Archive for June, 2010

Shepherding the shepherds with SMS



Press the menu button, then go to inbox; with the centre key you can scroll up and down. Then you select the message you want to read and open it by clicking the left button,” explains Dada Padu Kachre, a shepherd in Maharashtra’s Phaltan district as he teaches other shepherds to read text messages on his mobile phone.

The message in Marathi says: ‘Take your sheep for vaccination’. Sent by Anthra, a Pune-based organisation that works for the betterment of the pastoral community in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, the messages, sent twice a month, give important tips to ensure sound health of their livestock while they are on the move. Over 170 dhangars — a nomadic tribe — in Maharashtra benefit from the alerts.

“The content in the message is restricted to preventive measures and medication for diseases that commonly afflict sheep and goats. The dhangar community has to deal with common ailments like cold, cough, injuries and fever plaguing their livestock while on the move. Through these messages, we teach them how to make and use simple, herbal medicines to treat their animals,” says Nitya Ghotge, founder-member, Anthra.

The messages, which were first sent in 2006, are composed taking into consideration the season, the epidemics doing the rounds and most importantly, government policies and facilities for vaccination of livestock. “Many, though not all, shepherds have mobile phones. This is what helps us reach out to them. For some reason, many of these people are reluctant to approach the government. Through these messages, we tell them in advance about the vaccinations available for seasonal epidemic,” adds Ghotge.

The Anthra team consists of four veterinary doctors and animal health volunteers from the dhangar community. With an average of 100 sheep per dhangar, the facility directly benefits some 17,000 sheep. “Given the fact that the dhangars live in groups, each dhangar propagates the message to five others. Our data shows that over one lakh sheep and goats across the state are benefited because of the remedies we suggest through the messages,” adds Sachin Hagawane, member, Anthra.

So instead of seeking out mantriks who prescribe long drawn-out rituals for the health of their herds, the shepherds now wait for these messages. Jeevan Dnyaneshwar Kolpe, who travels 60 km every year to reach Aabhepuri village near Panchgani with his 75 sheep, says, “We note down these messages in a diary for future reference. Earlier, for the smallest of illnesses, such as ulcers in the mouth or injuries, we would look for a mantrik, but today we know that a mixture of ghee and turmeric works magic for both these ailments. The farms and the fields we live in have become our resources as nature offers all the medicines.”

Being on the move is not easy. And one of the challenges the shepherds face is charging their mobile phones. Anthra has provided them compact solar chargers-cum-lamps that not only recharge their mobile phone batteries in two hours but double as lanterns. With a number of other activities conducted throughout the year to boost the culture of these tribes, Ghotge says Anthra is a bridge between the government and the pastoral tribes. “We want to work for them, but we don’t want them to become dependent on us. For us, what is really valuable is one dhangar like Kachre who educates others, making the tribe self-dependent,” says Ghotge.


Kashmiri Pandits celebrate Kheer Bhawani festival



TULMULLA (JAMMU AND KASHMIR): As thousands of migrant Kashmiri Pandits arrived to pay obeisance at the Mata Kheer Bhawani Temple here, there were emotional scenes as the pilgrims were reunited with their Muslim neighbours, prompting Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to call it the real “Kashmiriyat” which needed to be restored.

The local Muslims offered cold drinks and water to the devotees who arrived from different parts of country that they migrated to in 1990.

“We are happy to see them [Kashmiri Pandits] as we had no chance to live with them like our parents or grandparents,” said 21-year-old Khurshid Ahmad, who was among those offering drinks to them. “We are proud of this cultural ethos but unfortunately the link was broken due to militancy,” he said, adding: “Kashmir is incomplete without them.”

This was for the first time that nearly 50,000 devotees flooded the temple at Tulmulla in Ganderbal.

The Pandits met not only their Muslim neighbours but also their co-religionists after a gap of 20 years.

Sushma and Bimla, who were neighbours in South Kashmir’s Tral area, had one such reunion. They now live in different places as migrants.

“I am here after a gap of 19 years. We migrated in 1991,” said Bushan Lal, originally from Anantnag and now settled in Delhi.

“I prayed for the smooth return of Kashmiri Pandits to their homeland. I hope the Goddess will fulfil my prayer,” he said.

