People's Basic Needs

This 25-YO Report by The ‘People’s Scientist’ is Exactly What School Education Needs Today

During an impassioned speech before Parliament in 1989, one of India’s tallest literary giants and then Rajya Sabha member, RK Narayan, spoke of the incredible burden the education system puts on young school-going children.

Using heavy school bags as a metaphor for the load young school children carry (little has changed since), RK Narayan pleaded with the House to pass legislation that would rid the education system of this burden. Such was the power of his speech that certain members even shed tears.

Given below is a sample of his speech in Parliament:

“The hardship starts right at home when straight from bed the child is pulled out and got ready for school even before his faculties are awake. He or she is groomed and stuffed into a uniform and packed off with a loaded bag on her back. School bag has become an inevitable burden for the child. I am now pleading for (the) abolition of the school bag by an ordinance. If necessary, I have investigated and found that an average child carries strapped to his back like a pack mule, not less than 6-8 kg. Of books, notebooks and other paraphernalia of modern education in addition to (the) lunch box and water bottle. More children on account of this daily burden develop a stoop and hang their arms forward like a Chimpanzee while walking and, I know some cases of serious spinal injuries of children too.”

For more than two decades, the concern regarding the academic burden on students and the unsatisfactory quality of learning has been voiced time and again.

A consequence of Narayan’s speech was the formation of a committee chaired by the ‘People’s Scientist’ Professor Yash Pal, whose remit was to ascertain why school bags were getting heavier and what could be done to resolve this situation.In 1993, the committee came up with its report titled ‘Learning Without Burden’, whose recommendations remain as relevant as ever.

Professor Yash Pal (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Nearly 25 years later, the Ministry of Human Resource Development issued a circular last week which listed the rules and regulation regarding how much a bag for school-going children should weigh.

Maximum load for Classes 1 & 2: 1.5 kg
Maximum load for Classes 3, 4 & 5: 2.3 kg
Maximum load for Classes 6,7 & 8: 4 kg
Maximum load for Class X: 5 kg
A total ban on homework for Classes 1 and 2

Serious implementation questions aside, this circular fails to understand that heavy school bags are just noticeable symptoms of a much larger problem—how teachers, parents and more importantly, curriculum designers in our various school boards conceptualise knowledge.

Children weighed down by school bags. It’s only a symptom to the real problem.

“Knowledge is commonly viewed as a body of information to be memorised for regurgitation during (an) examination. The Yash Pal report berated the common one-way teaching process that stifles children’s own desire to learn. In this process, haranguing begins in the nursery and mutates into a regime of oppression through daily homework and weekly tests. The final kill comes with the Board and entrance exams. Cramming is what helps most children to cope with life. And some who cannot, end their lives,” says Krishna Kumar, former director of NCERT, in a column for Scroll.

Some of the recommendations listed in the Learning Without Burden report are:

1) Decentralising the process of curriculum framing and preparation of textbooks to enhance the involvement of teachers, particularly at the state- and district- levels, to develop study material “best suited to the local environment”.

As we have extensively reported on The Better India, the committee also seeks greater freedom and support for “voluntary organisations with a specific commitment to pedagogical innovations with the formal or non-formal system” in developing curriculum, textbooks and teacher training.

It also recommends greater disposal of funds for individual schools, particularly in the public sector, to fix and maintain their own infrastructure with better checks.

Also Read: IIT Grad & IAS Officer Join Hands to Transform Education in Maoist-Hit Bihar District!

2) Reduce the scope of centralised school boards like CBSE and ICSE.

“The CBSE curriculum becomes a trendsetter for the State Boards leading to (a) heavier curriculum for (the) majority of children. Therefore, the committee recommends that jurisdiction of CBSE be restricted to Kendriya and Navodaya Vidyalayas and all other schools be affiliated to the respective State Boards,” recommends the committee.

Yes, schools must have a choice of the board they would like to be affiliated with, but that’s missing the spirit of this argument, which calls for greater decentralisation and a higher stake for local teachers in developing curriculum.

What should school education be all about?

3) Greater regulation, stricter norms for the opening, functioning and recognition for private schools with a special emphasis on improving the quality of learning. These provisions are present on paper, but on the ground, many of these concerns remain.

4) “Textbooks should be treated as school property, and thus, there should be no need for children to purchase the books individually and carry them daily to homes,” recommends the committee.

5) No homework for primary classes, “save for extension of explorations the home environment”. For upper-primary and secondary classes, “homework, where necessary, should be non-textual”.

Also Read: Real-Life Rancho Returns to Odisha Village, Sets Up Innovation School for Rural Kids!

6) “Inadequate programme of teacher preparation leads to unsatisfactory quality of learning in schools. The B.Ed programme must offer the possibility of specialisation–secondary or elementary or nursery education. The duration of the programme should either be one year after graduation or three-four years after higher secondary,” says the report.

More importantly, however, this teacher training programme must be based on the changing needs of school education so that it is more practicum-centred while promoting self-learning and independent-thinking.

It’s interesting to note the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) last month announced the introduction of its four-year Integrated Teacher Education Programme (ITEP), which aims to nurture students straight of high school for a future career in teaching.

7) Changes in the exam pattern, particularly board exams for Classes X and XII from “text-based and quiz-type questioning” to one based on conceptual understanding. “This single reform is sufficient to improve the quality of learning and save the children from the tyranny of rote memorisation.”

8) The report also made recommendations for certain subjects, particularly languages and the sciences. “Language textbooks should adequately reflect the spoken idiom,” the report said.

More importantly, “adequate representation must be given to children’s life experiences……and stories reflecting the lives of ordinary people in different parts of the country. Pedantic language and excessive didacticism ought to be avoided.”

Similar recommendations were made for the social sciences. For basic sciences, it emphasised the understanding of concepts that are “actively linked to experiments or activities that can be performed by children and teachers”.

