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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
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A magnificent attempt
  By T.P. Srivastava  
  THOUGH manual scavenging in India is an age-old practice, its origin is not exactly known. It is believed that this practice may have begun during the Moghul period when purdah (veil) system also came into being. Despite globalization, modernization, computerization and other developmental changes, the much-condemned manual scavenging system is still prevailing in many parts of the country. There are thousands of people serving as manual scavengers in various towns and cities of India, including Delhi.

Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, has been working for the cause of scavengers for about four decades. He has been successful in that. His efforts have led to liberation of many scavengers in this inhuman occupation. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Pathak is determined to eradicate this social evil from Indian society. I recently visited Alwar where manual scavenging is still in vogue. There are about 10 settlements of the 'Bhangi' community (manual scavengers) in this city. I saw many men, women and young children manually scavenging.

Nai Disha, the Alwar centre of Sulabh International, has taken initiatives to liberate these manual scavengers and rehabilitate them. They have been imparted vocational training at Nai Disha and about fifty-six of them are engaged in production of eatables like vermicelli, pickles and many other items. These products are selling in the local market. Many a time demand for these products overruns supply. Some of the liberated scavengers are also being trained in tailoring. They are also being imparted basic literacy. It was surprising to see some of them greeting, reading and writing in English.

I met one of the ladies in the scavengers' colony. She was living in a very basic accommodation. When I asked her about the works she was engaged in, she said it was their traditional occupation and the only source of their livelihood. They are not able to earn enough to meet their requirements. Living in misery is their destiny.

I talked to a group of four liberated ladies who were working at the centre of Nai Disha. They were looking happy and satisfied with the job they were engaged in. One of them was Vimala Raujiya. I wanted to know about her life before joining Nai Disha. She narrated her story:

"For the first time I came to know about this dingy profession when I came to this city after marriage, as in my parental family this work was not done. I felt quite miserable to think that I would have to perform such work. I could never imagine doing it. My mother-in-law told me if I did not do this job, the family would starve. I started working as a manual scavenger but this was the darkest day of my life.

"Seeing the condition of the family, I compromised with my fate and gradually developed the habit. In the meantime, Babaji (Dr Bindeshwar Pathak) came to our village and he proved to be an incarnation of God. Nobody had ever thought that he would liberate us. But I joined his movement. Now I am happy and thinking I have taken a new birth. I have learnt many things. I am earning much more than what I was earning from my family profession.

"The most important thing which has happened is that my earlier employers, who were not taking care of us in any way and not allowing us to enter houses or touch anything, have now started addressing us with respect. Whenever they meet us in in the market or anywhere on the way, they enquire about our well-being. Then we feel we have also achieved social stats and become members of the mainstream society".


The article is excerpted with permission from 'New Princesses of Alwar: Shame to Pride -- Startling stories of 'untouchable' scavengers authored by 56 journalists', published by Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, Sulabh Gram, Mahavir Enclave, Palam Dabri Road, New Delhi 110 045, Pages: 294, Price: Rs 500

Photo caption: Dr Bindeshwar Pathak
Mother matters
  Puja Rajkumari  
  My Mother My Strength
Edited by Jayashree Mohanraj
Published by Rupa & Co
Pages: 192
Price: Rs.195

THIS book is all about mothers and how their daughters understand them. Twenty-four essays by eminent women writers, full of emotion and passion, are fairly able to get you closer to your mother. Edited by Jayashree Mohanraj, 'My Mother, My Strength' reflects on the strength of a woman and her contribution to the world.

All the daughters here are above 40 years of age and hence their mothers belong to the early 20th century. They represent the female world of that period from all over India. Most of them are simple, homely, hardworking, and a source of strength to their daughters.

Though not academically qualified, most of them desired an education and tried to fulfil their dreams through their daughters. They created a secure environment for their children to grow up; a place where they could hone their talents. Malathy Chendure's essay beautifully explains how her mother raised her single handedly, but always made her feel proud of her father by 'creating an ideal out of a very ordinary person and putting him on a pedestal'.

As mentioned in Anjali Khandawalla's story, her mother sent her off in a bunker of a ship to Mombasa from where she was to fly to the US to marry her boyfriend; this was the unbelievable courage of a woman over 40 years ago.

