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September 1, 2007

ODRF Donates Backpacks To Chester Students

Filed under: Michael Thevar, odrf, Omni Development Relief Fund, www.odrf.org — odrf @ 11:30 am

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by KYW’s Kim Glovas

About 70 school students in Chester City now have new backpacks and supplies for the new school year, thanks to a non-profit organization in Delaware County, Pa.

A group of people from India( odrf), who now live in Delaware County, coordinated the school supply collection along with the Community Baptist Church of Chester and a local state representative. Michael Thevar of the Omni Development Relief Fund (www.odrf.org) explains why:

“We think that we should pay back to American society for having given us this beautiful opportunity to come to the US and work her and support our families, so we have made a commitment that we will collect whatever we can and support and do things for the inner city kids.”Thevar says many kids thanked them for the new backpacks and supplies, saying otherwise, they would have to use castoffs from older brothers and sisters.

Source: KYW Radio, USA

Washington Post reports:India’s Lower Castes Seek Social Progress In Global Job Market

Following is the report By Emily Wax from Washington Post written on Temp Solutions Inc effort in an innovative way . The company is working in free marekt economy with human touch. When the corporates in India are making hues and cries on affirmative action, ODRF founding member Mr Michael Thevar gives and opportunity thru his company Temp Solutions Inc., USA to those who are suffering from ages despite having  quality and commitment.

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PUNE, India — As a Dalit, Pratibha Valmik Kamble is part of the poorest and most ostracized community in this subcontinent’s ancient caste system, a group of people so shunned that they are still known as untouchables. Her mother is a maid, her father a day laborer.Yet here in this prospering city, Kamble, 24, was recently applying to an Indian firm called Temp Solutions to go to Philadelphia for a well-paid social service job there. During the interview, she twisted her hands nervously in her lap, knowing that if she landed the position, she would not only make more money than both of her parents combined, she would enhance their social status, and her own.

India has long had an affirmative action program for federal government jobs, setting aside 23 percent of positions for the most oppressed castes. Now activists are campaigning to open the private sector to them as well, whether the employer is Indian or multinational. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently said he favors that goal.So does Temp Solutions co-owner Michael Thevar, himself a member of a low-ranking caste. He gave Kamble the job. “I’m so proud of you,” he told her after delivering the good news. “I know so well how much you struggled. That’s why I am that much more impressed.”Kamble’s eyes went wet as she straightened her mustard-colored outfit and smiled, appearing to be almost embarrassed by his praise.

Recruiting drives aimed at hiring members of India’s unprivileged castes, who make up 70 percent of the population, remain rare in the subcontinent’s booming service sector. But as India hurtles into world markets, such hiring has touched off a larger debate over the country’s 3,000-year-old caste system.In much of India, the system organizes people into a rigid social order by accident of birth, determining everything from professions to marriage partners.

While the caste system is outlawed by the constitution, low-caste Indians still experience severe discrimination. Dalits are regarded as so low that they are not even part of the system. To this day, they are not allowed to enter many Hindu temples or to drink water from sources used by higher castes.So far only two major companies — Bharti Enterprises and Infosys — have announced they would set aside jobs for Dalits and other oppressed castes.Ramesh Bajpai, executive director of the New Delhi-based American Chamber of Commerce in India, said the issue of affirmative action for oppressed castes has not been raised among his members — an indication, some Indian workers contend, that many U.S. companies are not fully aware of the caste system and its complex legacy of discrimination.India-based executives for IBM and Microsoft, which are among the top foreign employers in this country, declined to comment for this article.”Things are changing in India and, I believe, changing for the good,” said Bajpai. “As far as we know, our member companies try to hire across the spectrum of Indian society. But since the government has started talking about this issue, we in the industry will follow. It is a complex and interesting discussion.”

