The new untouchables
There is a real danger that HIV infected patients, against whom a great degree of prejudice exists, may become the new untouchables, if the state doesn’t create institutional support for them, writes Tribune staffer Neena Sharma
Tribune News Service

Dehradun, December 1
While several lakhs are spent each year on generating awareness about AIDS and HIV on the World AIDS Day, the response from society and the government remains woefully poor.

In fact, there is a real chance that HIV infected patients, against whom a great degree of prejudice already exists, may become the new untouchables, if the state continues to ignore them and does not create an institutional support system for them.

With the help of the National AIDS Control Programme, the state may have set up several integrated counselling testing centres( ICTCs) in all 33 districts, but it seems to by pussy footing on establishing hospice facilities and foster homes for children abandoned by their extended families.

Last month doors were slammed on two destitute sisters who tested HIV positive in Antwal Gaon in Tehri district. Lack of institutions or foster homes, may see the HIV infected dumped on roads or left to rot on streets.

" The problem is real. The State AIDS control Programme should focus on the problem of the HIV positive, especially women and children. The children are stigmatised for no fault of theirs. They face a dark future as no schools are willing to take them.

“What is often ignored is the fact that children born to HIV positive mothers have only 30 per cent chance of getting the virus, yet they are ostracised. It is time that the government sets up foster homes so that HIV positive children can lead a life of dignity," informed Gaurav Dwivedi, secretary of Sarvjan Sewasansthan, an NGO that runs a home for AIDS patients in Prem Nagar.

Though Uttarakhand remains a high-risk and low- prevalence state, HIV positive cases are rising in the state: 23 cases in 2002, 83 cases in 2003, 131 in 2004, 229 in 2005, 313 in 2006, 504 in 2007 and 390 in 2008.

The number of AIDS cases has also been on the increase: Five in 2002, six in 2003, 19 in 2004, 48 in 2005, 62 in 2006, 56 in 2007 and 58 cases in 2008.

Doctors and social workers find the situation in the villages of Uttarakhand grave where traditional society norms prevent any discussion on HIV and AIDS.

Though the disease may have been detected only now, it doesn’t mean there have been no deaths due to AIDS. The problem may have remained undetected as symptoms may be like any other disease, from fever to loose motion.

"The disease gets manifested in the form of infection, of which the most common are pulmonary tuberculosis, skin infection, herpes, meningitis and diarrhoea," informed Dr BK Gairola, district TB officer. A person’s immune system gets hit with the decrease in CD4 cell count. Therefore, the person succumbs to opportunistic infections like TB and pneumonia.

Rapid urbanisation in the hills has opened doors to economic opportunities. Tourism activities may bring in cash but it also exposes the society to several social ills and health problems.

"The state government and planers will have to decide how far they want to go; there is a dark side to tourism. Drugs and unsafe sex are real problems that cannot be ignored and they come with tourism," said Dr Sunil Kainthola of Mountain Shepherd, an organisation that conducts eco and cultural tourism activities in Uttarakhand.

There are hosts of issues that the AIDS control programme in the state needs to focus on. While awareness campaigns come and go, sustained effort is needed in the villages that stand at the cusp of urbanisation.

There is a dark side to tourism. Drugs and unsafe sex are real problems. These can’t be ignored and they come with tourism.



Swiss lessons in self-sufficiency
Kamal Joshi

Bageshwar, December 1
The people of the state share the same problems as faced by residents of mountain villagers of Switzerland. This was stated by Dr Padruot M. Fried, head, International Research, Zurich University, here today.

Dr Pardrout is a PhD in agriculture science, a former member of international research unit of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs in Zurich, is on tour to Uttarakhand with his partners Urs Tuor and Roberts from the Angdeen valley of Switzerland.

The team will pinpoint areas on which mountain communities of both parts of the globe can exchange ideas and technology for mutual benefit.

The team is of the view that mountain dwelling communities from both countries face problem of lack of employment opportunities at the local level.

This triggers migration to cities. Villages in the mountains are, thus, being abandoned.The only way to prosperity is to create employment opportunities at the local level based on local resources.

