Gujarat Assembly Election in India – December 2017

The Gujarat state elections in December 2017 were extremely important, not just for the state of Gujarat, but also to gauge the national political landscape. This was the sixth consecutive term that the BJP was attempting to keep power in the state. With the 2019 General Elections in view, Gujarat elections had the potential to say a lot about the successes and failures of national parties. Is the stunted economic growth hurting the ruling party-BJP? Is there an anti-incumbency factor to sway the numbers in favor of the Congress party? Answers to these and many similar questions were sought in the December 2017 State elections of Gujarat.

Even though the Gujarat state elections did not provide clear answers to all questions, it definitely, or for the time being, answered some questions emphatically. Before the election, a host of political analysts from the CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies)[1] observed a spike in approval ratings and favorability for the Congress party Party. The BJP had ruled over the Gujarat State Assembly for five consecutive times. Surely an anti-incumbency factor was developing. But apart from that, the support for the Congress party, or the anti-BJP forces was much stronger than they were expected to be.

The answer to this surprising surge of Congress party support actually lies in a strategy used by Congress party, one with roots in the 1980s. The 1980s marked the very beginning of caste-based politics. Congress party leader Madhavsinh Solanki, in the 1980, formed the famous (or infamous) KHAM alliance.[2] The KHAM is an acronym for Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim. These castes and religions cover the majority of the minorities in India. The alliance was designed in such a way, that the population belonging to these castes and religions almost definitely voted for the Congress party. In return, the state government of Gujarat, then under control of the Congress party, guaranteed a ‘reservation quota’ for these communities. Through this KHAM strategy the Congress party traded in meritocracy to buy political capital and create vote banks. With the full backing of the minority community and some support from the majority community, the Congress-KHAM alliance worked wonders throughout the 1980s. During the 1980s, the Patidars (Patels[3]) fiercely opposed the formation of such an alliance. The KHAM-congress arrangement had nothing in it for the Patidars, which caused a loss of influence within the Patidar community. Patidar leaders, back then, based their resistance to this alliance on the argument that such alliances cause communal polarization and disrupt peaceful social orders. Eventually the majority turned on the Congress party and the party paid the price of this strategy since BJP got elected for five consecutive terms after the 80s.

This sixth time it was different. This time, the Patidars led by Hardik Patel took a different stand. The Patidars joined the KHAM alliance- with the Congress party party assuring them a completion of their demands if elected to power[4]– with hopes to increase their political influence over the state. The Patidar protests had been gathering speed and momentum from 2015 through 2017, demanding reservation quotas for the Patidar community. If the demands of Hardik Patel were to be realized, the percentage of reservation quota would exceed 50% (currently the percentage stands at 49.6 in Gujarat). A reservation quota of more than 50% directly contradicts the Supreme Court order of 1992 in the Indira Sawhney Case[5]. Senior advocates like Harish N Salve have come out against the Patidar demands saying that the demands are fundamentally unconstitutional and a direct violation of a Supreme Court ruling.[6]

The Congress party’s concession to Hardik Patel to meet his demands in support of him turning the ‘Patel’ votes (15% of the population in Gujarat) in the favor of the Congress party compromised the Congress party’s commitment to uphold the constitution and the Supreme Court. In return they got the support of Hardik Patel, thus ensuring the rural Patel vote going to them. The Patidar-Congress alliance worked perfectly in communal polarization and turned Saurashtra (South West Gujarat) in the favor of the Congress party.[7] Along with the Patidars, the Congress party also made alliances with castes like the Dalits and the OBCs and leaders like Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani. Thus the Congress party formed a KHAM-similar strategy, with additional support by the Patidars, and entered the battleground in Gujarat.

With a communally charged environment, the BJP, with no alliance with any caste or religion and a commitment to uphold the Supreme Court decision of 1992 at the cost of popularity, seemed grossly disadvantaged. A combination of the Saurashtra Patidar constituencies and the rural east of the state, a Congress party stronghold from 2012,[8] made it seem like the BJP was going to lose its decades long majority in the rich western state. The Congress party as well as the BJP used their big name leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi. After tireless campaigning, accusatory rhetoric and a drawn out election, the result was eagerly awaited.

The BJP held on to their majority in the state. With 99 out of a 182 seats, the BJP was elected for the sixth consecutive time to the State Assembly, a historic achievement in the nation’s history. This was one of the most testing elections for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Contesting in his own home-state, with one of the most communally charged environment conspiring against him, the Gujarat victory was a decisive one for PM Modi. A victory in Gujarat, with all minority communities turned against the BJP and the Congress party agreeing to satisfy unconstitutional demands for these very “minority” communities, was a testament to BJP’s popularity and stronghold over the state and the nation in general. Putting this in context of the 2019 election, the Gujarat election victory will concenter confidence in the BJP and in its faith in PM Modi’s leadership. This victory has answered the skepticism around Modi’s leadership. This victory has given a befitting answer to the Congress party, which once again tried to win an election by sowing seeds of communal disharmony. This victory in my view has set the tone for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

[1] Deshmane, Akshay; Caste Factor; Frontline http://www.frontline.in/cover-story/the-caste-factor/article9997626.ece

[2] Deshmane, Akshay; Caste Factor; Frontline http://www.frontline.in/cover-story/the-caste-factor/article9997626.ece

[3] The ‘Patel’ community cover almost 15-17% of Gujarat state’s population

[4] Langa Mahesh, The Hindu, November 22, 2017, http://www.thehindu.com/elections/gujarat-2017/hardik-patel-accepts-congress-quota-formula-for-patidars/article20632150.ece

[5] The Indira Sawhney Case https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Court_Cases_Related_to_Reservation_in_India

[6]Team Republic, December 7, 2017 http://www.republicworld.com/s/14970/watch-harish-salve-says-congress-quota-promise-unconstitutional

[7] Republic World https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqC_pl5x8n0

[8] Republic World https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqC_pl5x8n0

 

An Open Letter to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra

Dear Sir,

The first time I met you was before the 2014 General Elections in India. Your confidence and an almost-jubilant mood that day, followed by the stupendous rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the country and Maharashtra was a good omen for “vikas parva” (progress era) in my view. As young as I was back then, I wish many a times I had free access to you, so that I could have a discussion about the several transformative ideas that keeping popping into my head and learn a lot from you in the process. However, I shudder at the thought of the pressures and stress you go through every day and silently pray for your success in a noble yet selfish way.

I recently completed my Class 12 (Higher Secondary School Certificate – HSC) in Maharashtra. I have studied in the state board for the past 12 years and the journey finally came to an end. Having gone through the system, entirely and recently, I feel there is an urgent need to transform the system, in order to make Maharashtrians more competitive. I wish to bring to your attention four main points. I hope you take my points positively and implement what you deem to be perfect for our state and hence our nation.

Curriculum:

The Maharashtra State curriculum has been consistently and intentionally watered down. In an attempt to push everyone over the line, we have created a façade for ourselves. The number of students passing Class 10 examination (the Secondary School Certificate (SSC)) is huge, yet we account for a large, unskilled labour force. We boast of great schools and colleges, yet there is a very small percentage of students that get admitted to top notch schools in India or overseas for undergraduate and post graduate programs. To give you an example, 26 students from my school passed the SSC with 90% or higher. Yet I observe only 2 to 3 of us have secured admissions into top colleges or universities. If I compare these statistics to my peers in the ICSE, the IB or the Cambridge boards, almost everyone with a 90% or higher is going to the top colleges around the world. This observation unnerves me. The state board curriculum is far too easy. For English, an ICSE student reads 9 Shakespeare novels to score well whereas the state board students read a single out-of-context letter written by Vijayalaxmi Pandit. For Math, when the world uses Hall and Knight for Algebra, we are stuck solving repetitive and watered down versions of the same problems. Our schools need a well-structured curriculum. I plead you to introduce back the rigor in the schooling system that has previously produced greats like Lokmanya Tilak and Agarkar.

Lack of Flexibility:

The state board curriculum covers extremely limited breadth and does very little to add to the depth. The diversity of subjects included is extremely limited. Important subjects like Political Science and Economics are included just for the heck of it- crammed into the last 20 pages after the History and Geography textbooks respectively. The curriculum can definitely offer choice and flexibility to the students. This also seems to be the reason behind India being the 7th least diverse country in terms of its citizens’ professions. An adverse effect, given this lack of flexibility, is that many students who do not find options for subjects in schools, go abroad to pursue their careers. As one of the many students who felt disheartened at the lack of choice and flexibility, I urge you to free up the system. Please let the students have options to choose subjects that offer variety and depth.

Testing or Examination:

The testing methodologies have repeatedly failed to test students’ knowledge. Given the mass scale of evaluation, examiners and schools discourage creativity. In a history paper, including data points from sources outside the textbook or solving a geometry theorem using a refreshing, new method is frowned upon. I know that a perfect testing method will never be easy to have. But the length to which we are pushing our students to plan examination techniques instead of working on the quest for knowledge is indeed appalling. Many populated countries, like China, use a multiple choice and practicality based examinations in their schools. The Advanced Placement examinations conducted by College Board across the world are an excellent example of how holistically a student can be tested. I request you to instil a system that promotes to students to think.

