In the midst of a four wall cage called HOME !!!

My last job that ended on 26th January, 2014 gave me a chance to look into the deepest rural areas of India where I found that being an iconoclast myself won’t change the way tribals of Madhya Pradesh live in their confines of mud houses. They will continue to live with their own rituals and culture. I also got a chance to get the feel of the culture of Rajasthan when I stayed in Balapura village of Uniyara block in Tonk district. There I got to see the sorry state of women where they are beaten everyday and Parda Pratha is practiced. Only a 5 % of the girls make it to class 10th and most of them are married before they see their 18th monsoon. I thought that the lack of exposure to outer world has confined the women to their mud houses and is responsible for their plight. I also had a feeling that the India of metro cities has changed and I am trapped in rural areas where people have such a shallow thinking. On 27th January, 2014, I moved back to Delhi after a span of 6.5 years to join the prestigious NCDEX SPOT Exchange Ltd. It was a double delight for me as I moved to a better job in my hometown. I was happy to get back to sophisticated urban life once again. I was even happier to see my parents happy. The first four months were like one way traffic where I enjoyed every bit of my life. I was learning as much as I can with my travelling job which kept me out of Delhi for 20 days of the month. After these four months were over, I got a project which needed me to stay in Delhi. Hence in the last two months I got more time to spend with my family. The last two months made me realize that nothing has changed in my family since I left Delhi 6.5 years ago. It is highly patriarchal and the women of my family still don’t have any say in the decisions of the  family especially if they are pecuniary. I and my sister fight for the cause but fail everyday when we see our mother standing quite in every discussion we have. Mind you, my mother is a post graduate in arts and still has not availed any benefits from her degree. Two of my cousins are living abroad, one in USA and the other in England. But I am distraught to say that both my sisters in law have chosen to become a home maker. Both of them are highly qualified but chose their husband when it came to making a choice between their career and husband. One of my friend who was a system engineer in Infosys, left her job to assist her husband in USA as his house wife. One of my former room mates who I thought was forward looking, works in Pune in an IT company. He married a girl who is an MBA and made her his house wife. He also got a Honda Aspire in his dowry. Needless to say that the parents of all the four girls mentioned above are over the moon. And this all is happening in so called ‘sophisticated and developed’ cities of India. Is this what our women are made of? Whose mistake is it? Who forced them to end their career for their husbands? Why is it always right for a girl to sacrifice and wrong for a guy to do the same for his wife? Will a guy leave his job and go with his wife abroad if she gets a job in USA or England?

The great Indian Culture

If I can’t change it in my home then how can I dream of changing it elsewhere. We in India are not allowed to raise our voices against our elders even if we know that they are wrong. This is not in our rudimentary culture. Devoid of all the support even from their parents, girls in our homes find no place to vent their frustration. Finally they decide to get along their life and make their husband’s life their own. We pray goddess Durga but want our wives to be Savitri (Who brought Satyavan back from the grasp of Yamraj) who will always save our ass. Durga Pooja is celebrated for nine days where every single day is dedicated to a different Avatar of the goddess but our culture has no place for her in real. Women in India are expected fast for the well being of their husband on the festival of Karva Chauth. Why is there no such festival for well being of women? The answer lies in our culture again. I recently saw one of my female colleague leave her job because she got married. Why can’t a man move to the city where his future wife works. Why is sacrifice always on the shoulders of a woman? Our culture is the first wall of our cage made of steel.

Ram, Ravan and Krishna

According to Hindu Mythology, Ram was the best man who ever lived. I will say that he was not even close. A man who renounces his wife even after Agnipariksha, so that society may not point finger at him is no man. But today, we Indians are not even Ram. We want to be Krishna,who is always surrounded by Gopis. Ravana was a better man than Ram and Krishna at least before getting his eyes on Sita. He initially wanted to revenge the insult of his sister Shurpanakha. That was the respect he had for his sister. We in India consider women as our investment, where people even think of marrying a girl who in 5-6 years younger than them, to satisfy their lascivious desires till the age of 55-56 considering the age of menopause of women. We in India, appreciate when Saina Nehwal or Sania Mirza wins laurels for India or when Priyanka Chopra or Aishvarya Rai gets the Miss World crown but when our own daughters try to make careers in these fields, we raise eyebrows on their sports wear or fashionable clothes. Suddenly our culture reminds us that it is wrong. We want a bovine wife and on other hand become a tiger ourselves to satiate our carnal desires. So, these are our options to chose from. We can be Ram, Ravan or Krishna. Given the choices we have, I don’t think anyone is even close to perfect. So here stands the second wall of the cage made of reinforced cement.

