The Silent Genocide

Genocide is defined as “The deliberate killing of a large group of people, esp. those of a particular ethnic group or nation.”

The Holocaust during World War II killed more than 6 million European Jews as part of a deliberate extermination program by Hitler’s Germany.In a span of 4 years between 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge organized mass killings of ideologically different groups and ethnic minorities resulting in a death toll pegged at around 2.5 million. One of their mottos for the people they killed was “To keep you in no benefit.To destroy you is no loss” Chairman Mao, under whose administration systemic human rights abuses caused the deaths of over 63 million people in People’s Republic of China, can easily claim the top slot for being responsible for the worst genocide in history.

But what if there were 200 million people already killed and more being killed every minute?Vanishing off this face of earth even before majority had a chance to have an identity.

And what if we might even know the killers.They could be our friends, colleagues, relatives, maids, the person who salutes you or the driver you travel with everyday.

What if it is one of us ?

Genocide with a minor difference. Femicide.”The deliberate killing of a large group of people, esp. gender specific elimination of females.” 200 million women/girls/infants foetuses have been killed,aborted or abandoned through deliberates acts of extermination which is more than all the casualties of World War I and II combined. India and China are the leading countries responsible for the maximum number of deaths, eliminating more girls than the number of girls born in America.

Female Infanticide

India kills her daughters in millions.Of those who manage to survive past the fetus stage, many will die before they turn 6.The 2013 census shows there are 940 females for every 1000 males. The killers are the parents, relatives and caregivers of the child.How would you imagine the face of a killer ? Whatever you imagine would be a far cry from the smiling faced genial looking woman shown in the video below.She smilingly admits to having killed 8 of her female children.Her apparent nonchalance about the act shocks us into a realization of exactly how ubiquitous a practice this has become.How is she different from the average psychopath ? Human beings have been known to adapt to the most bizarre of circumstances where even the most bizarre can get commonplace.Our culture of patrilineal families where male children traditionally inherit,contribute economically and perform last rites gives preference to male off-springs vis-a-vis a female offspring where she is perceived as a liability and a drain on the family’s resources. Exorbitant dowries lends credence to this perception.

In China,the stringent restriction on family sizes and adoption of the one child policy lead to more couples opting to terminate female fetuses.In 1979, when China introduced the one-child policy, the effect was to create a premium on the one child, couples would have and in the second generation of the ‘one-child’ parents, there were no siblings,aunts,uncles or cousins leading to the reliance of the adults on a single child for all economic support.
Generations of male preference along with the tradition of bride money and dowry for females, results in selective abortion. Infants are killed either by the family by drowning,suffocation and starvation, or are killed by the state,where doctors kill third children or infants born without permission.

Keeping aside the human rights violation involved, a skewed sex ratio is a precursor to various other societal ills. There are more ‘free’ unattached men or ‘bare branches’in a society leading to increased crime rate, depression, sexual attacks on women,prostitution and trafficking. More crimes against women would mean more female foeticides and the cycle would continue.Haryana is the worst hit state,with the lowest sex ratio of 877 females per 1000 males.With a complete dearth of brides, families often pay money to a broker to buy a bride from another state.An India Today article reads “A woman costs Rs.30,000, a buffalo Rs.70,000”.

Surprisingly the literacy theory,which is often touted to be the panacea, falls flat when we look at the census data from Jhajjar which has high literacy of 80% but the worst sex ratio of 774 girls per 1000. The 2005 Amendment to the Hindu Succession Act, which allows daughters equal ownership in property, has had a negative impact in Jhajjar where land prices are very high.Here fetuses are aborted as families don’t want the daughters to get a share in the property.

Clearly, the solution needs further consideration. Removing the perceived liability and increasing the economic stature for a girl is most obvious way to go.Easier said than done, legal solutions can help to a certain extent. An interesting case in point is South Korea, the one country that could change this pattern.In the 1990’s South Korea’s sex ratio was as skewed as China’s, but female education, anti-discrimination suits and equal rights rulings worked in its favor.Legal prohibitions, which have been enforced to a certain extent, do help but they have to work hand-in-hand with the larger reformative/supportive practices which encourage girls and increase the ‘value’ the society sees in a girl in the process.

What we direly need is not just ‘literacy’ but ‘education’ which enhances progressive thoughts and inculcates the right values.All traditions which equate a bride with an economic gain have to be strictly dealt with.The traditional practice of sons supporting their parents lies at the root cause of a lot of problems.This can only be changed with female literacy, increased employment opportunities and empowering a woman to support her parental family,financially if required.

We have a long way to go, but all of us in our own small ways can make a difference.In our own life, let us undertake a pledge never to be part of any deed which is gender discriminatory and let us take responsibility for changing the attitudes of the small percentage people who come in contact with us.

Evan Grae Davis speaks about the issue in this video

Franklin Templeton Investments partnered with TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012 and Evan Grae Davis was one of many inspiring speakers at the event.



Lives Well Lived

When we look at the problems ailing our country, the usual suspects line up, waiting as usual as they have from the past 66 years, to be solved.Poverty,illiteracy, clean water, electricity for all etc. We know them all,in fact so well by now, that we often tend to take them for granted.Some of us who seriously consider doing something worthwhile, get discouraged by the sheer numbers.In a country of over 1 billion, every problem meta-morphs into gigantic proportions and the sheer magnitude is upsetting.

