Thursday, August 8, 2013

Living the QUESTIONS

One of the most important things that shape us in life is the questions we ask ourselves continually. The ones we ask ourselves just about every day and the ones we ask specially when things turn out in ways not wanted or not anticipated by us – starting from simple upsets to grave, life-shattering adversities. It is interesting to observe what kind of questions we ask ourselves during these hard times and how we handle those questions. In fact, whether we emerge out of the adversity bitter-n- battered OR better hinges a lot on this aspect.

Yes, the answers do matter; but I think, the questions are as much important or even more crucial most of the time. If questions are wrong ab initio, none of the answers will help us make the right choices. Especially, the long list of whys that we ask when confronted with adversity that we consider as unjust and/or that jolts our self-esteem. Our professional lives usually make us confront such situations – and it happens to all sometime, at some level or other. It is naïve to think that a few fortunate ones have always had a cake walk. The issue at hand is not whether it happens to all or not; but how you personally take these calls – especially how do you handle when you are pushed out of your threshold limits for bearing what according to yourself is unfair treatment/injustice/ indignity.

The matter becomes worse and energy-sucking,when we do not find the answers – the true and cogent answers, I mean, to all our questions and that leaves us guessing.

And guesswork is nothing but creations and projections of our own perceptions and beliefs! Back to square one – we had started with ourselves ( why me? Why this to me? Do I deserve this ? etc.) and we end up with ourselves again with presumptions - not answers- framed through our own filters – coloured with our own perceptions and interpretations.

In such a scenario, what we ourselves believe shape our truth, like the pigmyllion effect. If we believe, we have been victimised, it becomes our truth: if we believe, there is a pointer inside for something beyond what meets our eyes… well, that is going to be the truth for us! That’s why, it becomes important not to chase the answers mindlessly with desperation – at least to the core questions that seek to explain acts of others or providencial justice.

So, during those times when we ask questions… ponder a lot… try to rationalise… try to emotionalise… try to fantasize….try doing everything to get an answer to our “why”; but the answer… the true answer… simply eludes us,  understand that this is the time to just live the question !!

Let us also understand that we can ask questions that make us feel more like a victim - questions that reinforce negativity and pessimism in our life. Or we can ask empowering questions; questions that open up the hitherto dormant and unexplored wells of positivity and opportunity in our world. Questions that enlighten us further … help us re-invent ourselves..  

Do not just keep on whining if you do not get answers to all your questions on action/behaviour of others – Instead ask yourself probing questions that draw out your own core beliefs, clarify your own core values.  Because the moment we start asking questions about what other person(s) did to us, we start dragging ourselves into a victim mould and become uncomfortable in our own skin! That amounts to virtually passing on control of our life to someone else. The moment you get an inkling of such feeling, do come back to yourself and regain control of your own life. 

At life’s critical bends, you just have to stop worrying, wondering and doubting. Have faith that things will work out eventually – may be not how you planned, but just how they are meant to be. It is said, in the end, everything is good; if it isn’t good, it is not yet the end!

Remember, smooth roads never make good drivers. A problem-free life never makes a strong person; so never ask life "Why Me", instead challenge it and say "Try Me".

And by the way, is anyone perfect in this world ?  I’m not, neither are you. It is a truism, which we somehow close our eyes to, in our crazy pursuit of being right always, at times chasing even worthless goals! Accept yourself fully—with your achievements, strengths, weaknesses, failures, flaws, follies and all. Once you do that with yourself, you will be surprised to find how easy it suddenly becomes to accept others in your life too … with all their flaws ( real as well as perceived by you)!  And once that happens, you will find yourself liberated, at least from the questions like ‘why he/she did this to me?’ . After all, ain’t others as human as you and might just have erred in judgement/decision? It is at this point that you realise the irrelevance of the answers to your victim-mode questions – you have truly lived your questions and with that, the questions expire in time. And strangely enough, answers to some of your core questions would still be revealed to you as you move on, in ways not anticipated by you. 

You don’t have to be perfect to realize your dreams, but you do need to be committed to personal evolution. You can only begin that journey when you accept yourself completely for who you are and believe in grace of God and worth of yourself.

Believe with all your heart and soul in the saying that the ultimate reward of your sincerity and perseverance is not what you get for it, but what you become because of it!! And perhaps this one belief contains the one and only answer that matters ultimately!  And sure enough, this one belief would see you through all your questions.

Above all, know that The Universe has heard your question and it will be handled!!

Three essential questions that leaders at workplace must ask themselves

Even without an official title, and irrespective of your position in the organisational hierarchy , you can be a ‘leader’ in your own right through your action and attitude. True. But the story is vastly different  when you are a “leader” by title, i.e when you are ‘assigned’ a leadership position by your organization, and are expected to lead a group of people assigned to you to a certain goal. In this case, you are officially responsible for the outcome, not only of your own productivity, but more significantly for the outcome of your people’s productive behavior as well. You have to effectively convert a bunch of people to an effective and successful team, that owns a shared goal and achieves it together, following you as the leader.
Today’s workplace scenario – especially with knowledge workers and service sectors - clearly calls for a set of leadership skills,  that is more people-centric and less authority–centric. Positional authority no longer guarantees that you will be accepted as the leader by your people merely by virtue of your designation and will be able to ensure the deliverables through them by using command and control strategies. In fact, as gleaned from history, this had never really worked and people who delivered great sustainable results were inspiring leaders with some other key human traits that do not flow from one’s designation – a fact which is now being acknowledged more openly, as compared to in the past. With concepts like “Emotional Intelligence”, “People skills”, ‘social skills’ etc. gaining ground and almost becoming much-hackneyed terms, there is no need to elaborate on why positional authority alone cannot guarantee successful teams.

