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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

A state within a state
Pakistan has given in to Taliban in Swat
I
F the Taliban has lost power in Afghanistan, it is on the ascendant in Pakistan, a nuclear country. The militant movement has achieved the first major success with the establishment of its rule in the NWFP’s Malakand division, which includes the picturesque Swat valley.

Naxal menace spreading
An effective crackdown needed
A
S Lok Sabha elections draw near, the frequency as well as the ferocity of naxal attacks is increasing in Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar. Of late, the naxalites have particularly targeted mining areas, not only to make an easy picking, but also to pull down symbols of economic importance.

Apple in danger
Global warming could harm HP’s yield
W
HILE it is known that the adverse impact of global warming on glaciers could unleash food shortages, now comes some more distressing news. A study conducted by Palampur-based agriculture university suggests a shrinkage of apple belt in Himachal Pradesh.



EARLIER STORIES

Not by violence
April
15, 2009
Heed the EC
April
14, 2009
Criminal cases on the rise
April
13, 2009
Filmstars and elections
April
12, 2009
Belated, but right
April
11, 2009
Fighting Taliban
April
10, 2009
Abuse of language
April
9, 2009
ULFA at it again
April
8, 2009
Only votes matter
April
7, 2009
Back to Hindutva, softly
April
6, 2009


ARTICLE

Pakistan sliding into chaos
The US looks on helplessly
by G. Parthasarathy
T
HE US Special Representative for “AfPak” (an acronym for Afghanistan and Pakistan), Mr Richard Holbrooke, while expressing appreciation for India’s “full support” for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, noted in Delhi on April 8: “For this first time since the partition of India, Pakistan and the US face a common threat” and that “we must work together and at the centre of the problem, which is Pakistan”.

MIDDLE

Victims of ‘Angrezi hatao’
by Syed Nooruzzaman
Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav’s opposition to the learning of English reminds one of the days when the “Angrezi hatao” movement in the late sixties had made the then UP government introduce changes in the school curriculum.

OPED

Nuclear talks fail
North Korea shows inspectors the door
by Paul Richter and John Glionna
N
ORTH Korea on Tuesday ordered international nuclear inspectors out of the country and said it would “never again” take part in denuclearisation talks, dealing a harsh, early setback to the Obama administration’s hopes of disarming the defiant regime.

When community takes charge of education
by Sachin Jain
Nagaland, tucked away in the northeastern part of India, has been witness to sweeping changes in its countryside where 80 per cent of its people live. A small village Khonoma, about 40 km from the capital Kohima, is reflective of this.

Animals can’t be left to starve
by P.J. Huffstutter
J
ONI Taylor’s family was evicted from their home in coastal Los Angeles when she was 15. They couldn’t pay the mortgage and moved away, leaving the family’s cats to fend for themselves.





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A state within a state
Pakistan has given in to Taliban in Swat

IF the Taliban has lost power in Afghanistan, it is on the ascendant in Pakistan, a nuclear country. The militant movement has achieved the first major success with the establishment of its rule in the NWFP’s Malakand division, which includes the picturesque Swat valley. Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a resolution on Monday asking President Asif Zardari to implement the deal reached with the Taliban for the implementation of Sharia law in the districts that constitute Malakand division. Mr Zardari immediately signed what is called the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation, setting in motion the process of establishing Qazi courts. What kind of justice these courts will dispense can be understood from the fact that a Qazi’s verdict will not be challengeable in a High Court or even the Supreme Court of Pakistan for which the Pakistanis went through two years of a civil society agitation.

Who will appoint the Qazis has not been spelt out by the Pakistan Government. Maulana Sufi Mohammad, who signed the deal under the shadow of the gun on behalf of the Taliban, has declared that this will be his responsibility. Irrespective of how the Qazis will be recruited, the Taliban will definitely play a major role in running the Qazi courts, which will obviously dispense justice in accordance with the Taliban’s scheme of things. The Pakistan state will have little control over a vast territory of Pakistan. Surprisingly, this major victory for the militant movement has come about with virtually no opposition from Pakistan’s political parties, except for the MQM. Pakistan’s ruling establishment has practically accepted the creation of a Taliban state within the state.

