By Almas Shamim

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard and read the harmful nature of drug addiction and the havoc it can wreck in an individual’s life. ‘Don’t do drugs’, ‘Say no to drugs’ are words that are very commonly used. Yet, the fact remains that people of widely ranging age groups have been reported to be using addictive substances/’drugs’.

In such a situation, does it really help if we simply put out messages for adolescents and young adults to abstain from drugs? The situation is very similar to asking adolescents and older adults to abstain from sex. In both circumstances, while some do succeed in abstaining, others go ahead to exert their autonomy and indulge in sex or/and drugs. What, then, becomes of the latter group?

They are ostracized by the society for being addicted to drugs and signed off as failures who couldn’t ‘abstain’ from these ‘evils’. The heightened stigma pushes this group further away from the mainstream, to a risky life of no return. The very society which, more often than not, influences people into the habit of drug use- refuses to show ownership of these members once they have been consumed by their habit. And even here, like in all other aspects of life, the poor fare worse than the rich.

The real danger of such an attitude towards drug use is that it presents life as a black or white situation- where you are either a clean, sober, healthy person or a poor, wretched, drug addict with innumerable diseases. Such an attitude forces people who use drugs down a pre-determined path towards poor physical, mental and social health.

This need not be the case.

The key to a healthy society is not ‘abstinence’, for the simple reason that it does not necessarily work. The key is ‘Harm Reduction’. Harm reduction is an umbrella term given to the many small steps that can be taken for people who use drugs, so that their life can be supported and improved. To begin with there should be sufficient knowledge amongst people on the various side effects that the various ‘substances’ can cause, the interaction these substances will have with any other medications they are taking and the safe range of dose and frequency of the drug use that will not cause any harm to the user. A special concern of IV drug users is that they tend to share their syringes- this can lead to the spread of transmissible diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C among others. Access to new and disposable syringes can go a long way in the control of spreading these infections in this vulnerable population. Collection of used syringes, provision of clean cotton swabs and maybe even drug use booths can help in reducing the severe harm that is associated with drug use. All this can be accompanied by an Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) which will help the user to find a substitute to the used ‘substance’ if he/ she is motivated to quit drug use.

It is extremely important for us to realize that ‘Harm Reduction’ and providing syringes to drug users is not a method to promote drug use. On the contrary, it is to support them who either choose not to abstain or are unable to abstain from drug use, but have a right to good health and inclusion in the society.

India’s “National AIDS Control Organization” has also been actively involved in ‘Harm Reduction’ and recognizes it as a major step in the prevention of HIV infection.

To know more on harm reduction, do visit these sites:

Almas Shamim is a public health specialist with a great interest in sexual and reproductive health and rights, and feminism among Muslim women. She currently works for an international humanitarian aid organization in New Delhi

By K.Venkatesan, HOD, Homescience, JNRM, Port Blair

When a political leader passes away, the cadres belongs to their particular party normally taking part in the procession. But around 5 lakhs of general public comprising students, youth, women elders and children irrespective of caste and religion garnered to give bid adieu to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in Rameswaram despite he doesn’t have the political badge. Around 70% of them were youth and students community. They were thronging to have a final glimpse of their beloved dream hero and role model Dr.Kalam. The police and security personnel didn’t find hard to manage that much gathering. The police admired that we thought managing the public and youth will be herculean task. But that was not the case. They youth eased our job.  Who taught them  to be self disciplined  and who preach them the values of righteousness. He is none other than Dr.APJ.Abdul Kalam. His sudden demise was sent a shocking wave across the spine to the people of home and aboard. The Prime Minister said the “Real Ratna of Bhrat” left us. Obviously Bharat has lost not only an elder son, but a visionary scientist who had the VISION 2020. Dr Kalam was an inspirational person by his ever smiling gesture for the people beyond generations.

Revolving our country into a developed one is the first and foremost vision and dream of Kalam sir. That’s the reason why whenever he meet the younger generation he asked them to “Dream-Dream-Dream” further he adds “Small Aim is Crime”.