So, the next point is: how do you know whether you are the kind of leader that the modern workplace needs?  A leader today has to steer their people through ambiguities, uncertainties and challenges and make them want to give their best. Goes without saying, when people want to give their best,  that is evidence enough that they own the project and also that they are on auto-pilot to ensure the best results.

Ask yourself 3  key questions !
And honestly answer to those. You will be pretty clear on whether you already are a leader capable of leading your people to success, or whether you are currently lacking and where exactly you need to work on yourself.
Question 1 :   Do your people trust you?
Question 2 : Do you treat your team members as human beings, and not just as employees?
Question 3: Do you take active interest in the growth of your people?
Remember, you are being watched constantly by your co-workers/team mates/employees, even if you are not always told about it on your face.

Co-workers would trust you only when they see fairness and consistency in your action and intent through various situations. In addition, if they accept that you would always, and without hesitation, stand up for them whenever the situation warrants, they will trust you completely, and will be inspired by your integrity and credibility. Only this kind of complete trust in the leader brings out the best in each employee – courage to innovate, take risks and stretch out-of-box to reach the best results.   
Leaders, I mean true leaders, demonstrate a very high degree of credibility and that makes it easy for them to carry their people along without the need to “drag them along’ where they need 100% of their team to be on the new destination! So, be trust-worthy!!

No employee is your employee only-they are also human beings having highs and lows in their important personal spheres, at times may be just around the same time that the ‘employee’ in them is called to contribute. Do you, as the leader, see the worry on their face when they are going through a personal crisis; or just miss out on it , lost in tasking  your employees to meet  your official deadlines?
Showing empathy, sharing the personal joys and concerns of your employees, till recently, was not seen with favour in the context of tough, decisive leadership! But go through history and look around. You will be amazed to see just how many of the super- achiever leaders actually displayed this one quality, that made all the difference!! No wonder, with time and greater research into leadership, the concept of “ Emotional Intelligence” has come up since quite sometime now and this quality – i.e empathy for your people- has now been acknowledged as a key leadership quality- ranking on the top slot of the skills set!

Yes, when people know that their superior cares for them as human beings, they too reciprocate in terms of higher engagement and productivity in the job. So, the golden rule is: respect your employees as human beings first; most of the rest will fall in line.

The third crucial area that you, as the leader, have to take responsibility for is: growth of your people! It is easier to make people do things when you can make them see what is in it that is for them, not for you! In a workplace situation, no employee can stay engaged and charged without growth   in terms of growth in personal knowledge-skill-competence matrix, career progression, and both in combination. A superior  who keeps this in sight in respect of each of the team mates usually demonstrates genuine interest in the growth of all the employees, without favour or unjust discrimination, through a holistic approach of training-assigning responsibilities-mentoring-sponsoring for higher jobs. Such a superior not only properly assesses each employee to harness their potential, but also invests in growth of each, and makes it visible to the team asto what growth prospects are there for each of them when the shared goal is achieved! Undoubtedly,  such a superior would automatically inspire employees to give their best to whatever organizational goals they are pursuing, not only because they themselves stand to gain from it, but also for the fact that, their own superior becomes the face of the organization for them and they would walk any length of extra miles for such a leader!!

The above three are perhaps the most important human traits that tell a leader, whom people would gladly follow, from the rest.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Discover the “leader” in yourself

I wonder sometimes: why talks about “leaders” often invoke awe and mystique ?

May be, because when we talk of ‘leaders’, we think about “revolutionary” leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Lurther King, Nelson Mandela and the like; OR a few people who have achieved extra-ordinary visible success in their fields; OR those who adorn the positions of power by virtue of being in ‘leadership roles’.  Except the last category, there are very few people in the other two categories and more significantly, their accomplishments flow from their own super-ordinary personal qualities; hence, thought to be above the capabilities of an “ordinary” person. Hence, the high pedestal for them. As regards the third category, leadership roles come through some sort of organisational hierarchy – be it in Government or Corporate or any other formally assembled group; and therefore, it is not the cup of tea for anyone and everyone. Worse, the third category breeds huge confusion, as not everyone in a leadership role appeals to the heart as a true leader.

And this unnecessarily complicates our understanding and appreciation of some of rather simple and often-latent human traits associated with leaders,  making these out as complex and not-in-everyone type qualities!!

Semantically, to “lead” is to move someone or something somewhere. In other words, making a difference to the existing status – as simple as that! When we qualify that difference with elements of desirability in terms of improvement, expansion of horizon, human development and ethics, we get the term “lead” with a spirit.

Interestingly,while not everyone in a ‘leadership role’ comes across as a true leader,  the converse, i.e a leader is a person in a leadership role, is also not necessarily true. Yes !! A leader  need not always be in a leadership role. This world is what it is and still kicking despite all the negativities/constraints/challenges, because there are many “leaders”, without titles, at every level of society, who, in effect, lead themselves and others towards better and desired conditions, even without an official tag or being acknowledged or acclaimed in public.

What, then, is leadership, or at least the crux of leadership?