Another glaring drawback in the examinations is the scale of malpractices. My experience during my recent HSC as well as the SSC examination was harrowing. The mass-scale of cheating and “leakages” left me heart-broken. The invigilators in the exam centres distributed “model answer sheets”. The system is so corrupt, that an invigilator even offered to help me voluntarily! I have maintained my integrity and character throughout my life. However, I am crushed when I realize that the few honest students, including myself, are at a colossal disadvantage.

To be brutally honest, the education ministers and officers are very keen to make bombastic announcements, making last minute changes (NEET examination of 2016) without any regard for the disservice our state board system is doing to the crème de-la crème students who will eventually make the state and country proud.

Necessity of the HSC:

As a student who is studying in the “science” stream of the Junior Colleges, I have always questioned the purpose of the HSC examination. As my classmates and I graduate junior college to attend colleges for higher studies, our HSC marks will be given zero weightage. The MH-CET or the JEE or the several private college entrances are all that matter. The weightage of the HSC marks keeps changing from year to year, which in itself is an appalling situation. I wonder why we spend so much money and resources on an examination that has absolutely no relation to a student’s future? Why does no one want to simplify the examination puzzle? Why do we push students from our state to take a million examinations to prove that they are worthy of one admission? My solution to this is to introduce one uniform test for everyone across the state. It could even be a combination of the MH-CET and the HSC. Let one examination, conducted all over the state uniformly, have a say in the college admissions across all courses. This will eliminate the confusion of the weightage or importance of an exam and the state could save on money and resources, which could be diverted for the benefits of students and teachers alike.

I know that I have no experiencein administration or politics. Hence my suggestions and observations may be naïve or incomplete. However the facts (as experienced by students like me at the ground level) and comments from many leading teachers and educationists suggest that there is a need for revamp. Besides I feel a personal connection to you as my CM and my state. This gave me the courage to speak my mind. I am proud to be a budding voter of this state and would like to contribute in my small way to initiatives such as these (education reforms is my favourite).

Look forward to hearing back from you.

With Warm Regards,

Param Mahajan

 

Images: Courtesy various newspaper clippings

Summer of 2016

The summer of 2016 was a memorable one. What made this summer really special was my visit to the United States of America (referred as the US henceforth), technically my second one after a long gap. The journey, from exploration to conceptualization began in December last year. In December, I started researching summer camps in various subjects, conducted at elite universities in the US. A Math camp named Awesome Math- conducted by Dr. Titu Andreescu caught my attention. Since grade 10, I had been reading Dr. Andreescu’s books. My Math teacher in India is a big fan of his work too. I applied to this prestigious camp, waded through the tough test and the essay questions and got in. I was excited and literally over the moon. The cherry on the topping was that I was also selected for an Astronomy and Astrophysics camp at Columbia University (NYC). Fortunately, there was no overlap between the camps and that guaranteed a long 2 month visit to the US. I could not wait to get on to the flight and my excitement knew no bounds.

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This was not my first visit to the US. I had lived in the US for 4 years when I was a toddler. I had heard a lot of stories from my parents about my childhood. Because of all this I had a mental image even before departing. I arrived in New York on the 25th of June. I landed at the famous JFK airport. The ride from JFK to downtown Manhattan was an hour long. As we drove through the burrows of New York, I witnessed both the extremes of living standards, of people in New York. We drove through some evidently poor neighbourhoods, eventually entering the maddening Manhattan. Thus began one of my fondest and cherished experiences of my life.

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The first thing I noticed about the US was its culture. People say that since the US does not have a long history, it is not steeped in culture and traditions and many look down upon this aspect of this country. This may be true. However, I see this feature as a big positive. Due to the so-called lack of ‘long cultural background’, there is absolutely no pressure to fit in. Everybody respects each other’s style of working and preferences. As long as you do not do something illegal or disruptive, you will never have an issue doing things your way. However, the US does have some things firmly established as their unofficial code of conduct. First and foremost, everybody in the US is very frank. The Americans almost always make sure the person they are talking to completely understands what is being said, to the point of over-communication. As an extension to this, conversing and connecting with people, and asking questions is very critical. ‘Networking’- in sophisticated terms- is an important aspect in the US. The Americans live by the principle,’ No question is a stupid question’. As an example, at both my summer camps I realized that the infrastructure and facilities are sophisticated and state of the art. If you want to make use of those, you need to go and ask around, ask all those stupid questions – which means ‘networking and communicating’ is important. Another aspect that stands out is that the Americans unlike Europeans stand up more prominently against racism. Although promoting / engaging in racism / racist activities is illegal in many countries, very few can claim that most of their citizens do not engage in the practice in real life.

Along with these observations there are many nuances of the people and practices that catch your attention. Eating habits for example are vastly different from Europe and India. The humongous size of portions and the amount of junk food consumed are the much talked about things that I witnessed. The day we arrived in New York, we were heavily jet-lagged, and very hungry. We walked to “21 Fulton Street” and hastily ordered 3 dishes for 2 people. After the server brought us our food, we had the first hand experience that the American portion size is at least double that of any other place. We had to pack the food and finish it by lunch the next day. The practice of tipping in the US is again very peculiar. In India, Singapore or any other European country I have been to, tipping is moderately exercised. However in NYC, tipping is absolutely necessary and of paramount importance. Not tipping is considered a very rude practice. If somebody feels that you have under-tipped him, he will most likely come and ask you if you are dissatisfied with anything.

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The next thing that struck me in the US was the infrastructure, especially the highways or motorways, which literally bind the nation together. It was when I travelled 40 miles in less than 20 minutes in California that I realized why people respect Eisenhower so much (for allotting 2 trillion dollars for the development of these humongous highways). The number of vehicles travelling at around 80 miles an hour, for hundreds of miles is simply too many. The fly-overs, intersecting roads, underground and underwater tunnels are awesome. The investment in better connectivity and development that I witnessed was very inspiring. This is coupled with a support system of police that keeps its people secure and safe. The numerous NYPD and FDNY vehicles going around in Manhattan showed me the US investment in protecting the country, its people and infrastructure.

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The primary objective of my visit was to attend the summer camps and delve into Math and Physics. I had the privilege of staying at ivy-league universities of Cornell and Columbia and experiencing life there. This was a very unique and thrilling experience. I got a taste of higher education in the US. The several acres of campuses, some phenomenal faculty members including a few Nobel Laureates, world-class facilities are just some of the basic features these colleges boast of. The close relation students in US universities enjoy with their professors is almost a point of envy. The hours I spent with my professors during office hours, solving new problems, discussing interesting scenarios were the best part of both my camps. The open culture, experimental and self-motivated methods of learning really impressed me. I observed that the balance between sports, extra-curricular activities and academics is maintained very well. The commitment to maintain this balance is so high, that Columbia University has a 5-storeyed underground gym as it does not have a big campus (being located in Manhattan). Apart from all this, the quality that stood out for me was the professionalism of everybody in the university. The professionalism everyone displayed almost took me by shock. Everybody maintains a clear distance between their professional and personal lives and values each aspect equally. As an example, during my Awesome Math camp, I once requested Dr. Andreescu to spare some time for me as I had a few questions for him. Unfortunately, some business work came up for Dr. Andreescu and he could not meet me. However, before the end of day he sent me a message with my RA, asking me to meet him the next day at noon. The professionalism this accomplished professor showed towards a student like me was astounding. Experiencing what college would feel like, interacting with students across the globe, making new friends from far and wide are things I will always remember and look back upon.

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USA has been welcoming people from all around the globe for centuries now. They live by the motto, ‘Come together and do great work’. The number of the Americans who are originally of Chinese, African and Indian origin is astonishing. This cultural diversity gives this country an edge. Anyone who is willing to work hard and has talent or skill the country can use is welcomed. It is as if the US imports talent whenever needed. The environment is hence very welcoming. Everybody is encouraged to contribute in whatever way possible. The US indeed feels like a global community.

Finally, after a long 2 months trip, I returned home with amazing memories of one of the best summers. A lot of learning, fun, exposure and friends makes me love this trip to the moon and back.

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Impressions of Zurich – Then and Now


The summer between grade 6 and grade 7 was one of my most memorable summers. During this summer my father gave me the news that he would now be working out of Zürich. Until then Zürich was to me a city where rich people from all over the world stacked their money and to hold a Swiss bank account meant that you were hiding some money from the world. But I had no clear idea of how Zürich actually was. When my father told me that I would be able to visit him some time in the near future, I was very excited about visiting this new and mysterious city. I could not wait to get there and to experience it.P1040408

My father moved to Zürich in the month of August. In a couple of months he settled down in the city really well. After a few months we could finally visit him. I first went to Zürich in the fall of 2011. My mother and I travelled together. In fact, I had to miss an exam due to this visit to Zürich. The fact that I missed an exam just for a trip felt very weird. That weird feeling actually added to the excitement of going to Zürich. I was expecting Zürich to be a big metropolitan city. Having visited London 2 years ago, I was expecting Zürich to be a similar city. Zürich in contrast turned out to be the exact opposite of a metropolitan. Zürich appeared to be a very small place. In contrast to London where you see people from almost all over the world, Zürich primarily has Swiss people. Zürich does not offer much in terms of racial and ethnic diversity. There are no streets full of malls (except Bahnhofstrasse) and shops that are open 24 hours. In fact the shops close down at 8 p.m. in the evening. Even the restaurants close at 9 p.m. Many developed cities like London and New York have an underground or a subway. Zürich has neither. Zürich has a network of trams. The trams travel at a leisurely speed but contribute to the city’s effort to preserve its tradition and history. In Switzerland, no city, however developed it might be, has a network of subways or undergrounds. All Swiss cities use the tram. As a 12 year-old, I did not think that this traditional and old city was exciting enough for me. The city had a very small population. At that time the city did not feel so alive to me. The malls and grocery stores used to remain closed on weekends. On weekends, it felt as if there was a curfew in the city. When I would look out the window I would barely see a couple of people. Except for the medical stores, all other stores also remain closed. My surroundings were very dull. The lack of activity on weekends literally drove me crazy. Having lived in India, the concept of not seeing people around you is sometimes scary. A calm and quiet city from the eyes of a twelve year old seems pretty boring and uninteresting. Since I had no friends or family, I was homesick most of the time during that visit. All the excitement turned into longing to get back home. A silver lining though was the visit to Mt. Pilatus, one of the many beautiful peaks from the Swiss Alps. After this trip though, I became desperate to go back home. My first impression of Zürich, and Switzerland in general, was that it was not a lively place. It had a few attractive, scenic tourist spots but not much to like and definitely nothing much to stay forever.

