19 Sep 2016

Losing its lustre – The copper art of Ladakh

Ladakh is a land of stunning beauty. This Himalayan region has a unique landscape as it is the highest desert of the world, rain shadowed from rest of the Kashmir state. Until recently, Ladakh remained untouched and unexplored due to its remoteness. This allowed a variety of unique art and culture to evolve and flourish in the region.One such art is of handcrafting metals in Ladakh. No one can say for sure who introduced this art here but the artisans in villages of Ladakh have been doing this since centuries.

We went for a 6 days trip to Ladakh as part of an expedition by Mountain Homestays. We trekked through Himalayas visiting and staying in various village homestays. Our last village of stay was Tsogsty where we spent an entire day. Here we met a 65 year old metal artisan named Thetan Wangya, who has been practicing copper art since he was 25.

handcrafting metals in Ladakh
He has a very small workshop where he sits on a small cushion surrounded by all sorts of tools he uses for his work. He showed us a small coal fire and a blower that he uses to melt and shape the copper sheets. He also uses silver and zinc in his work.

handcrafting metals in Ladakh

He usually does this work in winters when due to cold weather outside he can’t do anything else. In summers he will have his farms to take care and also he works on his wooden products like showels etc which he sells to other farmers.

handcrafting metals in Ladakh

While talking about the challenges and effort of his work on metals Thetan ji mentioned us that the younger generation is not taking this art and it will die very soon. He showed us his art, the kettles that he makes, Each kettle usually takes 2-3 weeks of time. A lot of this work involves beating and shaping of metal sheets. And as the returns are less, the younger people prefer to travel to Leh and do some other better paying work.

handcrafting metals in Ladakh

On our further survey we found this village has only 2 copper artisans, both above 60yr old. The art has vanished from many villages of Ladakh and is now left only to 2 other villages. At one of the village, named Sumda Chenmo, there is only 1 artisan left. This data was very sad as we will be losing this age old heritage in next few decades if no steps are taken soon.

Many villages in Ladakh do not have electricity as of now. Thetan mentioned how having electricity can ease his work and also encourage the youth to stay in the village and embrace this art. With my team at Mountain Homestays we are also trying to find alternatives for these artisans to save this art. On one side we want to introduce some more designs and products that could be made without losing the essence of this art. On other side we plan to create a better market access for these products as well.

For any suggestions about improving this art and participating with us to save this heritage do write back to us: info@mountainhomestays.com

(Written by Gaganpreet Singh, a passionate adventurer and nature lover. He quit his corporate job to lead Mountain Homestays, with the vision to do community empowerment through ecotourism)

7 Jul 2015

VYAPAM Scam - the Outrage and the Undercurrents

Dr. Anand Rai is a medical practitioner based in Indore. He couldn’t keep himself isolated from the news of forged admissions and large scale corruption in MP state agency conducted pre medical test (Madhya Pradesh PMT). The state agency under question was Madhya Pradesh VYAvsayik PAriksha Mandal (popularly referred to by its acronym VYAPAM). He filed an FIR in Indore Court and based on the hearings one of the kingpins of the scam Jagdish Sagar was arrested by MP Police. Jagdish Sagar later threatened Anand Rai in the same court premise. There were several such stated or implicit threats issued to Dr. Rai from people who were either already arrested or were being investigated by the Police. Dr. Anand Rai asked for the Police protection citing a threat to his life under witness protection law. Initially he was refused any such protection. Later, once the issue started showing its true proportions, he was granted a Police security, albeit he had to pay for this protection from his own pocket.

Madhya Pradesh VYAvsayik PAriksha Mandal VYAPAM

This is the story of a man who was key to exposing one of the most intriguing scams in recent memory. The way law keepers and concerned authorities reacted to the threat to his life raises a number of questions. Did they not know the deep rooted stench that may have been present in the case, possibly involving people from highest corridors of power, or did they know this all too well and decided that discouraging the act of such whistle blowing was a prudent way to safeguard those involved?

Nevertheless, the scam has manifested itself in its truer form ever since. This is a very curious case in the sense that it did not surface through the bites of overnight sensational revelations. Earliest reports that VYAPAM was missing a decent bone or two in its functioning started appearing in 2004. From 2009, these reports started gaining a new lease of momentum when the sheer number of people involved ensured that the cozy club of beneficiaries could not be trusted to safeguard the shady details of scam. There was a vortex of breakdown of information – sometimes from middlemen, professionals who had allegedly joined government services with questionable credentials, students, and even parents. A few mysterious deaths of those who had links to VYAPAM soon followed. But we waited. We waited because the deaths were not significant in number and hence threshold of pan India attention was still not around.