By far, leadership is perhaps one of the most researched and written about theme in social science, that has engaged and intrigued thinking minds since inception of human civilisation.. Yet, it becomes so difficult to define leadership in brief, unambiguous, straight-jacketed, fit-for-all terms, like any other scientific concept. Leadership is about human traits; and hence subject to interpretations. Further, even though almost all studies/reseach/interpretations of ‘leadership qualilities’, point to  at least a few key qualities like vision, courage, compassion, creativity, credibility etc. as the top-on-the-list traits, it is quite fascinating as well as intriguing to note that most of the so-called leaders ( i.e. people in leadership roles) actually lack all/most of these qualities and yet, have most of the times been riding on success waves. In time, they do crash on land, no doubt and the audience gets disenchanted; but by then, a lot of damage is done unfortunately. That’s why, instead of trying to list out traits that one has to possess to be a true leader, I find it makes more sense to me, when I look at leaders, I mean true leaders who make positive differences and say, leadership is what a leader does, and that includes getting done, in any situation.

So for me, the shortest-ever, position-neutral, situation-neutral definition of a “leader” is one who demonstrates what it takes to do what is needed to be done in any situation.

Here go some stories. Personally, I find these not just stories, but situations that illustrate what indeed leadership is and how an ordinary person can act like a true leader.

Story 1 : 
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked,”What are you doing?” The boy replied,”Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they will die.”  Surprised, the man said,”Son, don’t you realise there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference !”
As the boy listened, he bent down again, picked up another starfish and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said politely… “ I made a difference to that one .”
I am sure, the message is loud and clear. It does not matter whether the difference you make is small or big. What matters is: if you are truly concerned about a situation, whether you take those tiny steps to make a difference – without bothering whether your action would totally change the situation or not. Does not matter if the boy could not save all the starfishes affected. It is important to note that by his positive action, he could save at least a few starfishes out of hundreds about to die, and it did make all the difference to those few, who were saved by the boy .
Leadership is all about making a positive difference to someone, to some situation in the environment, which, you think, should not remain the same, without getting cowed down by the enormity of the  problem.

Story 2
Three hundred years ago Christopher Wren, who designed St. Paul's Cathedral in London, wrote about three men he spoke to who were building his creation.
He asked the first worker what his job was, to  which the worker wearily replied, "I'm laying bricks. Can't you see that?" Wren moved along and asked a second worker the same question. "I'm just earning a living," the second worker snapped back. He then asked a third worker the same question, who was engrossed in perfecting a statue that he had already completed and got a very different response.   "Ohh, I'm building a Cathedral”, he said proudly.
While for the first two workers, it was just a ‘job’, for the 3rd sculptor, it was something entirely different – he took his work as a part of the whole – the cathedral. He was passionate about the fact that he was contributing towards building of a cathedral. For him, everything he did needed to be perfect, so that the cathedral could be built perfectly as envisioned.
This is how true leaders view their role in a bigger act; they see the larger whole much beyond their specified roles and work towards being a part of it, unleashing their best potential pursuing excellence and perfection in doing their bit. Because, in essence, they own up what they are a part of!! They show up not as a mere cog in the wheel, but as a valuable part that moves the wheel!
Each of us in the society, each employee in an organisation irrespective of organisational hierarchy can be a leader in one’s own right - title or no title.
Does this interpretation bring back memories of people in various roles and strata – from top management functionaries to menial workers, who show this exemplary quality and how much love and genuine respect they earn from people coming in contact with them ? Well, personally I have seen quite a lot and that keeps alive the hope and faith in leadership in simple, so-called ordinary individuals.
Leadership is owning up the bigger whole and showing up at your best, as a part thereof.

Story 3
Once Sharu Ragnekar, a renowned Management Consultant, visited the Wagha Border near Amritsar. The unique thing about this border is that there are Indian soldiers and Pakistan soldiers on the two sides of the border. At sunset, both sides lower the flags and there is a drill. This is very interesting to see as the drills are identical on both sides of the border and looks like a mirror image.
Ragnekar saw on our side of the border a teacher with 20 students. She was telling them, “ When the flag moves in the evening, all of you sing Sare Jahan se achchha Hindostan hamara.. ” Curious, he asked her what she was doing. She replied, “ It is my practice to bring a batch of my students here on the first day of every month so that they can see the moving flag and sing. I do it every month – although this month, this was very difficult for me.” When asked why difficult that month, she explained how she bears the busfare of some children whose parents can not afford it and how that particular month being the month of transfers, she had also to pay(bribe), out of her humble salary, for staying in the same place.  
 “ When this is what is happening to you, why do you want the children to sing Sare Jahan se Achchha Hindostan hamara?”
She asked spiritedly,“Who is going to improve India? I have not been able to improve India; you have not been able to improve India. I have no influence over the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister, but I have some influence on these children and I am going to use it. These children believe in me – so I bring them here, let them look at the flag and let them sing Sare jahan se achchha Hindostan hamara. When they grow up, at least some of them will be proud of India and try to improve India.”
To me, this teacher is a true  leader. From the problems in her own circumstances, she has taken a decision that things must change for better  and she is committing herself through personal action to bring about that change – using her own resources – i.e. her own humble salary and her influence on her students, the future citizens. She is able to see a goal, much bigger than anyone in her position would see and is navigating through constraints – but towards the goal .
Above all, notwithstanding the fact that she herself is a victim of an undesirable situation(corrupt bureaucracy), she is spreading,  not cynicism, but HOPE that things will change for better !! She is making a difference, trying to instill patriotism in the future citizens of the country.
Leadership is spreading hope and enthusiasm, undaunted by personal conditions of despair.