A big chunk of Pakistan’s territory going to the Taliban is not the end of the sordid development. Sufi Mohammad and his supporters have declared that they will continue their “struggle” for having their brand of Sharia rule prevail all over Pakistan. It may not remain a pipedream for these extremists when they have spread their tentacles in every part of Pakistan with the Army remaining a silent spectator. The Taliban is reportedly in the process of strengthening its base in Punjab so that it can easily capture even Islamabad. The idea of Pakistan itself seems to be in danger.

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Naxal menace spreading
An effective crackdown needed

AS Lok Sabha elections draw near, the frequency as well as the ferocity of naxal attacks is increasing in Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar. Of late, the naxalites have particularly targeted mining areas, not only to make an easy picking, but also to pull down symbols of economic importance. The administrative setup is weak in these states and the presence of tribal populace provides a base. They have not only been able to scare voters enough to heed their boycott call, but have also been looting explosives with impunity. That is a chilling reminder that they may be able to cause more killings and kidnappings in the days to come. The way over 200 heavily armed Maoists held more than 150 employees of Nalco’s largest mine in Asia in Orissa’s Damanjodi hostage for more than 10 hours on Sunday goes on to show that their reach is on the increase. A small band of 22 CISF personnel had to sacrifice 10 of their colleagues to save Nalco employees. Many naxalites were killed too but their accomplices managed to get their hands on a cache of explosives.

Only a few hours earlier, five CRPF personnel were gunned down by the naxalites near Khunti in Jharkhand while Congress president Sonia Gandhi addressed an election rally 28 km away. “Red terror” is equally strong in Chhattisgarh, which Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram recently referred to as “Ground Zero” of naxalite activities. Ironically, it is still not a major poll issue for either the Congress or the BJP.

The naxals are also targeting the candidates as well as the election machinery. They had recently killed a BJP leader and a village head in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. Campaigning in most affected areas is confined to urban pockets. Yet, no concerted strategy has been evolved to tackle them. Since police drives are launched in a piecemeal fashion, the maoists quietly disappear from the area of operation and strike somewhere else with impunity. What is needed is a joint campaign in all the 13 states where the naxalites have been active. At the same time, the governments must ensure the backing of the local people who feel alienated because of lack of development.

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Apple in danger
Global warming could harm HP’s yield

WHILE it is known that the adverse impact of global warming on glaciers could unleash food shortages, now comes some more distressing news. A study conducted by Palampur-based agriculture university suggests a shrinkage of apple belt in Himachal Pradesh. The reports, if true, portend a grim picture for Himachal’s apples. If the rise in temperatures continues, in the next three decades it may not be possible to grow apples in the traditional apple belt of the hill state where the fruit has been a major revenue earner. Warm winters and less snow — “white manure” for the apples-— have always made apple growers anxious. The farmers in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh had to suffer due to less rainfall affecting the production of fruit orchards as well as the rabi and cash crops.

This is not the first time the experts have warned of global warming affecting crop yields. Agriculture, as it is dependent upon vagaries of weather in India, is most vulnerable to the feared climate change. The Tata Energy Research Institute reported that the threat of climate change to Indian agriculture lies in the physiological response of warming on crops as well as the fact that many farmers are ill-prepared to adapt to changes in weather or crop yield. According to a British report authored by Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank, India’s growth story could be re-scripted, unless it shifted to a low carbon economy.

Fortunately, Himachal Pradesh has decided to emerge as India’s first carbon free state. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research has been conducting research to minimise the impact of global warming on crop yield. Both the BJP and the Congress have included global warming as a key issue in their manifestos. The moot point is whether the much-promised initiatives will translate into action. The HP government would do well to take measures to contain air pollution and use of coal and fuel wood. It is equally imperative to conduct intensive research into climate changes and how it leads to crop failures. It may be too early to press the alarm button as yet, but if the warning signals are not heeded, the economic cost of global warming might turn out to be too high.

