By Almas Shamim

Some of us may have read the brief news about an abandoned child being found somewhere around Foreshore Road a few days ago. The news piece received its share of comments in social media but the striking thing about the comments was that apart from those commending the boys who had tried to protect the child from the rain, a major share of the comments assumed that the mother of the child is to blame. In fact, the news piece itself judged it to be an abandonment act by an ‘unmarried mother’ (prima facie!). Now, it’s only natural that news of an abandoned child wrenches most hearts. It definitely should be treated as a crime and the perpetrator punished. But, amidst all the emotions and knee-jerk shaming of the said “unmarried mother” are we looking away from a few pertinent questions that the situation raises?

To begin with, we all assume that the abandonment was by the “mother” and the mother was “unmarried”. It could well be true, but the very fact that we assume so is a proof of our skewed thinking. The child could have been abandoned by anyone, for all we know, but the blame has to naturally fall on the woman since it is she who was born with the uterus! Assuming that indeed it was the mother who had abandoned the child, we are faced with some serious questions. What could have led a woman to do it. Was she forced into it? Why, in a country like India, where abortion of a foetus upto a certain number of weeks is legal, did the woman NOT seek abortion?

Probably, the woman was plain wicked- she just loved the idea of giving birth to a child and then abandoning it. This is what most comments sounded like. But, I shall try to leave you with a few other probabilities and hopefully it will make us think about the bigger picture and help us find solutions which are more than just blaming the woman. So, well…

Probably, she was too young a child to understand pregnancy or, for that matter, sexual abuse. By the time the family realized the child is pregnant, it was too late for abortion medically.

Probably, some family member himself was the perpetrator of the abuse, and didn’t want his act of sexual abuse to be leaked.

Or probably the family of the child, or even a grown up girl, was just too afraid of the stigma associated with an “unmarried mother” that it was decided to rather deliver the baby at home and abandon it THAN approach a medical facility for abortion.

Probably, it wasn’t an “unmarried mother” at all. Probably it was a married woman who conceived and very late into the pregnancy, her husband died and she was left with no source of income to feed another child.

Probably, the woman’s husband disowned the child- suspecting the child to have been fathered by another man- whether or not true, and demanded that the child be abandoned.

 The more we think, the more situations we can come up with, especially if we change the context and move it away from Port Blair. These probabilities raise questions of safety, social security, sex education, trust and stigma. What have we done to address any of these?

These are questions we must ask ourselves.

Abandoning the child was a crime but avoiding these major questions could be no less of a crime. When we blame women (and women alone) blindly for abandonment of children, we are, in a way, saying that the position of women is either so high in society that she is powerful to do as she pleases, or it is so low that she should bear the brunt of decisions taken by more people than just her! 

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.

Isn't it an irony that parents spend Rs 1000 per month for education of a child in a private school, while government spends Rs 2000 per month on a child in a government school. The disintegration of education system in the Islands is directly proportional to the increase in investment in pay and perks, infrastructure, facilities, equipments and accessories. Is it systemic failure or lack of a system itself?

By Zubair Ahmed

An analysis of the three press meets by the heads of Electricity, Education and APWD would suffice to get a feel about our idea of development or achievements. When we talk about achievements, its more about quantity than quality in every sector.

Like any other department of the Admn, in education too, the number of school buildings, toilets, doors, windows, new recruitments, teaching and non-teaching staff, ayahs, peons and watchmen seems to be the focus. But, the dismal performance of govt schools in the board exams has now compelled the Administration to reflect on reasons behind the debacle.

The Administrator recently expressed concern over low pass percentage both in Class X and XII. Had we achieved 100% pass in Class X, we would have celebrated our success and started comparing it with states in Mainland conveniently overlooking the fact that even 100% is just quantity and not about quality. Will the Directorate tell us the overall average CGPA this year, even in the schools which achieved 100% results? It would be a shocking revelation!

In fact, if the Admn contemplates tweaking the system to make a turnaround, the change should begin from top to bottom. The Directorate needs an academic to run the show instead of a bureaucrat. A bureaucrat can be good in providing resources, but monitoring of academic performance is not their cup of tea. Mismanagement of resources including manpower is quite apparent everywhere. Schools with disproportionate pupil-teacher ratio is abundant in number.

The example of two schools in South Andaman District are glaring. One Govt secondary school at Jirkatang,  affiliated to CBSE, has 16 students on roll with five GTTs, two PSTs one Craft Instructor and one Librarian. Three students appeared for Class X Board examinations out of which two passed and one was placed under EIOP or compartment. The teacher-student ratio is 16:9! One teacher for every 1.5 student!

The CBSE-affiliated secondary school at Mile Tilak has 30 students and 8 teachers including a PET and a Librarian. Five students appeared for Class X examinations and secured 100% pass with an average result of 6.5 CGPA. The teacher-student ratio is 30:8! A teacher for every 3.5 student!