The report also recommended changes to how teachers approach certain subjects.

Nearly 12 years later, Professor Yash Pal also chaired the drafting committee of the National Curriculum Framework (2005), which essentially further built upon the previous recommendations of the ‘Learning Without Burden’ report with the additional emphasis on children being able to “construct knowledge” on their own terms.

“Children gain an identity through work, and feel useful and productive as work adds meaning and brings with its membership to society and enables children to construct knowledge,” says this 2005 report. Recently, The Better India published a story about Better Plus Education, a non-profit looking to develop ‘changemakers’ in schools. This is probably one of the best examples of what the report recommends. Read more about this non-profit’s initiative here.

“Teachers can devise activities, projects and studies, both drawing from textbooks and going beyond them, to encourage children to explore, investigate and construct knowledge,” the report adds.

There are two ways you can look at these recommendations. On the one hand, you can lament about the fact that these recommendations have been sitting around collecting dust for nearly three decades. However, at the school level, authorities and individual teachers can take these recommendations and improve the plight of young school students.

The NCERT has instituted some of these recommendations, but they still have some way to go. Committees chaired by Professor Yash Pal showed the way forward nearly 25 years ago, and it’s time we acted upon them.

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

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#UPSCSimplified: IPS Topper Rema Rajeshwari Shares Tips to Crack The Exam

With over 10 lakh applicants each year, and only 1000 selections – the UPSC exams
can seem like an insurmountable hurdle. But it can be crossed! In ‘UPSC Simplified’,
The Better India catches up with toppers to uncover the do’s and don’t for India’s
toughest exam. Follow the series for all the tips you need!

Rema Rajeshwari is an Indian Police Service officer serving in Telangana’s Mahbubnagar district. The first female IPS officer from Munnar, Kerala, Rema is a topper of the IPS batch of 2009.

She has been championing for child safety by educating rural children to break the silence around Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) and writes on a variety of subjects.

In conversation with The Better India, Rema tells us how to be better prepared for the UPSC examination.

Smart time management

Emphasising how important it is to manage time well, Rema says, “Being aware of how much time you have will save you from wasting crucial time and have an undivided focus on what needs to be read.”

Making and sticking to a schedule will also help aspirants a great deal. And once the art of managing time is learnt, each paper becomes an easy nut to crack, says Rema. Rema Rajeshwari

When she was an aspirant, she spent three months dedicated to covering the syllabus and kept aside 45 days for revision. “My focus was always on intense revision and frequent writing practice,” she recalls.

Three must-read books for aspirants

Rema mentions that while she was preparing for the exam, she relied heavily on NCERT books as well as a few reference books. Her recommendations for aspirants are as follows:

1. Indian History and Culture

A book based on NCERT textbooks, this book provides the aspirant with a complete and concise coverage of Indian history and culture. It also covers every topic from the IAS Prelims from the past 20 years.

2. Indian Polity – Lakshmikanth

Photo Source

A consistent bestseller, this is a go-to book that many previous aspirants refer. A ready reckoner on Indian polity, this book explains all concepts such as fundamental rights and duties; budget; state, central and local government; judiciary; constitutional bodies etc. in a very simple manner.

3. NCERT book for geography and G C Leong for maps

Photo Source

Geography constitutes a major part of the General Studies Paper, and Rema recommends using the NCERT textbooks for it as well as Goh Cheng Leong’s book on maps. It deals with questions related to physical geography and also contains elementary details on climate change, types of natural vegetation, mountain chains, deserts, and other natural phenomena.

Besides these, Rema also suggests that aspirants read the newspaper each day, along with all accessible Government of India policy documents.

How to choose the optional paper:

“Aptitude. Aptitude. Aptitude. Don’t go by what the market predicts and the crowd follows,” says Rema emphatically. It is essential that aspirants understand their strengths and choose a subject that is best suited to them.

Three tips for before you attempt the paper:

While the strategy and methodology adopted may differ for each aspirant, it is important to keep in mind certain things that will always come in handy.

1. Smart hard work

Be smart about the way you go about attempting the paper. While it is very individualistic, be clear about your strengths and weaknesses. Do not pay much heed to market predictions.

2. Revision

This is perhaps the key to be successful in any competitive examination. While you will be spending a lot of time studying, it is equally important to set aside time for revision. It will not only help reiterate the concepts but will also help you feel confident.

Rema states, “There is no limit on how much you should be revising.”

3. Stay up-to-date

Make it your life’s mission to know something about everything and be updated with all the current affairs.

With these pointers, we wish you all the best for the examinations!

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

You May Also Like: Heartwarming! Proud Constable Father Salutes His IPS Son, Says Work Comes First

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Worried About Air Pollution? These 5 Tips Will Ensure That You #BreatheEasy At Home!

This article has been sponsored by Godrej Properties.

There needs no mention that the air quality index (AQI) of Gurugram is at a constant ‘unhealthy’ mark, ranging upwards of 250 on most days. The Central Pollution Control Board says that such readings can impact those who are healthy and severely affect those with respiratory illnesses.

Take this year for example — right from the beginning, we have been talking about different ways people across the country are trying to fight pollution or to bring it to the attention of authorities. Be it an expectant mother from Delhi who made a moving appeal to fight air pollution by going for a unique maternity photo-shoot while wearing a mask; or a student of Class 6 developing a herbal anti-pollution mask made of native grass — it’s all hands on deck when it comes to fighting pollution.

However, while we know and complain about the pollution levels outside our homes, how many of us sit down to even think about the air quality inside our homes?

The smog and haze that you see outside is inside as well!

Picture for representation only. Source: Pixabay

Indoor air quality, however, is usually not measured and people have misconceptions that just by keeping the doors and windows closed, pollution won’t enter their homes.