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Thought for the Day

Jazz will endure, just as long as people hear it through their feet instead of their brains.

— John Philip Sousa

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Pakistan sliding into chaos
The US looks on helplessly
by G. Parthasarathy

THE US Special Representative for “AfPak” (an acronym for Afghanistan and Pakistan), Mr Richard Holbrooke, while expressing appreciation for India’s “full support” for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, noted in Delhi on April 8: “For this first time since the partition of India, Pakistan and the US face a common threat” and that “we must work together and at the centre of the problem, which is Pakistan”. He was accompanied by most senior US military official, Admiral Mullen, who is regarded as a thorough professional.

Mr Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen arrived in Delhi after an unusually tempestuous visit to Pakistan, where they got a taste of Pakistani duplicity and doublespeak. True to form, the Pakistanis denied Admiral Mullen’s assertion that the ISI was providing haven and support to the Taliban leadership in Quetta and to Taliban commanders like Jalaluddin Haqqani. The American delegation was also subjected to the strange spectacle of President Asif Zardari virtually holding out the begging bowl for more economic assistance, while Foreign Minister Mehmood Quraishi pontificated about his country refusing to accept aid with strings attached!

The Americans now openly refer to Pakistani “paranoia” about India. The Pakistanis make no bones about justifying support for the Taliban on the grounds that every one of the 4000 Indians involved in economic assistance in Afghanistan is a spy, out to undermine Pakistan’s security. While Admiral Mullen claims periodically that General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani is sincere in his determination to root out the Taliban, other reports suggest that the CIA has evidence of General Kayani describing Taliban military commander Haqqani as a “strategic asset”.

Moreover, the Americans know that the July 2007 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul was executed by the “Haqqani network” with clearance and support from the highest levels of the Pakistan Army and ISI. Further, the Americans can no longer ignore the close nexus that exists between the Taliban on the one hand and Jihadi groups operating against India from Pakistan’s Punjab province, on the other. Therefore, one now hears louder American insistence that Pakistan must end support for all terrorist groups, whether operating against Afghanistan or India.

The question being asked internationally is whether President Obama’s new strategy in Afghanistan will work. The main military elements in this strategy are a “surge” in American troop strength in Afghanistan to deal with an expected summer offensive by the Taliban, while making it clear to the Taliban leadership that they cannot win militarily. This is to be supplemented by boosting the strength of the Afghan National Army (ANA) from 80,000 to 134,000 men and equipping and training it for effective counter-insurgency.

This could pave the way for a gradual reduction in the American military role before the next US Presidential elections, though a long-term US military presence in centres like Kandahar appears likely. Politically, the aim is to take development projects to the grassroots with a substantial increase in international economic assistance. Diplomatically, the process of restoring normalcy and peace in Afghanistan is to be facilitated by bringing in key regional and neighbouring countries like Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Russia, China and India to ensure full international support for the effort. Hopefully, the Americans will avoid the temptation of interfering in the forthcoming elections in Afghanistan.

The Americans seem to have curbed their earlier enthusiasm for involving the so-called “moderate Taliban” in a process of reconciliation. They have found that the entire Taliban leadership, now under Pakistani protection, has no interest in joining a process of political reconciliation, in which they have to renounce violence and sit together with other Afghans, who do not share their virulently extremist views.

But the real difficulty the international community is going to face is that despite its professions of innocence, the Pakistani military establishment has no intention of giving up either its quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan by backing the Taliban, or its determination to continue to “bleed India” by backing groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad that keep no secret of their support for the Taliban and their belief that “Hindus, Jews and Christians are enemies of Islam”.

The Americans are taking several steps to deal with Pakistani obduracy. The proposed five-year economic assistance package of $ 7.5 billion is being linked to Pakistan ending its support for terrorist groups, with the House of Representatives asking for access to Dr A.Q. Khan and his associates who were involved in the transfer of nuclear technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea. The US is also likely to insist that other aid donors place similar conditions.

