Union Carbide Gas Disaster, Bhopal

union carbide gas disaster

I went to Bhopal a few days ago with my friend to visit the city and the NGOs working on Bhopal gas disaster that took place in 1984. I had no idea about NGOs working on this issue so I called my friend Nandlal Master from Lok Samiti, Varanasi to see if he knew someone and he named me an NGO called Chingari Trust.  Nandlal Master is a social activist from Varanasi and he knew about Chingari Trust because Chingari Trust gives award to the women working against bad corporations and they had chosen 5 women from Nandlal Master’s NGO in Varanasi. I was sure that there would be other NGOs working on this issue but after reaching there I learnt that Chingari was the only NGO in all of Bhopal working continuously on this issue.

wall paintings around factory are

I was really surprised to see that no other NGO was helping the people affected by that disaster. Anyways, I called the NGO and they seemed so helpful and invited me to visit their office and working site. Their office was very close to the affected area. By mistake we reached their rehabilitation center instead of their office and to be honest I was hoping to see an office with a few people working there and was not expecting to see anyone who was personally affected but as I stepped in the office building I was shocked to see the number of affected people.

families with the affected kids

There were so many families who had brought their kids to the office because the Chingari Trust offers physical exercise classes to the affected people. I saw at least 100 kids, all aged starting from a few months to 20 years old. I just could not believe how badly they were affected. I had heard about this issue several times before and knew that the people who were present near to the affected area during the accident time were the only people who got affected and now no more new case is seen but after visiting Chingari Trust and talking with people there I came to know that still new kids are born with the diseases.

really sad

The Chingari Trust was just awesome, doing really honest business. The president of the Chingari Trust, Rashida Bee, was awarded with almost Rs. 50,00,000 in San Francisco, USA for her work with the affected people and she used the same money to form the Chingari trust and donated the rest to the Chingari trust itself. She told me that they were working on another project to open a new hospital for the affected people as the hospital they had was not enough to host all of the affected people. Now I was more shocked to hear that there were more people needing help.

newpaper cuttings

I was talking with the IT guy of the Chingari Trust and he told me that all the ground water near the affected area is completely contaminated due to the chemicals leak after the accident and is causing huge problems to the local community. Many people living around the affected area complain about it. He gave me a tour of the affected area which was hardly 10 minutes walk from the Chingari Trust. There was another surprise waiting for me near to the affected area. Now I was surprised to see that the government has allowed people to live just across the road from the Dow Chemical factory.

he was trying to say something to me

It just seemed like any other neighborhood in India. I was talking with Lane about it and he told me that in the United States usually such factories are setup away from the city so that in case of any problem the community doesn’t get affected which made sense to me and I was wondering if our government never thought about it while giving the license to Dow Chemicals. Don’t they think that they should at least moved people away after that accident took place? So many questions. We all know that there is huge politics involved in this issue also but government should never play with the lives of thousands of innocent people. After talking with Rashida Bee and other people at the NGO my idea about the issue completely changed. Now I also believe that not only Dow Chemicals but Indian government people working with Dow Chemicals in India are also responsible for the condition and they must be punished.

Please click here to see more photos of Chingari Trust office

Hindi classes with Italian cultural center

I have been doing something for the past two months that I had not done before. I am working as a Hindi teacher with the students at Centro Risorse India center. I am giving walking classes which is very interesting and fun but sometimes it is really boring when I meet someone who is really beginner. I was asked to give walking classes by Marco, the chief of Centro Risorse India center, about two months ago but I was not really prepared for it because I had never done it before but Marco told me to just try it once and if I like it, they would give me more work.

I also had two-three free hours so I decided to go for it. I worked with a girl named Caterina first time. I took her out and we started talking in Hindi. But I thought that only general communication in Hindi would be no fun for the students so I thought why not make it interesting by choosing some topic about Benares or anything in India and talk about it and it worked very well. Caterina, a student from University of Venice was my first student and I took her out but I was a little nervous first day. I chose the topic ” History of Nagwa” for my first day of work. Nagwa is the neighborhood where Caterina lives.