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After I finished grade 7, my mother and I travelled to Zürich again. Grade 7 was a very busy academic year. I had taken a couple of difficult extra-curricular exams. All the results were going to be declared in summer, when I was going to be in Zürich. Grade 8, in the Indian schooling system, offers a lot of tough and challenging competitions and exams to participate in. Part of my objective of visiting Zürich was to isolate myself from the rest of ‘my’ world and keep working on my priorities. Since my parents were working all throughout the week, we could go out only on the weekends. I could go to office with either of them and sit there all day working on my own. Some days I would stay home. It was during this period that I slowly started to realize the beauty of the city. The city was extremely quiet excluding a few rush hours. I could pay undivided attention to my work. The pin-drop silence during the day, which initially I had not liked, was suddenly my best friend. Living there for 2 months made me appreciate the city.

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Slowly I absorbed the way Zurich functions. The people of Zürich liked to begin their day early. Since I stayed close to the railway station, I would see loads of people walking towards their offices as early as 6 in the morning. Due to this early start time, the people of Zürich also stop work early at around 4 p.m. The workplaces in Zürich are simply phenomenal. They are very quiet and provide a very conducive environment for people to work. Most offices are equipped with excellent infrastructure to the finest level. For example the Hot Chocolate served in my dad’s office is the best one I have ever had. The workplace culture, according to my observations, values quality over quantity. The pace of work is not too great, but the quality of output is high. The Swiss like to go to bed very early as they are also up very early. So after 8 in the evening, the streets are literally deserted, irrespective of the day being a weekday or a weekend. The Swiss are also a very quiet bunch. You will never hear your neighbor’s voice. The Swiss people are very proud of their Swiss lifestyle and simply love to live by it. I started understanding the way of life in the city and in fact fell in love with it. This love for the city was further strengthened by some awesome grade 7 results and excellent preparation for my grade 8 extra-curricular examinations. This summer vacation set the tone to make Zürich my favorite spot for a vacation and studying. After every period of hard work in Zürich, I have always achieved something significant, sometimes an award in Mathematics, sometimes cracking a difficult music exam or something else. The calm and quiet environment, the systematic methodology of work, backed by the unique culture and tradition preserved for centuries may have rubbed off on me a little.

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I was more than interested in knowing all details about Zurich now. Zürich is located in the Northern part of Switzerland, close to Germany. Zürich is an hour’s drive from some of the most picturesque peaks in the Alps. Zürich occupies only 33 sq. miles compared to London’s 607 sq. miles. Located centrally and well connected to metropolitans in mainland Europe, it is one of the prime financial hubs in the entire world. The banks, the natural beauty and the Swiss engineered watches define this city. The city is full of bankers and elite people from all around the world. Right from important soccer meetings and ceremonies (and arrests), including the Ballon d’Or ceremony held each year in the Zürich Congress hall, to important meetings of banks like Credit Suisse and other private equity names, Zürich has been host to a lot of prestigious world events.

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Zurich is also a symbol of the Swiss culture. Swiss culture is a beautiful blend of peace loving people with beautiful and scenic mountains. Swiss people boast a world-renowned quality of work and life. They have throughout history, preferred a quiet and peaceful life. The city’s most famous street, Bahnhofstrasse, is one of the most beautiful places on earth. My several bike trips around Zürich made me appreciate the fabulous architecture in the city. The city has done well to preserve all the ancient architecture since the the renaissance era. The people in the city are very friendly in comparison to people in other metropolitan cities. A polite smile is like an unwritten law in the city. Whenever I have bumped into any of my neighbours in Zürich, they invariably ask me about how I am and how my day was. The Swiss people, right from the lady behind the ticket counter at the train station to the gentleman who helped us process our visas at one of the Swiss offices, believe in doing great work together, in an inclusive and collaborative way. The population of the city is very homogenous. Italian and French are also spoken in equal measure with German. The Swiss also try very hard to make everyone feel comfortable. Unlike the French, they are willing to speak in the language you are comfortable in. The Government and police are also at their friendliest best. Switzerland is one of the few nations that have a functioning direct democracy. They feel a sense of responsibility towards each and every one of their residents and citizens. Recently, when my father changed his canton from Zürich to Basel, they took utmost care of simplifying the process. Right from enjoyment activities to working hard, the quality of everything in Zürich is out of this world.

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This highly decorated city in the world is one of my favorite places. The city is quite literally a paradise. Personally, this city is literally my second home. Zürich is the exact opposite of my hometown Pune. It complements everything in India very well. This is why Zürich completes my life. Zürich has taught me that one can appreciate and enjoy life with a new perspective as well. This city also taught me not judge a book by its cover. I learnt the invaluable lesson of patience when I was proven wrong in everything that I assumed about this city. The slow process of hatred turning to love for Zürich is reflective of the process of me maturing as a person. The feeling I get when I step into my home in Zürich is simply bliss. Ich liebe Zürich sehr.

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Rise of Real Madrid Through my Eyes

The most followed, loved, financed and broadcasted sport on Planet Earth is, without any doubt, football. By football I mean European football or soccer. My introduction to soccer was in the 8th grade. The year was 2013. I distinctly remember the first match that I watched. It was the second leg of the Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund. That valiant attempt to make a historic comeback from the first leg by Real Madrid hooked me up perfectly to the beautiful sport and Real Madrid as a club. From that day on, I became an ardent follower of this Spanish football club and have been watching all the events, changes, lows and highs very closely. Right in the next season, Real Madrid changed its coach from José Mourinho to Carlo Ancelotti. The change of coach to Carlo Ancelotti by club president Florentino Perez proved to be one of his best ever decisions. Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival inspired Real Madrid to winning the coveted La Decima (the tenth European championship) and the Spanish cup. In this blog I wish to describe Real Madrid’s journey to their 11th European Cup also famously known as La Undecima.

Europe is the host to some of the best football leagues in the world. The Barclays Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga etc. have consistently produced world-class players for the past few decades. Right from Alfredo di Stefano and Michael Platini to Zinadine Zidane, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. All teams play in their respective domestic leagues. Each domestic league also has a domestic cup. Finally, the top teams compete in the Champions League. The Champions League is regarded as the highest honor in club football.

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Real Madrid is a premier Spanish club founded in 1902. More popularly known as Real, the club boasts a star studded player list including Alfredo Di Stefano, David Beckham, Zinadine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo among others. The glorious Ancelotti era, which was laden with trophies, created an atmosphere of very high expectations for Real Madrid. The season 2014-2015 was a trophy-less season for Real Madrid even though they played some of the best football. This season was followed, by the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti. Many of the stars in the Real Madrid squad were unhappy with this decision. Rafa Benitez was appointed as the new head coach. Rafa was not exactly a popular choice with the fans or the players. The fans in Madrid are very vocal of their opinions about a new appointment. This mounted on the already prevalent pressure on Rafa Benitez of managing the richest club in the world. Rafa Benitez’s season got off to a rough start as Real Madrid was held to goal less draw by a lowly side like Sporting Gijon. The pressure went on building as the team did not deliver the same quality of football as they did under Ancelotti. Rafa Benitez then started making huge blunders. He started picking his starting 11 based on the popularity of players. The team consequently lost all its balance. This peaked in the 4-0 demolition at the hands of Barcelona at the Bernabeu. Real Madrid slipped to third in the league table and were trailing Barcelona by a huge margin. Florentino Perez, the club president, again did what he does best. He made a harsh decision. He sacked Rafa Benitez and decided to promote French football legend Zinedine Zidane as the head coach of the senior team. Before that Zidane was coaching the junior team of Real Madrid.

Zidane and Perez have a very long history and have immense faith in each other. Florentino Perez had bought Zidane from Juventus at a world record transfer fee. Zidane went on to officially say that Perez was like a second father to him. From the moment Zidane took over, Real Madrid looked like a completely different team. The players started working harder. There was superb collaboration in the team. Real Madrid’s best attacking style, the counter attacks, were perfected. Fans and players felt a completely new wave of enthusiasm and determination. Zidane was also very wise to avoid the pitfalls that Rafa Benitez could not avoid. After a rare draw or a loss to Atletico Madrid, the pressure was starting to build. But Zidane showed his class by sticking to his tactics and not bowing to public pressure. The transformation of Casemiro from a bench warmer to the pivot of the Madrid team speaks tons about the effectiveness of Zidane’s tactics. At the end of all this, Real Madrid finished within just a point of league winners FC Barcelona, which had seemed to be a distant reality at the time Zidane took over. Zidane’s Real Madrid also ended the season winning a historic La Undecima, the 11th European Championship.