Military assistance will be largely provided for enhancing anti-insurgency capabilities and not for items like F-16 fighters for deployment against India. But will this strategy work, given Pakistan’s propensity to blackmail the world by claiming that its economy will collapse and its nuclear weapons fall into the hands of Islamic extremists if foreign assistance ends? Moreover, will the threats of cut-off of US military assistance have any effect when China continues to provide Pakistan not only conventional weapons like JF-17 and J-10 fighters and naval frigates, but also assistance for plutonium warheads and cruise missiles?

Even as Islamabad plays these diplomatic games, the situation within Pakistan is spiralling out of control. The ISI-backed jihadi groups allied to the Taliban have indulged in attacks on Shia mosques and even eliminated the leadership of the Sufi-oriented Barelvi sect in the country. With virtually the entire North-West Frontier Province under Taliban control, Islamic radicalism is spreading through southern Punjab into towns from where officers and soldiers of the Pakistan Army are recruited.

The Army itself is getting radicalised, reflecting sociological trends within the Punjabi heartland. Moreover, the Punjabi military elite in Pakistan does not relish the prospect of fighting Pashtuns. It is, therefore, unrealistic for the Americans to expect that the Pakistan Army has either the will or the inclination to deal with the Pashtun Taliban.

The Americans now appear to better understand the fragilities and failings of the Pakistani state. With American supply convoys being regularly attacked within Pakistan, Washington and its NATO allies are finalising agreements with Russia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and even Iran to provide alternative supply routes to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan, thus eroding the strategic salience of Pakistan.

But with the Pakistan Army bent on retaining its jihadi infrastructure, will Washington have any choice but to permit the Afghan Army, which is being built up, to play a more pro-active role in guarding Afghanistan’s frontiers against Taliban incursions from Pakistani soil? In this volatile scenario, New Delhi will have to devise new and more effective strategies to guarantee national security.

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Victims of ‘Angrezi hatao’
by Syed Nooruzzaman

Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav’s opposition to the learning of English reminds one of the days when the “Angrezi hatao” movement in the late sixties had made the then UP government introduce changes in the school curriculum. One of the socialist leaders of those days, Raj Narain (better known for filing a case against Indira Gandhi in the Allahabad High Court after the 1971 elections which led to the declaration of the 1975 Emergency), was among the most vocal opponents of the English language.

The sadistic pleasure of the socialists knew no bounds when the UP School Education Board announced that English would not be taught as a compulsory subject in all the government and government-aided schools and intermediate colleges. The teaching of general English as a compulsory subject at the graduation level was also done away with in the state universities.

While these enemies of the language rejoiced at their “achievement”, thousands of students suffered silently. This writer, in the 11th class at that time in Azamgarh, was one of the victims. Being a student of agriculture science, I came to know that the board had issued instructions that, instead of English, we would have to study mathematics as an elementary subject. Three precious months had already elapsed after the beginning of the new academic session when the change in the curriculum came about.

An idea about our predicament could be had from the fact that those of us who later on shifted to places like Delhi were refused admission to a graduation course. I cannot forget the shock I suffered when my admission form was given back to me, saying that a person who had not studied even elementary English at the higher secondary or intermediate level was barred from getting admission to any course in Delhi University.

By that time I was aware that English was the language of growth. We were told by our elders that the primary reason for the Muslims’ backwardness was their rejection of English education, including this language. Muslim religious leaders, in particular, wanted the community to remain away from the language of the “Firangis” (the British), who had “deprived them of power”. Had there been no Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University, who vehemently fought against this negative thinking, the condition of the community would have been worse.

My elders told me that Sir Syed tried to eliminate the pathological hatred among the Muslims against English by describing it as the language of science and technology. It opened the window on knowledge and progress, he would say. Yet he was slapped with a “fatwa” (religious decree), declaring him a “kafir”.