An estimated 86 percent of technology workers at multinationals and large Indian outsourcing firms come from upper castes or wealthy middle castes, according to a study released in August 2006 by the government and activist groups.At the same time, the vast majority of Indians living in the United States and Britain come from upper castes, partly because they have better access to work and education visas and can afford expensive plane tickets.”Caste should not be globalized, and as India rises economically, that is the real fear,” said Thevar. “I think this is the moment in India for us all to stand up and tell the world that we are capable. There is no longer such a thing as untouchable in the world.”Thevar and Dalit activists have even lobbied the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus, with whom they see common cause and a shared experience in discrimination.

Congress has taken notice, and last month passed a resolution calling for the United States to work with India to address the problem of untouchability by “encouraging U.S. businesses and other U.S. organizations working in India to take every possible measure to ensure Dalits are included and are not discriminated against in their programming.””It is now time for this Congress to speak out about this ancient and particularly abhorrent form of persecution and segregation — even if it is occurring in a country considered to be one of America’s closest allies,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said during a speech last spring on the House floor.Franks went on to call Dalits “one of the most oppressed peoples on Earth.”The 2006 study found that public health workers refuse to visit 33 percent of Dalit villages, while mail is not delivered to the homes of 24 percent of Dalits.

The reason for the neglect, the study said, is that some in the upper castes believe lower-caste people are dirty and lack dignity in their labor as latrine cleaners, rickshaw drivers, butchers, herders and barbers.The debate on affirmative action in India is similar to the one in the United States in terms of discrimination and ways to end it. But in India, those who experience discrimination, especially in rural areas, are the majority and are ruled by an elite.The issue here is complicated by India’s turbulent history of race, class and caste. Centuries-old customs of arranged marriages and inherited professions perpetuate caste divisions, which are further reinforced by some interpretations of Hinduism, India’s dominant religion, which sanctions the caste system. The country’s education system also hardens caste. Lower castes largely attend public schools, which teach local languages, while private schools attended by upper castes teach English — the most important criterion to be hired at a call center, where young employees spend their nights helping customers phoning from the United States.Opponents of affirmative action argue that government set-asides should have lasted only 10 years after independence in 1947, not the six decades that they have. In the workplace and in colleges, affirmative action programs breed resentment, the critics say, because they dilute merit-based hiring that should, in theory, reward the most qualified job candidates, regardless of caste.Creating quotas for the private sector would be a “disaster,” said Shiv Khera, an author who opposes set-asides on the grounds that they call too much attention to caste. “We shouldn’t even be asking what caste people are.”He also said that affirmative action will not fix what he sees as the roots of caste divisions: deeply impoverished public schools that don’t teach English or even have enough funding for up-to-date books. The government should fix those schools, Khera said, “not worry about the private sector,” a view echoed by others.

Still, affirmative action has helped pull tens of thousands of people out of abject poverty and into universities and government jobs, while creating a small Dalit middle class that many hope will expand along with India’s economy. It also has given rise to a new kind of struggle, as other low-ranking groups known here as the “backward castes” protest that their government designation isn’t “low-caste enough” to make them eligible for job set-asides, Khera said.”That just shows you that set-asides don’t work,” Khera added. “It just makes the people more aware of caste and who’s getting what job and why.” But inside the interview room, the young professionals applying for jobs with Temp Solutions said they would have never gotten an education without set-asides. The interviews were held at the Manuski Center, part of a Buddhist monastery. Hundreds of thousands of Dalits have converted to Buddhism in an attempt to escape the caste system.Sitting in a circle as they waited to hear whether they would get jobs, Kamble and the other students talked about the often harrowing discrimination they faced.