Most people spend over 80 per cent of their time indoors – inside homes, offices, schools and colleges. “Indoor air pollution is as harmful as outdoor air pollution. The level of indoor air pollution is very high in our country, both in rural as well as urban areas, mainly because of overcrowding, poor ventilation, faulty design of dwellings and use of biomass fuel for cooking and indoor smoking,” Dr H S Sandeep, a Consultant Pulmonologist from Bengaluru, said in a report published in Economic Times.

One’s home is a special place and buying your own home is considered one of the most significant milestones in life. In 2012, a friend of mine bought her own home in Gurugram, in the NCR region. Three years later, she had a baby. But as the baby turned two, visits to the paediatrician began increasing. Her child had a constant cough, irritation in his throat, and watery eyes. There was nothing that his parents did not try to get him to feel better. Unfortunately, it all failed.

In December 2017, they met a doctor who wrote on the prescription in big, bold letters – POLLUTION.

From that day, it took my friend precisely 30 days to pack their bags and relocate to another city. While they had the luxury of doing that, many of us do not. So it is critical that we keep our homes as free from pollutants as possible.

Here are some ways in which you can give your lungs a break and make everyday living in your homes that much easier.

1. A little oxygen to your everyday life

Picture for representation only. Source: Unsplash

Houseplants add oxygen and moisture to the indoor air and help in removing pollutants such as volatile organic compounds that are released by carpeting and building materials. Houseplants like Areca palm, rubber plant and bamboo palm are considered great for this purpose.

A study conducted by NASA, published in 1989, found that indoor plants can scrub the air of cancer-causing volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde and benzene. Subsequent research found that soil microorganisms in potted plants also play a part in cleaning indoor air.

So make sure your home is plant-friendly.

2. Green Spaces

Most apartment complexes also come with a green patch. Make sure you work on maintaining it. They are, after all, one way to keep our lungs healthy.

The green space must also be accessible to all residents. Ideally, it should be a space everyone is involved in designing and maintaining. Taking ownership will ensure that people feel accountable to keep it clean and green.

Such a ‘lung space’, an open area, where the air can sweep in and sweep out, may not seem like a lot but it is critical for air circulation. It does not have to be a huge space, but any open space where air can blow over a lawn or between plants will make a big difference.

3. A dust-free home environment

Picture for representation only. Source: Pexels

While this sounds like an impossibility, certain easy changes can help significantly reduce the dust from creeping in. If you live on a higher floor, invest in getting good doors, which can keep out dust when kept shut. You can also do your bit by placing doormats at entrances, ensuring any pets are well-groomed, regularly dusting and vacuuming your mattress and pillows, along with cleaning the linen.

4. O2 lounges and Central Air Circulation

While this sounds very fancy, in our modern times, it is not complicated and should be something that could be incorporated into your apartment complex.

In case you think such places don’t exist, an example of this system is the new Godrej AIR. Literally a “breadth of fresh air” in Gurugram, these are homes that feature specially designed O2 lounges within their property, and many of the above features including air-purifying and medicinal plants, rainwater harvesting, natural air cleaners and more. Designed with the idea of homes that breathe better, live better, these can set an example for many across the country.

5. Make recycling and composting a part of your life

Picture for representation only. Source: Unsplash

Many of us live in vast apartment complexes with hundreds of houses. Have you ever wondered how much waste is generated in India?

According to the Press Information Bureau, India generates 62 million tonnes of waste (mixed waste containing both recyclable and non-recyclable waste) every year, with an average annual growth rate of 4%!

That’s a lot of waste! Most of this waste ends up being incinerated – finding its way into our lungs.

And it is possible to reduce this to zero. For example, an apartment in Mumbai went from an ordinary housing society to an entirely green one in just three months, with a self-sustaining waste management programme, which recycles kitchen waste into organic compost.

If your apartment has not moved to effective waste management systems yet, push for it to happen at the earliest. A dramatic drop in waste increases the amount of clean air flowing through the area, which helps everyone breathe easier.

A home is a space that is special to each one of us where we endeavour to spend quality time. And if we can remain healthy in the process, it’s incomparable happiness.

The availability of such an apartment complex in the city would have perhaps prevented my friend from having to pack her bags and leave.

To know more about #BreatheEasy, click here.

(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)

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Growing 50+ Veggies & Fruits at Home, Chennai Woman Makes Her Own Organic Soaps!

Welcome to My Garden Series by The Better India, where we feature stories about gardening and homebound farming initiatives submitted by our readers. If you have any stories to share as well, write to us at editorial@thebetterindia.com.

For Anju Agarwal, the love for gardening started right from her childhood days, as she grew up seeing her parents working in the kitchen garden of their bungalow in Mumbai.

Speaking to The Better India, she says, “There was never a need for us to purchase vegetables from the market as my parents grew anything and everything. From bottle gourds and beans to even capsicum, everything was grown here organically. So, I think that is where it all began,” she says

In 1993, Anju got married and moved to Chennai. Shuttling between household responsibilities and taking care of her children, there was never a free moment for her to invest in gardening or even consider the thought seriously.

It was finally in 2008 when the need to pursue the hobby returned to her life unexpectedly.

“Both my in-laws had taken ill and needed constant attention. It was a very stressful time, and I decided to take up gardening, as it was the only thing in the world that gave me utmost joy,” she remembers.

Today, Anju has a sprawling terrace garden of her own at her home, where she nurtures over 50 different varieties of vegetable and fruit-bearing plants as well as herbs, including different types of spinach, tomatoes, carrots and beetroot to spring onions, cabbages, cauliflowers, papaya, bananas, guava, lemons and sweet potatoes. She is truly carrying forward the legacy of her parents.

She even grows turmeric, which goes straight to her masala box in the kitchen after she has dried and powdered the bulbs!