Considering the social background and the environment of that time, all the mothers are remarkable, and who, other than their daughters understand her best! "When I look in the mirror, I sometimes see my mother instead of myself (Malasawmy Jacob)."

"My mother was my best friend and she was also my worst enemy. I am what I am today only because of her." This confession by Nabaneeta Dev Sen is the most repeated point in this book.

All the writers echo the same feeling about their mothers. It resounds in Jilani Bano's writing. "Whenever I do some good deed, I look at my mother and if I do anything silly, make a mistake, I look at my mother," she states. It is not strange that Jayanti Nayak writes, "My entire being has the everlasting shadow of my mother."

Differences were inevitable as the times were different. Daughters wanted to be educated, wanted to work, unlike their housewife mothers. Some had complaints against their mothers for not being expressive about their love towards them and also for being consciously unaffectionate and strict disciplinarians. At the same time, Brucellish K. Sangma expresses her fondness of more than one mother, breaking myths about stepmothers.

The editor says, "This book is a spectrum of memories, emotions and recollections -- some good, others mostly fond and a few sour, but not bitter."

In most cases, a daughter can understand her mother better than ever when she herself becomes a mother or when her mother is no more. And she wishes she had been more mature and understanding. For the sake of not having to repent, this book is a must read for all children, not only for daughters.

Some might find the book repetitive and containing numerous personal incidents, but I feel it is not easy to avoid some memories. A human being, who wants to understand himself/herself, can't leave his mother as an unread book.
Practical justice
  Santosh Kr. Singh  
  The Idea of Justice
By Amartya Sen
Published by Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books
Pages: 467
Price: Rs. 699

THE idea of a perfectly just society has been a chimera. It is in order to realise that ideal that elaborate structures and institutions of justice were erected and fanatically pursued and nurtured. Theorists and philosophers have passionately articulated the related concerns and the need for an absolutely just society.

Centuries have passed but the world is far from that Utopian vision with gross cases of injustice happening all around us. What, perhaps, vary are only the nomenclatures and degrees of discrimination across societies and cultures.

'The Idea of Justice', the recently published book by Nobel-laureate Prof Amartya Sen, interrogates the precepts and premises of some of the most articulated and established understandings on the concept of justice. Prof Sen's argument is simple: a theory of justice that can serve as the basis of practical reasoning must include ways of judging how to reduce injustice and advance justice, rather than aiming only at the characterisation of a perfectly just society -- a dominant feature of many theories. Critiquing both the dominant perspectives on justice, that of social contract theorists pursued and led by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau on the one hand, and the other developed by contemporary political philosopher John Rawls, Prof Sen's emphasis is on the centrality of public reasoning in establishing conditions for a less unjust society.

These enlightenment theorists and their transcendental approach to justice overemphasised on how to establish 'just institutions' and gave some derivative and subsidiary roles to behavioral features. Prof Sen makes a departure here and argues that, "justice is ultimately connected with the way people's lives go and not merely with the nature of the institutions surrounding them".

As he further comments, "a practical concern, no less than theoretical reasoning, seems to demand a fairly radical departure in the analysis of justice". Democracy, for example, has to be judged not just by institutions that formally exist but by the extent to which different voices from diverse sections of the people can actually be heard.

Prof Sen proposes here a pluralist perspective on justice which is characterized or driven not so much by the fancied goal of finding a universal definition of a just society but by the dynamics of actual, everyday life of the people. The everyday world is about competing choices and alternatives and hence the existence and importance of plurality of reasoning in public discourse.

It is in the nature of reasoning, argues Prof Sen, that it does not allow all questions to be settled even in theory. So, far from rejecting or stifling or undermining such pluralities and trying to reduce them beyond the limits of reasoning, we should make use of them to construct a theory of justice.

In other words, Prof Sen's idea of justice marks a paradigm shift from an obsessive engagement with arrangement-centric rules and institutional structures to people-centric approach with sensitivity to their behavioral contexts and practical reasoning.

To further elucidate his position, Prof Sen makes a reference to the concepts of 'niti' and 'nyaya', as mentioned in our ancient texts, and argues that while 'niti' is important it is the invocation of the spirit of 'nyaya' which makes the process of justice comprehensible.
The beauty and profundity of Prof Sen's arguments lie in the fact that they transcend the dichotomies of the East and the West and go on to create a vision for a global society with the agenda of enhancement of global justice.