Story 4 :  A short story that probably I had read in my childhood .
Once a boulder was lying in the middle of a  roadway, much to the inconvenience of the passers-by. Most of the people who came by saw the boulder in the middle, uttered angry words, cursed the “someone” who did that mischief, loudly blamed the Government for not keeping the roads clear and simply passed around it. None stopped to clear it off the road. After sometimes, a farmer came along carrying a load of vegetables. On seeing the boulder, he stopped and tried to move the boulder from the middle of the road to the road-side. After much pushing and straining, he could move the big stone some way to the side, but it was getting strenuous for a single man to do this job. Slowly some of the people coming along the road started joining him one by one and finally, the boulder could be moved off the road.
The farmer, like others, could have just walked around the stone. But he chose to think about the others’ inconvenience and took pain to move the stone. Is not he a leader in his own right? He did what was required to be done in that situation rising above one’s own limited interest alone. Moreover, by his personal action, he inspired others to join the cause – to follow him.
The doers are the leaders. It is easy to preach; it is easy to blame others. It may take a specific skill to shirk and shift responsibility to avoid taking action. But true leaders are those, who act as necessary, not just preach or blame others! And inspire!
Leadership is solving a problem if it exists, even though it directly does not affect you, and inspiring others to join in.

Story 5
In 2002, a high caste school teacher in Odisha’s Brahmagiri area, Baghambar Pattanaik, quit his job to fight against a sysyem of compulsory servitude under the bartan system, bonded labour by another name, which permits the upper caste people to force lower caste barbers and others to work for them, often at menial tasks, in exchange for 15 KGs of rice a year. The system was so rigid that if the lower castes refused, they faced a debilitating social boycott. For example,  a 65 yr old lower caste person faced the ire of the whole village when he bravely decided in 2002 to stop working for one upper caste master under the bartan system. As a punishment for his defiance, he was made to serve 200 upper class families in the village. Stories abound involving similar oppressive inequity, against which the lone school teacher started fighting persistently, later garnering support from Human Rights Commissions. After nine years of persistent fight, the state govt. finally issued a notification abolishing bartan.

Leadership is displaying extra-ordinary courage of conviction in standing up for a cause even against a mighty opponent with determination to change the situation for better for the exploited !

Story 6
A few months back, a horrific act of terrorism occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School ( Connecticut, USA), that claimed 27 lives, 20 of them childen. Victoria Soto, 27, a class teacher, managed to hide her pupils in cupboards and closets, as the gunman was on a killing spree. She was then confronted by the gunman, who asked where the kids were and she convinced him that her pupils were elsewhere- in the gym. The gunman then shot her dead and went away. But her action of hiding the kids and lying to the gunman led to the survival of those kids. Faced with the most horrifying experience of her life, she chose the heroic path of love and responsibility for those entrusted to her care, rising above her personal safety.
In crises, leadership is also about heroism – supreme sacrifice and courage emanating out of love, compassion and a complete sense of responsibility !!
Story 7
Most of the greatest innovations begin with a simple idea. Paint lines in the highways is one of such great ideas, which was a safety innovation conceived in the year 1917 by Dr. June McCarroll, after having a narrow escape from an accident on a highway. Without lines on the road, there was no clearly delineated lane separation to help regulate the flow of traffic and avert side-swiping and collisions. McCarroll came up with the idea to paint lines on the road, separating lanes with a centre line. When she first told her idea to the local authorities concerned, no one listened, as is typical with a bureaucracy. Finally, she took upon herself to hand-paint a white stripe down the middle of the road.This later helped the drivers easily see the actual width of the lane and keep accidents due to sideswipes from happening.She took her idea to the local Women’s Club and with their help as well as campaigning by many similar groups for long 7 years, finally in Nov, 1924, the idea was adopted by California Highway Commission and highways got painted with middle lines. It was not long before the concept was accepted world wide – known as McCarroll lines.

So, leadership in many cases is also about innovation and persistence. A leader not only thinks out-of-box, but also displays persistence and perseverance to act/get others to act on the idea.
In our daily lives-both personal and professional, there are many instances in which we, the common people, solve problems innovatively. But once the implementation of our new or innovative ideas requires involvement of/owning up by others, it loses steam as many of us lack the needed persistence to go the whole hog. And there lies the difference.
The foregoing 7 stories are among innumerable such stories about true leadership. If you are conducting yourself this way, you too are a leader, whether you are acclaimed in public or not.
Yes, the life stories of great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and the like exemplify some of the rare leadership qualities like time-defying vision, time-less values, mass following and ability to bring about iconoclastic changes, which we all know as they are always talked about and find place in literature. But such revolutionary leadership does not belittle the small differences that each of us can make in the lives of all we touch directly or indirectly. So, let us also ‘read’ our own book of life stories – our own life experiences as well as that of the people we know. We will understand that “leadership” is actually not something for a privileged few. We all have it in ourselves.
Many a renowned persons have said, to be a leader, you must have followers. Very correct. But do the “followers” have to be a visible gang? How about people, who lead their own self to higher levels of evolution and thereby ‘inspire’ many a souls whose life they touch-directly or indirectly? How about the ripple effect that an innately good & simple individual creates in the society through his personal actions ! Are they not “leaders” in their own right? Yes, they are. They may not be having their followers in a herd – but I am sure, here and there, without they themselves knowing about it, they are creating their followers in some way or other – through personal example, inspiration and sharing of ideas/ insights!!