Next to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Dr. Kalam was the one who very much affectionate towards children’s and concerned about the youth of our country. Dr. V.Ponraj, Adviser to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam used to tell Dr. Kalam’s only properties were his literatures (books) and 64 crore youths of india. That much indomitable faith kept by Dr Kalam towards the younger generation was to see motherland as developed one in all aspects. viz., Education, Health, Employment generation, Defence and Technology etc., The people friendly atmosphere created by Dr Kalam in Rastrapathi Bhawan made him to call affectionately as “PEOPLES PRESIDENT”. There is no need of becoming worldwide popular, but by following the way of Dr Kalam atleast we have to adopt harmony, inter religious, righteousness and maintain brotherhood in our own locality. At the time of interview one of the question raised by media personnel was “as a Scientist what made you to be happy or what is your great achievement”. The reply of Dr Kalam was  FRO  (Floor Reaction Orthosis) to a Polio affected children’s. The FRO is the epitome of convergence of engineering and medical science which reduced the caliper weight from 4 kg to 400 km in turn alleviated the pain of the children which brought smile in their face and parents too.  Whatever meeting or public programme Dr Kalam participates, the children’s and youth throng to get his autograph and he never bothered for children’s cluster rather loved to be with them.

It has now become the site for germination of dream, vision, thoughts, action, innovation, creativity, courage, honesty, integrity, culture of excellence and social service and ultimately to create an enlightened citizens. In his “Song for Youth” Dr. Kalam  wrote, I pray the Almighty: "May the divine peace with beauty enter into our people; Happiness and good health blossom in our bodies, minds and souls". He is the one who brought biodiversity in the historical Mughal Garden of Rashtrapathi Bhawan later which was called Spiritual Garden.  Through “What Can I Give Mission” which connected several crores Youth through electronically and discussed societal models. In what can I give mission he exhorted the students to come forward for tree planting, save the earth, cleanliness etc., That day itself it paved the way for the today Swachh Bharat Movement. “Tirukkural” couplets are played vital role in the life of former president. The speech of Kalam sir won’t complete without quoting Tirukkural. He advised the students to defeat the defeat and should not lose heart rather regenerate energy to achieve the ultimate goal. The speech and address made by Kalam was depending upon the group whether they are students, teachers, youth, women, farmers he asked them to take administer oath related to their field which is developed by him. In addition to that he always ask “ WHAT I WILL BE REMEMBERED FOR”. Under which do something for the society either cleaning, tree plantation, health, education etc. through that the society should remember your contribution.

After dignitaries paid their respects to the mortal remains of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, people in Delhi and various parts of the nation are pouring in 1000's. Lakhs of people are in queue. Mostly 70% of them are youth and students. School after school children are thronging to have a glimpse of their beloved dream role model Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. In the year 2004 Dr. Kalam became the first Indian President to visit the Siachen glacier, which is the highest battlefield  for interacting  with our army personnel.  More credit that as a supreme commander of all three forces he was the first person to fly a Sukhoi jet, travel in a submarine etc. and what not.  At the time of his visit to this islands on 4th September 2009 he delivered a speech on the Seminar on Security and Development of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and he said he visited here a number of time, the people of this islands bravely faced the consequences especially at the time of  tsunami.

During a last moment of journey with Dr Kalam’s mortal body, Shri Ponraj said  “a dream hero who implanted a vision in the minds of 640 million of India is going to take peaceful rest as a silent seed, which will transform the youth of our nation to become a great and enlightened citizens”.

The Various State Governments are vying  each other for paying tribute to Dr Kalam,  through naming and renaming the educational institutions and roads in the name of that great soul. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar  has announced  the Kishanganj Agriculture College will be named after former president APJ Abdul Kalam.

"The government has decided to rename the college as APJ Abdul Kalam Agriculture College," Nitish Kumar added.  Shri Akhilesh Yadav, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh announced the  Technical University has been renamed as Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Technical University.  For remembering the contribution made by Dr Kalam  in the first successful land-to-land test of the Prithvi Missile which was conducted from the other part of the mainland and it landed on the then and previously uninhabited 'Wheeler Island' on November 30, 1993.   Shri Naveen Patnaik, Odisha Chief Minister announced Wheeler Island in Bhadrak district as “Abdul Kalam Island”. The Government of Tamil Nadu  instituted an award in memory of Abdul Kalam, celebrate his birth anniversary as Youth Awakening Day.  Shri Oman Chandy, Chief Minister of Kerala announced  Science Festival Trophy After Kalam and Kerala Technological University named after Dr Kalam. The Department of Posts, Government of India will release the Dr Kalam’s stamp on his birth anniversary.

What we are going to do for Dr Kalam:

At the time of his visit to this islands on 4th September 2009 he delivered a speech on the Seminar on Security and Development of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and he said he visited here a number of time, the people of this islands bravely faced the consequences especially at the time of  tsunami.  Whenever I met Dr Kalam during our discussion he has shown enormous love towards the Islanders, because he himself hailed from Rameswaram Island and he admitted that he know the pain and problems of the Islanders. He was very much concerned about the development of Andaman & Nicobar Islands especially, he asked me to work on PURA, (Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas), New and Renewable Projects, Conserving Biodiversity etc.

In Andaman and Nicobar Islands also as a rich  tribute to Dr Kalam, the Port Blair Municipal Council (PBMC) may think of naming the road after Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and  the educational institute  could be named as Dr Abdul Kalam College. The ensuing year the JNRM will be celebrating its Golden Jubilee Celebration. The entire science block may be named as Dr Kalam,s Block. 

The inspiration received from Dr Kalam the youth of our country  will become a asset for the nation to fulfill the vision of Dr.Kalam. We miss your selfless smile and sparkling eyes sir.


Assistant Professor & Head, JNRM

While I was studying in  Gandhigram Rural Institute, Gandhigram, Tamilnadu,  I stayed five years as a student and exposed various Gandhian Activities which include Village Adoption and Rural Reconstructive Programmes. Every week we used to visit the adopted village and the task entrusted on us to motivate the Rural Youth to form Youth Club and Mahila Mandal for womenfolks. We believed through this forum only we can attain total sanitation in the village including eradicating the habit of open air defecation. Initially struggled to interact with the targeted group people, but slowly acclimatized. Sometime among ourselves in a student group we use to have chat on in the present day of globalised and faster growth of economy why to bother about village, rather build a urbanized model which will attract the villages to listen us. We have also carried this outcome of our discussion to the Gandhian Though Class which is compulsory for all students of Gandhigram. When discussion round came one of my fellow friend opened up our previous outcome to the eminent faculty member. The very evening without hesitating the professor took us to the village and asked us to observe the happenings as mute spectator till dusk without disturbing anybody. The next day again we have assembled and were asked to present the previous day learning. Some  says Villagers are pity and poor, few opined government ignored them, and some said the place is not suitable to live in. etc.,

Based on the outcome of our first visit to the village, we decided to visit the village to conduct Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) which is a tool to identify the problem and solution from the people and we are just facilitator. After the PRA exercise the top priority and urgent felt need realized by the women and adolescent girl was sanitation. That time remembered a Gandhian Thought lecture i.e “ When there is both inner and outer cleanliness , it becomes next to godliness”. After learning from the villagers about what they want exactly, we felt that’s what Gandhiji emphasized long back. Bapuji know the pulse of the rural areas and  villagers, that’s why he gave top priority for sanitation and cleanliness during his stay in South Africa and in India through his constructive programmes. When he came back from South Africa he visited Kolkatta that time congress session was in progress. Gandhiji was unhappy and appalled by the filth and unsanitary conditions at the meeting site. Instead of lecturing he cleaned the drains and organized the volunteers to dispose the filth and he personally cleaned and covered the pit latrines. Instead of addressing the delegates he taught the lesson by showing example.  Regarding the bad habit of spitting babuji once with humor commented “if all Indians were to spit all together at the same time, India would drown”.  The Young India dated April 25th 1929, Gandhiji commented on our habit of keeping the home clean and dumping the surroundings dirt, filth. Way back through this he insisted everybody to shoulder the responsibility of making clean India

So, Cleanliness  can not be achieved by warnings, laws or punishments, it would be achieved only as a matter of habit. Long back Gandhiji wrote in Young India, dated November 19th 1925 “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”.

-Elrika D'Souza and Vardhan Patankar

Every year, we dedicate the 2nd to the 8th of October as the 'Wildlife week'. It is during this period that we reflect on our countries' rich biodiversity and the services it provides us. While we celebrate this week here, in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, there is a greater reason to fete our success and evaluate our failures in protecting our very own State animal, the dugong.

The dugong or pani suwar has a long history of existence in these islands. Old fishers recollect sighting herds of 10-15 dugongs just a few decades back when there were over two hundred animals inhabiting these waters. Most people in the islands believe that dugongs are found only in Dugong creek in Little Andaman. Contrary to this, dugongs have been and continue to be reported (although few in numbers) from islands in North Andaman (Reef, Sheame and Landfall), South Andaman (Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, Chidiatapu), the Ritchie's archipelago (Neil, Havelock and Inglis), Little Andaman and around the Nancowry group of islands.

Sadly, hunting in the past and accidental entanglement in fishing nets has led to drastic declines in dugong numbers making it rare to sight an animal in the wild in recent years. Recognising this fact, in 1992, the Ministry of Environment and Forests amended the status of the dugong, giving this marine mammal legal protection under the Wildlife (Protection) Act. In 2002, the dugong was declared the State animal of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. At the national level, a Dugong Task Force was constituted in 2008 and in 2011, a project was approved to recover the species under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme, for a period of five years.

The Department of Environment and Forests here in Port Blair along with scientists at the Nature Conservation Foundation in Mysore, have been working together ever since, to develop a management and protection plan for the animal. Over the years, this effort has been headed and managed by officers at the Department like Mr. D.V. Negi, Mr. G.N. Sinha, Mr. S.S. Garbyal, Mr. K. Ravichandran, Mr Ajai Saxena, Mr A.K. Paul and Mr B.P. Yadav. 

As researchers of the project, we identified important dugong habitat during the first two years of the project. Over 50 seagrass meadows are present in the shallow waters of the island, but animals appeared to feed in only eight of these meadows. The selective diet of the dugong and presence of their preferred seagrass species at these sites is the main reason. We monitored seagrass meadows over two years and learnt that dugongs repeatedly feed in these sites throughout the year, rarely abandoning the site. Only seventeen individuals have been sighted till date, of which three were mother-calf pairs. The low numbers are alarming and monitoring and protecting these select habitats and the remaining individuals has become important for the animals survival.

It has been four long years since the start of our joint efforts. While we have gathered the basic information needed to protect the species and manage its habitat, there have been several roadblocks. These have been mainly due lack of continuity in sanctioning of funds, delays in fund release when sanctioned and insufficient funds when released. While these hindrances have not discouraged efforts from the department, it has surely affected the momentum of work and increased the time frame for achieving the set goals.

After a year's lag, this financial year seems promising, with the Ministry sanctioning funds. In the months to come there are plans to identify clear terms of management intervention, establish a monitoring programme for the species and its habitat, and help further clarify aspects of the species biology, behaviour and ecology, that would be critical for its rational conservation.

Besides increasing our understanding of the dugong, there are also huge practical challenges to conserving the species. Fishing nets and high-speed boats in dugong habitat and hunting by communities who believe in the totemic and cultural value of the animal are a few of these. A major community-based conservation programme with the joint effort of all stakeholders over an extended period is a must and. The declaration that accorded it the status of the State animal will otherwise, amount to nothing more than a mere symbol.

Elrika D'Souza is a Research Fellow at the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore and  Vardhan Patankar is an INSPIRE fellow at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore. They can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

By Almas Shamim

We all must have met, known or heard of someone who has a medical condition or a disease but has tried to hide it from others. Communicable diseases like TB, HIV-AIDS, and mental health conditions top the charts for diseases that tend to be hidden the most.

The reason behind a person not willing to share or talk about a disease condition is the stigma associated with these diseases. Stigma means a dishonor that is linked to a circumstance, in this case, having a certain disease. Society tends to look down upon people who have contracted the HIV, since it is common knowledge that HIV is transmitted sexually. Given the low sexual freedom in present day India, people with diseases that could have been acquired sexually are judged to be ‘immoral’ and said to have shamed the family and caste. Add on to this the dimension of gender and we get a world where female HIV patients, even though a lot of them have acquired the virus from their own husbands, are thrown out of their houses and sometimes even whole villages. A similar picture is seen in tuberculosis as well where many women are disowned by their families. Though TB is not a sexually transmitted disease, the fact that it is debilitating and sometimes fatal is sufficient to make the society talk about it in hushed voices.

Mental diseases are so stigmatized that many patients are not even taken to a psychiatrist ever, Especially in places like our own islands, most mental health conditions are attributed to some ‘kala jadoo’ by our neighbor or relative, who wants our family to go crazy because our son score greater marks than their son in the 10th standard board exams. Such explanations for altered behaviour are only too common in our islands. These superstitious beliefs in the supernatural have kept so many people from being diagnosed and treated of real mental health abnormalities. Commonly seen conditions like depression and anxiety disorders which need psychiatric help, also suffer, as a result, since people refuse to consult the doctor in a fear of being labeled as a “pagal”.

For the cure of any disease, along with the Government, the patients are the biggest stakeholders. Following my previous piece on the need for community groups, I requwst that people who have been patients of any disease, but particularly the stigmatized one come forward and share their experiences. The more we normalize a disease, the lesser the stigma which remains around it. Then, we can focus only on the treatment part, without worrying over labels or being disowned.

So, friends, speak up and share your personal stories.

Almas Shamim is a public health specialist with a great interest in sexual and reproductive health and rights, and feminism among Muslim women. She currently works for an international humanitarian aid organization in New Delhi and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.