Himachal pradesh: Residential schools
are the future and the present’
for a dream
Punam Khaira Sidhu
MY grandmother is 80. She lost my grandfather when she was 45 and has since raised and settled seven children, and 15 grandchildren. One might think that she has done her duty and deserves to live life on her own terms. But no; we expect so much of our elders.
Bibi Amtus-Salam, who
worked closely with Mahatma Gandhi in Noakhali, belonged to Patiala where
she worked at the grassroot-level and set up many institutions.
Chaman Lal on the lesser-known freedom fighter from Punjab.
NOT many would have heard of Bibi Amtus-Salam or known that she was such a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, least of all know that she belonged to Punjab?
Amtus-Salam, a quiet nationalist, was with Mahatma Gandhi in Noakhali in 1946 when the worst riots took place in Bengal. Gandhi went on a fast unto death to bring back peace. Gandhi treated her like her own daughter and wrote to her as frequently as he wrote to his own granddaughter, Kanu Gandhi.
Amtus-Salam was born into a Zamindar Pathan family of Patiala district. She had her maternal relations near Rajpura and was so dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals that the latter even scolded her for her idealism. When her brothers and other family members left for Pakistan, she was enraged and expressed her disappointment to Gandhiji, who had arranged for the safe journey of her brothers to West Pakistan. Amtus-Salam wanted to return to Patiala, from where the Muslims, including her family, had been evacuated to Pakistan.
She wanted to go back to Patiala (from Noakhali where she was coordinating Gandhi’s work of re-establishing communal harmony) to demonstrate by living there, all by herself as a young Muslim woman, that she could dare the worst, perhaps even die, by way of exemplifying her absolute commitment to the cause of peace and communal amity.
V. Ramamurthi, in his book Mahatma Gandhi: The Last 200 Days, serialised and published by The Hindu, at the Golden Jubilee of Independence, has given a marvellous account from Gandhi’s life and Bibi figures prominently in this account. Gandhi wrote to her on August 26, 1947: "You are needlessly finding fault with your brothers. When all others lost courage there, they too decided not to risk their life. It is enough if we ourselves stand firm. Let us not sit in judgement on others though they may be our own relatives."
Gandhiji further wrote, "You are fickle-minded in wanting to go to Patiala. It is one and the same, whether you are in Noakhali or in Punjab. It is not that your place is only in the Punjab. Your place is everywhere."
On the last day of 1947, on December 31, according to Ramanathan, "the letter Bapu wrote was one to bring great joy to his Muslim disciple Amtus-Salam in Noakhali. She had been enduring the cruel pain of being torn from his side, ever since Bapu left that place and worked. Repeatedly, she had asked for permission to come and join him in Delhi or at least to be near to him. Bapu wrote to her, "You will be glad to read this letter. I have given you permission to come."
Bibi was undergoing great agony at the divide between Hindus and Muslims. To assuage her feelings, Gandhi wrote to her, "I have never felt that you are a Muslim and that I am a Hindu. The only feeling I have is that you are A.S. and I am Gandhi, where our atmans are concerned, we are one. In my view, you are the moving spirit behind whatever peace has been achieved in Noakhali. It was and still is your most significant work. Only you can sustain it. Wherever you stand, you stand in the capacity of my daughter, do you not? What can be done if you hold a different view, despite my opinion that you should forget all about Patiala? Blessings from Bapu." (Mahatma Gandhi: The Last 200 Days, p. 443)
But Bibi did not forget Patiala. During the period between 1947 and 48, she along with Lajjawati Hooja, who was also a prominent Congress worker of All-India Women’s Congress, evacuated thousands of kidnapped Hindu and Muslim women from their respective homes in India and Pakistan. Lajjawati Hooja, who was very active in Jalandhar and associated with K.M.V. College, worked in three districts of Pakistan, including her native place Dera Ghazi Khan, while Bibi worked in Bahawalpur district. Both worked in unison under the guidance of Rameshwari Nehru, a close relative of Jawaharlal Nehru, to mitigate the sufferings of thousands of innocent women.
Bibi established the Kasturba Seva Mandir and other institutions in Rajpura, where she helped Hindu migrants from Bahawalpur, Pakistan, to settle down. A self-effacing and quiet worker who never sought the limelight, she expired on September 29, 1985.
Auckland House School,
Shimla, is a home away from home for many foreign students, reports Rakesh
FOUNDED for the education of European girls in 1866, Auckland House School, Shimla, is an institution with a history and traditions which have keep pace with time. With its doors no longer confined to the elite, over the years the school has changed in character. The emphasis is on inculcating high moral, intellectual and aesthetic values, besides providing sound education.
