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Monday, June 20, 2011

My Past Can’t Tie Me Down says Karthika Annamalai – The IDIA girl who made it to NUJS

I remember a time when I would sit in my neighbor’s house drinking milk that had a cloying smell. My cousin would come running in, yelping with pain and cursing in Tamil between her husky wails. “Let him go to hell,” she would shout. My neighbors would automatically lock her in one of their musty storage rooms, and we would resume our activities as if she had never come.
Her father, drunk with alcohol and staggering between his threats of murder, would stumble in with a heavy piece of firewood in his hand, asking if my cousin was hidden in the house anywhere. As the fat old woman of the house held me close and gave me a warning look not to give the secret away, she responded with a threatening disgust that my cousin was nowhere to be found. My uncle would then walk all around the village, in its sugarcane and rice fields, cursing and searching, while my auntie stood submissively in the doorway. Tears flowed down her face, hot with shame and hopelessness. I would return to their house only once my uncle was either nowhere to be seen or fast asleep. After my auntie would put me to sleep, I would lie in bed wondering what my mother was doing, where she was and if she had abandoned me. My heart was so heavy that my teary eyes would lull me to sleep.

As soon as I would get up each morning, my cousin would wash my face and my auntie would give me curd to eat my rice with. I would then follow my cousin, whom I was very fond of, to graze our cow. He would teach me to pet and feed our cow. Sometimes we would go on small adventures to our neighbor’s mango fields or we would go on top of the village rocks to eat prickly pears, not minding that they were staining our clothes pink and that the small thorns were in our hands and tongue. It was during these times that I would forget that my mother, along with my six-month-old brother, were somewhere far away searching for work. She had to give up being a housewife and look for work to support our family once my father had passed away. When I was bored, I would remember my mother with so much longing and loneliness that I would start to cry.

When I turned three, my mother sent for me. Like my aunt and uncle, she too had found work in a quarry. Our house had four granite slabs covered with mud for walls and stacks of neatly tied woven coconut leaves for a roof. After settling down here, I would walk about the feces covered mud roads with my skirt lifted shamelessly over my head to avoid the merciless sun and the rising dust and smoke from the quarry. Otherwise, I would follow my mother down the steep quarry where I would sit a few meters away, watching her frail body shatter stones with a heavy hammer. I suppose it was during a time like this, though many years later, that a piece of stone hit me on my forehead. Curious and bored, I picked it up. It was crudely shaped like a heart and had tiny specks of gold on it. It is one among the three things I keep on my bed for good luck.  It is a tangible reminder of where I came from.

Two other items that are constantly present on my bed are reminders of my present, and my future: my art supplies and preparatory books.  If not for Shanti Bhavan, I would have little need for – or interest in – these things.

Since being admitted to Shanti Bhavan at the age of four, the hours I spent letting my imagination run wild instead of going for physical training session has resulted in me receiving various awards and titles within my school for outstanding performance in the field of visual art. Now, drawing abstract pictures, being recommended by many teachers and classmates to make posters, and being asked to make cards for various people is a medium through which I express my passion for art.  This is a talent that would not have been nurtured or encouraged had I not attended Shanti Bhavan.

The preparatory books, on the other hand, are scattered on my bed because I am soon appearing for my entry into a law college.  I decided years ago that I wanted to be a human rights lawyer, fighting against the many social injustices that exist in India, more than a handful of which I have witnessed myself in my family and community.  The values instilled in me at Shanti Bhavan – those of humility, honesty, and generosity – have all impressed upon me the necessity to always work to help those who are less fortunate than me in any way possible.  This is where my desire to work as a human rights lawyer stems from.  I also hope that working in the field of law in India will provide me the skills I need to one day alleviate poverty and injustice on a broader scale, hopefully in a political position in India.  Ideally, I will one day become the Prime Minister.