Sita is alive but Durga is dead

Our women must have forgotten the bravery of Rani Laxmi Bai but they never forget that they are the Laxmi of their house. They never object to dowry given to their future husband especially in arranged marriages. They don’t like to fight for their career and independence. They are happy in relaxing in their house the whole day even if it means that they will have to eat the food bought from the salary of their husband. For this they also kill the Durga within them. They don’t want to raise any questions on their husbands because they are dependent on them. They happily go to the official parties of their husbands, leaving behind their own friend circle. She may also join a gym or learn new recipes to delight their husband. A necklace they adore has to wait till their husband gets them one. Even the working women cooks for her family each and every time. Why can’t she tell her husband to take equal responsibility for the same. This is because Durga is dead and only Sita is left. This attitude is the third wall of the cage made of bricks.

The Education

Even our education system is such that it allows women to top universities and board exams but closes the doors when it comes to equal opportunity in job. We even make our daughters study, only to get them a good husband with lesser dowry to give. When I was 10 years old, I asked my father that why girls are taught if they have to become a house wife in future. His answer was,” To teach their children in future.” Our studies should also include a subject on gender equality instead of Yoga which has been forcefully enforced by some of the states. Our children should be taught from the start that everyone is equal and there is no shame for a boy to be beaten by a girl. Whatever training is given to the boys whether physical or mental, should also be given to a girl. The lack of purposeful education forms the fourth wall of the cage made of mud.

The change

On one hand where I have seen the dire condition of women in our society, I have also seen a silver lining. Some of my female friends are also fighting for their cause and are not ready to give up their ambitions. I also salute those guys who are helping their wives to keep them independent. I will also like to thank the women like Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal and Sania Mirza who have given us hope that change is possible. But for that we need to break the four walls mentioned above. The easiest one to breach is the mud wall of education. The second one made of bricks will be broken by the will of our women to remain independent. The third wall made of reinforced cement may need a bulldozer of sanity for men who consider their wives a showpiece and a machine to deliver children. The fourth and strongest wall to be broken is of the rudimentary culture. This wall can be breached only by continuous weakening. Some holes need to be done in this wall by renouncing some of the cultural boundaries. Slowly but surely this wall will also fall. This is not an overnight process. This cage has stood for centuries and it can not be razed in a single day, but we should start removing the bricks today.

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Why Rural Development Sector sucks for its employees – A comparison with a soldier ???

A soldier fights for his country and it does not matter to him that while the whole nation is celebrating a national holiday or relaxing in their beds on a Sunday afternoon, he is still patrolling the borders in a temperature less than 0 degree Celsius. He never complaints about his situation and is proud of what he does. He is proud to be a soldier because the whole nation sees him with respect and his village celebrates Diwali when he returns from a war alive. Also he has benefits from his employer for his family. He knows that if he remains alive till his retirement, he will never have to worry again and will live in comforts of a city like Dehradun or Delhi. At least the future of his family is secured.

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I consider a rural development professional very similar to a soldier minus the perks a soldier gets. From here on I have denoted ‘he’, ‘him’ or ‘his’ for a development professional. (That does not mean that I have any less respect for the female development professionals) He quietly lives a soldier’s life where some of his relatives claim that all NGOs are made to siphon off the money or to turn “black money into white”. His parents are not comfortable in telling their friends and relatives that their son works for an NGO and earns Rs 30000/Month after doing B. Tech and then MBA from a top 20 college. Even the community for which he works for, does not respect him. Instead the community only becomes more demanding every passing day.