There are many like Mr. Lal who long to return to their homes, but some are sceptical. “I do not think it is possible for all to return,” said Shamboo Nath, adding that it was not possible to settle in clusters and without mingling with Muslims. “It is better to be where we are if we have to live separately here.”

Some blamed the then government for the exodus.

“The government at that time did not play positive role; so did the successive ones. Our plight would not have been so bad,” said another Pandit migrant.

“I was half of my age when I visited this temple last. At this juncture, I feel I am 20. I feel I am reborn.”

The arrival of Mr. Abdullah and his wife Payal added more colour to the occasion. “I am so happy to see you here. This is what is called the real ‘Kashmiriyat,’” the Chief Minister said addressing the devotees inside the temple.

Speaking to journalists later, Mr. Abdullah blamed vested interests for damaging “Kashmiriyat” and appealed to the Pandits to play a positive role in restoring it.

“Some vested interests were always on a mission to damage the ‘Kashmiriyat.’ This created a vacuum which needs to be filled, for which the Kashmiri Pandits need to play a positive role,” he said.

“A multi-pronged strategy is in place to facilitate the smooth return of Pandits settled outside the valley. They left because their security was snatched. They started feeling insecure. Now we are trying to restore the sense of security to the Kashmiri Pandits,” he added.

On the rehabilitation process, Mr. Abdullah said: “We are also thinking about their economic rehabilitation. Recently, 2,000 posts were filled under the Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan. More posts are being created.”


There’s a full moon over India and Gandhi lives again…



There has been a lot of discussion in the media about Gandhian methods and their efficacy. There have also been references to Gandhiji’s fads and quirks — especially his ideas about sex and continence.

I was attending a workshop in Kuala Lumpur. It was ostensibly about how to run a business and earn more money. The programme was interspersed with music and short experiential exercises. At one such session, the trainer played the famous American singer John Denver’s song ‘It’s About Time’, which began with the lines “There’s a full moon over India and Gandhi lives again/ Who’s to say you have to lose for someone else to win?”

The inspiration behind this song was Denver’s visit to India in the 1980s to pay respects to his spiritual guru Swami Muktananda as also his chance encounter with the members of the film fraternity who were on board and were going to Delhi to launch the film ‘Gandhi’. As the plane neared Delhi, Denver looked out of the window and saw the full moon in its pristine glory shining over India. The song writer in Denver was overwhelmed that nature conspired to make him empathise with the humanity at large through the prodding of a great soul, Gandhiji.

The powerful words of the song, coupled with Denver’s mellifluous singing, cast a spell on the participants who had gathered from different corners of the world. Joining hands and forming a circle of 500-plus, they sang in unison — “Who’s to say you have to lose for someone else to win?”

Gandhiji taught us this truth in so many ways. He was the master of non-violent communication that led to win-win situations. He was against class war because it had the seeds of violence in it and the potential for hate on the part of those who lose. He suggested that the rich act as trustees of their wealth and see to it that the last man gets a decent life before enjoying what they have in excess. Though a lawyer, he did not support litigation. Rather, he promoted out-of-court amicable settlements. He propagated ‘heart unity’ to solve the communal question.

The communal divide was sought to be closed by understanding each other’s religion better and accommodating one another. The crux of his campaign against untouchability was directed towards the heart of those who practised the evil because even if one is convinced that one is doing the wrong, it takes a long time to emotionally accept that and change one’s behaviour.

Gandhiji ruled out violence because it denigrated the practitioner; it was irreversible and, therefore, not to be practised by fallible human beings; because once practised, its threshold would increase with every successive attempt; also, it overlooked the fact that every human being is capable of love. Besides, violence did not lead to the resolution of conflicts because it always led to a win-lose situation — “For the first is just the last one when you play a deadly game. It is about time we find out it is all of us or none” (Denver).

He tellingly conveys Gandhiji’s thoughts when he croons —“There’s a man who is my brother, I just don’t know his name/ But I know his home and family because we know we feel the same/ And it hurts me when he is hungry and when his children cry/ I too am a father, and the little one is mine.” When Gandhiji felt sad over the London bombings during the Second World War he was echoing these very sentiments. It is ‘about time’ we recognised the truth of Gandhiji’s words and act on them.