I come back to where I started. There could be a million ways in which you ‘lead’ if you do whatever is needed to be done in any situation – in regard to your own self, others, the surroundings – any one or some or all of them. The more we try to comprehend the term ‘leadership” in simple ways without unwarranted awe and mystique, the more visible it will be in people.  The more visible leadership becomes, the easier it will be to harness and groom it for overall, all-inclusive development. And harnessing leadership is another big leadership quality. As is said, good leaders create great followers; but great leaders create greater leaders.
At the end of it, leaders inspire and leaders make a difference!
Mahatma Gandhi (one of the best examples of leaders without a title ) once said, “We must become the change we seek in this world .” Very true. Titles may support your efforts – but not necessary for leading in a true sense .
What about us? Are we simply giving up whining ‘I am not in a position to do this’, ‘How can I alone change this’ etc.  or taking committed action saying, ‘ Let me do whatever little I can’ and making the small & big differences to our world that we are capable of ?

Yes ! There is a leader in each of us; we just need to discover and act.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Green Acts : Am I doing my bit?

Green Acts : Am I doing my bit?            
Very simply put: We and all living beings need air, water, soil and energy to live; but unfortunately the ways in which our lifestyle has been evolving, especially over the last few decades, either we are consuming stocks of natural resources too fast to be replenished by Nature or we are mindlessly wasting or polluting scarce resources. Coupled with that, we are not yet able to find enough and viable sources of renewable energy. Result? Global Warming, Resource Depletion, Energy Crisis and dangers of possible extinction of even the human race in not-too-distant a future, unless we all act appropriately!!

The physical survival of the human race and our Mother Earth is now severely challenged by three major environmental issues, off-shoots of our high industrialisation and urbanisation :

i. climate change/global warming mainly due to emission of carbon and other hazardous pollutants to air on one hand and rapid erosion of green cover (forests, trees)  on the other.

ii. rapid depletion of natural sources of energy like coal, oil, gas and potable water mainly due to excessive usage of the same to maintain our modern lifestyle which would come to a complete halt without these. Can you imagine even a day without electricity? Without fuel for your car ? Without energy ? Without water? And of course, without pure air with enough oxygen? Run a quick glance through the everyday items of use and the lifestyle of even a common man – you will shudder to think of a situation without energy !!! The real challenge is that these natural ‘stores’ of energy sources are finite and are getting exhausted at an astronomically higher rate than Nature can replenish. So, the challenge before us is to conserve energy to the last bit, have better and better extraction technology with improved ability to tap the available natural deposits of oil, coal etc. and most crucially, to find and harness alternative sources of renewable energy, like solar power, wind power etc. (which researchers say is not really an easy job!)

iii. Waste management : solid waste, chemical waste, industrial waste etc. ; perhaps now e-waste can also be added as a menace in not-too-distant a future. These are polluting our air, water and soil in almost an irredeemable manner.

As far as our physical environmental hazards are concerned, these ‘trio’ form the crux of the menace – acting and interacting on one another !!

For the past one decade at least, we have had enough of talks on these to comprehend the enormity of the issues and the catastrophic results that await us if we do not start acting without further loss of time.. WE SIMPLY HAVE TO ACT NOW.

And action lies at multi-levels, undoubtedly. The goverments, the various national/international bodies entrusted with the specific duty to evolve strategies on this, the Corporates etc.  must play their role in an organised manner at macro level; while, we, as individuals, must also play an equally significant role at the micro level  through our conduct in our day-to-day life – in fact, I would say, a far bigger role than meets the eye !  

Let us leave the macro-level deliberations, strategies, policies, laws and implementations to the bigger shots. But what about each one of us – at the micro level? Am I doing my bit? 

Let us list out small little things that we can do as individuals to make our drop of personal contribution count in the ocean of action required to address the “green” issues. And I would request each of you readers to add to the list, if you can and let us share it. Let us have copies of this list all over our houses and office space to constantly remind us and nudge us to action. It does not take rocket science to do these things – except a firm resolve!

Here goes my check-list: (And the idea is: every unit of scarce resources saved/reused/recycled is equivalent to that much resources created!)

1. Stop the running tap while attending to call of nature and brushing your teeth.
(Many have this habit developed from childhood, if you care to observe.)

2. Ask your maid not to leave the tap running as she cleans utensils, until she rinses/washes them.
(Observe her/your own style of washing utensils closely and you will find where to conserve and reuse.You will be surprised to see how much water is actually saved if the dirty utensils are first dipped in just a small vessel full of water, then cleaned with detergent and then only washed well under running tap.)

3. Go for slim cisterns for flush - makes a huge difference to the quantum of water used for the purpose as compared to the older large-sized models.

4. Do not discard the water used for washing anything without detergent( like chopped vegetables, dals, rice  in the kitchen and even clothes). Re-use it for watering your potted plants.

5. Do not discard vegetable peels – make your own compost manure and use to enhance soil in your potted plants/kitchen garden. Just store these peels/green wastes in an earthen pot; put some soil and water. Go on repeating – it will decompose in time to be added to soil.  In apartment complexes with earth patches, this can also be thought of as a collective action to improve soil quality- by having a common earth pit wherein veg peels from all flats can be put everyday.)

6. Stop running or leaking water taps, if noticed at public places and draw the attention of the concerned authority for repair of broken / leaking pipelines. Similarly, repair your leaking taps at home on priority basis. In fact, repair and maintain well all gadgets/equipments to avoid wastage of energy on their operation.

7. Use Pressure Cooker as much as possible in cooking. At least, cook covered and bring gas to sim after the dish reaches boiling point. It can reduce  gas consumption quite significantly.

8. See what you can do to install water treatment/refining/recycling systems, rain water harvesting systems in your apartment complex/locality. When lots of voice rise together, some positive development may take place. ( spread awareness and build opinion)

9. Watch out for the fans and lights left on after the maid completes mopping the floor. Switch off immediately when the floor dries up. If not checked habitually, on many occasions, you will find your fans on full speed even much after your bai (maid) leaves.