Zinadine Zidane is one of the greatest players of all time. Zidane has won all trophies with club and country. This immortal status of Zidane in football history automatically earns him some respect wherever he goes. Zidane has been a Real Madrid legend. The fans just love him. Zidane has always expressed his desire to do great things for Real Madrid. In fact, he was the assistant coach for Carlo Ancelotti when Real Madrid won the La Decima after a long wait of 12 years. Zidane was also the one to score the winning goal or Real Madrid in 2002 against Bayer Leverkusen to win them their ninth European cup. This history of Zidane’s association with the club had a major impact. The players right from superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to junior players like Borja Mayoral and Lucas Vasquez respected him. Zidane created a flexible system that switched fluently from 4-3-3 to 4-5-1 combination on the field. This system could shut out some of the most lethal attacks and also attack at a high intensity. For this he received tremendous co-operation from the famous front three of BBC (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano). He also made Casemiro the pivot of the team’s midfield and played Toni Kroos in an advanced position. This change meant that Isco and James would not be regular starters. They too cooperated well. Zidane liked to use Isco as a 60th minute substitute to seal the game off. Isco did not disappoint. These 3 prominent changes had a huge impact on the performances of the team. These changes were possible only because the players were totally convinced of the new system. Zidane had instilled in the team an attitude to work hard and look out for the team. The world’s most expensive line-up which was performing at a mediocre level just 2 months back, now assumed its lethal form of demolishing teams. Real Madrid defeated FC Barcelona with 10 men at Camp Nou, Barcelona. They had actually lost their match to FC Barcelona in Madrid with 11 men by a score of 4-0 under the Benitez era.

A quick look at two eras brings out a lot of thinking points. Both managers had the same set of players. The players were all of high quality, with a good amount of experience. However one manager created history within six months from the time he arrived while the other one just seemed like a part of history everybody would like to forget about. The potential of willingness and attitude does indeed make a huge difference.

Real Madrid is the richest and most successful team in the world. Winning the Champions League 2 times in three years speaks loads about their quality. However, if you look at the first half of the 2015-16 season, they just did not seem like themselves. Watching such a talented squad performing poorly hurt many football fans. Their sudden transformation was not a drastic change in quality but a drastic change in mentality. A more optimistic Real Madrid under Zidane performed much better than Benitez’s team. Such a drastic transformation of a multi-billion-dollar club is something we all can learn from. As a footballer, I find several useful learnings from this season. First and foremost, one should always have hope. One should not start passing judgements based on the initial part of the season / phases of a journey. Every set of tactics needs a certain amount of time to click. Patience and faith are very vital in exceling at this beautiful game and similarly at everything in life. The second thing that I realized form this season was that the role of a coach is very important. The most important part of that role, along with having excellent tactics, is to win over the confidence of the players. Zidane was very successful in gaining the confidence of the entire Real Madrid squad. Faith and confidence in one’s coach is fundamental to extra-ordinary success.

As a person I learned that sometimes when one is not succeeding, one must not try to make big changes. A small change will act as a catalyst to propel you towards your goal. The second thing I learn from this season is that life is made up of two choices: easy ones and the correct ones. Florentino Perez’s decision to sack 2 managers within a space of 2 months put him under a lot of pressure. But finally, those decisions proved to be critical in turning the season around. Thus, this season has given me a lot of lessons, some related to football while some related to life in general.

With a great Coach, a great President who has the guts to make hard decisions and a plethora of world-class players, Real Madrid’s future is in safe hands. Hopefully they keep winning more and more trophies and make MADRIDISTAS across the globe happy.

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An Open Letter To Mrs Smriti Irani (HRD Minister Government of India)

20 June 2016

Respected Mrs. Irani,

I hope this letter finds you in the pink of your health and spirits. I am a young citizen of our country, India, and feel very strongly about the higher education system. The current scenario of our higher education system pains me. As you are India’s Human Resource Development Minister, I am writing this letter to you in the hope that you will give this topic some serious thought. I am a grade 12 student studying in Pune, Maharashtra. I am going through one of the most critical part of my student life and hence am at the heart of the higher education system. As I encounter the various aspects of this system, I feel that the system is plagued with some shortcomings and there is definite room for improvement.

The problems begin with the entrance examinations conducted to admit students to colleges across the country. The number of entrance examinations after grade 12 is simply too large. Among the engineering entrance examinations, the IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) have 2 separate entrance exams i.e. the JEE Mains and JEE Advanced. The regional government colleges in my state (Maharashtra) use the MH-CET (Maharashtra Common Entrance Test) exam for admission. Several private colleges use their own, independent entrance examinations. For example, the Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences (BITS) conducts its own entrance examination i.e. the BIT-SAT. Eventually, a grade 12 student is expected to take around 8 to 10 entrance examinations after his grade 12 Board Examinations have ended. The fact that these exams are conducted at the end of a tiring year makes them even more tedious. The large number of entrance exams also makes it difficult to know which exam is useful for which college.

The number of entrance examinations confuses students. To add to it, the syllabi for these examinations is not the same. For example, the JEE exams are based on the central board (CBSE) syllabus whereas the MHT-CET exam is based on the Maharashtra State Board syllabus. This keeps the students wondering which exam/college to chase. Eventually students give up on some of their options. This hampers the freedom of choice for students. Students miss out on some of the better opportunities. This deters them from achieving their full potential. This waste of potential is a big loss to the nation.

The second problem with these numerous entrance examinations is the implementation. The entrance exams are often conducted on consecutive Sundays, sometimes consecutive days, with last minute changes. This limits the time for preparation and consequently lowers the quality of output delivered by students. Another thing, which is grossly overlooked is the lack of strict invigilation. Rampant copying that goes on at the test centers is never prevented. The invigilators are under-trained, leading to chaos at the testing centers even before and after the examination. This situation gives rise to an unfair selection of students. The hardworking students who do not subscribe to such malpractices feel cheated. This results in selection of undeserving students to colleges at times. The nation’s future, the country’s intelligentsia get passed on in to the correct hands.

After the entrance examinations, comes the process of securing admission. Is this process clear? Is this process the same throughout the nation? The admission process for colleges across the country is not uniform. Colleges use separate criteria for admission. Some colleges rely solely on their entrance examinations. Some colleges rely only on the grade 12 scores of a student. Some colleges use a weighted average of grade 12 scores and an entrance examination’s scores. The criteria of admission also keep changing very often. For example, in the year 2015 the ranklist for the JEE mains exam was a weighted average for grade 12 marks and the JEE Mains score. In 2016 the ranklist is going to be solely based on the JEE Mains scores. The selection criteria for the year of 2017, is also not clear. Will states conduct their separate entrance examinations? Until 2 years ago the JEE Mains (Joint Entrance Examination) was considered as the main engineering entrance test across the nation. One year ago, the Maharashtra Government introduced the Maharashtra Common Entrance Test applicable to the engineering colleges in Maharashtra. Now I have read news that the Government is again planning to revert back to the previous model of entrance tests. I, as a result, have no clarity regarding the entrance examinations I am supposed to take after grade 12 even one year before the exam.   Will there be a centrally conducted common entrance test? What is the syllabus for this? These questions are still unanswered. The huge variance in the selection process and the ambiguity around it affects the student preparation. At the end of the day I am left wondering, are we guinea pigs that each government continues to experiment with us without any consideration for our well being?

To add to it the Class 12 syllabi and the way the examinations are conducted changes from state to state. Is this fair? Is this what the crème de la crème of our student body should be exposed to? The situation is not too different in the field of medicine. The lack of a central evaluation process leads to the selection of many undeserving students and most importantly the omission of some of the deserving students. The inconsistent admission process across the nation builds unnecessary strain on students and parents alike. The weightage the grade 12 exams should receive during the admission process is a constantly debated topic. I am quite perplexed at this situation and the lack of consideration towards the student body.

 The grade 12 exams (also known as the board exams) have traditionally been very important. Earlier these exams were the sole deciders for admitting a student to any college. The grade 12 exams have today turned into a mere formality. Most of the colleges require students to pass the Grade 12 exam with a minimum score. The minimum score being low, students take this exam lightly and instead focus only on the preparation for the various entrance examinations. The Government as well as the colleges have to spend a lot of their resources to conduct this exam. What is the point in expending valuable resources if the exam does not hold any weightage? Students are unnecessarily compelled to take an exam that is not going to have any effect on their admission into college. Students view this as a formality and a waste of time.

If the class 12 board examination is taken seriously, it can help evaluate the competence of the students not just in subjects of choice (like Science, Accounting etc.. ) but also in languages. As the importance of this exam goes down, so does the importance of a well-balanced education system. The decrease in importance of grade 12 exams has seen a fall in the importance of junior colleges as well. Students always prefer private coaching as it helps them get better for the entrance exams.