VYAPAM Scam Deaths
source (focusnews.com)
But that scenario has changed now, some media reports put the number of people associated with VYAPAM scam who have died after investigation were initiated to as high as 48. MP administration itself admits that there have been around 28 deaths. We can reasonably put the actual number somewhere in between. Of these deaths, at least 12 have been reported to have occurred under mysterious circumstances. For example the case of Dr. D. K. Sakalley, who was the dean of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Medical College - he first took a medical leave from his college and then later allegedly immolated himself in his own backyard. There are several other examples where nature of deaths can’t be dismissed as natural without raising an eyebrow.

These deaths have given fuel to the public outcry and media outrage to the scam. There are multipronged demands from opposition parties both from within and outside the state to hand over the investigation to CBI and let it be monitored by Supreme Court. State government says that the investigation is currently monitored by High Court and is driven by a High Court constituted SIT and STF (Special Task Force) – and that handing over this case to Supreme court will not only undermine its own state agencies but will also amount to contempt of the High Court.

But beyond this almost familiar chorus of an Indian scam, there are some uncomfortable questions nobody is willing to own. Dr. Anand Rai’s expose was made early in 2013 and the matter was being actively investigated. VYAPAM was at the center of this brewing storm. There was little doubt that some of its own people, entrusted with the critical task of feeding state government with administrative cadres are conniving to fill up their coffers. But even in the face of such distrust, all the non IAS based exams were folded under the preview of VYAPAM by MP government in the same year. This was a decision rooted in contradictions. Government could have waited for a few years to let VYAPAM clear its name from the scandal and then could have proceeded with transferring even more powers to the commission. The same year witnessed something even more unique – Madhya Pradesh became the first and only state to remove physical fitness marks from police cadre test. This category of test was relegated to ‘qualifying’ criteria and it didn’t matter how well you performed in the test itself. Effectively all the marks were now being given during written tests and interviews. Voices were raised against this move and many failed to understand the rationale behind such a decision.

source (thehindu.com) 
Some state medical colleges did a commendable jobs of reporting any suspect admission to state authority, with a copy each sent to Chief Minister himself between 2011 and 2013. They called out the students’ name and roll numbers in their reports to state authorities. Despite this, however, the Chief Minister said in the assembly that he was not aware of a single student securing admission through unfair means under VYAPAM. Opposition and some whistleblowers have accused the ruling administration of being party to a larger conspiracy – the attempt to inject its cadres in the key administrative and bureaucratic positions. These positions, once filled, continue to be served by the person for around thirty years unlike political incumbency which goes under ballot hammer every five years.

The arrest of Jagdish Sagar, based on the PIL of Dr. Anand Rai, brought major information related to the scam to public preview. Jagdish Sagar had once sold his wife’s Mangalsutra to complete his medical education. Later in his career, this little known man from Gwalior amassed such an empire of illicit connections and wealth that left MP Police baffled and scrambling for answers. During a particular raid at his residence, millions of Rupees of cash and records of at least thirty properties at various places were recovered. During interrogation he quoted below ongoing rates for the admissions under the VYAPAM scam:

·         Conductor in transport department – 15-20 lacs
·         Food inspector – 20-25 lacs
·         Sub inspector – 15-22 lacs

The modus operandi of scam was simple and varied – and speaks of the confidence that the involved people had while altering established norms of admissions. Some students had their exam entrance cards tweaked and photos changed to an impersonator. The impersonator would often charge a hefty amount for appearing in the exam on behalf of students and ensuing that the students cleared the entrance tests. These photos were later restored to originals after exams. In other cases a person was strategically seated between two students and allowed them to copy the responses. There were also instances where students left their answer sheets empty which were later filled up by middleman and VYAPAM officials.

Everything was possible provided you had the deep pockets to fund it.

Official numbers put such questionable government employees who cleared the test by unfair means to more than a thousand. Moreover over five hundred medical doctors have allegedly cheated in the exams to get in to medical colleges. Over two thousand five hundred FIRs have been filed against people across multiple districts of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Some reports suggest that at least eight state level professional entrance exams were tampered between 2009 and 2010.

These are damning numbers, and unsurprisingly state government and by extension even the central government of the day find themselves in a tight spot. There are more dirty linens expected to be washed in public. Exposes and counter exposes, media bites and revealing testimonies are going to occupy much of the print and television media space in coming days. People are aghast with yet another reinforcement of their skepticism in government functioning – that everything is rotten from top down and only high and mighty get their way in today’s influence driven world.

But there is also a risk that we may miss the larger picture amid all the brewing storm. Who were the people, now conveniently termed as ‘victims’ of the scam, who bribed middlemen and officials to secure their children a seat in government jobs? Who were the people who crossed all the barriers of ethics, and let themselves be driven by greed, insecurity, and deceit of a comfortable and upward mobile life? They formed a nexus with the more than willing middlemen, giving shape to a Kraken of a scam in which everyone seemed to be winning, but everyone eventually has lost. In their moment of misplaced judgement, they chose to abandon all sense of proprietary and did the exact same thing they have been accusing political and administrative elite of doing.