10. Stop switching on fans, lights and ACs, if not truly needed.
(Many of us have a habit of doing this the moment we enter the house – without much thinking, just to have an illuminated, feel-good ambience!  Many of us who leave alone have a weird habit of leaving the TV on just to have an illusion of having human company or making outsiders believe there are people inside, from security perspective. That is just not tenable in the present context of energy crisis. There are much better ways to address the issue of being alone at home.) 

11. Switch off lights /fans/electrical gadgets at home as well as at workplace, if in use unnecessarily.  
(Especially at public sector offices, one sees numerous fans and lights on, proclaiming that the office is open even when higher animals called employees are not in sight to adorn their seats. Not many of us bother to switch them off - thinking “company ka maal, darya mein dal ” ! We have to change our attitude.)

12. Do not leave TVs/computers/sound systems in stand-by mode, when not in use, as they consume quite a bit of electricity even on stand-by mode. Simply switch them off.

13. Be very careful about use of paper !! After all, where from paper comes ? Is it not one of the major reasons for felling trees, erosion of green cover ??

14. Stop making and retaining multiple hard/photo copies of documents without genuine necessity.
( Especially, at office, you can stop taking those n number of photocopies of official communications to be sent to numerous units of operation, to which you would have already sent these communications by e-mail or fax! Please remember that the recipients of these faxes/emails must have already kept hard copies! I mean, if at all, hard copies are to be preserved in each and every damned case. )

[ And no offence meant to anyone, but what about the common practice in many organisations to keep a copy of every communication received from top and passed down the line, at literally every point it passes through ??? For operating units at the grass root, most of the time, one ends up getting at least 6 to 7 communications with same/similar contents around the same time – by letter, fax, email print-out etc. It used to amuse and amaze, and then hurt me, while in service in a PSB, to think of the colossal wastage of time, paper, fax rolls, fax ink and so many other resources due to this one single reason! One should imagine, with thousands of operating units alone and hundreds of controlling/administrative units across the organisation, how much resources must be getting wasted in maintaining this kind of a working culture !! In fact, I used to get wild to get faxes on the same matter from five different places around the same time and all on official letter heads ( you can imagine, how much costly fax ink gets used up just in printing these logos and other detailed stuff that appear in all letterheads !!). I have even called up many of them to say … please, for heavens sake, stop this ! But, unless an organisation-wide awareness and sensitivity develops, this will go on unabated. Till then, each of us can do whatever possible at own level PLUS openly voice one’s views against it.]

15. Encourage your children to use libraries/ old books from seniors etc. instead of always buying new books even if you can afford it. Lesser the demand on fresh printing, lesser the need for paper and lesser the need to fell trees!

16. Use the reverse side of the envelops/letter covers/obsolete stationery/ fliers/ receipts etc. for drafting, noting, listing reminders etc. instead of wasting fresh plain paper for these purposes.

17. Maintain separate dustbins, at home and office, to dump paper-based waste  and other wastes separately, to facilitate their disposal by burning/ recycling/ reuse, as is best suited.

18. Use cotton/jute bags for shopping instead of using plastic carry bags. Reduce use of plastic and other non-bio-degradable materials as much as possible.

19. Register for various bills and statements (like cable bill, internet bill, credit card bill, electricity bill, bank account statements etc.) for on-line delivery to your e-mail inbox.
( Simply amazing, how much paper and other resources involved in their printing & physical delivery would be saved!!)

20. Line the inside of your dustbin with old newspapers instead of using polythene garbage bags everyday.

21. Use re-cycled paper bags or cloth or paper as wrap for storing stuff in refrigerator to reduce use of plastic. This way, veggies also stay fresh for long.

22. Plant trees, Plant trees and Plant trees – wherever and as many as possible. At least maintain green potted plants / small gardens in your residence/ neighbourhood/office premises.
( An absolute must for maintaining oxygen level in air, apart from other obvious benefits. )

23. Use public transport or pooled car, whenever and wherever feasible, instead of feeling pride in speeding away all alone in a huge car with AC on and blocking half the road all by yourself.

24. Walk down or go cycling, if possible, to the neighbourhood market instead of using a vehicle. That way, you reduce your carbon footprint and also stay fit for free!

25. Plan your visits to multiple shops/visit points ( say, the tailor, the dry-cleaner, the grocer, a relative etc.) on the same day by the shortest route, instead of dashing off in car to these places on different dates, just because you have time and money to spare.

26. Switch off vehicle engine at traffics red lights if it is slightly long ( say 60-70 secs or more) to save fuel, reduce emission.

27. Stop seeing the romance in the “long drive” just for the fun of it! It is a crime in the present situation.

28. Say NO to crackers and fireworks that directly pollute air. Just imagine, how much carbon di oxide we must be sending to air one Diwali every year! And how much such pollutants we are adding during marriage seasons !! Not to talk of the grand fireworks every evening at Disneyland, USA. Just mind-boggling how we are adding to our own woes.  

29. Stop chasing new models of cars mindlessly. At least enquire about its mileage (fuel efficiency) and its emission levels or compliance certifications while purchasing new motor vehicles – consciously, out of concern for global warming. Similar display of concern by large number of prospective customers would ultimately push the manufacturers to improve green-compliance of their products. ( Obviously, govts and policy makers have a big role in setting regulatory framework in this regard, but I am talking about my role as an individual only – so not discussing that aspect).

30. Give up your lust for ‘earth’ and go for an apartment in a multi-storeyed building for residence. Many of us still would love to have a stand-alone house, with garden patch and own land. But in today’s scenario, even if still affordable at some small towns, stand-alone houses amount to wastage of precious living space vis-à-vis an exploding population.