 Michael Thevar
Pic01:Michael Thevar, Vice President TemSolutions Inc& Founding member of ODRF speaks to Pratibha Valmik Kamble, right, and Vivek Kumar Katara in Manuski centre Pune, India. (By Emily Wax -The Washington Post)

 

“I knew there was hatred in the world and in India, when as a child I watched some upper castes refuse to sell my mother lentils and rice in the nicer part of the market because we were ‘dirty,’ and from a backward caste,” said Vivek Kumar Katara, 22, who has a master’s degree in social work focusing on helping the mentally ill. Without quotas, Katara said, “I honestly don’t know if professors would have even let me sit in the same class as upper castes.”After awarding jobs to Kamble, Katara and others, Thevar said they would be expected to return to India once their visas expired and to help hire from their own communities.”It will be our responsibility to tell the world about caste and fight it,” Kamble said as a group of chosen candidates raced downstairs to call or tell their parents, who were anxiously waiting. She is to work for a child social services agency in Philadelphia. Pacing downstairs, Kamble’s gray-haired father, Valmik, put his thick, callused hands over his eyes and wept when he found out his daughter would be working for a major company. “I’m so happy and so proud,” he said, hugging her. “I never dreamt of such a thing for our family.”

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Courtesy:  Washington Post, Temp Solutions Inc. USA & Manuski Centre India.

Arjun Sengupta report:836 million Indians live on less than Rs 20 a day

Filed under: Uncategorized — odrf @ 7:29 am

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An overwhelming 836 million people in India live on a per capita consumption of less than Rs 20 a day, according to the findings of the Arjun Sengupta report on the Conditions of Work and Promotion of Livelihood in the Unorganised Sector. The report is based on government data for the period between 1993-94 and 2004-05.
While the numbers rose by a staggering 100 million, the numbers of the new rich has also grown by 93 million. “Our survey is very scientific. The other poverty estimates looked at the absolute poor only but we look at different categories of poor,” Chairman, National Commission for Enterprises in Unorganised Sector, Arjun Sengupta said.So, who are the ones who have actually benefitted from the boom in the economic growth of the country?

The middle class and the rich grew from 162 million to 253 million while the neo rich of 91 million. The middle class grew from 15.5 per cent to 19.3 per cent but the extreme poor have also benefited (274 to 237 million) – 43 million of them to be precise. Their per capita consumption has gone up from Rs 9 to Rs 12.“The rich tend to hide their consumption. So if you account for that, they are actually richer than the report reflects. This again reflects the fact that the gap between the rich and poor is even wider,” Sengupta explained.

One is classified as absolutely poor if the per capita consumption is less than Rs 9 a day. However, if the per capita consumption is Rs 13 a day, then the individual is above the poverty line. So, the definitions of poverty are sometimes difficult to understand.The justification for economic reforms was supposed to be the trickle down effect but for those who live in trying conditions 10 years of economic reforms seems to have made little difference. Is it any wonder that those leaders who are seen to be reformers can never win the popular vote?

August 31, 2007

Rueters reports: Climate change looms over India

Filed under: Uncategorized — odrf @ 12:33 pm

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Climate change might get some blame for South Asia’s catastrophic floods, but government ineptitude has dramatically magnified the misery facing tens of millions of people in India, aid groups and experts say.Global warming is likely to cause even heavier monsoons with more devastating storms in the region, and India needs to wake up fast to the risks.The United Nations says state governments, especially in Bihar, simply do not have the capacity to deal with a crisis of almost unprecedented proportions. The governments themselves admit to being overwhelmed and say they are doing their best.

But a lack of planning for the vagaries of the annual monsoon seems to have left parts of India cruelly exposed.”How do we stop a disaster becoming a crisis? That is exactly when disaster preparedness comes in,” Unnikrishnan said.”If we make an investment of one pound in disaster prevention and reduction, that has 100 times more effect than after disaster strikes.”
WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS

Measures like building shelters on higher ground, raising borewells to prevent drinking water becoming contaminated and developing early warning systems can all help. Officials need to be trained and systems put in place to deliver food and water.

“The measures are there, it’s only a question of the government being conscious, worried and serious about it,” said Aditi Kapoor of Oxfam. “The response would still be needed, but at least peoples’ lives would be saved.”India has set up community early warning systems on its east coast after frequent devastating cyclones and the 2004 tsunami.

