|United in activity: At a Palli Unnayan Samiti project
|Indrani Halder and a ‘graduate’ of Egmont Pre-Schools at their annual day and ‘graduation’ held at the St Xavier’s College auditorium. The kids displayed their skills with action rhymes, a fashion show and a fancy-dress march.
During our annual end-semester break in March, most first-year students are placed with NGOs for at least six weeks, to gather experience about the kind of work they do, even if it is unconnected with law. At NUJS, during the first two semesters in our first year, we are taught a variety of social sciences, with modules on issues like women’s empowerment, disability and human rights. All these are at a theoretical level. For the practical encounter, we are encouraged to work for an NGO for sometime. Though this placement is not compulsory, most students opt for the stint.
Much of the time, we are only allowed to observe the work as finding tasks for greenhorns is not easy. In our case, both of us were unsure of how we could help them.
Palli Unnayan Samiti (PUS) is a Baruipur-based organisation, an hour-and-a-half by bus from the city centre. The director, Father Shyamal Biswas, and assistant director Sister Prerna were extremely co-operative and keen to give us as much experience as possible. PUS operates with its 160-odd partner organisations in South 24-Parganas, with a range of activities like education, nutrition, women’s empowerment, income generation, disaster management, legal aid and counselling centres. We were to work on all projects to maximise our exposure. PUS does most of its work in the field and we travelled with their employees to remote villages all over South 24-Parganas. We also attended the weekly legal advice and counselling centre at the Samiti premises every Saturday.
Our first field-trip was to a village called Keoratala, about 75 km from Calcutta, near Jamtala. PUS has a partner organisation there, which, among other things runs a school for children aged three to six and a women’s uplift programme. It was amazing to see the kids studying with an infectious enthusiasm we all lacked. In our first close encounter with village life, we were surprised that the conditions were quite good and the villagers so friendly. Everyone invited us to their homes for lunch and the kids urged us to join them at play. Cricket is definitely their favourite sport, with some sure to give the Zaheers and the Yuvrajs a run for their money, given the proper guidance.
The trip to the twin villages of Madhabpur and Raghunathpur was more sombre. We were to interview the parents of challenged children. Most had been afflicted by polio. Many villagers refuse to have their kids vaccinated for this disease. In Madhabpur, we met a 14-year-old boy who was topping school despite polio. We also met the parents of a four-year-old girl with the same disease whose parents clearly felt she was a burden on the family.
Kochuberia, off Diamond Harbour, was also very interesting. Here, a town most famous for its dacoits, we met women involved in an income generation programme. At Barisha, about 37 km from Baruipur, we saw the Catholic Relief Services work with farmers, a new area for PUS. Afsar and I went with Father Bose, an agricultural scientist, to interview some farmers about their problems. Water-logging during the rainy seasons and no water during summers seemed to be a prevalent problem.
Ten villages in and around the Falta Special Economic Zone was where another partner organisation, Ashurali Vivekananda Smriti Sangha, conducts its projects. Here, women were taking active part in a number of vocational courses to generate income. They were also keenly aware of the need to provide an education for their children.
We had no idea that so much work was being done. Through these visits, not only did we gain valuable work experience, we also got to learn about the ground realities of rural India we could have never learnt from a textbook.
A degree in fashion will soon be a reality in India with the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) slated to become a deemed university. The Calcutta chapter hopes it will happen by the next academic session starting July. Currently, the Institute, under the ministry of textile, offers diploma courses in various aspects of design — fashion to textiles, leather to knitwear.
Five degrees will be offered — fashion and apparel (clothing and leather), fashion and textiles (knitwear and textiles), fashion and lifestyle accessories, fashion and communication (fashion photography and journalism) and technology. Two post-graduate courses in fashion management and technology will also be offered, explains Calcutta director B.V. Somasekhar.
The current students are seeing a lot of action, too. Mannequins litter the campus as NIFT prepares to send off three graduating batches, including Calcutta’s first knitwear design technology class. On May 13 and 14, the fashion design, knitwear and leather technology graduating collections will be on display at a fashion show at the Hyatt Regency. The students have worked on innovative themes such as military-wear and garments customised for the blind. The combat collection has been designed by one of the students keeping the necessary specifications, climactic conditions and security limitations in mind. “We are awaiting word from the Indian army design cell whether they would like to adopt this design,” adds Somasekhar.
But that may be the last military motif seen for a while. The forecasts for the coming seasons are decidedly anti-war, with the Iraq influence bringing back a blast of the 1960s.
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Rev it up
The bike which has stood the test of time from the early 1900s — the Royal Enfield — still produces marvellous beasts admired by those with a thirst for “power”. All cities have their own Bullet clubs, and now it’s Calcutta’s turn. Indrajeet Sen, a Class XII student of Calcutta International School, has started the only such club in eastern India — Eastern Bulls. It currently has 28 members of which four are from Calcutta.
The club has experienced riders as well as novices. Long rides away from the bustle are much-awaited events for the mixed bag of members, ranging from software engineers to students. It also plans rides for social causes. Indrajeet recently went on an all-India ride organised by a similar club in Delhi.
The only conditions for membership are possession of a Bullet and passion for riding. The club has a set of riding rules (that will soon be on the site http://groups.yahoo.com/group/easternbulls) that are to follow. The members meet on a weekly basis to discuss technicalities of the bike and share experiences. Workshops to troubleshoot will also be organised. So, bullet junkies, rev up or eat dust.
From deficit financing and demand constraints to downsizing of workforce and a declining rate of interest, it was time to discuss policy as the country’s leading economic brains explored the feasibility of India achieving a double-digit growth in gross domestic product (GDP).
The panel discussion was organised by the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management (IISWBM) and the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) on May 2 to mark the golden jubilee of the country’s oldest B-school. Bibek Debroy of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, former planning commission member Arjun Sengupta and CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechuri discussed the problems and prospects of the Indian economy after an introduction by former Union education minister and chairman of the board of governors, IISWBM, Pratap Chandra Chunder and ICC president Vikram Thapar.
Debroy gave an account, as he saw it, of the government’s failure to ensure competition in the economic sphere, making it clear that double-digit growth was “not feasible” in India. “I think the government doesn’t have any role beyond providing education, healthcare, physical infrastructure and a regulatory framework.”
For Yechuri, the concept of minimising the governmental role was nothing but “utopia”. He raised questions about a reform process that kept in mind the interests of 200 million people, but failed to benefit the remaining 800 million. “Foreign investment alone can’t solve our problems, as the biggest problem in our country is the lack of domestic demand, which is the result of continuous decline in public investment.”
Sengupta gave a more balanced view and talked about the need to increase productivity, savings and the importance of translating the savings to investment. “We must admit that public sector enterprises can work wonders if they are permitted to work as private entities,” he said, while criticising “mindless, unbridled disinvestment of public enterprises”. He summed up the discussion on a positive note, saying India could, one day, achieve double-digit GDP growth.