Well, the above list is surely not exhaustive. Please add and share. The point is: even if each of us consciously do these small acts in our daily life, it would add up to something impactful. If I save a unit by curtailing my wasteful usage, it becomes available elsewhere for a genuine need. Once we imbibe this green consciousness, we can find a lot of  To-Dos following what has been coined as  the 5 Rs philosophy in our day-to-day life :
Refuse: We should refuse to direct or indirect wastage of energy/ natural resources
Reduce: We should cut consumption of energy/ natural resources
Reuse:  We should check all the things that can be reused before discarding them
Repair:  We should repair all the machineries from time to time to avoid wastage of any sort of energy
Recycle: We should recycle  materials as far as possible and use it in preference to non-recyclable, non-bio-degradable materials( like using paper instead of  plastic/polythene). Studies say, every tonne of recycled paper saves 17 trees, 20,000 litres of water and energy equivalent of 1,000 litres of oil!)

Let us understand that “sustainability” is the ability to meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their needs. So, in a wider context, I would say, when it comes to the survival of the human race in its real sense, apart from environmental threats, economic and social ‘pollutants’ affecting the sustain-ability of the human civilisation also need to be addressed on an equal footing. Truly, ‘rising temperatures’ are equally a consequence of unadmissible entrants into air, water and earth as of unadmissible entrants into our value system – of ‘falling values’ !!!How ? Worth reflecting by anyone genuinely concerned beyond self-interest.

Let’s resolve to save the Earth, ourselves and our future generations. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Dealing with Rape & other sexual crimes against women: A quick compilation of suggestions emailed to Justice Verma Committee January 3, 2013 by Snigdha

Dealing with Rape & other sexual crimes against women: A quick compilation of suggestions emailed to Justice Verma Committee

