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    Dated : Friday, June 08, 2012

Universal old age pension – a shelter from the storm for women

Pamela Philipose

Maya Kadhale, an abandoned wife now in her 40s, is presently supporting herself by working in several homes as a domestic help. As she washes piles of clothes every day, rinses dishes by the hour, she is haunted by one thought: How long can she keep this up? Kadhale suffers from rheumatism in both her hands, possibly exacerbated by the work she does that involves long periods of contact with cold water. She knows that in a few years’ time, her fingers will be too crippled to perform tasks of this kind.

Consider also Kamala Tarachand, who took up rag picking to feed herself and her husband, now too old to earn a living. One day a speeding motorcycle left her with injuries that required two surgeries. The encounter on the mean street meant that this 62-year-old woman could now no longer venture out and try and earn a little something. 

The moment of that stove burst is written on the scars of Kaushalya Domate’s face. She was cooking at that time. The incident left one hand and parts of her body badly injured, and she finds herself falling ill very often these days. “I work for two days and fall ill for four. That is the story of my life. Family members support me,” says the 54-year-old woman who doesn’t have an independent source of income.

All these three women from Maharashtra were part of a group of the 2,000 working poor from nine states who had gathered in the Capital on an excruciatingly hot day to take part in a campaign for a universal old age pension launched by social activists like Aruna Roy, Jean Dreze and Baba Adhav.

India is often regarded as one of the youngest nations in the world with 33 per cent of its population below 15. The focus of government’s policy and social mobilization has invariably been on the younger and “productive” sections of society. In contrast, the elderly living quietly in its midst hardly figure on the policy radar.

Comments Nikhil Dey, of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), one of the organizations spearheading the universal pension campaign, “We know that 10 crore (100 million) – or a little more than eight per cent of our population – is above 60 years. We also know that by 2030, over a fifth of the population will be in that category. Yet, India has one of the worst support systems for the elderly in the world. Poorer countries like Kenya and Nepal have done better.”

The campaign’s central demand is a universal and non-contributory old age pension system of not less than 50 per cent of the minimum wage, or Rs 2,000 – whichever is higher. “There are serious flaws in the present targeted approach of giving only those below the poverty line support. Presently, more than 50 per cent of India’s elderly poor don’t receive any support. This is why we are arguing for a universal, non-target based approach,” explains Dey.

He makes it clear the demand for a universal pension is not as a dole but a right, given that the beneficiaries are people who had worked hard throughout their adult lives and contributed to the country’s GDP. “The Rs 2,000 (US$1=Rs 55) for those over 55 that is being demanded is a small amount, if anything, but it becomes something to build on. Other entitlements, like a contributory pension, can be added to it. This way, the old can also be part of the economy, rather than be left to lie in one corner in utter neglect,” says Dey.

The joint family – the traditional support base for those too old to earn a living – is getting rapidly transformed under the impact of multiple forces. There is, for instance, the phenomenon of migration. Falling incomes from agriculture are forcing the able-bodied in rural India to leave their villages in search of work, with old relatives left behind to fend for themselves. In urban areas, space is such a huge constraint that the elderly often find themselves literally pushed out of the family home.

The State has done very little to address the concern. Under the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, meagre amounts are made available – in some states they are as pathetic Rs 200 a month, a sum rural development minister Jairam Ramesh admitted was an insult to a person’s dignity. What’s more, it is estimated to reach only one-in-five elderly persons. A law passed in 2007 – The Maintenance & Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 – that provides penalties for children who neglect their parents has largely proved ineffective. It comes as no surprise, then, that the elderly make up the largest proportion of people who die from starvation related causes. A Study on Destitution and Hunger in the states of Rajasthan, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh by the Centre for Equity Studies found that many impoverished old people give up on regular meals. This is a reality that 55-year-old Surekha, one of the women who took part in the sit-in for a universal pension campaign, is familiar with. “Ever since my husband passed away eight years ago, I have had no regular source of income. People help with some assistance now and then. But when I find myself without any money, I don’t eat,” she says.

