video: paper clips

February 5, 2008

remember this?

January 21, 2008


ny times did an article highlighting the dismal state of indian schools that is found among poor neighbourhoods where majority of the inhabitants are members of the lower caste. this reminds of the state of kenyan schools where economics and not merit are the determing factor on the type of education a child receives.

Sixty years after independence, with 40 percent of its population under 18, India is now confronting the perils of its failure to educate its citizens, notably the poor. More Indian children are in school than ever before, but the quality of public schools like this one has sunk to spectacularly low levels, as government schools have become reserves of children at the very bottom of India’s social ladder.

The children in this school come from the poorest of families — those who cannot afford to send away their young to private schools elsewhere, as do most Indian families with any means.

India has long had a legacy of weak schooling for its young, even as it has promoted high-quality government-financed universities. But if in the past a largely poor and agrarian nation could afford to leave millions of its people illiterate, that is no longer the case. Not only has the roaring economy run into a shortage of skilled labor, but also the nation’s many new roads, phones and television sets have fueled new ambitions for economic advancement among its people — and new expectations for schools to help them achieve it.

Besides economic markers, education has become the great divider among men where the 20% of those considered poor are illiterate. There are a couple of things that stood out for me that ring similar to the kenyan experience, because a large part of indian is agrarian, one sees that many kids are allowed to go to school for a certain period of time before they too are released to the working fields. unfortunately, to many parents, an extra pair of hands garnes a large produce which translates to a little more income coming in.

Due to the ingrained caste system that discriminates on the educaton system, Kancha Ilaiah has taken upon himself to write out this injustice by showing the importance of those thought of lower caste.

“This book is a weapon for India’s millions of low-caste children who are fighting for respect, just as African Americans did and do in the U.S.,” said Ilaiah, who also wrote the best-selling anti-caste book “Why I Am Not a Hindu.” “How do you change ancient prejudices in any society? You do it through repositioning caste at childhood. If young children are taught respect over a bedtime story or in class, that could help enormously.”

In the book, Ilaiah tries to highlight the achievements of low-caste workers.

“Weavers discovered how cotton is spun into cloth. Laundry men discovered the country’s first cleaning detergent and saved us from diseases,” he writes. “Farmers nurtured us with cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables. Why not respect those who produce our food?”

“There has actually never been a more important time to teach to the next generation that dignity for all labor is a human right,” Ilaiah said.

He is not without his critics who feel highlighting the inequalities with further breech and blur the distinctions of the caste system.

“There is no need to grill our kids on caste,” said Rattan Lal, 45, a member of the Brahmin caste who was shopping for books with his 13-year-old daughter. “Any kind of education about caste would only be dividing the country. It’s drawing too much attention to the issue in the first place.”

Shopping nearby, Anahita Singh, 33, who also hails from a higher caste, said she felt that the issues might be painful but that they had to be discussed. “I want my child to grow up as a balanced human being who should never pass judgment based on caste,” she said.

January 9, 2008

i heeded kenyan pundit’s call to write about what the growing pain of the young kenyan demoncracy means on a personal level. i decided to share this because i feel it is important to shed off any veils of silence, after all, silence never protects anyone.

I left Kenya when i was 24 years, 10 month and some days old. With me were two suitcases stuffed with books and unsuitable clothing for the upcoming winter and in the midst of the hot, tuesday afternoon, my heart was burdened by the choice I feel I had to take.
I was tired of living unnoticed.
I was afraid of my safety.
And most of I was tired of pretending I was anything that who I really was.
I am a lesbian.
A queer.
A shoga.
A dyke.
An ‘ abboration’ of nature.
Watching Kenya unravel causes me untold anguish. I am fatigued by the worry and anxiety I have shed tears for my friends, my family and the nation as a whole.
Yet, in the stillness of my heart, I am not surprised. I am not at all surprised that underneath the veil of calmness lies intolerance. We are as a nation and as individuals are not sentries of peace, we would like to believe that we have no strong affiliations to the groups that we belong to.However, I ask, take a moment to ask, who do you consider your friends, your crew, are they born from the same background, do they look like you, what are their professional and personal affiliations, are they in synch with yours?
I knew from an earlier age that I was different. Even though I ‘ belonged’ to a majority, I was still reeling from the overt forms of sexism, patriarchy and homophobia. What I saw around me was a need for group consensus and I knew that for me to thrive fully, I would either deny being an authentic human being, or negate the truths of my experience. And so I did the former and I left and now I am left with images of  the Kenya of my youth, nursing an untold nostalgia while basking in the sea of otherness.
For status quo to remain in place, there needs to be a level of group chaos. Kenya and indeed the world has tithered on this premise. Now that the pandora box has been opened and the shadow of our collective experiences has been unveiled, what choices do we have?
It is not the time to sweep this experience and return to ‘ normal.’ What is normal? Is it to pretend that this didn’t happen? Is normal to congregate amongst ourselves, our ‘ tribes’ our safe havens and drink into the well of our tribes and in stupor like mentality point fingers at others.
We have an opportunity as individuals in our enclaves of influence to become more mindful and compassionate to ourselves and others. This is an opportunity to pour balms of forgiveness onto the wounds of intolerance. We have a unique experience to thrive from this experience and be better human beings or engage in viscous cycles of hate.
We are after all, each other.