“You can blame it on climate change or you can blame it on other factors, but the frequency and misery due to flooding is increasing with each passing year,” said P.V. Unnikrishnan, ActionAid India’s emergencies adviser.”But what we are seeing is more of a knee-jerk, reactionary response that lacks both sensitivity and vision,” he added. “The government is not going the extra mile to reach out to the poor.”

At least 490 people have been killed and 50 million affected by the floods hitting northern India, Bangladesh and Nepal in the past three weeks.More than 100,000 people are still marooned — many perched on rooftops — in Bihar, a state that is a byword for poverty at the best of times. Anger is rising at what is seen as the lackadaisical response of the state government.

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PicO1: Indian Floods 2007

Four air force helicopters were pressed into action in Bihar this week, not nearly enough to bring food and drinking water to all the victims, U.N. officials say.To add insult to injury, officials have been accused of stealing or hoarding food, while a 17-year-old boy was killed when police opened fire on an angry crowd.Low-lying Bangladesh is also better prepared these days for storms and floods, with warning systems and provision for evacuation, shelter, food distribution and healthcare. Two-thirds of the country is submerged and 164 people died in flooding this year, but the annual tolls have fallen since the 1998 floods killed more than 3,500.But in northern India, many experts say, state governments have taken completely the wrong approach.

Embankments built along many rivers have simply made matters worse, causing catastrophic flooding when they break and preventing water draining away again — just as the levee breaks did when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005.Siltation has reduced the effective height of many embankments, which have also been poorly maintained.Nevertheless, this year has been exceptional. Many Biharis had never seen as much rain in their lifetimes, around 900 mm, close to a year’s quota in just two weeks of incessant deluge.

At the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), officials are unwilling to blame global warming for any individual weather pattern, and say that the average annual rainfall across India does not appear to have changed much.

What has changed — and risen significantly — is the number of “extreme rainfall events”, says the IMD’s M. Rajeevan.

UNICEF’s India health chief Marzio Babille says what many now believe — climate change has led to a dramatic increase in the scale and frequency of natural disasters, and demands a completely new response.

“What emerges from my experience in Bihar is that the scale of the inundation is so vast, even communities that are used to coping with floods were completely overwhelmed,” he said.

“We cannot continue to respond to these kinds of challenges with the same pace or technology we did 10 years ago.”

Source: Rueters

Need of this hour : Study on human trafficking and Aids

Filed under: aids — odrf @ 12:06 pm

A new independent regional research study commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with financial support from the Government of Japan has revealed an alarming trend of trafficking of girls and women and HIV infection in South Asia, according to an UNDP press release. South Asia accounts for more than half of the 300,000 to 450,000 people estimated to be trafficked in Asia each year.

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Pic01: Conference

The study, which was launched here today, has found that a large number of those at the risk of being trafficked in South Asia are young girls and women and they also run the risk of getting infected with HIV. The highest reported incidence of this double burden is in Nepal, Bangladesh and India, the study said. Factors such as gender inequality, violence and lack of economic opportunities for women increase their risk to both trafficking and HIV. Younger girls are at higher risk of trafficking as well as HIV.

According to recent studies by Harvard School of Public Health; in Mumbai one quarter of the trafficked individuals tested positive for HIV while in Nepal, it was close to 40 per cent. The study in Nepal also showed that almost 60 per cent girls under the age of 15 years trafficked into sex work were found to be HIV positive.

Weak governance makes the poor vulnerable to the risk of being trafficked. The absence of effective legislation and policies as well as poor law enforcement and corruption contribute to this.

Trafficking happens both within and across national borders. However, national governments and other stakeholders are yet to give this issue the priority it deserves, mainly because of the shortage of convincing data, the study said. “Information is available with regard to brothel-based sex work, but this reveals nothing about those who practice sex work in other settings,” the study said, adding “researchers need to look beyond sex work, since those who are trafficked for other purposes also find themselves in situations that increase their vulnerability to HIV. The clandestine nature of the phenomenon, criminal linkages and the cross-border spread mask the scale of the problem.”