This indicates to a rot that runs deep in our conscious, we as masses are susceptible to lure of short term gains and allow ourselves to be corrupted at the slightest of possibilities. No wonder then, that the political and administrative leadership show us the mirror of our intentions, albeit in a scale and manner befitting their clout. No wonder then, that such scams have repeatedly surfaced, not only in Madhya Pradesh but in places like Haryana and Bihar where parents have been shown to be a consenting party to this sinister pattern.

source (indianexpress.com)
Intriguing trend of deaths may be giving VYAPAM an odd sense of public attention and we should therefore brace for a lot of self-righteous comments and coverage from people sitting on the high chairs on their judgment. But the real question is whether we have the courage and conviction to point out where the real blame lies? Why do official believe that they will find enough people interested in such murky dealings to make it a multi-million Dollar scam every time? What gives them the confidence with which the launch such shady enterprises? Do they know of our frailties and motivations better than us? Or are we just plain hypocrite to admit to our own shortcomings? 

(Written by Manish Jha, an Alumnus of IIIT Hyderabad and currently working with Microsoft as Program Manager. He is also associated with a social initiative 'Joy of Reading')

2 Jul 2015

Spotlight : Ordinances,Indian Constitution, Indian Parliament and the Largest Democracy

The power to make ordinances is an extraordinary device that is enumerated in article 123 of the constitution and is a device that should be used sparingly to deal with such situations when both the houses of the Parliament are not in session. Thus the framers  of the constitution  of India  made it as a device through  which  laws can be made but it  act  as a device  that  is just kept  under the parliamentary  supremacy . Thus Parliament  is the way to make laws for  the union and it should  be fair to adopt  a  system  of passing  of bills  in the Parliament rather  than making  executive  orders. It is the way to make the will of the people high rather than encompassing despotic ways though they are entitled for a few days or to a few months.

Ordinances in Indian Constitution
source (wsj.com)
The Parliament of India is the place to make laws and is represented by the people directly or indirectly. Thus the framers brought such a great power to make laws with the Parliament. Thus as the President  of India  mentioned  that  the government  should  use the device  of the Parliament  to pass the bills because  it can make discussions,  which  is a great  process regarding   the democracy  in India.

The process of passing   a bill in the Parliament of India is a great process.  It is composed of many steps and so it takes a great time to pass a bill in the Parliament. It can make general public to understand  the policies  of  the government  and in the case of the current  government,  it can create  an assessment  regarding  the policy shift from the previous  government. Thus through  proper discussion  within  the public , it can make  public  opinion ,  which  is a great  directive  in a democracy.
Ordinances in Indian Constitution
source (prsindia.org)
The discussion  within  the Parliament  can avail  a situation  in which, the parliamentarians should  be familiar  with  the  governmental  policies. Through discussing it, proper suggestions will be prompted with solutions from the experts and from the opposition too. Such discussions can make  opposition  to understand  the interest of government regarding  such  policies and through  such understanding  the opposition  can discharge  their role fairly.

Ordinances in Indian Constitution
source (frontline.in)
Through such measures from the opposition it can make better discussion within the parliamentarians and   media can explore in a great way. Through such discussions in the Parliament, the government can understand the drawbacks of the proposed legislation. It is the way to determine  the attitude  of  people  regarding  this because , the proposed bill will  have to  go through  five steps  mentioned  in the constitution  and it will take  time. So within  the said period of time, the views of  public  and their attitude  of  the  concerned  bill  should  be expressed  through  various  measures.

Though  the ordinances  must be passed  in both  the houses,  it is sometime  raised as an extension  of the false politics  to achieve  their  ends and it was  revealed  with proclaiming  ordinance regarding  the protection  of  members  of the Parliament in corruption  case and it was deactivated  later due to strong  public opinion. Thus it aroused as a notion within the public to achieve their ends regarding the party politics at certain occasions.

It should be noted that at certain  occasions,  the  attempts  to pass a bill in the Parliament  failed  and the government  later preferred  ordinances  for the legislation  because ,  they want  to achieve  the advantages  of  enacting  laws to achieve  their ends.

Ordinances in Indian Constitution
source (indianexpress.com)
The president  of  India  is the titular  executive post,  though  the stances  of the constitution  make the president  binding  on the  aid and advice proclaimed  by the cabinet ,  such ordinances  can make collisions  between  real and nominal executives.  It may happen when the president is appointed by the opposition party when they were in power and with the new government because of party politics.

The ordinances  should  be passed  when there is a situation  in which , the bills  cannot  be passed  in the Parliament  and sincere  and genuine efforts  from  the government  to pass the bill in the floor of both the houses had been already taken. The ordinance should be used as an extension of the sincere efforts to pass the bill in the Parliament. Passing of the bills in the Parliament can make proper discussions, which is an inevitable pedestal in a democracy rather than despotic ways.

(Written by Vineeth V, an IPS aspirant pursuing graduation in Political Science at Trivandrum, Kerala)