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Biru Devi is relaxed about getting paid for her labor as she toils on the picturesque hill slopes in Tanda village with a group of other women. She is working on a construction project under India’s flagship $10 billion rural jobs program that guarantees poor rural households 100 days of work every year Cash.
“Earlier my money was never paid in time, maybe the bills did not get passed. But now my wages go into my bank account and are not delayed,” said Devi.
The payments got streamlined after the 60-year-old Devi opened a bank account using her biometric identity card. The unique 12-digit identification number made it possible to operate the account even though she did not know how to read and write. All the 3000 village residents did so as part of a project led by a public sector bank and village authorities to transform Tanda into a digital village.
The switchover from cash to online payments is helping address one of the biggest problems that had plagued the rural welfare scheme – middlemen who used to siphon off money from the anti-poverty program that provides work to 70 million people.
Using the world’s biggest biometric identity project under which citizens have been given an identity number, India is starting to transform the way it gets welfare to the poor. Although glitches remain and some controversy dogs the biometric program called “Aadhaar” which means foundation, it is helping root out graft from welfare schemes on which India spends billions of dollars.
It took time to persuade women like Biru Devi that their money in the bank would be safe – the majority of workers of the rural jobs program are women and many like Devi are illiterate.
“They are happy that they have to just show their Aadhaar card, and they have to just put their finger or thumb, and they get their money or deposit their money or get the money transferred, so it is changing,” said Ekta Mahajan, branch manager at State Bank of India in Palampur, which led the digitization drive in the village. But now they know the benefits. “There will be no corruption, there will be no commission, they will benefit directly and faster.”
Besides wages for the rural welfare program, subsidized food rations that India gives nearly 800 million people have also been linked to the biometric cards. The more than $20 billion food welfare program that guarantees cheap rice and wheat to the poor is the world’s largest public food distribution system, but it was beset with graft for decades. A large part of the food was siphoned off by corrupt officials and sold to traders at market rates and thousands of fake names were often put on the rolls of beneficiaries.
That is changing. At the local ration shop in Tanda, eligible residents now show their electronic cards or use their thumb and finger impressions to get the rations. It ensures the food goes to the intended beneficiaries.
The shop’s owner says it has reduced his work of making entries in registers. But an erratic wifi network can still pose a hurdle in bringing technology to rural areas.“Sometimes people have to wait for half an hour because we cannot connect to the system,” Rajiv Kumar admitted ruefully.
Although some activists have long opposed linking the biometric identity cards to welfare schemes, India’s Supreme Court cleared the way for it last year, saying it empowers the poor. “Aadhaar gives dignity to the marginalized,” the court ruling stated.
These activists say that the biometric cards have failed to cut fraud and denied welfare benefits to many poor people who have found it difficult to link their Aadhaar cards to the programs. The problem is the most acute in underdeveloped states where governance is poor.
“In many cases it leads to other ways of corruption,” said Reetika Khera, an economist at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi. She said the major problem lies in what she calls “quantity fraud” or short changing people on the rations they are entitled to. “They may still give you half the rations you are entitled to, or tell people that the authentication failed even if it has not and use their quota.”
India’s top court has said that such challenges meant the plan had to be improved, not axed.
Besides cutting graft from welfare schemes, digitization has brought other benefits in Tanda village as it gets plugged into the banking economy for the first time. Women who attend a workshop learn how they can avail themselves of education loans or cheap farm loans meant for rural areas.
“They have savings, they are taking loans to teach their children,” according to the village head, Jasbir Singh. “Access to loans has boosted our agriculture and traditional dairy farming and improved incomes. So even those who cannot get jobs earn a decent livelihood.”
Leapfrogging into the digital era has transformed this Himalayan village in more ways than one.
With their smart phones, villagers now shop for vegetables and groceries at the local store the modern way. “Our children also tell us, mom the old times are over. Become a model for the new world. We also feel happy that we too are part of a new age,” said a laughing 60-year-old Rekha Devi.
And women, whose only way to save money was to put it under mattresses or tuck it at the back of cupboards, have a new sense of security. “If there for an emergency, I can take out money,” said Biru Devi proudly. (VOA)
Karwa Chauth is a Hindu festival that is primarily celebrated by married Hindu women. On this day, married Hindu women keep Nirjala fast, which means fasting even without consumption of water, from sunrise to sunset. The reason behind this fast is to pray for their husband's life, health, and safety.
According to the Hindu calendar, Karwa Chauth is celebrated on the fourth day after Purnima in the month of Kartik.
On this day, married Hindu women dress in new clothes (preferably red because signifies a happy married life) and apply henna to their hands. At the same time, women observing this fast get together to celebrate it by narrating the Karwa Chauth Vrat Katha and singing folk songs, which make this a lot more lively. Some women also worship Goddess Parvati in the Karwa Chauth puja followed by Lord Shiva, Lord Ganesh, and Lord Kartikeya. And, the fast is later broken after having a glimpse of the moon.
Married Hindu women have gathered to perform the Karwa Chauth puja.Photo by Wikimedia Commons.