Titled “Human Trafficking and HIV: Exploring Vulnerabilities and Responses in South Asia,” the analysis in this report is based on rapid assessment studies conducted in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan between 2004 and 2005. These studies explored the links between human trafficking, migration and HIV/AIDS in these countries and reviewed available data, the national laws, policies, strategies and responses.

To address human trafficking and HIV/AIDS the study recommends better coordination in national efforts to address both issues, which are often dealt separately, by focusing on factors such as gender inequalities and violence, social marginalization, poverty, and education. Better conceptual clarity on the issues concerned; integrating trafficking and HIV interventions into key sectors; and laws and policies to address both HIV and trafficking are other recommendations of the Study.

“One of the fundamental weaknesses in explaining and exploring the linkages between trafficking and HIV is lack of adequate data,” said Ms. Caitlin Wiesen, Regional HIV/AIDS Team Leader and Programme Cooridnator for Asia Pacific, UNDP Regional HIV and Development Programme. With Harvard School of Public Health, the Regional Programme is initiating a three-country research study on the linkages between human trafficking and HIV in Asia, she said.

The study was part of UNDP’s 3-year regional project on human trafficking and HIV in South Asia supported by the government of Japan under the UN Trust Fund on Human Security. “Human trafficking and HIV significantly threaten human security. The government of Japan is committed to assisting efforts to reduce vulnerabilities of girls and women to human trafficking and HIV infection in Asia,” said Mr. Masayuki Taga, Counsellor, the Embassy of Japan in Sri Lanka.

Source: Hindu

Filed under: Uncategorized — odrf @ 10:58 am

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CNN reports: Aids patients buried alive

Filed under: aids — odrf @ 10:57 am

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (AP) — Officials in Papua New Guinea are investigating claims by an HIV-positive woman that people with AIDS were buried alive by their relatives when they became too sick to care for, an official said Tuesday.

 Margaret Marabe, a local activist who reportedly spent five months working to raise awareness about the disease in the South Pacific nation’s remote Southern Highlands province, said she had seen AIDS patients buried alive.”I saw three people with my own eyes,” Marabe told the Post Courier in Papua New Guinea for its Monday edition. “When they got very sick and people could not look after them, they buried them.”

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Pic01: Lady walking past clinic

The acting director of Papua New Guinea’s National AIDS Council, Romanus Pakure, said police and health workers were being sent to the Southern Highlands to investigate the claims.However, he questioned why Marabe had not approached the police before taking her story to the media. “The lady may be a loose cannon, we are not happy it’s come out like this,” he said.

Pakure conceded that the stigma against people with HIV was very strong in the countryside, where education about the disease is scarce. Similar claims of AIDS killings had been made in the past, he said, but none were verified.”There were reports maybe five to 10 years ago of people being buried alive. There were also reports of people being thrown in the river or burnt alive,” he said.

The council and other health agencies were moving ahead with programs to raise knowledge about HIV/AIDS and teach families how to care for people with the disease, Pakure said.

Marabe could not be reached for comment Tuesday.Anne McPherson, a spokeswoman for the organization where Marabe works as a volunteer, said she had not heard of Marabe’s claims before they appeared in the local newspaper.Papua New Guinea, which shares an island north of Australia with Indonesia’s easternmost Papua province, is among the hardest-hit countries in the Asia-Pacific region when it comes to HIV/AIDS.

Officials have estimated that the adult per capita infection rate lies between 1.28 percent and 2 percent, and have warned that some isolated pockets of the country face HIV rates as high as 30.

Source: CNN

August 30, 2007

PM’s call and CEO salaries

Filed under: economics — odrf @ 8:40 am

 T Ram Mohan writes in Economic Times on Rising trend of  salaries of Indian CEOs….