Significantly, recent data reveals that women constitute a growing proportion of the country’s elderly population. According to evidence from the Registrar General of India’s office, based on data from the Sample Registration System 2010, the percentage of women in the 60-plus age group was higher than that of their male counterparts in 17 of India’s 20 largest states. Some states like Kerala and Maharashtra reported differences as significant as 12.6 and 10 per cent, respectively.

What is of particular concern is that the majority of elderly women in the country are tragically ill-equipped to cope with the challenges of growing old. When compared to elderly men, they are less likely to be literate, less likely to have any fixed or moveable assets in their names and less likely to have once held a regular job and built up some savings. A research paper put out by the Central Statistics Office, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, cites data from the NSSO (2007-2008) to show that 50 per cent of men aged 60 and above were literate, as compared to 20 per cent of women. It also notes that more older men than older women have a living spouse. For instance, in the age group of 60 to 64, 88 per cent of men were married, as against 58 per cent women (40 per cent of whom were widows) – an obvious outcome of the fact that men tend to marry women younger to them.

Dey agrees that any serious discussion on a support regime for the elderly must take the gender factor into consideration. “We have seen an incredible number of elderly and widowed women toiling under the sun on government job sites. Under the present system, a widow with a son of 18 and above is no longer entitled to get even the small government pension for widows. But tell me, at 18, which boy is able to earn? And what guarantee is there that he would support his mother?” 

A universal old age pension then is clearly an idea whose time has come. Organizations like the MKSS are now planning to mainstream it. Says Dey, “Remember, pensions concern a group that is politically active and which votes. This is why every political party knows it cannot afford to ignore it. We, on our part, plan to keep up the pressure and make the demand for a universal old age pension a political one.”

(Women’s Feature Service)


A battle won for girls’ education in male bastion

It has been a tough battle for Faiza Nisar Ali who helped steer the entry of girls into the erstwhile male bastion of the historic Anglo-Arabic School.

Fazia and the struggle of many other Muslim women created history when the school admitted girls for the first time in its over 300-year-old existence. Faiza’s fight began in March when she was appointed to prepare a feasibility report on why Muslim boys and girls should study under the same roof.

She had to contend with numerous pitfalls along the way, including frantic phone calls from community hardliners trying to dissuade her, being blamed for scripting something “un-Islamic”, countless sleepless nights and also the trauma of a miscarriage.

“After months of research, consultations with educationists, psychologists and parents, I concluded in my report that co-education among Muslims would result in greater progress and help them in the later stages of life,” Faiza, who is in her thirties and is the business studies teacher at the same school for over six years, said.

She recounted the events with moist eyes. “After the report was done, the staff became very resistant. The teachers went against me and I was held liable for being un-Islamic,” she said.

The report spoke on how co-education could boost academic performance of both the sexes, a feasibility into the structure of the Anglo-Arabic school and its importance and it also highlighted that Muslim parents wanted their girls to go to a co-ed institution.

Despite facing internal resistance from the predominantly male school staff, the managing committee of the school in a meeting on March 26 decided to open its doors to girls. The decision was considered historic for the school, located at Ajmeri Gate, in the old quarters of Delhi. However, the landmark decision did not end Faiza’s agony. While her family was supportive about the step she had taken, the mental pressure due to the angry reactions brought her to hospital.

Then eight weeks pregnant, Faiza went through a miscarriage. But she was gutsy enough to pursue her dream.

Her cause got a stronger voice when more Muslim women joined the cause. A Jawaharlal Nehru University student, Fatima Alvi, filed a petition in the Delhi High Court. On May 24, the court backed their cause. The school management swung into action and has so far admitted over 30 girls in Classes 6 to 11.

For many Muslim girls studying in nearby girls’ government schools, the move is a dream come true as they can switch to the Anglo-Arabic School that has produced the likes of Liaqat Ali Khan, the first prime minister of Pakistan, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, founder of Aligarh Muslim University, JN Dixit, former national security adviser and foreign secretary.

Burqa-clad petite Darakshna Fatima (17) beams with joy for having made it to the school.  “I lost my father 6 years back, since then my mother has been the pillar of strength for me,” Darakshna, who aspires to become a chartered accountant, said. The Class 11 student added, “Our relatives had reservations, but I am proud that my mother fought for my education.”