"And this opportunity must reach down to the last person in the social and economic strata" says Dr Padruot M.Fried.

Robert, an eminent baker from the Angadeen valley whose bakery products are famous not only in Europe but also in Australia and the US, makes bakery products from local produces. He says there is tremendous opportunity in bakery products in Uttarakhand.

"The Switzerland is an important tourist destination like Uttarakhand. Bakery products of Switzerland are popular among tourists visiting the country. Good quality bakery products made by local grains and produces can be a unique tourist attraction here as it is in Switzerland. This can boost employment opportunity in the region, he says.

Urs, a keen photographer says the energy requirement for setting up mills and bakery in villages can be met by setting up improved watermills.

The Swiss team visited the Himalayan Organisation for Protection of Environment(HOPE), a voluntary organisation at Pilkholi near Ranikhet.

There they met women making incense sticks and selling these in the local market. Prakash Joshi of HOPE informed them of the activities of the organisation.

The team interacted with children from a school run by the organisation and was all praise for the organisation.

"We are very impressed by the women folk of the hill region. They are coming forward to change the community by taking part in social and economic activities.

“They are not only the backbone of Himalayan region, but also the ambassador of change here," said Dr Padruot M. Fried.

"We have identified some of the rural technologies which can be exchanged between mountain people of Switzerland and Uttarkhand," he added.



Need to renew interest in taxonomy: Experts
Jotirmay Thapliyal
Tribune News Service

Dehradun, December 1
The director, Forest Research Institute, Dehradun, Dr SS Negi, has expressed concern over loss of interest among the younger generation in plant taxonomy.

Addressing the inaugural session of the three-day international seminar entitled “Role of plant taxonomy in biodiversity management and human welfare” held to commemorate 100 years of the FRI Herbarium, director Negi said it was a matter of concern that the number of taxonomists had declined drastically over the last three decades.

He said while the subject of taxonomy needed perseverance and indept studies, students of biology today seemed more interested in information technology and related subjects.

Underlining the importance of plant taxonomy, Dr Negi said little was known to people about modern tools and the application of techniques of taxonomy which could provided scientifically approved life supporting food, medicines etc of plant origin.

Referring to the herbarium, the director, FRI, said the herbarium had 3,30,000 specimens, which included type specimens numbering around 1400.

He said the oldest collection housed in the herbarium dated back to 1807. The director also said digitisation process at the herbarium was being taken up.

Former director, Botanical Survey of India, and president, Association for Plant Taxonomy, Dr PK Hajra, in his keynote address spoke at length of the history of the FRI Herbarium.

He recalled that the Dehradun Herbarium established in 1908 started from collections by British Indian botanists Dr Gamble, Dr Duthie and Dr King and was subsequently enriched with collections by Dr Brandis, Hainnes, Kanjilala, Bor, Raizada and Sahni.

Welcoming the delegates, Dr Sas Biswas said the seminar would deliberate on some of the most important issues in plant taxonomy - emerging trends, database development, floristic studies and invasive species.

He said 122 authors had contributed with 133 papers for presentation on different themes.Twentytwo contributors to development of the herbarium were felicitated at the seminar being held in collaboration with the Association for Plant Taxonomy.



When Indira withdrew Sanjay from school
Excerpts from “No minister” written by former district magistrate of Dehradun, Mahesh Prasad
Raj Kanwar

Raj Kanwar
Raj Kanwar

The towns of Dehradun and Mussoorie had become widely known by their sobriquet of “School towns” of India, and attracted thousands of students from various parts of India and abroad.

Mahesh has dwelt at length on these subjects. I quote him:

Hundreds of Eligible Bachelors

“Despite its small population, Dehradun was nevertheless a renowned town famous for its detectable litchis, Basmati rice and green tea. Much of its fame rests on the famous schools such as the Doon School, Welhams for Boys and Girls, RIMC (Rashtriya Indian Military College), its outstanding day schools such as the St Joseph’s Academy, Convent of Jesus and Mary and Col Brown’s School.

Along with Mussoorie, with over 10 reputed schools, the twins could rightly be called the “school towns” of India (The schools, particularly residential schools have since proliferated in and around Dehradun).