We talked about Nagwa for a while and then we talked about a few controversial political and social issues of Nagwa and spent two hours only talking about them and finally the class was over. Now I have worked with many students after Caterina and I like this job but only when students know good enough Hindi to express themselves in Hindi. I like this job because its not only me who talks about India or Benares in front of a foreigner but I also get to learn about foreign countries and culture by talking with foreign students.

Once I got a student who just did not know any Hindi, it was super frustrating. I finally told her to work on Hindi grammar first and then contact me. The students I have worked with have given good feedback about my work and now the university wants to give me some kind of language and teaching training in Venice for a month which sounds exciting but I am not sure if I should go there because they want me to come to Italy in June when I want to go to America. I will see but if there will be any opportunity for me to visit neighboring countries of Italy after the training then I would love to go there.

Josh Massad’s World Through Music

Josh with village kids

Josh with village kids

I am working with a musician named Josh Massad on a project called world through music which is about teaching music and other subjects through music. Josh travels all over the world and teach music to kids. When he works in the US, he teaches African and Indian music to American kids, when he is in Africa, he teaches Indian and American music to African kids and at present when he is in India, he is teaching African, American and Asian music to kids in Varanasi. He had contacted me about a month ago asking if I would like to work with him.

Josh teaching Kanjira

Josh teaching Kanjira

The project seemed interesting to me and I agreed to work with him. He wanted me to organize his performances at schools in Varanasi. I thought it would be good for Josh and his project if he gets to work with different kinds of schools and kids therefore I organized his performances at city schools, village schools, private schools, government schools, play schools and schools run by NGOs so almost 50 performances in 25 days. There are 25 performances at village schools where kids come from really poor families, 10 performances at NGO run training centers for girls, 10 performances at city schools and about 5 at NGO run schools.

Dancing with a kid

Dancing with a kid

I have organized a performance at a school for children of sex workers in Varanasi. Actually children of sex workers can not get admission in any school because they do not have any residential proof and any document talking about their father’s name and there is an NGO in Varanasi which started a school specially for children of sex workers and we will be working there as well. I have organized one performance with kids of my education program. I have organized a performance with day time bondage child laborers. Actually there are a lot of bondage child laborers in Mehdiganj and Lok Samiti runs evening classes for them and we have a performance with those kids also.

Josh teaching map

Josh teaching map

Josh carries a map and a few instruments from different parts of the world. First of all he talks about geography, he teaches about seven continents and countries in it and then show these continents and countries on a map and then he introduces all of his instruments and shows on map where they come from. It was so interesting to see that village kids did not have any knowledge of geography at all. They did not even know in which continent India was there or they could name states of India. I was shocked to see this but I hope Josh’s lessons would help them.

showing an Indonesian instrument

showing an Indonesian instrument

After introducing his instruments, Josh plays these instruments to kids and teach them African songs. He teaches different songs but the one song that he teaches at every school is a welcome song from Africa called Fanga Alafia, Ashe Ashe. Kids love this song. They sing the song together with Josh and enjoy it a lot. Josh teaches them different styles of clapping and sometimes he teaches some basic yoga techniques as well. The project is going well, kids are happy, josh is happy so I am also happy. Few teachers at some schools asked me why Josh is teaching African songs, they don’t think it is going to help kids in any way.

Kids also love to play the instruments

Kids also love to play the instruments

I just don’t expect kids to learn all of those Josh’s instruments and geography in one day but I am sure that Josh’s performances will at least create interest about world geography and music in the kids and if they just look at the map only once at their home, I will feel like the project is accomplished. Josh is planning to make a documentary about his work next year and he wants me to organize things for him. He is planning to start a mobile school in India and again he wants me to organize it. He wants to bring musicians from different places and travel with them and teach music and geography. It sounds really exciting and I am looking forward to it.

Italian language course

I have joined Italian language course. I have always wanted to learn any foreign language but there was not much opportunity for me in Varanasi as BHU and Sampoornanand Sanskrit Universitiy were the only two places in Varanasi teaching foreign languages and BHU did not allow outers and going to Sampooranand was just like waste of time. I was not so interested in Italian but I enrolled for the classes thinking that if I would wait for BHU or any other place then I would not be able to learn anything for years.