 While the school management says the facilities for girls, such as girls’ common room and separate toilets, will be strengthened, the first target for the coming 32 girls is ‘equality’.

Jamia Millia Islamia Vice Chancellor Najeeb Jung, president of Delhi Education Society, under the aegis of which the school runs, on Friday felicitated the first batch of 15 girl students who were admitted to the Anglo-Arabic School. “This is the girls’ first step towards better schooling. The change will come gradually. .. Modern education has started arriving for girls from the community,” Jung said. “We are expecting more girl students in the coming days. There will be a female teacher to attend to the special needs of girls and we plan to recruit more female staff,” said Azra Razzak at Jamia Millia Islamia, who is also secretary, Delhi Education Society.

However, Faiza says the fight is not over yet. Though girls have been admitted, the resistance among many staff members remains. “Let’s hope there is an attitudinal shift and changes begin to happen,” Faiza said.

She had faced resistance when she was selected among three women teachers to join the 80-member strong male staff at Anglo-Arabic School. She remembers facing hostility from her male colleagues. IANS


How your sun sign can dictate your fashion sense

Just like your favourite stars of Bollywood and Hollywood, you can also become a style icon. That too,  without having to shell out huge money from your pocket. Knowing your sun sign can help you in setting a style statement. Take a look of what your sun sign has to say about your fashion style. Style according to your sun sign and there you go as the trendsetter! However, remember the basic mantra – be comfortable in what you wear.


Come what may, an Aries will always look good. Whether it is a last minute purchase or a carefully chosen dress, trust an Aries to look great. The same thing may look ordinary on anyone else, but an Aries can make it look right out of a designer store! Fashionable clothes and nice make-up, that‘s an Aries!

Stars: Lara Dutta, Victoria Beckham, Robert Downey Jr


Ah! The choosy Taurus will take time to decide what they are going to wear, even if it is for a walk! Taureans love to look good and will give a lot of thought to their clothes. Of course, expect a Bull to buy tasteful and exclusive clothes. With careful planning and exclusive clothes, a Taurean will look well-turned out. Expensive, that’s the Bull!

Stars: Penelope Cruz, David Beckham, Megan Fox


Blue or white? Checks or plain? Trust a Gemini to always be locked between two choices at any given time! A Gemini will always end up wearing a lot of clothes and discarding them before wearing something totally different than the original choice. But, expect the twins to always carry off whatever they wear with style. AND they have the largest wardrobe, of course!

Stars: Sonam Kapoor, Angelina Jolie, Sonakshi Sinha


The Crab does mood dressing. Blue or grey when sad, red when upbeat, orange when hopeful. The Cancerian always knows what he/she is trying to show. Also, a Cancerian will always be found neatly dressed, if not in the most expensive of clothes. Good and ‘different‘ clothes are their trademark. They also like to accessorize and be casual.

Stars: Katrina Kaif, Tom Cruise, Priyanka Chopra


The Lions love their colours to be solid, deep, dark and their fabrics unfaded. A Leo is not afraid to make a statement with his/her clothes although they are choosy about what kind of statement they make, and how. And, Leo might just be tempted sometimes to tell someone they want to impress just what brand they are wearing.

Stars: Charlize Theron, Genelia D’souza, Saif Ali Khan


A Virgo will darn their clothes even before the first hint of wear! They mend their hems and replace their buttons. This sign is very particular about cleanliness and makes sure their clothes are always colour coordinated. Is it any wonder they are always well-turned out?

Stars: Kareena Kapoor, Akshay Kumar, Blake Lively


Here‘s a perfectly dressed person. A Libra never wears too much or too little. Whatever the weather outside, a Libran is always prepared. Also, this sign knows how to balance it all: not a shirt more not a dress less. The Libran will follow fashionable recommendations only if they feel it suits them. They create a personal style and make that a fashion statement!

Stars: Kate Winslet, Monica Bellucci, Ranbir Kapoor


Honestly, it doesn‘t really matter what a Scorpio wears, because people are going to notice them anyway! Who has the time to notice clothes when the person is as sexy and wow as a Scorpio? The Scorpio isn‘t afraid of experiments and can turn old clothes into the most fashionable of all. Bright colours, silhouettes and trimmings are something the Scorpio loves.