“However, it took some time for me to understand how things worked, as climatic conditions in Chennai was quite different. I teamed up with some friends, who were as enthusiastic about gardening as I was, and learnt a lot. The process wasn’t just healing for me but also my father-in-law, who was very enthusiastic about what I was doing,” she happily shares.

Eight years later, Anju and her friends, Raghu Kumar and Shobha went on to establish The Organic Garden Foundation, an online forum that not only shares gardening hacks and solutions but also arranges terrace visits for enthusiasts, so that they can learn directly.

In a span of two years, the group has certainly managed to evolve as a community and has over 30,000 members!

One fun fact that Anju shares with us is that she can never really predict which plant in her garden is ready to be harvested.

“It’s a continuous process, and I keep experimenting with different crops all the time. Every once in a while, in addition to crop rotation, I try to air the soil to help it regain any lost nutrients. Like my parents, I too practice organic farming, and my husband has been the biggest support all these years. In fact, sometimes, I feel he is more involved in the kitchen garden than I am,” she laughs.

Besides meeting the culinary needs of her family, the garden produce also serves another purpose for Anju—she uses it to prepare organic soaps, and makes the essential oils herself! Credits: Anju’s Garden.

“These are naturally made handcrafted soaps from produces from my garden. Doing a little personal research, I learnt how to make these and here too, my husband pushed me to pursue it. From roses and calamine and aloe and turmeric, we have a range of organic soaps that you can purchase through Facebook,” she adds.

You may also like: From 6 Types of Basil to Passion Fruit, Kochi Woman’s Edible Garden Has It All!

If you wish to be part of The Organic Foundation, you can check them out on Facebook here. To purchase her soaps, you can also look up Anju’s gardening page on FB here.

(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

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After Insurance Denies Maternity Claim, B’Luru Lady’s 5-Year Battle Leads to Crucial Verdict

A Bengaluru-based techie has been embroiled in a legal battle for almost five years with a private insurance company.

Facts as we know them

In July 2013, the techie was 23-weeks pregnant with twins. On a routine ultrasound in Chennai, doctors established that she was suffering from severe preeclampsia and acute renal failure.

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy-related complication, characterised by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often, the liver and kidneys. Preeclampsia usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure had been normal until then. If left untreated, it can prove fatal.

With her condition worsening, doctors advised her to medically terminate the pregnancy to ensure that no harm is brought to her.

Representational Image (Source: By File photo, Canwest News Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)On July 22, 2013, she settled the bill, which amounted to almost Rs 1.5 lakh, and left the hospital after the procedure.

When she submitted the bills to raise a claim via her agent, the insurance company paid only Rs 24,313 and disallowed Rs 97,028 claiming that it was “policy excess”. The insurance company also told her that the policy was applicable only to live births.

Not wanting to accept this without a contestation, she filed a consumer complaint at the Bengaluru Urban District Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum.

After almost five years, the Forum has directed the insurance company to settle the claim and observed that childbirth does not indicate a living or dead child.

Three things to be aware of while opting for insurance:

1. According to a circular by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India, maternity expense includes any hospitalisation traceable to childbirth, as well as the medical termination of pregnancy and pre/post natal expenses.

2. The waiting period before one can avail the insurance cover depends on the company. It can, however, vary from two to four years, going up to six years in some cases.

Therefore, when choosing the policy, read the document and understand this carefully. It is also therefore necessary to buy this policy as soon as you can. Pregnant businesswoman working on a laptop. Photo Source

3. The age of the person claiming a maternity benefit cover is capped at 45. Also, termination of pregnancy within 12 weeks from the date of conception is not covered by the policy. Do note that ectopic pregnancies are not covered by the policy.

With these points in mind, do go through the fine print of various policies before choosing one that is best suited for your needs.

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

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Unemployed Pune Man Turns To Farming, Earns Rs 13 Lakh Growing Capsicum!

The village of Kadbanwadi in Pune’s Indapur taluka is known for two reasons. First, for being an Adarsh Gaon (model village) and second, for the man behind making it drought-proof–Bhajandas Pawar.

Once counted among 300 nondescript drought-prone villages in Maharashtra, where even drinking water was a luxury, Kadbanwadi moved on to having 100 farm ponds, three percolation tanks, 27 cement nala bunds, and 110 earthen bunds.

All thanks to the continuous efforts of the retired teacher.

It was this love and passion for the betterment of the village, agriculture and the environment that Bhajandas passed down to his son, Vijayrao. Vijayrao Pawar

Growing up, Vijayrao studied in the same school where his father taught.

But after completing his BSc in Agriculture from the College of Agriculture in Pune in 2010, he decided to enter the Maharashtra Public Service Commission. Agriculture took a backseat, and the young man decided to study for the same at the Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth.

Two years had passed, but despite attending rounds of interviews, Vijayrao couldn’t get a job.

Disheartened, he returned to his village.

He worked at a petrol pump for a while. But realised it was wasting his agricultural degree.

He recalls, “I knew I couldn’t take up traditional farming because it wasn’t financially viable. I had learned about controlled farming, which is also known as polyhouse farming. But despite having a degree in agriculture, I hadn’t practically used the method until then.”

At this point in our conversation, he mentions the irony of how the BSc Agriculture course is taught in colleges. “My classmate, who was the topper of the batch, once told me that she had never set her foot or even gotten her hands dirty working in a field. So, it is indeed unfortunate.”

But that did not stop the young man from stepping up for the challenge. “It is only when we use practically all that we have learned in theory, can new-generation farmers become successful,” he says.

And that is exactly what he did.

What is polyhouse farming?

Polyhouse farming refers to a controlled and protected method of farming inside a structure, where a variety of flowers and/or vegetables are grown.

The way in which it differs from traditional farming is that crops in an open field cannot withstand adverse weather conditions like heavy rains, scorching heat or extreme cold.