The elders’ sermon opened our eyes, but our problem was how to pursue our studies. We saw light at the end of the tunnel when one fine morning somebody suggested that we could realise our dream of higher education by taking admission to a graduation course in a nearby college in UP. A four-year struggle of daily commuting from Delhi to Ghaziabad (UP), where our college was located, bore fruit. But, more than that, it was the love for English that ultimately changed the destiny of the victims of “Angrezi hatao”.

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Nuclear talks fail
North Korea shows inspectors the door
by Paul Richter and John Glionna

NORTH Korea on Tuesday ordered international nuclear inspectors out of the country and said it would “never again” take part in denuclearisation talks, dealing a harsh, early setback to the Obama administration’s hopes of disarming the defiant regime.

In a strident reaction to a U.N. rebuke over its recent missile launch, the government took a sequence of provocative steps, including making an announcement that it would resume building nuclear weapons.

The White House said North Korea had taken “a serious step in the wrong direction” but offered no hint on how it plans to restart the long-stalled drive to abolish Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The presence of international inspectors and ongoing multinational negotiations provide U.S. officials a partial sense of security, even without significant steps toward a final agreement.

North Korea periodically seeks to avoid the constant gaze of inspectors and diplomats. It also may have used such periods to press for technological advances.

For instance, North Korea suspended talks for most of 2006, saying it was protesting U.S. financial sanctions. During that period, it test fired seven missiles and conducted an underground nuclear test.

Analysts said this week’s developments could force U.S. officials to take steps they have long avoided, such as approaching North Korea with one-on-one negotiations in order to rekindle broader negotiations involving China, Russia, Japan, the United States and North and South Korea, a process known as the six-party talks.

The North Koreans took the formal step Tuesday of giving official notice to the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency that it wanted its inspectors to leave, and disclosed plans to restart its plutonium production facility.

“There is no need for six party talks anymore,” said a statement by the North Korean Foreign Ministry.

Despite the ominous developments and the difficulty they created for President Barack Obama, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration was “quite pleased” with Monday’s U.N. Security Council statement, which had been strenuously pushed by the administration.

Nonetheless, some officials acknowledged that the resumption of the six-party talks, a top administration goal, were likely to be suspended for an indefinite period.

Charles L. Pritchard, who was a Korea negotiator for both the Bush and Clinton administrations, said that while the talks may not be dead, “they’re going to be on ice for quite a while.” He noted that North Korea previously had broken off the talks for more than a year, referring to the period between 2005 and 2006.

In September, North Korea had temporarily removed inspectors from the plant at the sprawling Yongbyon nuclear compound where it had previously processed weapons-grade plutonium. At that time, North Korea was believed to have enough weapons-grade plutonium for as many as 10 bombs.

Officials had made it clear that they were angry because the United States had not followed through on a pledge to remove North Korea from a list of countries that the U.S. says sponsor terrorism.

U.S. officials have been urging Security Council members for more than a week to condemn the most recent launch, which it viewed as a test of Pyongyang’s intercontinental missile capability, and a breach of Security Council resolutions. North Korean officials contended the April 5 launch was legal, and intended only to boost a communications satellite into orbit.

U.S. military and intelligence officials have said that if there was a satellite on the rocket, it did not make it to orbit, contradicting North Korean declarations that the orbiter was broadcasting patriotic music to earth.

Initially, China and Russia resisted efforts to censure the North Koreans. However, U.S. and Japanese diplomats, along with others, succeeded Monday in persuading all 15 Security Council members to agree to a compromise in the form of a nonbinding statement that chastised Pyongyang for violating U.N. resolutions.

The White House deplored North Korea’s vow to withdraw from the talks and to restart its nuclear program. “We call on North Korea to cease its provocative threats,” Gibbs said.

The United States has also asked the U.N. sanctions committee to develop a list of companies and organizations that are to be the target of new international penalties.

Past economic sanctions have had little or no effect on Pyongyang. But U.S. officials said the importance of the United Nations statement was to demonstrate that key players in the region — notably including China, which has the greatest leverage — were united.