 Another worrying trend I sense in my country is the obsession of students to pursue just medicine or engineering. In India, around 1.5 million students graduate every year as engineers. This is more than the number of engineers graduating from the U.S. and China combined. About a third of them are likely to be unemployed or employed at a place that is way below their level of expertise. Similar statistics indicate the plight of India’s medicine aspirants. These numbers clearly indicate that we have assigned undue importance to these two fields. Studies indicate that many students wanting to study the humanities or the social sciences opt to study abroad. Data from the publication of “The Hindu” suggests that there are only a small number of respectable departments in India in the field of the humanities and none of those have international repute. Such is the state of these fields, which again forces the students to always choose engineering and medicine over the other fields. The perceived lack of importance for other fields is making them unwanted. Students also feel that the lack of excellent colleges in the field of humanities and the social sciences will make an education in those fields poor. This creates a lot of rush to get into the top engineering and medical colleges. These colleges as a result get over-burdened. On the other hand, the students who chose one of the social sciences or the humanities are many a times those who have no other option and often not the intellectual cream. Over time this means that the brightest of the bright stay away from politics, legal careers. The 2G scam, the Augusta Chopper scam, the Jessica Lal murder trial are just some of the prominent examples of the disgusting socio-legal problems we are stuck in, often a result of the importance we award to these areas and the student class picking these fields.

 These loopholes in our current system are hurting the nation very seriously. A new system that eliminates these moments of anguish for us is long due.

  • The Government can merge the Grade 12 Board exams along with the entrance examinations.
  • This new exam should serve as the basis for admission into any college (and not just the cool engineering and medical colleges) across the nation.
  • A few basic subjects that test some basic skills should be compulsory for everybody for graduation from Class 12.
  • After this test of basic skills, the government can initiate tests for certain specializations. For example, an engineering aspirant can take specialized tests in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry where as a student aspiring to study one of the social sciences should take specialized tests in History, Political Science or Economics.
  • The pattern of these tests can be devised to include the MCQs (multiple choice questions) and Subjective type of questions.
  • The syllabus of these tests should be set by a central body like NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) and should be the same throughout the nation.
  • Currently the IITs (Indian Institute of Technology), the IISERs (Indian Institute of Science Education and Reasearch), the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and some other colleges are considered to be the best in the field of any of the sciences. We do not have such a top-class colleges for any of the social sciences or humanities. I strongly feel that the Government should establish top-notch colleges for the social sciences as well as the humanities.
  • The Government should also ensure that each state in the country has at least one of these top-notch colleges for each field. This will ensure that the students have a plethora of excellent colleges to choose from, even in the field of humanities and the social sciences.
  • Finally we need an impeccable implementation. We cannot afford to have an administration that flip flops between initiatives, makes changes each year, does not give enough notice or transparent details to the students

The number of entrance examinations will be reduced to just one standard exam throughout the nation. This system will also put in place a common admission process across the nation, eliminating all ambiguity. The new test after Grade 12 being the only one in the new system, will carry a lot of importance. The establishment of good colleges in the fields of humanities and the social sciences will prevent over-crowding in the fields of Engineering and Medicine. A well thought through approach that covers all variations is the solution to multiple problems.

I sincerely believe that these changes have the potential to nurture our nation’s youth. As a country with a large and young population, we can give the world a very well developed and qualified youth. This will not happen if we continue with our current system. Hence it is high time for us to change. This reformative change will create, in the words of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, armies of physicists, engineers, doctors, mathematicians, politicians, lawyers and so on. The younger generation of this nation looks up to you to bring about this change. As a Human Resource Development Minister you can leave behind a legacy future generations will thank you for. Like me, many student friends, thinkers, and educationists will join you in this journey if you call out for them. All we need is to hear from you. Is that too much to expect?

Awaiting your response and action

Yours Sincerely,

Param

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Image Courtesy: worldartsme.com

Lessons and Experiences in the Wild

Life in the wild is an extension of life in its most pristine and untouched form. Forest and wild life have always impacted our urban lives in a positive way. This impact ranges from a cleaner environment for us to model after to valuable ecological zones for our society to exist. I was introduced to this world when I was going to 6th grade. My family and I were on a trip to the Jim Corbett National Park. This first encounter of mine with the forest was simply bliss. The month of our visit being May, the weather was ridiculously hot and dry. As we entered the park for the first time, I was sure that I would be able to bear the heat for the entire duration of our safari. But the moment we entered the thick forest, the weather changed magically. Under the canopy of the trees it was very cool. A pleasant breeze made the weather soothing. This first visit was the just the tip of the iceberg of the happiness and excitement I would experience.

The forests are blessed with a rice flora and fauna, a large variety of animals and birds in their natural habitat, a sight one can relish for years. For me who was hungry for tiger-sighting, it was also a little disappointing that I did not spot a tiger, but the eagerness to look for the royal Indian Bengal tiger made me study and absorb the nuances of the forest even more. On returning I spent hours recollecting and reliving our Corbett experience. To my surprise, I had the chance to be a part of a quiz for wildlife enthusiasts in a couple of months. As we represented our school, we won the second prize. The quizmaster asked me how I knew so much. I answered honestly – told him that I guessed names of states or animals according to the weather and the local names. He seemed pretty stunned at that answer and praised me for my thinking. At the end of the quiz we were given a sample copy of The Sanctuary Asia magazine. That was a turning point. Not only was the magazine very captivating, but subscribing to it regularly got me hooked to the wild.

I kept reading various articles from different websites and magazines. I mopped up small details, thought about how economic progress almost always come at the cost of ecology and felt like I was learning about a new world. My next opportunity to visit a National Park came after five years. This time we visited the Bandhavgarh National Park. The Bandhavgarh Forest has the highest population density of tigers. Before the trip I made it a point to read a lot about the park. Bandhavgarh Park is divided into three zones – Tala, Magdhi and Khitouli. After reading up a lot of recommendations from people who had visited the park earlier, I realized that the Tala Zone had the maximum sightings. I therefore insisted that 4 out of our 8 safaris should be done in the Tala zone. After reaching Bandhavgarh, I was shocked when our naturalist said that in the last two months tiger movement in Tala zone had reduced drastically. This was my first lesson – one can never predict nature, no amount of reviews and predictions can help, when nature takes it own course. Our naturalist also jokingly called this the Law Of The Jungle. During our first 4 drives, in the Tala zone, we did not have a single tiger sighting. But the drives did not lack any fun. We experienced a variety – from torrential rainfall that drenched us to the bone, left us cold and shivering, to dry and dusty drives that left us with a “mud pack” our rides were never dull even without the tiger. The roller rolling in the air, the peacocks letting out mating calls, the langurs, wild boars, night jars or kingfisher varieties subtly taught me that each small creature enjoys a unique place in the jungle. How conveniently we forget to keep this in mind when we are back in our urban environment.

Our fifth, sixth and eighth safaris were in the Magadhi zone – one brimming with tigers. All our drives in the Magdhi zone were a huge success. The drives were also very eventful and frightening at times. We were fortunate to witness tigers in a variety of moods. Our first sighting was a trademark ‘tiger crossing the road’. The other sighting involved me seeing through the brilliant camouflage of a tiger. The best sighting was that of a tigress that mock charged at our vehicle. This was the longest sighting we had. We spotted the tigress while turning on a corner. We followed her for about half a kilometer. She appeared tired in the sun and sat under a tree near the road. All of us were watching her through our binoculars. We all noticed one thing in common – the tigress kept staring at us. We had never encountered a tigress so close to us, for such a long time, looking at us straight in the eye. After a while she got up and appeared to be crossing the road. Hearts pounding, we got ready to click pictures. She came and stopped in the middle of the road, gave us a sharp look and showed us her razor-sharp canines. Within a second she charged at our vehicle at full pelt, giving out a loud growl. She was as close as 5 feet from our vehicle. And then she suddenly jumped into the bush adjoining the road. We left, as soon as we recovered from the shock of our lives. Even for our naturalist, this ‘mock-charge’ was a one in one thousand experience. IMG_8697As we rushed to leave the jungle after this experience, we were pleasantly surprised to spot a tigress by a waterhole, drinking water to her fill, not bothered with our presence, bathing in the water, snapping at a kingfisher and showing us that the tiger is truly the king of the jungle. Nature displayed its variety in all our safari drives in the jungle. The unpredictability of the sightings coupled with the variety made me realize how small and insignificant I am – just a speck in this world. Truly humbling.

 

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After my trip to Bandhavgarh, I also visited the Kanha National Park. The Kanha National Park is a denser forest. I visited the park around Christmas of 2015. The weather was very cold. Enjoying forests in two different seasons is a real delight. The highlights of my Kanha trip were some amazingly detailed pictures of the Indian Roller sitting a top a dead tree and driving behind a ‘barsingha’ deer which was caught in an unfamiliar place. The difficulty in spotting a night jar, an owl camouflaged in the bark of the tree and the vultures feeding on the carcass are all sights I can never forget. Each animal / bird in the nature has a feature that helps its survival and retains its unique place in the surrounding.

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After three amazing visits to the forest, I started craving for a fourth one even more. The more you visit the forest, the more you enjoy it, and the more you like it. The forest definitely offered something that is hard to find in our day-to-day urban lifestyle. The first thing one notices in a jungle is that one is totally off the grid. Time spent without mobile network and without wifi really helps us to connect with our inner selves. It gives a complete break from our daily life. In a jungle you feel a unique closeness to nature. You observe movements of a deer herd. You also get to observe animals protect themselves. For example, if a herd of deer notices any predator nearby, the deer raise their tails. This is a sign of high alert. One gets to see the brilliant camouflages of various animals right from that of a tiger to a wild boar. A keen observation of the landscape can help us in identifying locations a tiger could frequent. In a hilly area, a tiger will always prefer a cave, whereas in a flat terrain the tiger will prefer meadows (the tiger is very adept in camouflaging itself in the meadows). The forest is very peaceful. If one is quiet enough, one can hear the sound of a water drop falling to ground. Silence and patience can actually help in predicting the movements of various animals around the jungle. This quiet and peaceful environment is indeed very rejuvenating.