But crops inside a polyhouse grow regardless of the weather conditions, because the atmosphere can be artificially controlled with motorised screens and ventilators to facilitate crop growth. Also, the poly film on the structure doesn’t allow even a drop of rain to enter the structure.

While the initial cost of setting up is high, it extends the life cycle of the crop, produces better yield and is water-efficient (since it mostly uses drip irrigation).

From vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries, bottle gourds, cabbages, and capsicums, high-end decorative flowers like chrysanthemums, roses and carnations can also be cultivated in polyhouse.

Speaking to The Better India, Vijayrao adds, “I attended a one-week workshop at the Horticulture Training Centre in Pune. After that, I applied for a loan of Rs 30 lakh from the bank under the National Horticulture Mission Scheme. After my loan was approved, I set up a polyhouse in a 1-acre land at Shelgaon.”

This was in February 2018.

He spent another ten lakh rupees for the raw material which included soil, drip irrigation, ropes, and other facilities.

His market research had shown that coloured capsicums earned good returns, and so he decided to grow the yellow and red varieties of the exotic vegetable. The first harvest followed in mid-April, where it procured Rs 35-40 per kg.

And while the returns didn’t seem too profitable at first, today, he earns Rs 170 per kg for these coloured capsicums.

Apart from Pune, he also exports them to Delhi and Mumbai.

In the last ten months, the young farmer has managed to earn Rs 13 lakh!

Also, his impressive work in the polyhouse was inspected by government authorities from the agriculture department, earning him a subsidy of Rs 18 lakh!

“Setting up a polyhouse may seem like an expensive investment at the start. But over time, it not only helps you recover your initial investment but also earn good profits,” says Vijayrao.

He continues, “Ideally, once you plant the saplings, they have a life cycle of nearly a year and can bear about 40 tonnes of produce. My polyhouse has yielded 30 tonnes from February to December. I am hoping for ten more tonnes of capsicum till February 2019.”

Govt officers at the inspection for subsidy

When asked how he keeps pests at bay, Vijayrao answers, “I maintain a 50-50 ratio between bio-pesticides and chemical ones. Chemical pesticides or fertilisers can damage crops and kill important bacteria that improve the fertility of the soil. But there are several pests and crop diseases that cannot be controlled with organic pesticides alone. So, I maintain a balance.”

To farmers, he says,

“We have seen adverse and uncertain climate conditions ruin acres of crops. In a scenario like this, polyhouse cultivation is not only a safe choice for your crops but also a method that guarantees income. Try to break away from traditional farming and get into the market to understand what the consumer needs. Use your theoretical knowledge practically to grow these crops. And you will only earn profits.”

Vijayrao’s polyhouse attracts a host of farmers from across the district. They come to him to seek guidance and information about replicating the model. And just like his father, the young man readily agrees to help all those who come to him.

If you have questions about polyhouse cultivation, get in touch with him on pawarso12@gmail.com.

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

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“We Are Humans Too”: A Delhi Doctor Shares What It Takes To Become One

Two years ago, I came up with my first book, Chronicles of a Gynaecologist. A woman-centric book, it focused on two sections of the society I fought passionately for – women and doctors.

They suffered from stereotypes, and I wanted people to know the harsh realities behind the closed sanitised walls of a hospital or their seemingly simpler lives.

Although the book received critical acclaim, my mission was far from over.

Why?

The doctor-patient relationship is on a downfall, leading to a deficit in respect and trust.

Picture for representation only. Source: Unsplash

While most professions deal with machines and technologies, medicine is the only profession that deals with human beings. The human body is not a computer and does not follow set rules. It still abounds with mystery, and though we have been successful in deciphering it to an extent, we are far from decoding all the secrets of this masterpiece.

A dark manifestation of this issue is the state of Indian doctors. While Indian doctors have been winning accolades worldwide for their exemplary work, they have been facing a lot of hostility.

Lately, there has been an unprecedented rise of violence against doctors. According to a study by the Indian Medical Association, over 75% of doctors have faced violence at work.

A lady doctor in Tuticorin was killed by the husband of a pregnant woman who was admitted in a serious condition. She was referred to another hospital but died before she could be shifted. The husband entered the consultation chamber of the lady doctor with three accomplices and attacked her with a sword.

In 2014, in Mansa district of Punjab, a doctor’s clinic was burnt down following the death of a boy who was referred to a tertiary hospital but died.

One of the factors that contribute to this poor image of doctors is the sensationalisation of every news item, often ignoring the crucial details that exonerate a doctor in an incident of alleged medical negligence. Dr Tripti Sharan.

Suspicious, non-trusting patients put doctors on guard. And defensive, fearful doctors are not in the best interests of a country that still suffers from the deficit of doctors. There is an immediate need to improve this relationship.

One way of doing so is to increase awareness about the journey of medical students, which in turn, can increase empathy towards the medical fraternity. The public needs to be made aware of how medical students survive in redundant infrastructure, poor resources, the hostile environment of unreasonable expectations from society, yet stay strong and compassionate.

Also Read: One Doctor Looks Back at 7 Decades of Progress Made in India’s Rapidly Changing Medical Field

I looked for a book that would tell people about the making of a doctor. But I did not find any.

While literature abounds with books on the lives of engineers, IIT students, lawyers, politicians, sportspersons, soldiers, there were very few that told the story of doctors.

This was despite the number of years that medical students give to their profession. It easily takes up to ten years to become a specialist. It takes two more years to become a super-specialist and a couple more years for practical training.

Adding to their woes are the inhuman duty hours, pathetic living conditions and poor infrastructure in government hospitals. Reeling under the crisis, a medical student is expected to provide exemplary medical service, while appearing for the toughest and most competitive exams in the country.

This inspired me to write about the world of medicine. And so, my new book was born.