Prof Sen, in his characteristic style, borrows from diverse sources, more specifically from the religious texts and philosophies of the Indic traditions to develop his arguments as he finds no necessary adversarial relations between the East and the West.

For instance, there are many meeting grounds between Gautam Buddha's reasoning and the European Enlightenment traditions. The central themes of importance, however, are the questions that awakened the thinking of Prince Siddhartha, who later became Buddha, as he realised the grossness of injustices and misery around. These concerns are quite integral to the idea of justice.

Having established the theoretical groundwork, the book goes on to elaborate its central postulates through extensive discussions on a range of issues of contemporary relevance from democracy as a public reason to the idea of freedoms and capabilities to the question of human rights and global imperatives.

The final chapter titled 'Justice and the World' recognises the importance of the idea of global justice, much beyond its parochial understanding within the nation-state framework. With increasing interdependence in the era of globalisation, there is enormous possibility of applying a common humanitarian and pluralist understanding of justice in the arena of human rights, international terrorism and public health issues such as AIDS.

'The Idea of Justice' is an extraordinary work by one of the most influential public thinkers of our time. This is a path-breaking book as it exposes the damage inflicted upon the very essence of the idea of justice as a result of fetishisation of institution-building in our quest for a perfectly just world. We allowed 'niti' to dominate and 'nyaya' to disappear from our worldview of justice. As a result, the big fish still swallows the small fish.

Prof Amartya Sen wants us to relocate and centralise the elements of 'nyaya' so that a new world with lesser injustices and with a built-in perpetual urge for justice enhancement can be ushered in.


The reviewer is a Chandigarh-based sociologist and writer.
A storytelling duel
  Anjum Naim  
  The Storyteller's Tale
By Omair Ahmad
Rs 225

A STORYTELLER returns to his beloved Delhi two and a half centuries ago, only to find it devastated by the violence of Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Abdali. The plunder, the loss of lives, the destruction of a culture and a civilization, breaks his heart. The dejected storyteller finds a roof over his head in a beautiful mansion, thanks to the invitation of Begum, who is living a secluded life with her servants. Little does he know, the storytelling competition of a lifetime awaits him.

This is the setting of Omair Ahmad's The Storyteller's Tale, his third book, released earlier this year at the American Center in New Delhi. Ahmad, 34, is a journalist and a storytelling connoisseur who told stories on campus while earning his master's degree in international relations at Syracuse University, New York from 2001 to 2003. There he learned about the American form of storytelling, known as Tall Tales, exaggerated and imaginary stories about bravery and adventure from the wild west of the 1800s, often told around campfires.

Ahmad grew up listening to Urdu and Persian stories, which were read in his family, and the epic, Mahabharata. "That is why I felt no difficulty in expressing my thoughts in this form," he says. Fictional elements of all the four stories presented in his novella are based on the Panchatantra, parables from the Bible and quotes from the Quran.

In The Storyteller's Tale, Begum challenges the storyteller to a competition. While the two narrate four stories to each other, a new story takes place, a love story between Begum and the storyteller. Begum's sentiments are intense while the storyteller resists as he knows the suffering of love. And in this way, their stories become the expression of their failed love affair.

Violence permeates every scenario, crossing the limits of time and space. Different forms of violence collide in the mind of the storyteller. Ahmad says, "We are unable to ignore this fact because violence and violent tendencies are affecting all of us in one form or the other. It has become the central reference of lives of people like us."

Ahmad chooses storytelling as his means of communication, comparing it to the efficacy of Biblical parables and Quranic stories at conveying a message. "Moreover, stories heard in childhood also become a part of our psyche," he says.

Ahmad writes for Outlook magazine and Voice of America and is also an active political analyst. His collection of stories on the lives of common people living in the towns and villages of India was published under the title Sense Terra by Pages Editor in 2008. His novel, Encounters, published by Tara Press in 2007, depicts the growing rigidity in a section of Muslims. The Storyteller's Tale and all of Ahmad's writings make the issue of extremism in words and deeds, their subject matter.

And the winner of the storytelling duel? You decide. (Courtesy: SPAN)

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