Interestingly, there are many stories related to Karwa Chauth. Some of them are:
Story of Queen Veervati
This is the most interesting story. There was a queen named Veervati, who was the only sister amongst seven brothers. She spent her first Karva Chauth as a married woman at her parents' house. She began to fast after sunrise but by evening, she was desperately waiting for the moon to rise because she couldn't control her thirst and hunger any longer. Seeing this, her brothers became worried because their beloved sister was suffering from thirst and hunger. So, they begged her to break the fast but she refused. Seeing her in distress, the brothers tricked her by placing a round mirror in a Pipal tree, which made it look like the moon had risen. So, Veervati fell for her brothers' tricks and broke her fast, and the moment she sat down to eat, news came that her husband is dead. This is the reason why married Hindu women observe such a tough fast for their husband's life.
Story of Karwa Chauth in Mahabharata
Interestingly, it is believed that Draupadi also observed the fast of Karwa Chauth for the safety and long life of her five husbands. Once, when Arjun had gone for penance in the Nilgris, the rest of the Pandavas faced many issues in his absence. That was when Draupadi remembered Lord Krishna for his help, and he reminded her that in a similar situation, Goddess Parvati had kept the fast for Lord Shiva. Inspired by this, Draupadi too kept the fast of Karva Chauth for her five husbands. Since then it was believed that the Pandavas were able to face every problem.
Therefore, Karwa Chauth is celebrated by married Hindu women all across the world with full enthusiasm. Though, there is a sect now that has started calling this age-old ritual “patriarchal".
Keywords: Hinduism, Women, Karwa Chauth, Festivals, Patriarchy.
Karnataka is famous for Sandalwood, and this is best projected in the state's own Mysore Sandal Soap. This golden, fragrant soap that is rich with the goodness of Sandalwood, has a rather fascinating history behind it, and it is not for cosmetic benefit at all.
Mysore Sandal Soap, surprisingly, was not created by anyone interested in the beauty benefits of soap or its cosmetic value. Instead, it was created by Maharaja Krishna Raja Wodeyar IV and Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, the Diwan of Mysore.
Post-World War I, there was too much sandalwood lying around and the state did not know what to do with it. This excess stock was a result of the halted export to the other princely states. In 1916, the birth of the Sandalwood soap beloved to Karnataka came from an idea that the Maharaja received because of this wood.
He was gifted a set of soaps made from sandalwood oils, and he was extremely impressed with this. He decided to make soaps that represented the essence of the state. He discussed this idea with his Diwan, Visvesvaraya, who immediately backed him up. They began to experiment the making of soaps in collaboration with Indian Institute of Science.
Msore Sandal Soap is the only one with an oval shape that has not changed since 1916 Photo credit: Wikimedia commons
One of the students who worked on this process, Sosale Garalapuri Shastry showed great talent and was sent to England, to learn how to make soaps. He later came to be known as Soap Shastry. His work helped to standardise procedures, and the government factory that makes Mysore Sandal Soap was set up.
Shastry also designed the packaging box and gave the soap a unique shape. Soaps at that time were only rectangular bars. Mysore Sandal is the only oval soap that is embellished both inside and outside. Shastry intended for it to look like a jewellery box.
Every box of Mysore Sandal Soap has the inscription, 'Srigandadha Tavarinida' which means, "from the maternal home of the sandalwood". It is the only soap made from pure sandalwood oil, and bears the emblem of the sharaba, a creature with the body of a lion and head of an elephant.
The Maharaja's initial intent behind the soap was to reach the goodness of sandalwood to as many people as possible, and through men like Visvesvaraya and Shastry, it was made possible. The Mysore Sandal Soap is still one of the most organic soap and perhaps the only one that represents the culture of an entire state.
Keywords: Mysore Sandal Soap, Sandalwood, History, Shastry, Visvesvaraya
The new medical colleges being opened in Uttar Pradesh will be named after saints and sages.
The state government has issued an order naming four district hospitals that are being converted into medical colleges.
These district hospitals are in Bijnor, Fatehpur, Chandauli, and Siddharth Nagar.
The Bijnor medical college has been named after Mahatma Vidur, a philosopher during the Mahabharata era and uncle of the Pandavas and Kauravas.
The Chandauli medical college has been named after Baba Keenaram, said to be the founder of the Aghori sect.
The Siddharth Nagar district hospital will be called Madhav Prasad Tripathi Medical College after the BJP politician from the region. Tripathi, popularly known as Madhav Babu, was also the first Uttar Pradesh BJP chief. He was elected MP from Domariyaganj in 1977, besides being two times Jan Sangh MLA and also a member of the UP legislative council.
The Fatehpur hospital has been named Amar Shaheed Jodha Singh Ataiya Thakur Dariyawn Singh Medical College, after the freedom fighter of 1857.
It is said that he was among the first to use Guerrilla warfare against the British, as taught by freedom fighter Tatya Tope.
Meanwhile, according to official sources, the medical college in Deoria will be named after Maharishi Devraha Baba and the medical college of Ghazipur in the name of Maharishi Vishwamitra.
The medical college of Mirzapur will be in the name of Maa Vindhyavasini, the medical college of Pratapgarh in the name of Dr. Sonelal Patel and the medical college of Etah will be named after Veerangana Avantibai Lodhi. (IANS/JB)
Keywords: Medical Colleges, Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, India, Politics