In the process, I remembered my own journey; the patients who had taught me beyond books, the seniors who had held my hands, the juniors who had stood by me, the tiffs with the administration, the family members who got sidelined.

The tea breaks, the sleep-deprived nights, and the first cry; they all came rushing through.

 

Dr Tripti Sharan with her new book.

 

I relived my pain on losing a patient to severe haemorrhage just after she had delivered her baby.
Medicine had its lows but there is no high greater than saving lives – and many were saved. It all brought a whimsical smile.

Obstetrics is a tough and demanding branch, fraught with litigations. There was money, but it came at a cost. Most gynaecologists paid it with their time. No wonder many young doctors were now opting for safer pastures, which gave them a better quality of life. And I also remembered the challenges we faced as women in our learning years.

Barring gynaecology and obstetrics, every other department was presumably about “brains”. We were pretty much projected as midwives. This was the worst slur. Probably it was about being a ‘women’s department’ and therefore suffered from gender insensitivity. The reality was so very different.

We learnt the harsh realities of the society when we saw pregnant women succumb to preventable diseases such as anaemia, even as their husbands and relatives refused to donate blood for them.
This was a world that challenged us as we struggled with stereotypes and misogyny. It frustrated as much with prejudices and the social bigotry as the fury wrecked by anaemia, haemorrhage, eclampsia and unsafe abortions. The pain of seeing young lives lost to preventable diseases left deep scars.

And then another memory arose – my night duties!

There was something so comforting about seeing the hospitals at night, swathed in yellow light, minus the hustle and bustle of the day. With relatives gone home and most patients resting, the emergency staff beating their biological clock and still looking energetic, the building looked almost inviting.

At times, the peace and serenity belied the tensions underneath as if the hospital also wanted to forget its turbulent activities and sleep over its daylong turmoil. And, as one welcomed ‘life’ in the early hours after the night had ‘laboured’ long enough, nothing could beat the morning cup of tea!

We were the house surgeons, the anonymous faces in a ‘house of doctors’, straight in the line of fire from a ‘house of patients’.

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And then, I recalled the feeling of pride, as the young medicos took baby steps, revelled in their profession, fluttered their wings to herald the birth of a new avatar…a doctor!

I entered again, the ‘House of doctors’.

You can buy ‘House of Doctors’ here.

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This Resourceful Andhra Teacher Has Over 44,000 Subscribers on YouTube. Here’s Why!

No two flowers are alike, and the same is true for children and their learning abilities. While some are quick learners and quickly grasp what they are taught, there are others who require a little more than just basic blackboard teaching.

Well, this primary teacher from Rajahmundry is taking education beyond the confines of textbooks and rote learning. She has been successfully tapping into the potential of visual media and YouTube to teach not just her own students but over 44,000 people who have subscribed to her channel!

M Manga Rani hails from Murari, a village near Rajahmundry, and ventured into teaching after completing her graduation in Computer Science. What started out as an initiative to simplify teaching, soon led to the creation of a YouTube channel named Mangarani Lessons six years back.

The videos that she creates and uploads herself, every week, are extremely popular and students of the primary section of the Sri Naga Raja Special Municipal High School, eagerly wait to see them. Manga Rani with her students.

So what led this dedicated teacher go the extra mile?

Well, the idea of using videos first occurred to her when she realised that her kids were struggling to learn Telugu at school.

“Teaching has to be fun, and using videos in a creative and engrossing manner not only helps children grasp things quickly but also makes them want to learn more.
Most of the videos I’ve created comprise rhymes, which allow them to sing along while there are others where concepts like subtraction in Mathematics or opposites in English are explained in an engaging manner,” Manga Rani says to The Better India.

Starting in 2012, she learnt everything from scratch. All her videos are shot on her smartphone, and she takes two nights to create one using online editing software after she returns from school.

Interestingly, many teachers from across the country have reached out to congratulate her on these efforts, and also to inform her that they use the videos in their classes, to great acclaim! The teacher on work, along with her children.

“All the videos have been designed as per the school curriculum and I sometimes also use audio material provided by the government. I’ve personally seen a transformation in the kids because of these videos, and that led me to think, why not share it with the world too? The response on YouTube has been incredibly endearing, and I feel happy,” the 35-year-old proudly adds.

Manga Rani has been in the teaching field for over eight years now and happily gives credit to her husband for being encouraging and supportive right from the start. Her daughter and son help out by doing voice-overs in the videos.

You may also like: Need an Inspirational Teacher? Viral Picture from Rajasthan Will End Your Search

Manga Rani’s commitment to her profession and her keenness to make a special effort is genuinely incredible and deserves to be widely recognised. We hope she inspires other teachers and go beyond their walls of the classroom to make learning fun and memorable for kids!

You can check out her YouTube channel, Mangarani Lessons here.

(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

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Gutsy Kerala IAS Officer Shuts Down Illegal Quarries, Rescues Abused Elderly

In December 2017, firebrand IAS officer Dr Renu Raj, the sub-collector of Thrissur at the time, received an anonymous call.

“It was information from a hilly part of Thrissur. ‘There is illegal mining happening here madam’, the anonymous caller said. When I asked these informants to give the complaint in writing, they refused. They were scared about repercussions,” recalls the doctor-turned-IAS officer.

And yet, the gutsy officer was determined to solve the mystery. So she led a raid. One of the raids.

Around 4 am, alongside her team of officers, she embarked on the mission. As they were approaching the said area, they saw seven speeding lorries carrying granite stones.

They stopped the lorries and began to interrogate the drivers.

Before the befuddled drivers could contact their comrades to stop sending the other lorries, the team seized their phones and keys. Police officials were called to keep an eye on the seized vehicles.

“We followed the directions and found even more heavy-duty vehicles. We seized the trucks and kept policemen and revenue officials at the spot to ensure they couldn’t escape.”