I wanted to learn German and Sampoornanand University offers 6 months diploma courses in six or seven foreign languages and German is also one of them. I had enrolled for German classes about four years ago but did not go there because they were just not running the classes properly and I was so worried about it. The other students at the university told me to not worry about it because they give certificate to each and every student whoever enrolls for the program, even if they do not pass the final exam. So finally I decided to stop going there.

This Italian language course is run by an Italian institution called Centro Risorse India. Centro Risorse India doesn’t only teach Italian to Indians but they also help Italian students in India and I work as translator at Centro Risorse India Varanasi branch. The whole course is of 50 hours, 3 hours on every weekends. The classes take place at a school near Godoulia. They have two teachers. One of them is an Indian girl from Delhi who also works for Centro Resource India, Pune center and other girl is an Italian scholar who speaks good Hindi.

There are 6 students including me. One of them is also a tour guide and works with Japanese tourists. Other one is a Hindi teacher. Our teachers are very good. They are not using that traditional method of teaching where they use only books to teach. They put us in different kinds of games, role plays and make us talk often. I don’t really know how long would it take me to start speaking or writing in Italian but it seems so hard and confusing. The pronunciation and grammar is something completely new to me. I will try my best but lets see how long does it take.

HIV & AIDS workshop at girls’ school

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Presentation for class 9th

We organized a workshop at Gopi Radha Girls School in Varanasi where Sanjeevani Booti’s social workers and volunteers did a presentation about HIV and AIDS. We had been thinking of it for a long time and it finally became true. We did presentations for the 9th and 11th class girls. We wanted to do it for 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th class but school did not permit us to do a presentation for 10th and 12th class girls because their exams are going to start soon. We did the presentation for 11th class on the 11th and for 9th class on the 12th of Feb.

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Sanjeevani Booti's social workers with schools kids

We had planned to send one girl and one boy to each class but again the school did not permit us to send males so I had to send only girls to the school. I have very good girls now who are interested in this issue, but they don’t want to volunteer, they want a paid job. But it’s okay, I know that it is hard to find people who are interested in working for free. But this makes my project tough because I don’t have regular donors and I do not want to be dependent on a few individuals. I need new people who could support my projects financially.

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A social worker giving presentation

We had two foreigners also who helped us to make this event successful. One of them is Claire Abraham from Montreal, Canada, and the other one is Christina Hunter from San Fransisco, USA. Claire had been helping me for the past one month. She provided me lots of information and trained Sanjeevani Booti’s social workers. She was a big help but unfortunately she could only attend the workshop on the 11th. She had to go to Nepal to get her visa extended. Christina joined us only on the second day.

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Sanjeevani booti's social workers with school staffs

A few girls told us to show condoms to them, to talk about sex, and to talk about sexually transmitted diseases but we could not show them condoms because I was concerned about the school administration’s reaction. The girls want us to organize a big workshop for them where they can get deep knowledge over the subject. But I don’t know when I will be able to organize it because this is an expensive process. I am in touch with a few doctors and social workers from other organizations to make the coming event successful.

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class 9th

I thought it would be great for the kids to hear about HIV from the people living with HIV. There is a network of HIV positive people in Varanasi and I think I can bring some of them to the event. Everything was great but Iam concerned about the future. I think I need grant proposals but I don’t know how to write them. Claire had promised to teach this to me and I am looking forward to it. She is supposed to be back within next few days.

music classes in varanasi

A guy from California stayed at my place for one week. He was here to learn music and Sanskrit. This trip was only to know the city and get some idea about classes. He had asked me about music classes and I suggest him to go to Pandit Shivnath Mishra, who lives next door. It was funny that he had already met Pandit Shivnath Mishra and his son in California. He met them, played some tabla with them and got an offer to play with them in foreign countries as a white tabla player.