Every item I cherish communicates much about me.  As I reflect on the past 14 years of my life, I realize they are tied to one of my two lives – that of a village girl who grew up in a world of sadness and desperation, devoid of hope, and the other of an educated and confident woman, who was given an amazing opportunity to aspire.  Both of these lives compose who I am, and equip me with the knowledge to one day change the country I live in.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

IDIA needs Vibrant Team Leaders to head the Question Papers Preparation Wing

IDIA urgently needs a team that will prepare exam papers for training IDIA scholars this year. The team will consist of those who will prepare questions, as also those who will then prepare exams/tests from the question bank so created. We need a strong team leader to lead the “test” preparation aspect. We also need leaders to co-ordinate the process of preparing questions for:

1.      English
2.     Maths
3.     Legal Reasoning
4.     Logical Reasoning
5.     GK

We need people not only to deliver high quality questions and put together good quality tests, but to do so consistently month after month. 

This will be a paid vertical for IDIA and we will pay per question prepared by you. We will also pay for the time involved in assessing questions and putting together tests.  At this stage, this is only a call for folks interested in taking on leadership positions. So if any of you are interested in being leaders for any of these aspects, please drop an email to <>. 

Please do send your CV to the above email ID and also list out any IDIA activities you’ve done this past year. 

Sensitisation at Government Higher Secondary School, Kattappana, Kerala

The sensitisation session for the XII standard students of Government Higher Secondary School Kattappana was conducted on 3 June 2011. The school is located in Kattappana, a small town in Idukki district, Kerala. The headmaster and teachers of the school were welcoming. We had an opportunity to interact with the teachers of the higher secondary classes before we addressed the students. This was of great utility as we could get a clear picture of the academic as well as economic background of the students. This is the first higher secondary batch of the school and hence the teachers have put great hopes on these students. This school was named the Government Tribal School until a couple of years back but was recently renamed as Government School since considerable number of non – tribals in the area were also looking up to this institution for education. Most of these students are from very poor economic backgrounds and hence are forced to contribute to their family income. Hence many of them work as auto drivers, labourers in pepper plantations, waiters in catering services etc after their class hours and on holidays unlike their better privileged counterparts who spend these hours in various tuition centers and entrance coaching institutes. As we spoke about IDIA, the teachers were happy that new vistas were being opened up for these students as many of them could not even dream of higher education due to financial constraints.

The session for the students began at 2:30 pm. We had 41 students from both Science and commerce batches together, listening to us. A considerable number of students were absent owing to the heavy rains in the district. Taking into account what we had gathered from our interaction with the teachers, we began the session asking how many of them were desirous of pursuing their studies after XII standard. We were shocked to find that only about 50% of the students were desirous of being graduates. Hence the first task ahead was to convince them about the need for higher education. Proceeding further on an interactive mode, it was found that only a microscopic minority had decided upon what career they wanted to pursue. None of the students had even considered law as an option. This was surprising as almost everyone in the class were keen on law and lawyers which was reflected in random questions (which included questions on self defence, murder, various torts etc) which they wanted answered as soon as we entered their class room (and we had a tough time postponing most of these questions for another occasion due to paucity of time!) and yet none of them wanted to be lawyers! This, we soon found, was in-fact due to a few misconceptions about the prospects of this profession.

They were then told about various opportunities available for a law graduate besides litigation which included working with law firms, other corporate firms, NGOs, PSUs and other entrepreneurial possibilities. This went a long way in removing their misconceptions and we found their interest growing considerably. The concept of National Law Schools and CLAT was new to them. They were briefed about the curriculum at law schools which included advanced syllabus, interactive classrooms, moot courts, internships etc. They were also told about the syllabus and question pattern for CLAT. By then we could see the enthusiasm and curiosity growing. We had queries coming up from all corners of the classroom which included the fees structure at law schools. They were disappointed when they heard about the fees structure at law schools. But they were soon relieved when we told them how IDIA could open the gates of Law Schools for them.

We wound up the session at 3:30 pm promising that we would come again to conduct the aptitude test to select students for intensive training. It was a great surprise to find a lot of students approaching us personally after the school hours sharing their hopes about reaching law schools. Many of them were determined and we are sure to see many of those faces in law schools.

Report by Shinsa PM and Telma Raju