The real shock was awaiting them 10-12 km ahead.

She explains,

“Quarries are dangerous because they have small entrances and a vast area inside. If you get trapped, it is difficult to exit, since the entry and exit points are the same, situated close to water bodies. We reached the quarry and had to climb up for another ten minutes. When we were reaching the top, we saw two people trying to escape from another side. It set the red flags. Something was fishy. When we ran to the area, we saw explosives, mining equipment, excavators and jackhammers, set up to explode the area for more granite stones.”

The team tried to chase the men in the settlements close to the area, but couldn’t find them. The police were notified, and all the explosives were seized. The bomb squad was alerted to ensure that the explosives did not detonate, and the quarry was shut down. It belonged to the family of a known Panchayat president, who was also the leader of a political party.

Starting at 4 am, the operation ended at 2 pm!

From raiding illegal old age homes to quarries owned by powerful men, in three years of being in service, the IAS officer Dr Renu Raj (from the 2015 batch) has made headlines. And we must say, for all the right reasons!

This is her story. IAS Dr Renu Raj

Born to a District Transport Officer of Kottayam District and a homemaker in Kottayam, Kerala, Renu was excellent at academics. After completing school in the city, and Class 12 in Thrissur, she joined the Government Medical College in Kottayam.

It was during her internships that she realised that she wanted to do more than treat people and their bodily ailments. It was as if a forgotten childhood dream was beckoning her to join the civil services.

She recalls, “I respect the noble profession of medicine. But as I met people from different backgrounds walking in and out of the hospital and tended to their illnesses, my interest in their backgrounds, living conditions, access to basic rights, etc grew. I felt I could do a lot more for them as a civil servant. And so, I decided to listen to my heart and pursue my childhood dream.”

After her internship, Renu moved to Thiruvananthapuram where she dedicated a full year to prepare for the coveted Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam. She even worked part-time as a doctor until the mains result.

Speaking about her preparation, she adds, “Initially, I was all over the place and confused, just like beginner aspirants. I started studying for my prelims and mains together. I did not stress too much on the result at first, because I knew I had a professional degree to fall back on. Also, I did not prepare for too many exams; I had my eyes set on the goal and gave it my best shot.”

Renu, who was unsure at first about clearing the exam in the first attempt, had also registered for the second attempt. But when the results arrived, she was in for a surprise.

That year, Dr Renu Raj made national headlines with an All-India Rank of 2!

She adds how her parents have been her biggest pillars of support, who even shifted to Thiruvananthapuram when she was preparing, so she wouldn’t lose focus or have to fret over accommodation or food.

Fast-forward to her journey as a young bureaucrat.

What is the biggest stereotype about entering the service, I ask her.

“When we are outside the system, we often think that it is easy for bureaucrats to do whatever they want to do, leverage their power or make changes. While it is true that you can bring about change, you also need to understand that you are entering a system that has been in existence for years. And change happens, but only by following a procedure. The concept that everything changes at the snap of a finger is not true. It requires a lot of work and focus.”

She continues, “But you come to a very responsible position at a very young age. The position you stand in demands maturity and responsibility beyond your age.”

While she trained in Kochi for ten months before the academy training at Mussoorie, her first independent posting was in Thrissur.

It was here that she worked tremendously for senior citizens, a segment of the population in the state that is double that of the national average.

She informs, “During my posting, we would get almost 35-40 cases each month, of children abandoning their parents at old age homes, hospitals or temples.”

And while the Senior Citizen Maintenance Act of 2008 is existent in all states, compliance was an issue. The IAS officer created a group of ten conciliation officers. These were people from different walks of life, like retired government officers and educationists, who volunteered to mediate between broken families, convincing children to take their parents home.

“We could sort a lot of cases. In some, we were able to persuade the children to look after the parents and if not that, pay for their maintenance up to Rs 10,000 per month. In cases where the children still disagreed but had received land from their parents, we got the ownership back.”

To ensure that the grievances of the senior citizens were addressed, the Collectorate also started a different room with conciliation officers on the ground floor, since the building had no elevators. This was to accommodate the elderly who would find it difficult to climb the stairs.

When she received the information that an unlicensed old age home in Thrissur city was extorting money from the elderly to the tune of Rs 20,000 per month and non-refundable deposits to the tune of Rs 2.5-3 lakh without any receipts, she led a raid on the home.

She shares, “We were told that the home locked elderly persons inside a room. Bedridden and suffering from dementia and similar conditions, these elderly were not even given proper food. When we raided the premises, we found one male and two females, two of whom did not have any documents. We rescued them and sealed the home. The elderly were then sent to a government-run facility.”

The cherry on the top was that the team was able to track the children of these elderly, some of whom despite being abroad, came down. The conciliation officers were able to convince them to take their ailing parents home.

She recalls, “We did not fight or argue with them, just told them that all the money they were spending on their care could be used to give them a more homely atmosphere, if they hired caretakers at their own homes. The elderly citizens were moved and thanked us. It was very emotional.”

It was also under her tenure that a mega medical camp in collaboration with Amruta Hospitals was conducted, which saw a footfall of 2,000 senior citizens; treatment was given on the spot, and 250 free surgeries were conducted later.

The illegal quarry raid in December 2017 also brought her to public limelight. When asked about the reaction of the locals after the quarry was shut down, she says, “They collectively thanked us, adding how these explosions in the nights would scare their children. Even their windows were cracked, and none of them had the courage to complain. This operation brought our work to the limelight, and we were able to carry out similar operations elsewhere too.”

Read More: UP IAS Officer Makes Time to Teach Govt School Kids, Inspires 700 Citizens To Do Same!

Dr Renu Raj was pitted against powerful men. Were there repercussions?