Following are the reasons for an attrition rate of more than 50% in rural development sector:-

Nil HR policies of an NGO

In the board meetings of a national level NGO taking place in an AC conference hall, the focus is never on HR policies and only new formats are decided for reporting in the name of discussion of HR policies. There is a huge communication gap between the Upper Management and the HR head. For example what if the CEO of the organization sanctions a holiday of an employee from 3rd August to 13th August on 1st August and the employee receives a mail from the HR head on 6th August that a review meeting has been kept on 10th and 11th August? How disgusted will an employee feel after that? The employees are made to work on Sundays and on national holidays like Independence day. This is a sector where an employee works from 5:00 AM to 2 PM on a Diwali only to find out that even then his organization does not care for him. Leave alone a compensatory leave or an overtime for his efforts, the big guys are even shy of appreciating an individual’s efforts. Forget a two day weekend holiday, a development professional is lucky enough if he does get a rest on one Sunday/month. And after all this exploitation, he waits for his salary at the end of the month which is peanuts as compared to his caliber. But here too he will have to beg in front his accountant several times to get his salary before he gets it on 15th of the next month. There are no retirement benefits for a development professional. He hardly earns enough to manage his family’s expenses. The upper management will always come up with a method to stop him from preparing for his life ahead. The best is yet to come. The organizations do not keep their word when it comes to their promises made during the recruitment period. An employee is bound to feel a disengaged from his work when his in hand salary is reduced by Rs 5000 after three months of his whole hearted service. How will one feel when neither his reports are replied on by anyone nor there is any reply from the HR Team when a two page complaint mail was sent by him seeking some clarifications. Guess who are the HR heads of these NGOs. They are not MBAs. Not even BBAs. They the people who are mere graduates with a field experience of 5-7 years. How can you expect a person with no knowledge of HR to frame HR policies of an organization with more than 200 employees?

The community you want to develop, does not want to develop

After burning his oil day and night for the community, expecting that he is doing good for his country, one fine day he learns that the community is drowned in alcohol and drugs by the help of extra money they generated with his help. Friends, that is the moment when he gets shattered and wants to leave everything. The very purpose for which he joined this dirty sector is defeated at that very moment and his dreams of becoming a change agent are burnt to ashes. The community does not want a sustainable solution for its problems. Instead they want short term benefits. The extra money they make is not saved by them. Instead that money is spent by them on some foolish religious practices or on alcohol and tobacco. Is this really development?

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Once you are in, there is a very narrow bumpy road out

A rural development professional is placed in a small block which may not even have a railway station in it. If he wants to move forward and put himself to the test of some exams, he will need to take minimum three holidays to travel to a city and take the exam there. Moreover, he tends to loosen up his grip on spoken English due to a very low exposure to the language during his stay at the field of the operation. Thus his communication skills also suffer. There is a time in his job when he feels underutilized, and he wants to move on but as I said earlier, he has a very narrow bumpy road ahead of him.

The government and funding agencies

When he goes to the community, they respect him but in return they demand for everything free of cost. Unfortunately, the beautiful policies of the government have made them totally lazy and dependent on the pieces thrown by the government every five years. A lady who is the head of an SHG federation is getting beaten up by his husband everyday but the organization turns a blind eye to this because it is not in its project. When some determined young employees take to teaching poor kids of the village out of their own personal interest, the organization intervenes and stops them from doing this good deed, accusing them of not focusing on their work. Earlier I talked about the problem of alcoholism in the rural society and its effect. On an average approximately Rs 1200/month are spent by a villager on Gutkha, tobacco, alcohol and religious practices. Instead of discouraging these practices, the organization sometimes ends up encouraging it by indulging itself into the same practices. The organization does not even take a single step to stop this practice because they have only got funds for increasing the income of the households and not to regularize the expenditure. After all this, do you really want to believe that the organization wants to do something good for the community? The rigid funding agencies just want to stick to their norms without seeing the ground realities of the field. Their inflexible attitude makes it impossible for him to give benefits of the scheme to the community. Was he here to just execute a rigid project or to do good for the community? End Result: Zero satisfaction.