It is said that all it takes is one idea.An idea that can change the world.But should one tarry indefinitely for that one ‘grand’ idea which would act as the panacea for a multitude of problems ? For all we know, there is no ‘grand’ idea out there waiting to be discovered. The tiniest idea capable of being a solution to the smallest of problems can become a force to reckon with. One neutron can a initiate a nuclear fission. No problem is too small to be tackled and no problem too big, that it cant be broken down to sizable chunks.In the interconnected world of today, ideas are collaborative. Ideas build on other ideas, riding on those that have proved their merit and set in motion an avalanche that suddenly makes the impossible possible.

And amongst us are a small set of people who find the right problems to solve.They are the torch bearers who shake us out of our ennui and show us what is possible if we set our mind to it.

Arunachalam Muruganantham , a TED speaker at TEDxGateway (Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012) asks each one of us to find a problem.A problem that will lead us to design solutions and in the course of which, we will learn to live a meaningful life.
One day he saw his wife resorting to unhygienic methods for her monthly periods as they could not afford the sanitary pads available in the market.A very common scenario in a country where 95% of the women use unhygienic methods including husk and ash ! Arunachalam decided to make his own low cost pads and after repeated trial and errors perfected a machine that today enables rural women to make their own low cost pads.
Being a school drop out or venturing into a totally unconventional domain didn’t stop Arunachalam from tackling the problem and today, its a no mean achievement that 706 machines are now implemented across 23 states giving employment to 7000 women and enabling more than 3.5 million women to adopt more hygienic practices. Watch Arunachalam’s TED talk and one is bound to be amazed at what perseverance can lead to.

It is only through continuous observation and a complete understanding of the needs that one arrives at the correct solution.What one discovers is that solutions need not be complex, but are occasionally very simple and at times, stare at you in the face.This is evident from the solution that Cynthiya Koenig,another TED speaker, has come up with. Water distribution and its inability to reach poor villagers has been a perennial problem.Whenever we think of village women, images of women carrying pots of water on their head comes to mind.But how many of us have given a thought to the chronic health impact,that carrying a 20 litre container across 1 to 2 kms everyday, is bound to have.

Wello Water Wheel Curtsey :
Wello Water Wheel
Curtsey :

And while other people figure out how to make clean water available at the doorstep, Cythiya worked towards making this load a little lighter in the meantime. Wello water wheel, a wheel-able water container that enables transportation of 50 liters of water over rough terrain not only makes this load bearable but also frees up valuable time and empowers them to get involved in more productive activities.Watch Cynthiya’s TED Talk and you will marvel at the simplicity of the solution.

For a gadget to work in a rural setting, the obvious requirements are that it should be economical and easy to use.The less obvious ones are that it should work without electricity, without moving parts enabling a more rugged design and should entail minimum behavior change. Suprio Das designed the Zimba Chlorine Doser to be exactly all of that.In today’s world 780 million people don’t have access to safe drinking water and 4000 children, out of which 1600 are from India alone, die daily due to preventable water borne diseases.In such a bleak scenario,the Zimba Chlorine Doser promises to be a boon by enabling safe drinking water to the poorest. Watch Suprio demonstrate his life-saving invention in his TED talk.

Arunachalam remarks of his Trial & Error method that failure is what you set yourself up for when you embark on a new journey. And it is true for any speaker at the TED forum.Take the case of Myshkin Ingawale who finally got it right after 32 attempts ! He designed a non-prick, easy to use gadget for diagnosing anemia which rural health workers can use at the point of care. Watch Myshkin demonstrate his non-invasive invention in his TED talk, that he believes will rid the world of anemia deaths.

But ideas need not be individual centric. Ideas in a collaborative mode, sometimes can garner a far greater reach and impact.Christian Sarkar’s 300 $ House, a low cost housing project is one such case.The idea, the design and the implementation was all put together in a collaborative mode and came from different people living in different parts of the world. And what resulted was the housing development for an entire village in Bihar. Watch Christian’s TED talk on how they strung it all together.

And sometimes, its not about a ‘big-bang’ idea at all. It just about witnessing situations around us and deciding to get involved.Working with people to bring about changes in mindsets is , by far, the most challenging aspect in all of this and people like Mittal Patel and Ruma Roki deal with this challenging aspect on a day to day basis.

Mittal works with over 300 Nomadic and Denotified tribes of India to give them their long lost identity and a place in today’s world.Snake charmers, street performers, are people from our yester-lives who got left behind in a fast paced world.Today 10 crores people form a part of these tribes who are not counted anywhere as they lack an identity.
She worked relentlessly and for the first time in 2008, managed to get 20000 of these people an identity card.Today her organization runs 26 schools enabling education for more than 1000 children of these tribes and works to provide access to identity cards, housing and government welfare schemes. Listen to her TED talk to hear her inspiring tale of grit and determination.

Ruma’s tale is also a tale of determination and of defying the odds where she works with hearing impaired people to enable them to live with dignity.She talks about how her work was cut out when she sought to disassociate the word ‘dumb’ from deaf from people’s mind. Listen to her TED talk to know how she got 580 of her hearing impaired students to work for leading organizations.

There are many more inspiring stories to be told and lessons to be learned from them. The common thread in all of them is that they are people who decided to take that crucial first step. As we listen to each one of them, they erode away little by little some of our inertia to act and show us that the steps are there for those who look for it. If we view problems as the opportunity to enrich our lives with more meaning, then there are plenty to pick from. As Arunachalam says, we all have to find our own problems to solve in life and live more meaningful lives in the process.