such customer is Afroz Sheikh who is now happy with this product. “Its main advantage is that it is chemical free. Also it is very convenient to use especially when we are travelling. With cloth pads it was quite a hassle as one had to wash it, dry it. But, this is a one-time use and also easy to dispose off. I am now also telling school and college going girls to use it as it is very beneficial to them.”

Another customer Niyati Patre from Mapusa city also opted for this. “The main reason I bought it was because it was eco-friendly. It was nice to know that I am not adding to bio-medical waste as it is biodegradable. The only issue I have is with its size. I wish it could be little bigger so it would be more beneficial especially during heavy flow days,” says Niyati.

Jayshree in future also wants to manufacture eco-friendly diapers as they are also in demand.

Looking at the commitment of Jayshree and the SHG many individuals and organisations are coming forward to help them to market this product.

From left: Sulaksha Tari, Jayshree Parwar and Naseem Shaikh with their product which is manufactured at Jayshree’s house. Photo credit: Arti Das
One is the Goa Institute of Management (GIM).  “Goa Institute of Management, Sakhali with intension to help the helped ones, started an ABHIGYAN “GIVEGOA”. Under this all first year students have to learn more from the community. This year we would like to help this lady from Sakhali with her maiden venture of ‘Sakhi: Green pads’. We would brand them, promote them, and create a market place. As they are cost positive and nature friendly a big market is waiting for them,” says Prof Vithal Sukhathankar of GIM.

Jayshree also spoke and interacted with SHGs and citizens in Bicholim and Valpoi during the city stakeholders meet on Swachh Bharat Mission about this product.

Singh, who will help her marketing, adds, “I am planning to help her connect to the large network of SHGs working in urban areas. It will help Jayashree in getting a broad consumer base for her market without spending on marketing of the product, other SHGs will benefit in getting eco-friendly sanitary pads and it also provides them a potential livelihood opportunity to install and run similar plants.” He is also planning to introduce these eco-friendly sanitary pads to women in colonies selected for Smart Colony – Smart Ward initiative in all municipalities of Goa on pilot basis. He is hopeful that looking at Jayshree more SHGs from Goa will come forward. He has also received confirmation from one SHG to start the same. “If more SHGs start the unit, then raw material of sanitary pads which is currently brought through transport from Chennai can be manufactured by companies in Goa. This will further reduce the cost and make it more accessible in less privileged sections of society,” says Singh.

(Source: The Better India)