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The cruel society

When his relatives hear that he works for an NGO, they look down upon him and marks him as a failure at that very moment. Especially when he is from a city, his uncles give him a pity look whenever he meets them. Being disgraceful to his profession, they show concern that how his bad luck has taken him to the shabby villages from a high tech city. This part of his life is called ‘being an odd one out’. Their words may not have concerned him if he was satisfied with the results of his work or if the organization would have respected him. But the organization, the beneficiary community, the government policies, the funding agencies and the society have failed him all together. Even he can have only limited personal ambitions for his life if he wants to continue in the same sector for his lifetime. How difficult it will be for him if he wants to marry a working girl who is not in the same profession, he is in, given the fact that he lives in a small block in a remote area? Hence it is a very common feature of a family of a male development professional that either he has a house wife or a person working in the same organization. What if his girlfriend works in a city and they both want to marry but his job stops him from doing so?

Conclusion

  • The true HR professionals need to be hired by the NGOs to improve their nearly non-existent HR policies.
  • The community can only gradually understand the importance of his work and hence he should remain patient.
  • Instead of creating hurdles when an employee wants to move on, the NGOs should concentrate more on retaining talent by using better ways.
  • The organizations should look beyond the scope of the projects from funding agencies. He should be given freedom to help the community independently until and unless he is not using the organization’s resources.
  • The sector should be glorified in the same way as the armed forces. The image of NGOs needs a makeover as soon as possible.
  • The NGOs should hire an employee only if it can respect him, both financially and personally.
  • A person should join the rural development sector only if he has no expectations from his life and he wants to dedicate it completely to the service of his nation without expecting anything in return.

In search of true GOD – The Right Vs The easy

Recently I have been a part of many heated debates revolving around GOD. Many a times I was completely ambushed by my friends who are firm believers of Hindu religion. On other times I was enlightened on the issue by some intellectuals. Some questions didn’t let me sleep properly for last few days. What is worship? What is religion? Who are priests? Who is GOD? Why do we pray (read ‘beg’) to GOD? I never ever believed in going to religious places or fasting to make GOD happy. I am thankful to my religious family that they never imposed any religious practices on me. I always hated giving money in the the temples and to the beggars. I never prayed to GOD. My maternal aunt kept on reminding me again and again that I need to pray to deserve the blessings of GOD. Does this make me an atheist? I don’t think so. I firmly believe in GOD.

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In the recently concluded Navratras, Durga pandals were a common sight in every village of Kotma, Anuppur, Madhya Pradesh. I am lucky enough to work in development sector and to serve tribal community of Madhya Pradesh. Even in these poor villages, people give all their savings in the name of GOD without any doubt in their mind. One of these Durga Pandals was placed just behind my room in Kotma. The so called priests started their Bhajans at 5:30 A.M. in the morning and continued till 12:00 Midnight. It really gave me a headache for those 9 days. On it, they came asking for donations after the event was over. Even my office colleagues told me to give the donation warning me that otherwise these salespersons of GOD may resort to violence against me. But I never gave into their demands. I wonder why are these people maligning GOD by their acts of violence in his name. These priests can not be agents of GOD in any case.

In the district of Anuppur, snake bites are very common which in many cases are fatal. In a report published in Times Of India, most number of deaths due to snake bites take place in this district of MP. People resort to blind faith and Godmen when it comes to cure of such things. It is not the case that venom cure is not available for these snake bites in primary health centers but people don’t believe in it. They say that it is the will of GOD if a person dies of snake bite. Why do we always blame GOD for our own failures? If we fail in exam, do not get a job or fail to execute our plan then how is GOD responsible for it?

Similarly, we pay at the temples, beg in front of GOD and fast to make things happen. But even the GOD will agree that no one will get even a single penny without working for it. Having no offense to priests, I would like to say that they have made our country lazy. We have become overdependent on GOD. We must understand that when we fall on the ground, GOD will not come to lift us from it. We will have to stand back by our own efforts. Similarly we will pass in the exam only by our own efforts. A maulana or a pandit will not come and teach you for that.