But the more important are the institutions such as the Indian Military Academy, Forest Research Institute and Colleges, Survey of India, Indian Institute of Petroleum et al that gave Dehradun its worldwide reputation.

Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration came to Mussoorie in 1959. So, with all these famous institutes that annually produced hundreds of class one military and civilian officers, the twin towns thus produced hundreds of India’s most eligible bachelors.

The two towns are also major tourist attractions. Among the tourists are also the parents of young girls in search of suitable matches for their daughters.

Nehru Children Don’t Lie

“John Martyn of the Doon School had become a good friend. One evening, he told me a story that I found difficult to digest. But John was dead earnest. Sanjay Gandhi was a school student. A subject teacher gave Sanjay a black mark and directed him to show it to his class teacher.

Sanjay failed to do so, and further compounded the issue by claiming that he had shown it to his class teacher, and retorted “Nehru children don’t lie” when confronted. When the matter was reported to Martyn, he promptly phoned Indira Gandhi to withdraw her son. She complied without demur and Sanjay was withdrawn from the school.

While the incident spoke volumes of the courage and determination of the school’s English headmaster who did not even spare the high and mighty when it came to discipline; it also reflected well on Indira Gandhi who had gracefully taken her son’s withdrawal”.

I will conclude this piece with another excerpt from Mahesh’s eminently readable book.

The Red Light District

“When the British established the hill station of Mussoorie in the early 1800s, the collector of Dehradun was known as the Superintendent of the Doon. Dehradun, at the time of my posting, was a sleepy little town with its population not exceeding 2,00,000.

Dehradun was then very different from the Dehradun of today. It was sparsely populated, and in Dalanwala, the posh residential neighbourhood, the plot size of a house had to be minimum of five bighas.

The collector was the cock of the walk as there was no one above him, the state government being far away in Lucknow and the commissioner being headquartered in Meerut.

Now after the carving out of a separate state of Uttarakhand, and with Dehradun having been named its provisional capital, there is proliferation of motor vehicles particularly those sporting red beacons since the Governor, the Chief Minister, the other ministers and scores of others entitled to red lights are stationed here. One wag called it the Red light district.

I was so happy in Dehradun that I could have spent a lifetime there. Its bracing climate, breath-taking scenery, and a regular interaction with highly educated and articulate citizens did not exist elsewhere in the state.

All good things must come to an end, and so did my tenure in Dehradun even before I had completed two years. The state government took away the punch bowl while the party was at its peak”.

The Indo-Pak war of 1965 had broken out soon after I took over this charge. Dehradun was a major cantonment town with a very large military establishment. The then Sub-area Commander, Brig MMS Mathur and the Commandant of the 58 Gorkha Training Centre, Col. Kushal Singh Thapa and their families became good friends.

There were two other Gorkha regimental training centres called 39 and 11. The Air Force Selection Board in Clement Town and the office of the Chief Naval Hydrographer at Rajpur Road were two other important defence establishments besides a Division stationed in Clement Town.

Numerous casualties of the Doon domiciled soldiers were notified as the war raged. It became my duty to call on the widows or the parents of the unmarried personnel to share their grief and deliver sewing machines and other material to the widows of the army jawans. Brig Mathur, Col Thapa and I formed an effective team to offer sympathy, and provide succour to the families of the martyrs.

Let Mahesh tell the concluding para since that relates to me:

“Here I must mention a young journalist Raj Kanwar, who was a participant with me in the first Inter University Chancellors’ Camp organized by Governor Munshi at Raj Bhawan, Nainital, in 1953.

Raj had represented the then composite Agra University. Later, we lost touch. In the intervening 12 years, Raj had become a newspaper reporter. His search for a stable career took him to Himachal Pradesh and Calcutta.

But the green valley of Dehradun continued to beckon him, and he finally returned to Dehradun in 1964 to re-enter active journalism. That is how we met again.

Raj edited The Witness, a delightful weekly. He also became a part of this high-level relief team and accompanied us on our succour missions. Needless to say, graphic accounts of our efforts and pictures of martyrs appeared in The Witness. (Concluded)



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