January 3, 2013 by Snigdha 
The following is what I have emailed to the Verma Committee in response to their call to citizens to give suggestions regarding amendments to existing laws on rape and other sexual crimes against women.
Please add your suggestions and/or reiterate the ones with which you agree, and send by email to or through fax at 011-23092675 by 5th Jan, 2013. We simply can not afford to keep quiet at this juncture. It is necessary that the committee gets a sizeable cross-section of public opinion on various dimensions of this complex issue of crime against women.
Any crime has to be dealt with broadly at 3 levels – Prevention, Deterrence & Justice. Prevention requires Reforms to change attitude & systems on all related fields and implementation of systems. Deterrence comes from fear of consequences of committing a crime, which, in turn, flows from visibility of quick & certain apprehension of the culprit, conviction  and severity of punishment. Justice comes from reasonable correspondence of punishment to crime committed including reform & rehabilitation of the convict in eminently deserving cases – very discerningly & judiciously based on all critical dimensions like motivation, provocations, triggers, age & maturity, residual life out of jail after serving the sentence requiring the need to bring back the person to the social mainstream etc.
While Police and Administration has the first responsibility to ensure safety of citizens & quick apprehension of offenders, investigation & producing them with evidence before the Court of Law, the Legal system has the onerous responsibility to ensure carriage of justice as well as a major portion of deterrence in terms of  fast-track trial/conviction and exemplary punishment that instils fear of consequences.
Keeping in view the above and my understanding that the assigned scope of suggestions to be made by the esteemed Verma committee is to suggest amendments to existing Laws relating to crimes against women/ sexual offences, I, as a lay-person, offer the following suggestions. Legal nuances & modalities can always be worked out by the experts and experienced in the legal field.
 1.  The first cardinal principle on which  Laws relating to RAPE must be based on should be : “ Even a prostitute/sex worker has a right not to be raped.”
2. Rape to be made a non-bailable offense.
 3. Fast track courts at least for crimes against women of serious nature like rape, acid attacks and other serious sexual assaults ( to be clearly defined). The ideal position would be to have separate fast track courts for all crimes against women – from eve-teasing, stalking, molestation, other sorts of sexual harassment to acid attacks, rape, and dowry deaths.
4. Fast track must be set up across the entire legal structure from trial court at the bottom to appellate judiciary at High Court and Supreme Court.
 (Otherwise, even after fast track trial and conviction at the lower court, the ultimate conviction may take years to come through, prolonging the misery and victimisation of the victim, ultimately resulting in possible miscarriage of justice. Delayed trials and appeal disposals, coupled with chargesheeted rapists or serious sex offenders out on bail is a sure shot recipe for enhanced risk to the victim in particular and society, in general. )
 5. In- camera trial of these cases.  Information Technology need be harnessed to speed up proceedings in the fast track courts  & enhance efficiency of the courts in actually disposing off these cases.
 6. The fast track courts to complete trial within 3 months hearing on a day-to-day basis. The appellate judiciary similarly need to have fast track disposal of the appeals within another 3 months. All cases, thus, must be disposed off and final verdicts passed for ultimate execution thereof within 6 months of commencement of trial.
 7. ban on much objectionable ‘2-finger’ medical test of the assaulted and repeated offensive, humiliating questions regarding details of the incident and exact sequence of violation.
8.  DNA test reports and other forensic test reports relating to sexual assault to be made sufficient evidence of crime having been committed.
9. The onus of proving innocence in sexual offenses should lie on the defendant           ( accused) instead of onus resting on the prosecution to prove the crime.
10. Attempt to rape/ gang-rape to be treated on par with rape.
 (Although establishing evidence relating to attempt to rape may be a little difficult, as compared to establishing rape, it is equally culpable and must be equivalently punished, if proven, for a greater deterrent value. Hopefully, with advanced forensic skills and DNA tests, physical resistance by the victim before the ultimate violation ( read, rape) happens is likely to leave many other verifiable evidence like bruises by nails, bites, hair and so many other stuff.)
11. Stringent and graded punishment need be imposed, depending upon motivation, gravity and brutality of the assault. The minimum in case of rape should be 7 years of imprisonment to 14 years with fine or added term in lieu thereof. In grievous cases, punishment must be  enhanced to  life imprisonment upto 30-50 yrs  subject to a maximum sentence of capital punishment in the rarest of rare cases. Gang rape must attract stricter punishment on the upper end of the scale of punishment.
 (Nothing less than death penalty will be deterrent enough for rapists. Rape is a bigger crime than murder, not only from a woman’s perspective, but from a perspective of the entire society and humanity at large. And gang rape touches the nadir!
The recent Delhi gang-rape case is a glaring example of an open and shut case involving unimaginable degree of savagery in a rape case that may qualify for capital punishment.)
12. Chemical castration should NOT be a prescribed punishment.
(Perverts like rapists getting out of jail after going through such punishment are more likely to imbibe greater mental sickness and adopt other deadly modus operandi like acid attacks, murder or other brutalities on the victim and/or others in the society.  Society can not afford to have these pervert minds roaming around freely even with impotency. )
13. Mercy petitions to the President against capital punishment in a rarest of rare case of sexual assault, once upheld by the highest judiciary, viz. the Supreme Court, must not be allowed.
14. On conviction, full legal cost & medical expenses incurred by the victim/State to be made good by the convict, or extra punishment in lieu thereof should be imposed, if has no means to pay. State to bear this in latter cases.
15. Victim and witnesses be provided protection even if the accused is in police/judicial custody till the final verdict and execution. Necessary to foil any bid to pressurize the victim by anyone known to the accused, especially when accused is a person/related to persons of known clout or  known criminal background.
 16. Laws relating to juvenile accused need a relook to book accused aged 16-17 years of age on par with majors in crimes involving brutality of high degree.
 (A question mark still remains. Even if the juvenile laws are amended, will the same be applicable to the 17 yr old minor accused in the bestial Delhi bus gangrape case ? Because, as on the date of committing the crime, the accused was a minor and came under the purview of the existing juvenile laws. Should be examined, if retrospective effect clause could be brought in by way of amendment.)
17.Mandatory in-jail counselling of sexual assault convicts aged upto 30  serving prison terms upto 14 years
 (A peculiar aspect of many convicts in cases of sexual offences involving sentences at the lower end is their age and expected residual life after serving the sentence in prison. A majority of them happen to be young & in their 20s/30s and even after serving a long sentence in prison from 7 to 14 years, long years of life in the society normally await them. This makes it imperative to think about how to reform and reclaim these people, in eminently deserving cases. Start with mandatory counselling of at least those under age of 30 ( i.e very young, who are likely to have a quite long residual life even after completing 7 to 14 years of sentence), put their behaviour under observation for suitable further BS intervention. As these crimes are usually committed in young age in some cases on the spur of the moment or to settle a score after being rejected, some of them still have a possibility of getting truly remorseful and reformed. The aim of this measure is to try and reform the convict, so that when he goes out of jail, he will not be a repeat offender and /or will be in a position to return to the social mainstream.   )
Other suggestions:
18. National database of rapists and persons convicted of other sexual assaults to be compiled and updated on an on-going basis and made public with their photographs by displaying at police stations. The directory should also be made available on-line. This will go a long way in alerting prospective employers/hirers and others entering into any kind of dealings with them, apart from helping law enforcement authorities in averting repeat offences or bringing them to book.
19. Mandatory Identity Badge with photograph and driving licence particulars for drivers of all types of commercial/govt. vehicles plying for public transport – which should be displayed/mounted inside the vehicle in front side in such a manner as to be visible to the passenger as soon as he/she enters the vehicle.
 20 . Install GPS in all public transports
 21. FIRs must be lodged under CCTV coverage in police stations.
 22. Segregate law & order enforcing team from investigating agency within police
 23. Ensure good infrastructure and technical skill for forensic tests and preservation of forensic evidence till production in court
 24. Ensure street lights in cities
 25. Increase visibility of Police -  more PCR Vans, more constables/homeguards near malls, entertainment spots, in public buses/ trains/metro at night after , say, 9 pm, more beat police at night etc
 26. Install CCTVs at various points of roads for a good enough surveillance of all public transports
 27. PCR & PCR Vans to be equipped with advanced technology-supported tools like mobile trackers etc. and special numbers be allotted or IT be harnessed in some other way to enable women in distress to send out sos calls to police by simple touching/pressing of one or two keys. With mobile tracker, police can reach the spot most expeditiously.
 28. A special drive be made to gender-sensitize police.
 29. Each Police station to have a woman police officer &  each PCR van to have a well-trained woman police officer.
30. Consider feasibility of on-line lodgement of FIR. Online lodgement of FIR to be noted immediately– to be formalised after either visit by the police to the complainant on the spot through mobile tracking/to address given or, after the complainant comes to the police station – depending on the exact situation. Modalities may be worked out by the experts.
31. Fill up all vacancies in the judiciary and enhance strength of police and judges to reasonable numbers vis-à-vis the vast population of India that they are supposed to serve! Crying hoarse about fast-tracking without ensuring the numbers, skills and other enabling factors will lead us nowhere.
The long term solutions, however, call for reforms in Police, Judiciary, Social mindset.