Does praying to GOD makes him happy? Or is it our deed which brings us closer to GOD? If the answer to the former question is yes, then I will be happy to renounce that GOD. But if the answer to the latter question is yes then I feel that I have got more blessings from GOD than all priests combined.

I can only hope that our country release itself from the clutches of religion and blind faiths that claim the lives of our innocent citizens and loot them on everyday basis.

“If we need to fight over religion, Oh GOD I pray to you to make us all atheists.”

My struggle with public speaking

English was always my weakest subject during most part of my school life. I remember getting 50-60 marks out of 100 in my English examinations till class ninth. Though I tried my best to learn the language, I was not able to grasp the rules of English grammar. Then a turning point came in my life when I was in class ninth. My School in charge ridiculed me in front of the whole class for not speaking English correctly and for making numerous grammatical mistakes in a single sentence. She said that I will never be able to do public speaking. I was ashamed that day but I made a resolution to prove my teacher wrong some day. I bought the book of English grammar written by Wren and Martin and started reading it. I remember how I used to practice in front of the mirror to speak in English.

Slowly but surely by the end of my school life, I started to improve my writing and grammatical skills. My mark sheets of 10th and 12th class are the proofs of it. But still I was not confident enough that I can speak in public. I started preparing for CAT from 3rd year of B. Tech.  Then I realised that I can’t improve my verbal skills alone. I formed a group of 12-15 friends in my college and we started to have group discussions on a regular basis. I gained some confidence about my spoken English as well as about my written English. With my hard work and dedication I scored 98 percentile in CAT examination and 97 percentile in Verbal section of it. My struggle with spoken English continued during the GD/PI process of various colleges but I finally got through Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar.

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I continued my struggle there too. Finally I got success in overcoming my fear of public speaking when I decided to teach Microeconomics to my junior batch. I took two classes of three hours each and taught 50 students at a time. The best part was when my juniors applauded my effort and told me that they were not bored in the class for even a single minute. After those lectures, I also delivered seminars in my graduation college and my coaching institute in Dehradun about life at a B-School.

Today I do not fear to speak in front anyone. Besides developing my public speaking skills, this struggle has helped me to be persistent in life. Quitting is no more an option for me in life.

A visit to the real India (Villages of Odisha)

It was the experience which made me fall in love with rural India. At the same time it was the experience which taught me about a lot of realities of real India. I am talking about the one month village assignment which was a part of my course curriculum during PGDM in Rural Management from Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar.

ImageI was sent to Gajapati District of Odisha under the guidance of the organization called Center for Community Development. I with three of my other friends was sent to Gumma block to work on the Cashew Producers’ Co-operative and its feasibility. For the second phase of our journey we were sent to Raigada block where we worked on the Fruits and Vegetable Producers’ Co-operative and its feasibility.

ImageDuring my stay of one month in the remote villages of India, I saw numerous hardships which came as a blessing in disguise for me. I had to walk up the hill with a ten Kg bag on my back,  had to sleep on the floor for thirty days, bath at a spring, take out water from a hand pump every day, walk seven to eight kilometers every day, live without electricity and mobile network for many days, and many more. These hardships have made me so strong that I can now adjust almost anywhere in India.

On one hand where I was battling with my everyday hardships, on the other hand I also got a chance to experience the hardships of a common farmer in a village called Gantara in Gumma block of Gajapati District. The name of that farmer was Pushkar Gomango who was 54 year old. He was having an annual income of Rs 6000 from a small farm of 0.25 acre where he cultivated rice. We were amazed to know that he was raising a family of four in this meager income. For six months, he has to migrate to cities like Surat and Hyderabad to find some work as a labourer. Even after this condition, he offered us food to eat which consisted of rice and cauliflower. I learnt the lesson of simple living from this farmer.

Image This one month was nothing short of a lifetime experience where I learned the realities of life and the methods to fight its adversities. When I started my journey to the hinterland, I thought that villages should come into mainstream with cities but when I left the countryside, I was bound to think that my definition of mainstream was wrong. Villages are our true mainstream; we should align with nature and come back to our rural (real) India. There can be no better learning than this.