However the forests in my country India, though very beautiful, are getting depleted at an alarming fast rate. Efforts from certain NGOs and the Government are helping in controlling the depletion. But these efforts may not be enough. An immediate and drastic change is necessary to preserve whatever forest wealth we have. The state of Madhya Pradesh in India has a high concentration of ecological zones and national parks. Many experts have come up with several ideas regarding forests in this state. The state has five national parks. An NGO is making constant efforts to make a plan to make sure that all these national parks are inter-linked. This will help in better movement of the animal population and help in increasing population of the endangered species (especially the tiger). Parks like the Bandhavgarh National Park are an island. There are no new tigers coming into the park. This makes the gene pool of the park very poor. Again this problem points to the need of a better connectivity among forests. The state of Arunachal Pradesh also has a high number of national parks. The state is famous for its many bird sanctuaries. However the presence of mobile towers and newer symbols of progress like roads and high ways are a deterrent to this population. I am convinced that it is definitely worth thinking how we can preserve the ecological zones, and explore options to achieve prosperity through progress without affecting this treasure. My country India is fortunate to have abundant forests and a diverse wildlife. Protecting these resources ought to be our top priority.

Indians have inherited a huge legacy from their ancestors. Pristine form of nature is the best kind of legacy to have. India is a country located over three weather zones: The Tropic Zone, The Sub-tropical Zone and The Temperate Zone. This means that a country like India also has a very diverse wildlife. A boom in economy post the 1990s has seen us use more and more land and many other resources for infrastructural development. An urgent need of space for the ever-growing Indian population has promoted deforestation at a large scale. It is our best interests to safeguard our forests. We must strive in protecting this invaluable legacy and help in maintaining a balanced environment for the generations to come. A close encounter with nature forced me to think and analyze these aspects. Hence the wild for me, is no more a vacation destination – it has gained a place in my mind, heart and brain.IMG_0978

The Problem of Poverty In India

India, a south Asian nation, is a developing nation. Like many of the current developing nations India has opened up her economy quite recently. India was forced into the decision of opening up her economy, as there was only enough money to run the country for 32 days. Many are of the opinion that this decision has been hugely responsible for the humongous growth in Indian economy after the 1990s. The decision also represented a major step in shifting from socialism to capitalism. Before the 1990s, the Indian society was a well-knit society. There were no big gaps between groups of people. After the 1990s these small and marginal gaps started widening. Today we see a humungous gap between the rich and the poor. The amount of fruit in a rich man’s shampoo is more than that in a poor man’s plate. Sad but true, it represents the poverty in developing countries like India.

According to the criteria used by the World Bank a person who earns less than $1.90 per day is classified as poor. According to the latest survey by the Indian government in 2013, 21.9% of India’s total population is poor. India contains 17.5% of the total world’s population. Therefore it is reasonable to expect that around 17-18% of the world’s population under the poverty line must lie in India. However the percent of poor people in India is as high as 21.5% out of the world’s total poor population.

The data very clearly indicates that the poverty in India is a big problem and it should be dealt with immediately. Some of the prominent factors, which increase / lead to poverty, are:

1.Social Inequality
Social inequality has existed in India for over a century now. Names of professions were slowly and steadily converted into castes by the society. The British Rule acted as an important catalyst in this process. Social inequality initially did not affect opportunities to a greater extent. But after a certain while, business owners and people with sufficient power and authority started opting for candidates based on their castes. For example, a staunch Hindu radical would not recruit a Muslim for his business. Such practices started an unequal distribution of opportunities. Opportunities were distributed on the basis of caste instead of merit. This obviously decreased the quality and quantity of work. Lower quality and lower quantity of work started pushing businesses and other institutions into big losses, thereby increasing poverty to a huge extent.

2.Illiteracy
In the post independence era India’s main focus was to stabilize its economy. In this period, the Government ran all the factories, companies and other organizations. Thus many people joined Government run organizations immediately after school. Not many people went on to pursue further education. This did not inspire innovation and creativity. The progress in economy was solely dependent on the Government policies. This ‘illiteracy’ created more poverty.

3.Population
India has the highest density of population of all the nations on the globe. Excessive population is a big deterrent to a nation’s progress. India’s limited resources have to be supplied to a large number of people. Inadequate resources for the given population create a strain on the economy. Plenty of labor is available for any particular task. Easily replaceable labor creates low wages for the working class. An excessively large population means ruthless competition. Ruthless competition discourages innovativeness and creativity. A less-creative young generation is not good for any nation. A very high population also affects the Government sector. Easily replaceable workforce means lower salaries. Some of these people with salaries lower than they deserve tend to use corrupt practices to make up for the deficit of money. Thus poverty increases manifold.

4. Unequal Distribution Of Wealth
Incorrect Government policies, Corruption, and oppression of the poor have led to an unequal distribution of wealth. The needs, a particular class assumes as essential, are treated as the most luxurious needs by another class. This disparity is truly indicative of the poverty in India. An unequal distribution of wealth also means an unequal distribution of opportunity. In today’s commercial world, seeking an opportunity (like getting into a top university) also requires a lot of money. The rich make use of their higher resources to avail more number of opportunities. This widens the disparity between these classes of the society, thus worsening poverty.

5. Corruption
Corruption runs rampant through almost all the Government systems in India. The lower wages on offer in the Government jobs have diverted most of the intellectual crowd towards lucrative professions. As a result, the people who enter politics are an uneducated and job-less lot. Lack of education and money pushes them to use corrupt practices. The Saradha Group scam, the Commonwealth Games scam are examples of how corrupt people, with authority, can gamble with or siphon away millions of rupees. The money, which has been raised to help the poor, very often does not reach them. The poor therefore do not receive any help from the Government (which they ideally should receive).

6. Colonial Rule
Finally, colonial rule of the British is that factor we now can do nothing about. The colonial rule started in the first half of the 1800s. During this period, kings from various provinces ruled India. The ‘divide and rule’ policy of the British destroyed the integrity of the nation. This led to a number of wars, thus destroying armies and wealth in the Indian province. The British rule was cemented further after the revolt of 1857 failed to overthrow their rule. During the British rule, the British harassed Indians beyond measure. Peasants were forced to grow cash crops. They were also forced to sell their produce only to the British at very cheap prices. The British also destroyed the self-sufficient village economy. The British continued further with their vicious deeds even while leaving the country. They partitioned India into 2 countries: India and Pakistan. The partition led to huge massacre of people. Several wars were fought between the 2 nations, which deprived both, of their left over financial and human resources.

These causes make it clear how deep rooted the problem of poverty is. Can there be a way to reduce it? Here is my take.

1. Social Inequality
Many people in India have a notion that an increase in RESERVATION will help in bridging the social inequality. But according to me, that is not the case. An increase in reservation means people with lower merit receive higher than they deserve. This will never ever help them to realize the value of education, jobs or any such similar opportunities. In the industry, organizations will never be keen to take people with lower merit. Hence the ‘reservation’ will not work. Making the law stricter can abridge social inequality. Any discrimination must be punished immediately as well as effectively. Providing free education, basic needs at a subsidized rate etc., can reduce the opportunity costs for the fellow citizens steeped in poverty. The Government can implement suitable reforms to create more employment, schools and much more. Such a slow and steady process will ultimately eliminate any social inequality.

At an individual level, fair treatment of individuals, not being judgemental, proactively speaking up against social inequalities can be my contribution to this slow process. As Einstein rightly said, the World will not collapse because of those who do evil, but more so by those who watch them do so silently.

2. Illiteracy
The current illiteracy rate of India is around 25.96%. This rate is quite high for a nation aspiring to be a global superpower in 2020. Experts suggest that the literacy rate should reach a minimum of 90% for the nation to have a sufficient work force, which is well qualified. While we aspire to make our nation literate, we should not just focus on basic literacy. The number of people with good and higher education should increase as well. For this to happen, we need a good education system. This education should focus on a well-rounded personality. It must not be a system where students are in a ‘rat-race’ just for getting into some school. The number of good colleges in the country ought to be increased drastically. We could bring Stanford or Harvard to India!!!

4.Population
India has been gifted with a huge population. This population, instead of being a large pool for labor, is now turning into a big burden. The population is going way out of control. Spreading awareness can control the population. There could be another revolutionary solution as well. This one was implemented by China to curb the population explosion. They permitted each couple to have only one child (unless the couple had twins). I agree that several problems started arising in that system. Many people opposed this method, as it was an oppression of human rights. The population also dropped a bit too much. So China finally lifted the restriction. Although this system certainly has some loopholes and disadvantages, for a country like India which is deeply stuck in a population crisis, this or some other radical methodology is certainly worth a try.

5.Corruption
Corruption elimination and the presence of a transparent system is a vital cog in the wheel. The citizens should use the newly introduced Right To Information wisely and make sure their hard earned money in the form of taxes is going the right way. Citizens can also help to set up congresses to make sure that the politicians in power are not misusing their authority. Another big duty the citizens need to fulfill is to vote and vote responsibly.

6.Colonial Rule is that one factor we can now do nothing about☺.