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Many in the corporate world and the media have been dismissive of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s impassioned call for restraint on executive pay in his speech at the CII last week. The PM did not hector, he merely appealed to industry’s good sense. That good sense is not showing. Executive pay, we are told blandly, must be market-determined. Whether the market does a good job of determining pay is controversial everywhere. Without getting into this controversy here, this much can be safely said: the prime minister’s plea for moderation is not as outlandish as some would have us believe. For at least four reasons.

First, leaving aside the United States and, perhaps the UK, executive pay tends to be modest in most parts of the world. The knee-jerk response to this statement often is: that’s why the US is a lot more dynamic than other economies. Well, there’s a lot more to the dynamism of the US economy than big pay packets for executives — vibrant financial markets and huge subsidies for research coming out of defence budgets, for instance. Besides, prosperity is not confined to the US and there is no dearth of successful firms in, say, France, Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland and Japan. Clearly, economic success is not just about outsized pay for top executives. There is the danger that the Indian elite’s admiration for things American may be leading to too close an emulation of the US economic model.

Secondly, the sharp rise in executive pay in the US has to do with a large variable component in the form of stock options. The argument for stock options is that by giving executives a long-term stake in their firms, it aligns incentives closely with performance. This is fine in a context in which firms, especially large firms, are run by professional managers.

But the Indian corporate landscape is very different. It is dominated by family-managed businesses and public sector firms. CEOs in family-managed businesses and often others at the top are from the family. They have large equity stakes in their companies. They receive substantial dividends that are not taxed in the recipient’s hands. Why would they need to pay themselves huge salaries? True, there are professionals as well at the top who need to be taken care of. But, even in the US, it is the CEOs who are incentivised the most. There is a chasm that separates the CEO’s package from those of other executives.
 

Markets mechanics and inequality trap

Filed under: economics — odrf @ 6:24 am

An article written by Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar in Economic times……
 

The slump in global stock markets since July has wiped out an estimated $5 trillion of wealth, five times the GDP of India. So, world inequality has fallen dramatically. Are poor people across the world celebrating the great reduction of global inequalities? Are socialists celebrating increased equality ? No, not at all.

But why not? For years, analysts have worried about rising inequalities in India. Rapid growth has sent the stock markets soaring, and several Indians have entered the Forbes list of top billionaires of the world. Simultaneously, 300 million remain below the poverty line. This stark contrast has evoked much outrage.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says that unless the poor participate in fast growth, uprisings could disrupt our nationhood – over 150 out of 600 districts are affected by Maoist violence. The same theme is echoed in a recent study of Asian inequality by the Asian Development Bank. The ADB chief economist has been widely quoted as saying that high levels of inequality disrupt social cohesion, and could lead to civil war.

If this were really true, then the stock market slump should have healed social tensions. An Indian Express story on August 12 estimated that the richest five Indians had lost more than $10 billion in the previous fortnight. The total wealth lost by all shareholders was $52 billion (Rs 210,000 crore), almost equal to the GDP of Bangladesh.

So, inequalities in India have fallen dramatically. Not even the most draconian tax measures could have reduced the wealth of shareholders by $52 billion.

But are the 300 million poor people of India celebrating? Are landless labourers in Bihar delighted that the wealth of the Ambanis has suddenly fallen by billions? Are the tribals of Chattisgarh and Jharkand joyous that the Tatas have become poorer? Are illiterate Dalit women, the most oppressed and powerless section of our population, ecstatic that the stock market slump has improved income distribution?

Of course not. And this has consequences for theories of social tension. Now that the stock market slump has significantly improved India’s Gini coefficient of wealth, will Maoist insurgents in Chatttisgarh give up insurrection? Will ULFA in Assam cease its depredations because of greater equality between the people of Assam and those of Dalal Street? Will the militants in Kashmir become less militant because of an improved income distribution?

To even suggest this would be farcical. Yet that farcical notion is deeply entrenched in much socio-economic analysis. The millionaires of Nepal are deeply invested in Indian stock markets. Does the ADB think that their stock market losses, which have reduced inequalities, will ease tensions in the neglected Himalayan region of Nepal?
 
 

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