The school was housed in Holly Lodge for the first three years before being shifted to the more spacious Auckland House complex on the Ellysium Hill in 1869. The early years were ones of struggle due to lack of funds and inadequate staff. It was on sound footing only after 1904, when Miss Strong from the Ladies College became the headmistress who brought several other teachers with her. The school immediately gained popularity and even came to be known as Cheltenham College of India. However, in 1905, an earthquake struck and caused extensive damage to the building. The school authorities were forced to pull down the structure and a new building, specially planned for a boarding school, was raised. The fine teak timber of the old building was preserved and used to add dignity to the new one.
The atmosphere of the school continues to be international with a large number of boarders drawn from all parts of the world. Out of the total 1089 students, 233 are boarders. They include 31 girls from abroad. Over the years, the school has seen innumerable changes in the premises and curriculum. Computer education has been made compulsory from the first standard and keeping in view the changing social environment the girls are also provided training in martial arts like karate to make them capable of defending themselves. The school has a well-equipped gymnasium, besides facilities for hockey, basketball, badminton and table tennis. The school lays emphasis on music and boasts of a western band which has won several prestigious competitions. The school has as many as 10 pianos and the morning assembly is to the accompaniment of the piano. The school has hired the services of a professional coach to impart training to girls in roller-skating.
The school has an arrangement with the Institute of Career Studies, Lucknow, which enables experts to visit Shimla every year for career counselling. "Instead of confining admissions to the elite class, the management consciously decided to open the doors to all sections of the society, irrespective of the social status" says Sunita John, the Principal of the school. The school has been providing scholarships to about 40 needy students and spending about Rs 9 lakh annually on this account.
Referring to the changing environment she said the growing overall impact of the visual media was creating problems. While there were many positive aspects of the television and other visual media the net effect was negative. It was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain high moral values. The parents preferred to sent their daughters to boarding because of the strict discipline and good facilities. It was a home away from home, she said.
The school has not kept track of its alumini mainly because until recently the girls mostly got married after passing out. In fact, it has started the exercise to compile the list only now. Still some names like Priya Rajvansh, film actress and Satwant Atwal, an IPS officer, are well known.
‘Children are the future and the present’
A guest researcher in child rights, based at the Law School, Stockholm University, Parul Sharma, the 29-year-old author of Welfare State, Right to Life and the Capital Punishment in India, analyses the socio-legal framework in India. She has adopted an interdisciplinary approach towards crime and punishment in her work. Parul has a close association with Chandigarh, which she has been visiting since 1995. Excerpts from an interview with Aruti Nayar
What is the relationship of the State, rights of the individual and capital punishment?
Jurisprudence, constitutional law and criminal law are inextricably linked while determining the supremacy of the right to life. The welfare component in difficult criminal cases must be understood. I have proposed a welfare analysis in the courtrooms while handling criminal cases because the court of law is the defender and upholder of rights and it is necessary to determine the level of state responsibility and understand causes of societal frustrations. How deprivation of basic economic and social entitlements affect the dignity of a person must not be ignored in the court of law.
What is your target audience?
Nascent lawyers and mental health professionals should read the book and comprehend the importance of interdisciplinary compromises when pure justice is at stake, and when victimology and criminology are set aside.
Lawyers must question each contradiction in law; the Welfare State, Right to Life and the Capital Punishment is one such contradiction. Understanding of law should not merely be of the black letter word; it should be an in-depth and scientific approach based on jurisprudence, especially when the Right to Life of both a victim of crime and an offender is discussed.
Any ‘sense of belonging’ problems?
I was born in Sweden and my immediate family is in Stockholm.
Of course, I probably feel more Indian than Swedish. I decided rather early, as a law student, that my professional platform would be India and that service to India would be the core in my work. All my professional experience has been from India alone, where each day has taught me something new. India is my role model, my motivating factor."She" has given me a wealth of no comparison. No single person has inspired me more then others. If I am inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and ahimsa, I am also inspired by Bhagat Singh and his conviction. A common factor is "action," which generates inspiration.
What is the nature of your work with children?
I started rather early with child-related projects while I was in the eighth grade in Sweden. I mobilised our entire school to collect a considerable amount for orphaned children in Romania. I decided my profession while in the fourth grade. I believe that a lawyer is a person who can can fight poverty. I have always wanted to work for the rights of children, and I was strongly inspired by Mother Teresa, which lead to forming my own organisation, CareHouse Foundation, Sweden, in 2002. It is currently running projects in New Delhi. A breakfast project has been run for a year now. By providing breakfast, we will break the evil chain to a child’s life—where everything is linked to the struggle for that one meal. Rag-picking; shoe-polishing, child-prostitution, rickshaw pulling and stealing from trains all begin for that one meal. Sexual abuse, violence and derogatory remarks turn these children into animals and, later, criminals.
You have worked on an interdisciplinary model to deal with child rights?