Stars: Aishwarya Rai, Shahrukh Khan, Demi Moore


The busy Sagittarius is too occupied with other things to be bothered about dressing up. The Archer wants to wear clothes that will serve them under any kind of weather condition. What‘s interesting is that they always manage to look pretty hot, too.

Stars: John Abraham, Brad Pitt, Diya Mirza


Capricorn likes natural fabrics. The Goat likes to dress practically, and no synthetics, please! They are a little finicky, but they always come out looking understated, elegant and good! They have a very nice taste and prefer to be traditional in their dressing style. Jewels are not something a Cappie is fond of, unless they are family jewels.

Stars: Deepika Padukone, Hrithik Roshan, Salman Khan


Here is a practical dresser. An Aquarian would rather wear jeans. They hate to be dressed to kill. You would find this Water Bearer always keeping it simple. You will find an Aquarian dressed in whatever he/she likes the best, not necessarily what’s in fashion. Comfort, not trendsetting, is their mantra.

Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Preity Zinta, Mischa Barton


Ah! The Fish doesn‘t care about the latest fashion. They prefer clothes that breathe, natural fabrics, nothing synthetic. They also like clothes with ‘different‘ sort of cuts. A Piscean has taste and will be dressed nattily, with a good colour combination. And, yes, a Pisces just can’t have enough footwear. (Agencies)


Seven ways bosses annoy employees

Even good managers frustrate their employees now and then—while bad managers, of course, do it regularly. Here are seven of the most common complaints about the things bosses do without even realizing it:

1. Making social events unofficially required

Employers frequently assume that employees will view office social events (like staff happy hours or holiday parties) as a treat—and then get offended when employees don’t want to go. Most employees would prefer that employers make it clear when events are mandatory, rather than implying they’re optional and then penalizing people who don’t attend. And managers should realize that not everyone wants to socialize with their co-workers. Requiring employees to attend events that are ostensibly to build their morale may have the opposite effect.

2. Pressuring employees to donate to charity

Employers often mean well when they organize workplace charity drives, but too often managers pressure employees to donate and even monitor individual participation. Charity drives are great, but participation needs to be strictly voluntary, both officially and unofficially. How employees spend their money is their business, not their employer’s.

3. Calling employees who are on vacation

Too many employers act as if employees are on-call day and night, even when they’re on vacation—which means that too many employees have had their vacations interrupted by calls and emails from the office. Companies that operate this way will have trouble retaining great employees over time, because great people with options will leave for companies that respect their personal lives.

4. Holding endless meetings

There’s nothing worse than knowing you have a looming deadline but being forced to sit in a long and needless meeting—but it’s also incredibly common. Most employees report that they waste far too many hours a week in meetings without clear agendas or purposes, and that they’re forced to sit around listening to idle conversation when they could be working productively at their desks.

5. Not making hard decisions

One common way this plays out is with managers who won’t address performance problems or fire under-performers—and if you’ve ever worked somewhere where laziness or shoddy work was tolerated, you know how frustrating and demoralizing this can be. But it plays out in other ways as well. For example, a manager who’s afraid of conflict may hesitate to make necessary course corrections mid-way through a project, but then be unhappy with your final product. Good managers know that their job is to solve problems, not avoid them, and that they can’t value preserving harmony or avoiding tough conversations above all else.

6. Delegating without truly delegating

Sometimes a manager is so nervous about, or invested in, a project that even though she has technically assigned it to a staffer, she doesn’t really let go of it, continuing to drive the work herself or even doing some of it herself. This leads to confusion about who is actually responsible for the work getting done and diminished ownership and therefore diminished performance on the part of the staffer it was assigned to.

7. Hinting, rather than speaking straightforwardly

Some managers feel kinder or more polite sugarcoating a difficult conversation, but it’s not at all kind to let someone miss an important message. When a manager sugarcoats to the point that her message is missed, or presents requirements as mere suggestions, staffers end up confused about expectations. And the manager ends up frustrated that their suggestions weren’t acted upon. Most employees prefer straightforward communication so they don’t need to figure out what they’re really supposed to hear.  (Agencies)

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