Josh was so happy to got this opportunity. He said that he would love to be part of Mr. Mishra’s crew. He went to Bunti’s school as well where he played tabla and taught African music to the kids. Bunti said that everybody at school liked the music a lot. Josh wanted to visit Bal Ashram, an Aghor monastery. I took him to this monastery. This monastery had a British doctor giving free eye checkup to the poor people. I really liked his devotion. Monastery said that he comes Varanasi ever year for few months and work for free.

Josh wanted to see this monastery for his friends who wanted to stay there and volunteer. I suggested him to go to Bhagwan Avdhoot Ram Ashram as well which is the mother Ashram but Josh did not seem interested. This mother Ashram doesn’t like Bal Ashram because some of Bal Ashram’s employee did some fraud with money. I know that the mother Asharm is a real ashram and I believe them. Josh said that he would visit them as well when he comes to Varanasi next time. He said he will back by first week of January.

Hindi or English???

I went to Delhi public school, Varanasi branch yesterday with my friend. His nephew goes there. There was some kind of music festival in the school yesterday. I liked everything there but did not understand why all the kids and teachers were speaking English to each other. All the parents were supposed to meet the warden, but my friend did not want to because his English is not good. He said that even though he speaks Hindi to the school staff but they always talk him in English.

My friend told me to talk to them. I talked to them in English but they spoke to me in Hindi. And finally I had to switch to Hindi. It was second time when I was talking to them in English but they talked to me in Hindi. I had talked to same guy to whom I talked this time about four-five months ago for my friend and he spoke Hindi to me. My friend was wondering why they speak English with him. I think the warden speaks English only to non-English speaking people.

English has become a fashion nowadays in India. A lot of people speak English to each other. A lot of families, maybe 80% of the upper class and 50% of the upper middle class, in the big cities like Delhi and Mumbai have adopted English as their first language. They never speak Hindi. On some television shows where people call and ask questions to some expert, big city people call and speak English. Usually these shows are Hindi shows therefore the host of the show tells these people to ask their questions in Hindi but they say that they don’t know any Hindi.

Now I see people in small cities like Varanasi speaking English to each other; they don’t want to learn speak Hindi. It is impossible to get a good job in India without knowing English, and it is very good for everyone to learn English; but I don’t like the idea of adopting English as the first language. A lot of foreigners come to India to learn Hindi but Indians have started adopting English and English culture. It seems strange to me. What is the need to do this?

Once I was working with Krista, a research scholar from University of California, in Mehndiganj. We went to interview a Coke worker but an American was already interviewing him. So we had to wait until her interview. She had a translator with her who was from Delhi and worked for an NGO called ASHA. She was translating for that American girl and collecting some information for her NGO. She said that her NGO was going to publish a book, and this information would be printed in that book.

I was also there and listening to their interview. She would often speak English to a village guy who did not know any English. She knew very well that the interviewee did not know any English but she was asking questions again and again in English. And the interviewee would just shake his head and it was the answer for her. What could be more stupid than that? I never understood why she was speaking English or to whom she wanted to show that she knew English.

All offices, whether they are government or private sector, have printed their letter pads saying that – They appreciate if you communicate in Hindi. But most of the time they communicate in English. People get their more attention if they have a letter written in English. If they write a letter to some office in English then their work is done quickly. I think offices communicate in Hindi only on Hindi day. Which means there is only one day for Hindi and 364 days for English.

Raj Thakarey- Chief of MNS

Raj Thakre, the chief of a political party called MNS from Maharashtra, protests against Hindi speaking people from U.P. and Bihar living in Maharashtra. His boys beat people who speak Hindi and destroy shops who have stock written in Hindi. They don’t want to anyone to speak Hindi in Maharashtra. They want everyone to speak Marathi. Hundreds of people have been killed in riots in Maharashtra regarding the issue of language. The Government is not doing anything.

There is no problem if they want everyone to speak Marathi, but nobody should have rights to stop people from speaking Hindi in India. Hindi is our national language but it’s a shame that a group of people don’t want Indians to speak Hindi in India. People are getting killed only for speaking Hindi. I think it would be better if they protest against English. It doesn’t make any sense to protest against Hindi in India. The Government supports them because of politics.