I wish to introduce an interdisciplinary model in child-related cases—child sexual abuse, child labour and trafficking—where specifically trained staff is involved from the initial stages. The absence of mental health professionals and provision of psychological information to the courts is missing in such cases. In a survey in 1996, conducted by Sakshi, an NGO working for women’s rights extensively, 50 per cent out of 109 judges felt child sexual abuse is not common, and this "uncommon offence existed only amongst uneducated, depressed, and over-sexed people or people with a prostrate gland problem." These judges felt that abuses were mostly carried out by servants and least commonly within families. This knowledge is as good as no knowledge of the offender’s psyche.
What is the response to interactive sessions ?
I have conducted human rights trainings with students of law, psychology, sociology and trainee teachers to create a societal understanding where the students are given broad guidelines to remove judgementalism from their approach. The students’ response has been mind-blowing. I saw a new world opening up during training sessions. Students hunger to interact with professionals and to learn how to make a difference as psychologists or lawyers. They are helped to understand the social chain. Causes of frustrations are discussed along with State’s role. Whenever a crime alone is described, the students opt for capital punishment but when the background of conditions is looked into, the application of the capital punishment diminishes
Child rights, women’s rights, right to food and education could only be achieved when the State stands as a guarantor of justice from the moment a person is born, and not from the moment a crime is committed. Proclaiming responsibility at the point of crime alone must be seen as a "condemning criminal justice system"; with no elements of responsibility for what is just, right and foremost pro-social development. It will only silence human suffering, not cure it. .
Why did you choose child rights?
In the given situation in the world, we have child soldiers, child labour (70-80 million in India alone), child sexual abuse etc. There are few child rights experts, children are the future for sure, but they are also the present.
MY grandmother is 80. She lost my grandfather when she was 45 and has since raised and settled seven children, and 15 grandchildren. One might think that she has done her duty and deserves to live life on her own terms. But no; we expect so much of our elders. We expect them to devote their sunset years to helping us to achieve our goals, without ever asking if they too have a dream, pending fulfillment. My grandmother’s life is, selflessly, focussed around our lives. Her days are filled with prayers for our well being, she phones in to ask after all her children and grandchildren, and is always available to help us out of tight corners. Is she happy? I don’t know.
My mother is 60. After we, her three children, left home, she went through a severe case of the ‘empty nest syndrome’. She had been a housewife and kept a beautiful house and garden, and looked forward to my father’s retirement. My dad, thus far refuses to retire. He looks forward to going to work each morning with a bunch of vibrant young men and women. Of late, my mother has come to terms with her circumstances and her emotional needs. She is an active member of her several social clubs and kitties and often plays Mahjong from 9 to 5 with a set of ladies. The house, and garden, are efficiently run but not the focus of her life. She is working towards self-actualisation and tells us not to be judgemental of what she is doing. Dad was alarmed initially and told her that a woman’s place was at home and not as he put it in his Majhail slang, to wander like a guachi gaan (lost cow). Mom laughingly told him that she had always done what was expected of her and now it was time for her to do what she felt like. After all, isn’t that what he did?. Score one for my mom, the enlightened Indian woman awakening to her own aspirations. She deserves to have some fun. Is she happy? She’s getting there.
While observing the changing power equations in my paternal home, I saw the delightful movie Calendar Girls on a DVD loaned from the British Library. The movie, is based on the true story, of the residents of Kettlewell, a small village in the English County of Yorkshire. It tracks the efforts of the local WI (Women’s Institute) members to raise funds for a leukaemia charity by posing for an artistically nude calendar. The movie is heartwarming as it details how the endeavours of the women impact on their families and relationships. The women beautiful in their wrinkles and pearls and far from perfect bodies, find themselves unlikely celebrities. They are even invited to Hollywood, receive lucrative endorsements and collect over 578,000 pounds to fund a new wing of their local hospital and leukaemia research. Later they are back to WI’s boring routine and politics. But each one fulfilled with their fantastic achievement and the fun they had doing it.
After seeing the movie I recommended it to my mother who also works with a cancer charity. I also laughingly suggested that the volunteers could perhaps raise more money through something a little more adventurous than selling greeting cards. The dressing down I received still has my ears burning red.
Whether they recognise their
own aspirations and follow them my grandmother and mother are my real ‘Calendar
Girls’. My generation would not have tasted the fruits of education,
careers and financial freedom without their steadfast support. One can only
exhort them from my privileged position to go ahead and paint a picture or
learn to sing or dance or even to swim or sky-dive or just go do what they
want and have some fun doing it. Because in the end as the Yorkshireman who
died of leukaemia and to whom Calendar girls is dedicated said,
"Women are like flowers, every stage of their growth more beautiful
than the last but the last phase always the most glorious, before very
quickly they all go to seed...