In conclusion, I say that the poverty scenario in India is way too appalling to do nothing about. There are some small changes we can do at our individual level to help lessen the poverty. Just commenting on the Government’s policies will not help. Each and every one of us should be actively involved in the process.
As Gandhi rightly said “ We Should Be The Change We Wish To See In The World.”

Reservation on the Basis of Caste in India

Mr. Hardik Patel is a leader to the ‘Patels’, who form a major community in the state of Gujarat (a state in India). On the 25th of August 2015, this self-declared young crusader conducted a big rally in the state of Gujarat to demand reservation for the ‘Patel’ community in Gujarat. He demanded that the state should either give the ‘Patels’ a certain share of reservation or eliminate reservation entirely. This episode hit the headlines of many national newspapers. This got me thinking about the practice of reservation (on the basis of caste) not just in Gujarat but the entire country of India.

Reservation is a very sensitive topic in India. As I pen my thoughts down, whenever I use the word ‘Reservation’, I mean reservation on the basis of caste. Castes are the biggest contributors to discrimination. In an otherwise united Indian society, castes have initiated an element of hostility between groups of people belonging to different groups or castes. While analyzing Reservation in India let us begin from the very basic question, “ Why and how were castes created?”

WHAT DOES HISTORY TELL US?

Castes in India were not created intentionally. In the medieval era a person’s caste was associated with a person’s profession. In those golden days, castes were just used as a reference to one’s profession. For example, the Kshatriyas were supposed to be warriors while the Brahmins were supposed to be the educated people who acted as distributors of knowledge. Each profession had its own importance and that importance was respected then. Gradually as time passed by, people rarely changed their professions. By the late 18th century, the British had almost taken over India. Gradually, the number of wars started decreasing. Scientific inventions were given extreme importance. This created a feeling of superiority in minds of the educated class (which at that time consisted mostly of Brahmins and the Pundits). The British were hell bent on creating a rift between Indian people. They planted a sense of undue importance in the minds of the educated class. They imposed unjust laws on the working class. They convinced them that they were born to work laboriously for the so-called ‘High Class’ people, mainly the British. Thus they successfully implemented ‘Divide and Rule’. All this terribly affected the relationship between the various Indian castes. The ‘higher class’ people also took a lot of advantage of these downtrodden classes. Around the year of 1930, Indians had successfully gained some seats in the British parliament. The British further tried to widen the gap between classes by introducing reservation for the scheduled castes. Thus discrimination on the basis of caste is a devil our country has adopted very recently, in the past 200 odd years. So why have we failed to uproot this adopted devil?

WHAT DETERS US FROM UPROOTING RESERVATION?

The practice of reservation was followed even after India’s independence. The sole objective of not stopping this practice was to attempt to abridge the gap between the castes. Actually there is no law in the Constitution Of India that makes reservation compulsory. In fact the Constitution regards the slightest distinction on the basis of caste as a crime of the highest level. The policy of reservation was included in the directives of the constitution. The directives clearly state that the practice of reservation should be followed only for the first ten years. It was expected that the disparity between the various castes be reduced by then. However the gap was not reduced to the extent expected. The politicians kept on pushing reservation for the years to come. Politicians have always remained in support of reservation. By safeguarding reservation, the politicians aspired to seek the votes of a particular caste. Many of the voters from the reserved category supported such politicians. For instance, the Congress party (a national political party in India) established its stronghold on the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh by creating divide on the basis of caste. They made false promises to these communities. They promised them to maintain the reservation quota. The people from the reserved castes did not want reservation to go away because it was helping many of them to go ahead in life without having to work hard for it. This created a scenario wherein the politicians as well as the reserved category people were unwilling to do away with reservation. They were very happy with the current state of affairs. The politicians were getting their vote banks filled whereas the reserved category people were getting the share of reservation they were demanding for. Hence there was no great effort made to overthrow this practice of reservation. Thus the practice continued all along. Now the next question that comes to my mind is “What were the consequences of keeping this practice alive”?

IS RESERVATION TRULY HELPING INDIA?

Reservation on the basis of castes builds walls in society. Currently 42% of Indian population gets to avail the benefits of reservation. But do all these people truly need reservation? When I analyze the social groups, which get to avail the benefits of reservation, I divide them into 2 categories. I call the first category ‘HAVEs’: people with good education and a decent financial background, who belong to the reserved castes. I call the second category ‘HAVE NOTs’: people with improper education and thus a poor financial status, who belong to the reserved castes. The atmosphere around the ‘HAVEs’ is usually motivating, informed and positive. This atmosphere acts as a catalyst in their development. Technically the ‘HAVEs’ can avail the benefits of reservation as they belong to the reserved castes. But do these ‘HAVEs’ truly deserve or need the benefits of reservation? Is it right for the government or authorities to keep on sponsoring these ‘HAVEs’?

Now we come to the second category, the ‘HAVE NOTs’. These families have to undertake a lot of effort and pain to make both ends meet. The life of these people is full of hardships. The ‘HAVE NOTs’ generally focus on earning money instead of education or other better prospects (which is indeed very understandable given that there is no social security in India). This deters the HAVE NOTs’ from paying attention to acquiring better skills or capabilities. Within the ‘HAVE NOTs’ there are again two groups. People from the first group are ready to put in hard work, which would be necessary to bring them out of a life full of struggle. While the other group of people does not realize the mess they are stuck in. They also do not care to work hard to get out of this mess.

The group of ‘HAVE NOTs’ may not necessarily posses the skill or capability to acquire entry into a college or job. Allowing this group to avail reservation blindly creates disturbances in society. Let us take an example. Sometimes the cut off marks of entrance examinations for good schools are as high as 98% for those who belong to the non-reserved category. However due to the quota reserved for certain castes, students from that group can get in even though they have secured marks as low as 33%. This creates a vast gap between the groups of students entering these institutions. Many of the students belonging to the non-reserved category cannot get in just because of this forced quota. Some of the candidates belonging to the non-reserved category work very hard, but many of them miss out by a mark or two. Such candidates have equal potential as the ones who cleared the exam by just a mark. Also they could definitely have more skill and capability than the ones with very poor marks who got in due to a forced quota. This creates a very unfair system. In summary, do we not require a fundamental change?

A NEW BEGINNING

As it is sufficiently evident, there needs to be a change in the way of delivering social justice. The practice of caste reservation is not doing the nation any good. So should reservation be completely abolished? I don’t think so. However it should be cast in a different form.

First of all, I feel that the people belonging to the category of ‘HAVEs’ should not be permitted to make use of the benefits of reservation. I also feel that people belonging to the non-reserved castes should be able to avail Government benefits, only if they have a very weak financial background. Therefore this makes it necessary for us to distinguish between the ‘HAVEs’ and the ‘HAVE NOTs’ and also to identify the ones from the non-reserved castes with a weak financial background. In India, a BPL (Below Poverty Line) card is issued to those who live in extreme poverty. This BPL card can be used to distinguish between a candidate who does not need reservation and a candidate who does. In this manner we can ensure that all the people who need reservation receive help. But does every person who needs reservation deserve it? Not necessarily. Hence it is also necessary for us to distinguish between the ones who deserve reservation and the ones who do not even those within the BPL category. The system that I have in mind is as below…

In India the government runs schools for the ones who are financially under-privileged. One either does not pay any fee or has to pay a very nominal amount to study in such schools. The government should conduct an evaluation, which tests various capabilities and skills of all students. A passing criterion or eligibility should be decided for each skill or capability. The evaluation test as well as the passing criteria must be uniform throughout the nation. The criteria should ensure that only deserving and hardworking students make the cut. These students who make the cut should be either given financial grants or should be given advanced coaching for free. This is the new form of RESERVATION I have in mind.

A perfect example of how we can provide assistance or free education for the deprived is the model implemented by Anand Kumar who is a revolutionary thinker, a great teacher and most importantly the founder of the SUPER 30 program. Mr. Kumar lives in the Indian state of Bihar. He himself spent his childhood in poverty. Thus he knows the help required by poor but deserving and hardworking students. He trains underprivileged students for the JEE (Joint Entrance Examination), one of the toughest all India exams, which secures one’s admission into the coveted Indian Institutes Of Technology. He has named this program as the SUPER 30. Last year 26 out of 27 students he coached were selected for the IIT (Indian Institute Of Technology), which is the best set of engineering schools in India. Then why can’t the Government learn from Anand Kumar’s model when they have much more resources than he does?

The government should conduct the evaluation test mentioned above every year and keep it open to all the financially underprivileged students. With this evaluation, the government should keep on filtering the students who are selected to avail the Government’s help. Every student attending these government schools can attempt this examination. Hence if a child is a late starter, he can be evaluated each year. This will make sure that no deserving candidate misses out on the opportunity. The continuous filtering will also ensure that no undeserving candidate can avail the benefits of the Government’s help. The third and the most important thing in this system is that no one can take these benefits from the Government for granted. They will have to keep working hard to make the cut. This will also create a competitive atmosphere. In this system, we need not have a fixed percentage quota of reservation. The students who are eligible can avail all the benefits. If the number of students is high for a particular year, so be it. Thus the number of people who can avail reservation will vary from year to year. In this way, this system will act as a powerful medium to deliver social justice.