In Seoul, South Korean officials said they would react to North Korea’s declarations “in a calm manner,” but said that Pyongyang’s response to the U.N. actions was “stronger than expected considering such strong words as `never’ were used,” a South Korean foreign ministry official told Yonhap news service.

Some Asian analysts were dismayed at North Korea’s words.

“Isn’t this what the United States expected?” asked Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korean studies expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, noting the American call for sanctions.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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When community takes charge of education
by Sachin Jain

Nagaland, tucked away in the northeastern part of India, has been witness to sweeping changes in its countryside where 80 per cent of its people live. A small village Khonoma, about 40 km from the capital Kohima, is reflective of this.

Here, in spite of six schools, 32 per cent of children remained out of the school system. Teachers remained absent and the attitude towards education was casual within the village community. That was before 2002.

In Khonama today there is not a single child who is not registered at school. A system of management and monitoring has evolved to ensure the child’s continued presence during the entire period of the learning years.

The winds of change are causing a similar transformation across the educational scene in Nagaland, having a Christian majority of 90 per cent and a land inhabited by 16 tribes having a distinct culture, language, ethnicity and way of life.

The roots of this change lie in the motivation of enlightened sections within the ruling polity to hand over to communities the ownership and management of government institutions and policy implementation.

An Act passed in 2002-03 defines this process of “communitisation” related to key areas like education, health, water, electricity, tourisms and conservation of bio-diversity.

The process of “communitisation” does not indicate a shifting of responsibility from the government to the community. It is based on a wider vision to broaden the scope and potential in the field by involving those it impacts most.

Kose Seche, a local who is part of the Education Committee, says that involving the community so closely in the education system has knit them together. There is a sense of accountability and a growing perception on the significance of this move within the community.

The wave has caught on, leading to a deepening of the local initiative and a sense of commitment and ownership in areas shrugged off in other parts of our country as the ‘government’s responsibility’ . Steps are now being taken based on the local needs of educational institutions and children.

Concerned about the number of children out of the school system, the Midland Ward Education Committee in Kohima collected funds to conduct a research on children out of the school system. They went on to build a small two-room school built on land donated by one of the locals, Raneli Belho.

Sensing a need to increase the number of teachers, the Ching Melen Education Committee recruited two new teachers whose salaries were paid by community contributions. They further took steps to construct a hostel for students, which was a need of the hour.

Beginning in 2002, 205 primary schools in 90 villages were handed over to the tribal community. Today in all 1,286 villages, the 1,459 schools have followed suit. Of these villages 890 have the enviable record of not a single child out of the schools system.

According to Seche, the first year was devoted to largely observing and understanding the present system. The formation of Village Education Committees (VEC) now has taken centre-stage in reforming the educational system and defining its standards.

Comprising teachers, parents, NGOs, churches and village community, it has begun to play a crucial role to examine the functioning of the education system and take corrective actions where necessary.

Hearing about teachers who were continually absent from their duties, the VEC set up a vigilance committee. A register to mark the attendance in all schools of the area was kept and based on this the errant teachers were either brought to book or weeded out of the system.

The VEC, which has women as one-fourth of its members, has taken a bold step of “no work no pay”. The presence of teachers is marked and performance noted before releasing their salaries.

The VEC has been given control over the funds available for education and this move has had a singular impact in inculcating the sense of ownership.

Government funds under that particular head are deposited with the VEC, which then has the independence to control and assign it under various heads.

Says veteran educationist Slehu Terhuja, “We do not claim that everything has changed because of the involvement of the community, but it is a fact that now the community has a stake in the education system”

Apart from the conventional syllabi, courses in tribal culture and local development have been introduced. The child-teacher ratio in Nagaland is highly favourable at 1 teacher per 21 students as compared to the all-India average ratio of 1 teacher per 42 students.

There has been a marked improvement in the percentages of school dropout rate, in checking teacher absenteeism, in judicious utilisation of funds and infrastructure, in development and monitoring of the mid-day meal scheme.