MNS guys beating Hindi speaker in Mumbai

They want to separate the Marathi vote. The biggest and strongest party in Maharashtra is Shiv Sena. Basically it is party of Marathi people. The nephew of the chief of Shiv Sena formed his own political party called MNS. This was a good opportunity for Congress to get the Marathi vote split into these two parties headed by the chief of the MNS and Shivsena. And Congress supported him so that he would get more attention and separate the Marathi vote, which would be beneficial for Congress.

Raj Thakare was arrested two-three times but never stayed in jail for more than two days. He was arrested only so that people would think that Congress was doing something. Congress did this so that people living in U.P. and Bihar wouldn’t neglect Congress. I don’t know if this whole drama will increase Congress vote or not, but one thing is sure that our politicians would do anything for getting vote. They don’t care if people are dying or what is going on. They just need votes, and that’s all.

I learnt English to get a job and I never want to speak English to any Hindi speaking person. But a lot of people think that they will be considered as smart if they speak English. I think if language is gone, then the culture is also gone. Language keeps people connected to the culture, and India is good so long as it is India, Indian people are good so long as they are Indian. We can never ever live a better life or develop by adopting English culture.

I think girls want to be more modern and show off a lot. They think if they speak English to a non-English speaking person, they will get more attention. When I hear girls talking to each other, they want to use as many English words as they can. It sounds funny to me. I don’t like Hindi speaking people speaking English to me. I am sure we understand Hindi better and we can make people understand us better if we speak our first language.

It would be a shame for us if we lost Hindi. I don’t know what will happen after ten-twenty years when a lot of people will have adopted English as their first language. If Hindi is gone from India, it means India is gone and Indians are gone.

Italian guest visits Aghori society

I worked with a Italian guy named Giona Peduzzi. He contacted me first on couchsurfing asking to meet for a drink. We sent a lot of emails to each other discussing about tour of India and finally he told me arrange his tour of Banaras. He lives in Rome and works for Channel 5, the biggest private TV channel of Italy. He is a show designer and writer. He said that he writes two shows and both of them are Saturday night shows.

He arrived Benares on 6th of August and stayed until 9th of August. I had arranged his accommodation at my guest house. We went to Mother Teresa Home, Aghor monastery, Maths (where people live to wait for their death), Sarnath, Tulsi Manas temple, Sankat Mochan Temple (monkey temple), BHU, Durga temple (Ram nagar) and we visited Lali Baba also.

He was most impressed by meeting and talking to people. We went to Machali Bandar Math and talked to

I and Giona at Assi ghat

I and Giona at Assi ghat

one Sadhu who had been living there since more than 30 years and just waiting for his death. He accepted Sanyasa when he was only 50 years old and now he was over 80. Giona was shocked to see a person waiting for his death since more than 30 years. It was not shocking for me because I had already met this people while working with Sophia, an anthropology student from University of Berlin.

Giona liked Lali baba a lot. He said that Lali baba was the most fascinating character he had ever seen in his life. He liked the way Lali baba dresses himself for evening aarti, his garlands, skulls and lali baba using computer to chat. We went to Mother Teresa Home also. This is the place where I don’t want to go but cant stop myself by going. I don’t want to go because there are lots of mentally retired and sick people who cant even talk properly.

But I cant stop myself by going there because I want to do something for those people. I asked Nun about what do they have for entertainment of the sick people and she said that they have some music but occasionally like on festivals. I wanted to give a television to the monastery but she didn’t accept it because it was never used in past and she didn’t want to start anything new. I don’t understand what is bad about having a television to entertain sick people.

We went to Aghor monastery also where we visited their hospital, school and library. Giona was surprised to see their Guinness Book of World Records certificate which they have got for treating most number of leprosy patients in the world. I like this place a lot, I visit that hospital every time I go there. Giona wanted to go to Bodh Gaya for a day and then to Mumbai. He wanted to see a movie or TV serial shooting in Mumbai. I called Yogesh, who is a production manager in Bollywood, to show film city to Giona. He got agreed, I hope Giona will enjoy Mumbai with Yogesh.