THE PATH AHEAD

Introducing this new system will be possible only if the Government or the authorities take it upon themselves to implement this change. To implement positive changes, we will require extra-ordinary leaders. Hence we must hold ourselves responsible for electing the right candidates. While doing so we must elect those who will get the best out of our society and not the ones who will simply work for their selfish interests. Meticulous planning is very essential for the implementation of a new system. The government must also make sure that they possess all the resources required to implement and start this system anew. The Government will definitely face resistance from the ones who demand reservation on the basis of caste. Such people will try their best to hamper the implementation of this system. This will make it necessary for the Government to have the support of the citizens. They will have to convince the people of the merits of this system. Whenever we try and establish a new system, some time will definitely elapse till the system becomes completely foolproof. However we must work hard through these years and make sure that this system indeed does become foolproof. It will test our patience. But once the caste reservation is eradicated, we will have a country that will function completely on merit. Such a country, having manpower and talent as largely as in India, will progress very rapidly. Thus let us try and not create walls in society by introducing discriminating barriers. Let us help the needy wholeheartedly and thus bring each and everyone in India out of poverty. I believe the road ahead is a long, tough one. But I am sure that if we make it to the end of this road, glory shall follow our nation.

P.s.: I realized as I completed my blog today (September 16 2015), that on this same day in 1932, 83 years ago Mahatma Gandhi the undisputed leader of India’s non-violent Independence movement, had started a fast unto death against this practice of Reservation on the Basis of Castes. 83 years later, we are still fighting and fasting to seek more reservation. We sure have come a long way (!)

The Indian Education System

 

‘Education is a gem in prosperity and a refuge in adversity’. But I have always been wondering why. What is this potential that education has that makes us run after it?

Education, pretty similar to success, is a journey. It however is a steady journey. The objective of this journey is to open up one’s mind to various fields or sciences of life. Education is not only limited to opening up one’s mind but is also instrumental in conveying to you the basics of every field. This process of getting to know the fields helps person in realizing his inner calling.

Formal education is a primitive stage of the entire learning process in a person’s life. The completion of this process is extremely essential to develop one’s character. It also plays a vital role in imparting the necessary survival skills to a person.

But what happens if one is deprived of education??

The answer is very simple. An uneducated person is a liability to the society. An uneducated person does not use his full potential. The person starts living life on the basis of some pseudo ideas. These pseudo ideas sometimes prevent him from achieving things he has really worked hard for. The person unknowingly wastes all the tremendous talent in himself or herself. Just as a rocket full of energy is not useful until it is controlled and guided in the appropriate way a person with no education won’t be able to channelize himself or herself appropriately.

Good Education is the sole creator of good future citizens. Good education does not necessarily mean formal education. 

Good education makes a person aware of a lot of things. It helps a person in knowing how to dream big. Complete and wholesome education will prevent one from making mistakes our ancestors have made. The person gets a better view of the world. He or she collects valuable experiences, which will help him or her in tackling every situation well. The person in the process of attaining wholesome education realizes how the world works.

Character building is an important outcome of wholesome educations. A beautiful statue can be created out of a simple stone just by eliminating the unnecessary and unwanted material in the stone. It is also passed through some necessary pressure, heated to a certain degree to increase the finesse of the shape. Similar is the definition of Character Building to me. It basically performs the task of molding and disciplining you. The molding and disciplining once inculcated won’t vanish easily. It does not remain confined to education but to all walks of life.

A good and sound education has motivated millions to do well. Good education inculcated an irreverent attitude towards caste discrimination in Mr. Kailash Satyarthi. This very attitude kept him motivated in his initial struggle against caste discrimination. Later he freed 80,000 child laborers. So basically the outcome of good education is a mature citizen with his head and heart in the right place. An outcome of good education is the transformation of an average citizen into a big asset for the society.

In India school education begins at the age of four. A student spends 2 years in Kindergarten. Then begins the formal education. Grade 1 to grade 10 is the students school life. The student then completes 11th and 12th grades in a junior college. After grade 12 the student then moves on to a university for higher education. In India education till the age of 14 i.e. the 9th grade is compulsory. This education system is pretty neat in its framework but the approach towards education is totally wrong. Education is considered a tool to get a good job or an asset to give you enough money to survive upon. There are fundamental flaws in these concepts. Education must be treated as an asset, which prepares you for life and gives you the power and will to go through the ups and downs of life.

These flaws in concepts arise due to certain drawbacks in education system. Here I take the example of my state Maharashtra in India, to elaborate on the flaws.

CURRICULUM AND EXAMINATIONS

Today the curriculum focuses on too much of rote learning. The curriculum demands a student to master the technique of ‘rote learning’. No importance is given towards the understanding of concepts. There are no questions based on application. Creative thinking is smothered. The textbooks carry a lot of flaws. A student is not allowed to correct the flaw while writing his or her examination. The student is expected to remember the incorrect matter. All these defects have created an atmosphere in which examination technique is given more importance than the actual learning content.

While talking about the examination system flaws, I will use the grade 10 exam as a reference. The grade 10 examination is known as the ‘Board Examination’. It is the first common government exam all the students appear for. Hence it naturally carries massive importance. Special tutors have come up to help students master the examination technique. ‘Good handwriting plays a key part in getting you good marks’ is the main slogan of schools. Good handwriting is definitely a necessity. But the whole focus of an exam can never be on handwriting.

In grade 10 all the students appear for a common test conducted by the education board of the respective states. I spotted this problem in the exam conduction of the Maharashtra Board. Each subject carries 100 marks. Out of these 100 marks, schoolteachers allot 20 marks. There is no foolproof method to verify the authenticity of these marks. This gives immense power in the hands of the teacher. No doubt a teacher must have authority over a student but as they say ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely’. The teachers thus have 20% of a student’s marks in their own hands. These marks are supposed to be given according to the completion of schoolwork, projects and other stuffs. But the students liked by the teachers end up getting more marks that they deserve. Deserving students who may not be teachers’ pets may not get their fair share of marks.

PROBLEMS FACED BY SCHOOLS

Schools face a big financial problem in recruiting good teachers. The teachers are not paid well at all. Instead all the money is diverted towards the expansion of the parent institute portfolio. In this financial game the students and teachers are at a big loss. Due to the poor working conditions the good teachers are never attracted to work with the schools. The good teachers receive lucrative amounts in the private sector. This also leads to the commercialization of education. The teachers who teach children at the school level are not passionate and motivated teachers. The aim of these teachers is to make whatever money the school offers. This leads to the creation of a situation wherein the teachers are not capable of teaching the students.

OVERCOOMING THE FLAWS

To overcome the drawbacks of the current education system I have an ideal education system in mind. This system will also have a 10+2 model. Children will attend school from grades 1 to 10 after which they will go to junior college. Importantly I will eliminate the system of reservation in education. I will help the deprived with financial grants, scholarships and many other things but I will never allow a student with backward class have preference over a student who has scored more marks than him.

CURRICULUM AND EXAMINATION

In this system I plan to have a complete subjective exam for all. No marks will be in the hands of any teacher. The exam will not contain any amount of rote learning. The exam will rigorously test the concepts of children. Though neat handwriting will be always encouraged, examination marks will not depend upon handwriting

But here we talk about the examination technique. We also need to set up an efficient coaching system to prepare the students for this competitive exam.

The basic need to train students well is good teachers. Good teacher acts as an amazing catalyst in a student’s success. The teacher helps the student in learning different methods to practice. A good teacher can have an indelible impact on a child’s character. I will ensure that teachers have good working conditions. I will recruit good teachers whose interest lies in teaching and not money.

SOLVING THE PROBLEMS COMMONLY FACED BY SCHOOLS

The second most important thing in a good education system is the availability of good infrastructure. By good infrastructure I do not mean highly techno-savvy schools. The infrastructure must satisfy the basic needs of the students. In this system, laboratories will have an amazingly high importance. Practically performing things rather than just reading about them will definitely be etched in a student’s mind. This will tremendously increase the concept understanding. Sports will also have a special place in the curriculum. The students will be persuaded to live a very healthy life. Sports talents will be encouraged to keep pursuing their respective sports.

SYSTEM LEVEL CHANGES

 The most essential aspect to make a particular system successful is to completely eliminate corruption from the system. An extremely strict and foolproof method must be established in order to eliminate corruption and destroy it right in the bud. As the current scenario stands, a person who wants to make money enters the field of education. Private institutes literally rob people off money. Students are lured towards the supposedly lucrative professions of engineering and medicine. This false attraction keeps a child from what is truly at his heart. These private institutes have created an atmosphere in which people feel that engineering and medicine are the only good fields. The viral advertising by these institutes easily fools parents. Many a time parents dissuade their children from chasing their dreams but instead make them run after something that is not really their passion. Good schools will not even make the students run after these institutes. I am not against the establishment of private institutes. Good private institutes actually can help a student a lot. They actually can compliment schools well.

The road after the establishment of a new system is never easy. The road ahead will be definitely full of handwork. The creation of a new system with so many changes will be certainly offered some resistance. But as Mahatma Gandhi said, “ First they laugh at you, then they ignore you, then they fight you, then you win”.

The changes in the education system have the potential to shape the future of an entire generation. The road ahead will certainly be steep. Many problems may arise, right from financial problems to harassment by undesirable social elements. The owners of the big private institutes will also turn against us. But I believe in hard work for a good cause. This makes me feel confident that we will be able to turn the tide.

Once we are through this initial rough period, we can rest assured that the future of our nation rests in safe hands. No force however large will be able to stop our progress.