As debates on government control versus privatisation have dogged several areas of public life and service, Nagaland has hit upon a middle path. A path of innovation, of enterprise and a convergence not a conflict between the different players. Creativity and inputs of the community have been brought into the process while retaining the involvement of the government.

This was recognised by the United Nations Service Awards for Communitisation in July 2008 . The innovative use of rich social capital has been hailed as an example for others in the comity of nations and societies to emulate.

With the winds of change sweeping Nagland’s villages, what is particularly heartening is that it is all geared towards nurturing the young and channelling their talent and capabilities to create a brilliant future.

— Charkha Features

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Animals can’t be left to starve
by P.J. Huffstutter

JONI Taylor’s family was evicted from their home in coastal Los Angeles when she was 15. They couldn’t pay the mortgage and moved away, leaving the family’s cats to fend for themselves.

It happened decades ago, but Taylor still remembers how she cried for months. She imagined the animals roaming the streets, confused and hungry. Every few days, she would go to the grocery store and head back to her old neighborhood with a supply of canned tuna and hope.

So when the unemployment rate began to skyrocket in Portland in recent months, she knew what she had to do.

“People shouldn’t have to choose between going hungry and giving up the family dog,” said Taylor, now a 53-year-old grandmother and head of Friends Involved in Dog Outreach, or FIDO, a group that helps rally support and donations for the Clackamas County dog shelter.

Taylor and some friends called pet shops and animal food makers, asking: Could they spare a bag or two of dried dog food? Maybe a box of pet chews or puppy treats? Thousands of pounds of dried and canned food poured in.

In February, Taylor and her friends started a dog food bank in this Portland suburb, handing out a 30-day supply to anyone who showed up at their storage facility on the third Saturday of the month. No questions asked. They focused on dogs because there was already a local cat food bank.

On a recent Saturday, a crowd of nearly three dozen people shuffled and shivered in the morning rain. Taylor, who works as an accountant during the week, saw the anxious look in people’s eyes. They stared at the ground and stood apart from one another.

Eric Gateley and Bella, a 2-year-old boxer, waited quietly until a volunteer called out his name. Gateley, 40, lost his job as a construction manager in June and has been living in a motel with his wife and 9-year-old son since January. Relatives in Texas have been sending money to help them cover the bills.

He has been trying to make his son believe that their motel stay is an adventure. They swim in the motel’s pool. They get McDonald’s and curl up in front of the TV on the weekends for movie marathons.

“My wife and I, we have to put on a front for our son,” Gateley said. There’s a certain relief in coming for free dog food. “With Bella,” Gateley said, nodding to the caramel-colored dog at his feet, “I don’t have to fake it.”

Taylor, her round face flushed from exertion and graying brown ponytail wet from the rain, listened to part of his story. “You don’t need to explain,” she said. “Come back if you need more.”

There is a familiar ring to the tales she hears. Taylor remembers how her mother struggled to feed her five children after the family was evicted.

The children were sent to stay with friends nearby who offered a spare room. At least once a week, they would drive Taylor and her sisters to their old neighborhood.

She spent hours wandering around the family home, searching the overgrown backyard and calling the cats’ names. Sometimes, they came running. Once plump, they had grown scrawny.

Last year, a social worker told Taylor about people skipping meals in order to feed their children and pets.

She reached out to her friend Linda Cloud, 63, who heads FIDO’s program delivering pet food to senior citizens and the housebound. Cloud knew of senior shut-ins spooning Meals on Wheels dishes into the pet bowl.

Cloud’s group supplied a first shipment of food. And their joint call for donations and volunteers worked. In the warehouse, wooden pallets were piled nearly 6 feet high with dried sirloin-flavored kibble and faux bacon treats. The scent of beef and chicken was thick.

Pat Foss, a quality inspector for a manufacturing company who was bracing to be laid off, gnawed on her lower lip as she filled out a food-bank form.

She listed the names and weights of four of her seven dogs: The food bank allows each household food for only four. Hers are former strays. Foss, 47, can’t bear to shut her kitchen door to an animal in need.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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