Why not buy a fully-air-conditioned 40-seater coach with home pickup for the children with lunch from a star-hotel and admit them in a premier school at Port Blair? The per capita cost would be less than what is spent on such schools, and a fortune can be saved too.

Isn't it sheer mismanagement or eternal indecisiveness to find a solution? These are not exceptional cases. There are many such examples throughout the territory. There was a school with 16 teachers and 9 students!

There are many schools in South Andaman District where enrolment is very low due to numerous private schools that have come up. But, the sanctioned strength of staff remains same with disproportionate teacher-student ratio. Many teachers can be seen loitering around or sitting around the headmaster gossiping.

In fact, there are approximately 300 surplus teaching staff including GTT and PST in the department, without taking into account those engaged under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). The recent recruitment might have earned a brownie point, but was it need-based? The haphazard placement of teachers throughout the territory exposes the sorry state of affairs in the department. Even the official Pupil Teacher Ratio claimed to be around 15:1 is highly debatable. The no. of students studying in govt schools as projected by the Directorate is 86460, and teachers under the Directorate is 5574 which is also susceptible. In fact, no developed country, even USA can beat the record of Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) in our Islands. It runs in single digit.

A large number of media of instruction also add to the miseries of the department. The same infrastructure and faculty are needed for a small number of students. Schools were provided for small number of students again on demand, without considering the logistics and practical difficulties. Rationalization of medium, as pinpointed by the Administrator, however politically incorrect it might be, needs to be implemented.

To bring quality in education, a robust monitoring system needs to be in place. However, the department is not devoid of saner voices. They do admit that there is no accountability, no proper, timely and effective inspection of schools. Inspection by peers is hardly meaningful unless sustained and evaluated periodically. 

But the question is how inspections can be carried out with the present dispensation? Principals, DEOs, Asst Directors and sometimes Directors are of same scale. The DEO acts as principal in charges of many schools in the absence of regular principals. If the climate is conducive, they may sit in Directorate as Asst Directors and in bad times may be sent back as Principals or DEOs. There is no well-defined hierarchy to bell the cat?

In 2009, the pass percentage of Class X was 57%. Thousands of students were thrown out of education system. Last year, when the results were 97%, instead of celebrating it, we rued the system saying that Class X is no more a benchmark. This year, the results seems to have rationalized. Its a wake up call to take CCE seriously in lower classes itself to prepare them for board exams, especially Class X. Dissection of average marks in different subjects will be a good way to start with to know what we were missing down the line.

Moreover, to get into the bottom of the disintegration, there needs to be a thorough understanding of the CCE pattern, which is often blamed by majority of teachers for poor performance.

Earlier, they rued that students weren't serious due to no-fail policy. Now, when the pass percentage have come down, they blame the CCE pattern itself.

In fact, CCE pattern is widely misconstrued by most of the stakeholders. It prepares the students for life rather than just higher studies. There has been no serious effort among teachers in implementing it in true spirit. Blaming it as paper-work intensive system, the focus is deflected from children failing the purpose itself.

With a little bit of tweaking here and there, its one system, which gives sufficient emphasis on overall development of the child. It is observed that there has been a drop in the capability of writing among the children due to irrational mark allocation in different tools in formative assessments in lower classes, which can be easily overcome by following a rational system giving an extra edge for pen-paper test, preparing the students for summative assessments. Problem Solving Assessment (PSA) introduced by CBSE a couple of years back seems to be far beyond the comprehension of our teachers.

There has been wide discussion of inclusion of soft skills in school curriculum, but how many teachers in our Islands have ever seen the well-researched Life Skill manuals prepared by CBSE? Do they use it in schools? How many periods are earmarked for the same? Instead of blaming the system and looking out for solutions, there is a serious need to get acquainted with the materials provided by CBSE as well as NCERT, and implement it in true sense.

The state of evidences of assessment by government schools will tell another sordid tale of affairs how much they are concerned about the students. If the Administration is serious about improving the quality of education in the govt run schools, they need to check the quality of evidences of assessment of each school. To make CCE work, periodic internal assessment of evidences need to be carried out.

A one time quality assessment test at two levels can help in getting a clear picture about the ground reality.  To assess the quality of language and mathematics up to Class V and Maths and Science upto Class VIII would help in assessing the teachers, schools as well as students. Necessary inputs and outputs from the review can help in taking remedial measures.

On making the teachers responsive and accountable, the Secretary recently made a remark about carrot and stick approach. Only reward and punishment can bring meaningful change in the system. Transfers are very lucrative in the department. A lot of political as well as bureaucratic pressures are exerted on the Directorate to accommodate the ