Brave in thought and word, but not in deed?

About a week back, Ms. Mohini Giri was on her way to her son’s house in New Delhi when she saw a young girl being molested by a group of men. She stopped her car and approached the group who then began hitting her for trying to intervene.

She tried to stop a PCR (Police Control Room) van which was passing by but they refused to stop “as they were taking their boss for some urgent work”. Finally, a police constable stopped and intervened in the matter. Giri says that she was too shaken by the incident to approach the police and file a complaint. Later, she emailed the Delhi Police, which then ordered an inquiry into the case.

Ms. Mohini Giri’s description of the incident, described above, was reported by Firstpost, which also gave Delhi Police’s version, which is quite different. Indian Express reports that “police claimed the girl had injured a resident in the area with her two-wheeler and angry residents had assaulted her” and that Ms. Giri “claimed that a beat constable told her that she should not have intervened in the altercation.” Later, she said, “As it is people don’t intervene when a woman is being assaulted. Why will anyone stop to help if this is the attitude?”

Even if the police version is correct, it can be correctly stated that Ms. Mohini Giri saw a girl in distress and tried to help her. For that, Mr. Giri was beaten up herself.

Ms. Mohini Giri is not a ‘common person’. According to the Wikipedia page on her, she “is an Indian social worker and activist, who has been Chairperson of the Guild of Service, a New Delhi-based social service organization …. She founded War Widows Association, New Delhi in 1972. She has also remained Chairperson of the National Commission for Women (1995-1998). In 2007, she was awarded the Padma Bhushan….. is the daughter-in-law of V. V. Giri, former President of India.

What happened to Ms. Mohini Giri is not unusual. Very often, a person who tries to help a victim ends up in trouble herself/himself. Sometimes, it is not very serious trouble, but it can be very serious trouble especially if the culprits involved are criminals or are politically connected.

Just imagine if a ‘common person’ had seen the same girl in distress and had tried to help her. This ‘common person’ would have been beaten up and, if (s)he had tried to pursue the matter further with the police, would have been arrested for assaulting the persons who were assaulting the girl. Since people don’t want to invite trouble, they “ignore a girl in distress or an accident victim on the road”.

What has each one of us done whenever we’ve seen an unknown girl in distress or an unknown accident victim on the road? If you have never faced this situation, please read this NDTV report about Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez and ask yourself what you would have done if you were one of the onlookers when Keenan and Reuben were being killed.

The sad truth is most, maybe all of us will speak passionately about this subject, we’ll write impressive blog posts on this subject, we’ll make meaningful comments on other people’s blog posts on this subject, but when we see an unknown girl in distress or an unknown accident victim on the road, we’ll do nothing. In all fairness, I wouldn’t blame any person for staying away. As Ms. Mohini Giri said, “Why will anyone stop to help if this is the attitude (of the police)?”

Can this situation ever change? I believe it can if and when people stop feeling insecure about helping other people in distress. How can that happen? That will be covered in another blog post.

As far as candlelight vigils/marches are concerned, I personally think candles can be put to better use. But, since I’ve not paid for the candles, I’ll keep my opinion to myself!

This post is in response to Indispire Edition 28: “People conveniently ignore a girl in distress or an accident victim on the road, but would enthusiastically march with candles in hand for a cause. Why?”

If more customers demand good service …

(This post was originally published on June 18, 2013.)

At about 10.00 am one day, I submitted a requisition for a Demand Draft at a branch of a leading private sector bank. The person at the counter told me that the DD couldn’t be issued because the printer was not working. She assured me that the DD would be delivered to me at my residence by 3.00 pm that day. I replied, “OK. But, please also pay me Rs. 300.00 Late Payment Fee and interest for one day @ 40% per annum. That’s what your bank charges me if I pay my credit card dues after the due date.” She looked totally puzzled, then spoke on the intercom to somebody and requested me to meet the Manager in his room. I politely stated that I wanted my DD immediately and I had no desire to meet the Manager.

Within a few seconds, the Manager came to meet me. I told him:
a. According to his bank’s norms, Demand Drafts should be issued within 10 minutes. There is no disclaimer about printer breakdown, etc..
b. His bank charges all customers Rs. 300.00 Late Payment Fee and interest @ 40% per annum if credit card dues are paid after the due date, irrespective of the reason for delay. In all fairness, the same system should apply when his bank issues a DD after 10 minutes.

When the Manager replied that there is no provision for Late Payment Fee and interest for delays in issuing DDs, I told him I would make my demand by a letter to him with a copy to the Banking Ombudsman. He requested me to wait for a few minutes and went to his room.

About 10 minutes later, he came out, gave me a handwritten DD and explained that he could do this only after taking permission from his senior. I thanked him and told him that, if he had done this in the very first instance, he would have saved himself the embarrassment of being spoken to by me in the presence of his other customers!

I had observed that other customers, including a few elderly persons, were being asked to come back to the bank at 4.00 pm to collect their DDs. All of them agreed without a murmur of protest. I wondered:
1. Were these persons not aware of their rights as customers?
2. While all others were being asked to come back to the bank to collect their DDs, I was told that the DD would be delivered to me at my residence. Why this discrimination? Had the person at the counter been instructed to handle potential ‘tough customers’ with care?

There are time norms for various services available at bank branches in India. For example, one bank’s norms are:
Cash payment: Within 8 minutes
Issuance of Demand Draft: Within 10 minutes
Collection of local cheques: Within 2 working days
Collection of outstation cheques: Within 14 working days
I’m not sure if all banks have the same norms, and if these norms are expected to be adhered to very strictly.
As far as I’m concerned, these norms are indicative, and slight deviations are acceptable because of unforeseen situations like power cut, slow system, etc.

If the service in any organisation is below the stated norms or below my reasonable expectations, I demand better service and, in most cases, I get better service.

Unfortunately, most persons in India are extremely undemanding customers. They patiently put up with poor service. Some are not even aware of their rights as customers.

If more customers demand good service, poor service will become the exception rather than the rule.

Empowering rural / tribal / differently abled youth

Meera Shenoy works with rural, tribal and differently abled youth. She is founder of Youth4Jobs (www.youth4jobs.org) which helps companies build an inclusive workforce. She is known for her work in setting up the country’s first Jobs Mission for the poor in AP. She has consulted for World Bank, ILO and UNDP across South Asia. She is currently working on a book featuring entrepreneurs who have disability and businesses with disability as their core.

Meera’s Guest Post is the text of her Convocation Speech at Sadhana Centre for Management & Leadership Development, Pune (SCMLD) on May 01, 2011.

Seven years back I took a decision to work with youth – youth around 17-18 years old, full of hope, full of aspirations. But there is a difference – they all came from remote rural and tribal villages and now I work with youth who are differently abled. Their fathers are agricultural labourers. This means if there is no rain, there is only one meal. And if father or grandmother falls ill, you have to take a loan from a moneylender at high interest. So all are permanently in a debt trap and this in management terms is called “the vicious cycle of poverty”. And this is Bharat. And what do they see on TV. Shining India, youth like you with jeans, T-shirts, motorbikes and cars… and the frustration deepens. Thus you see newspaper headlines of the spread of the Naxal belt and rise of theft and crime.

I like telling stories; real stories. Ramiah painted walls. But what he wanted to do was study and get a different kind of job. His first attempt at writing the twelfth class exam never happened as the teacher ran away with the hall ticket money. Finally, with the paper certificate he knocked at several doors for a job. Six months later, not a penny in pocket, he was back to painting walls. He entered our short term training and at the end of three months, he became a white collar McDonald’s employee. When I go to his upmarket Banjara Hills outlet, he is teaching new alumni how to please the customer, giving some Hindi coaching and sending home Rs. 24,000 a year to educate his younger sister.

Then Rama. She was born normal like you and me. When she was two year old, with high fever, her father took her to the local doctor. The injection given paralysed her limbs. She came to our training class and refused to speak.
I found her singing softly in the garden (we have an open air classroom). Her story…her father wanted her to study since her legs did not work. So he carried her on his shoulder to the bus stop. She had to take two buses and sometimes only one came. Then her tricycle to go to college would get stuck in the mud and there was no one around to push it in the torrential rain. Years of sadness because, even after the struggle and a degree, she could not get a job. We showed her and others videos in the class room where disabled dance the Mahabaratha, told them nothing is impossible. We taught them English inspiration songs like “We can overcome.” It hardly sounds like the original singer but what happens is a shift takes place. “I cannot” shifts to “I can”. Today Rama works in HDB Finance, drawing Rs.96,000 a month. Recently a disabled youth from an MNC wrote to me if I could find him a girl like him. I told him I do not know any rich girls but poor yes. So we are match making…..And who knows, Rama may just reach Austrian soils.

In this journey, as initially head of a state government Jobs Mission for the underprivileged which I set up from scratch, we trained 280,000 youth linking 70% to organized sector jobs. I built an IT architecture for transparency so that the data could be seen by the villagers and the minister. We did many innovations because no one had looked at this space, six years ago. I set up the country’s first rural retail academy with the help of industry; then I set up the grassroots English, work-readiness and computer academy in the heart of the Naxal area. … short, market-linked trainings which close the loop giving them an organized sector job. And now, we are doing the same for the visually, hearing and orthopedically impaired. The transformation of the rural, tribal and disabled youth when they get a job and stand on their own two feet can only be described in one word, “Magic”. Caste is not important, they tell me stories of rich relatives calling them, of village landlord asking if his son can get a job, and thus social and economic equations change. Girls who taste the working world want a career; so child marriage goes out of the window. And yes, I find, in many places where my alumni stay, beauty parlours are springing up for this new customer.

And these boys and girls will bring up their children into a different world – a world with education and health – a world closer to us. So, when you all fly from this college, degree in hand, remember be in the attitude of gratitude that you have received so much – from the founder, teachers, friends, parents, grandparents…And we must Give as we Get. So look around you, wherever you are, in the workplace or at home, and experience the joy of giving…To remove this Bharat-India divide and help create a young vibrant tomorrow.

Let me end with an anecdote. To receive any award I always make the youth speak. So I had taken Shekhar, a tribal boy with me to receive a South Asian award. His father had drunk himself to death and four children were brought up by a mother who earned her living by sweeping the school. We put him in a telecom company. He taught himself the intricacies of the stock market and moved to a large financial company. Shekar was speechless when he saw all the video cameras and the huge auditorium. He forgot his speech and said something from the bottom of his heart, which I want all of you to remember, “I, Shekhar, do not want your money. You have been to better schools, colleges and countries. I need only your time to grow my knowledge.”

What did you do?

Please spare 9 minutes to watch this thought-provoking video.

What have you done on the various occasions when you saw somebody doing something that you thought was wrong?

On each occasion, did you do whatever you think you should have done?

Did you do whatever you think you should have done on some occasions, but not on other occasions? Why the difference in response?

WhatsApp, not WhatsCrap!

A few days back, I received the following WhatsApp message from a friend who is in her late forties:
In a few seconds, I’ll forward a ‘joke’ to you. The ‘joke’ itself is so disgusting, it makes my blood boil! What’s unbelievable is this ‘joke’ was sent to me and to other female friends of similar age by Sheila.
IMPORTANT: Please ensure Sheila doesn’t get to know that I sent you this crap and told you that she had sent it to me.

As promised, she forwarded the ‘joke’ to me a few seconds later:
Son: Dad, yesterday, I saved a girl from being raped. :-) :-)
Dad: Good! That’s my boy! How did you do that?
Son: I convinced her! ;-) ;-) ;-)

I was shocked! Sheila is the mother of a 22-year-old daughter. She had forwarded this ‘joke’ to women who are all in their forties or fifties and who have young daughters and/or daughters-in-law.

I don’t know whether the other recipients of this ‘joke’ enjoyed it or whether it made their blood boil. But I just couldn’t digest the fact that Sheila had forwarded it. I do not know her well, but I am acquainted with her. From my limited interaction with her, I had found her to be a sensible and well-mannered person, definitely not the kind of person who would have circulated this ‘joke’. I was itching to telephone her and ask her for an explanation, but I couldn’t do that due to the last line of my friend’s first message.

I think that Sheila either forwarded the ‘joke’ without really understanding it or without reading it, thinking she was doing something ‘cool’. In either case, she was being extremely irresponsible. Rape is definitely not a subject to be joked about.

A day later, I read this Firstpost report that “Karnataka Health Minister UT Khader has asked the District Health Officer of Dakshina Kannada to lodge a complaint with the cyber cell police in Bangalore against persons spreading rumours on social media claiming Ebola virus had entered the city.

Some people had spread a WhatsApp message last month that a student had died at the National Institute of Technology, Karnataka (NITK) at Suratkal, near Mangalore, after being infected with the Ebola virus, even after the doctors treating him confirmed that he died of lung disease.

Khader directed DHO HS Shivakumar to file a complaint to bring to book the pranksters who misused technology to create panic and confusion, officials here said.”

I completely support Mr. Khader’s action, provided it is not misused by the police or by politicians. In fact, I think concrete steps must be taken to control indiscriminate circulation of misinformation and/or insensitive ‘jokes’.

I believe in freedom of expression. I also believe that freedom of expression carries with it the responsibility to avoid creating problems for others.

The fact that it costs nothing to send a WhatsApp message doesn’t mean one can circulate any crap!

Let’s not forget the name is WhatsApp, not WhatsCrap!