She reveals, “I was told there would be problems, not just due to political pressure, but because many of the quarries that we shut down were owned by financially powerful people. But I found that once an officer proves that they are credible, nobody dares to threaten them directly. To be honest, I expected repercussions, but nothing happened. It reinstated my faith in the system too.”

The young officer, who has now taken charge of Devikulam (Munnar), is now focused on two problem areas in the district. Notably, she is also the first woman officer to be posted in the area.

“I am determined to follow a twin approach for Devikulam. The illegal encroachments and constructions will be one area I will look into, and the second is the social issues of the tea-plantation workers. Many of them struggle with employment, have no land or basic education. There are several tribal hamlets too. Only when we crack down on illegal encroachments, will we be able to reclaim government land and give it to the marginalised communities that need it the most. Also, I want to work for the development of women and children, a sector that often gets overlooked due to other existing issues,” she signs off.

And we wish the brave officer the very best! May her tribe grow!

If this story inspired you, get in touch with Dr Renu Raj at 94470 26452.

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

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This Mom of 2 Girls with Autism is Using Baking to Empower Her Kids & Many Others

Life has been an adventure for Sangeetha Chakrapani, who quit her corporate job to settle in as a happy homemaker for 15 years in Mumbai. A parent to quadruplets—Krishna, Jayashree, Lakshmi, and Jayanthi, everything changed for Sangeetha when her daughters, Lakshmi and Jayanthi, were diagnosed with autism at the age of two.

Although it took her a few years to come to terms with the situation, it certainly made her understand that it did not have to be the end-all. There can be hopes and dreams for her daughters and herself.

For her, the journey of Together Foundation primarily began as a mother.

What is Together Foundation? Cookie wrapping in progress.

Together Foundation is a non-profit organisation that started in Mumbai in 2015. It works with people with autism and other intellectual impairments, preparing them for independent living in a dynamic, experience-based environment. It aims to help them navigate their lives through the simple things that we take for granted – self-help, personal hygiene, food preparation, meaningful work, leisure time and communication.

The Foundation, primarily, is a bakery with a range of products like cookies, chocolates, tea cakes, and laddoos, as well as sugar-free and vegan products.

Naturally, they have an FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) certification, with a clear outlook of being on par with industry standards, especially regarding quality and professionalism.

The mission of the Foundation is to build the life, communication, and work skills of the intellectually impaired, by giving them a shelter-employment workshop, through baking and various related activities, where they earn for the work they do.

But, the most important factor is to ensure that intellectually-impaired people can cope with life beyond their caretakers, happily.

The Challenges Manufacturing of paper plates.

“It all started with just one microwave,” says Sangeetha, who knew little about baking. She jokes, “I didn’t even know what chocolate chips were and thought that they were like any other chips like Lays that came in a chocolate flavour.”

Before the Foundation was founded, a company named Purato opened its gates for Sangeetha and her students to bake every Saturday for a whole year! That is when she realised that teaching once a week wouldn’t be enough and that she must teach for at least 4-5 days a week.

And that was when she met her second challenge—that of space. She gives immense credit to her husband, who not only offered her a space to set up the bakery but also transformed the place with adequate sunlight and colours, just the way she wanted it.

Work continued with the addition of one more microwave.

Check out some of the products made by Together Foundation on The Better India Shop!

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Nonetheless, it went on for a year, when finally, HDFC sponsored them with baking equipment, and for their surprise, also offered them a commercial oven for quick and easy baking.

This completely transformed the bakery.

And there was no looking back after that.

At present, the Foundation has expanded to paper plate manufacturing, paper bag block printing, and also opened a shop–the first to be managed by people with special needs and registered under the Shop & Establishment Act.

Sangeetha explains how professional the Foundation is and why it is an important thing for them. “When you work professionally, it helps you rise to the expectations and standards, which certainly gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment in your work.”

The Foundation is a training centre that comprises 16 young adults who participate in activities like baking, packing, designing paper plates etc. Attendance and CCTV monitoring helps them consider each employee’s working hours.

Down the memory lane The students at Together See Foundation.

There is a great dignity of labour and a sense of acceptance among people with disabilities, she notes.

She recollects a day when she had a visitor who was coming down especially to see her work. It was pouring heavily and the staff members had not yet reported to the centre.

That is when 20-year-old Alby, one of her students, rose to the occasion.

She shares, “He swept the centre, cleared the garbage, dusted the place and made it look amazing. And he did all of it with a smiling face. There wasn’t even a small sign of reluctance.”

Keeping up the professional standards, Sangeetha says, “We do not allow the students to eat while baking, that’s a strict rule we follow–that while baking or packing that you cannot put a morsel in your mouth.”

There is a lot of innocence and beauty in their world. It was one such event, when one of her students, Krishna, took a step forward, during a customer visit. Customers asked Krishna how the cake tasted, to which he replied, “Hume nahi pata, hume kabhi khane ka mauka hi nahi mila. (I don’t know, I never got a chance to taste it).”

And that was when they huddled up for an internal meeting, where it was decided that they would be provided with samples of their work, at the end of each day.

How can you help? Lakshmi at work.

Sangeetha’s daughters Lakshmi and Jayanthi, now 14, undergo vocational training at Together Foundation.

Lakshmi is the senior Chef Assistant, a hard-working baker who loves to bake, and an ardent fan of Shah Rukh Khan. Jayanthi works in bakery support.

Happily enough, Lakshmi and Jayanthi are slowly but surely making their way ahead through hard work.

Together Foundation is not just for people with special needs but a place where boundaries are truly dissolved.

A long-term goal of creating a group home that would provide lifetime care for individuals with disabilities stays strong in their aspirations list.

Inspired by this story?

Check out some of the products made by Together Foundation on The Better India Shop!

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To know more, write to them on togethersee@gmail.com or call them on 70211 84634.

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

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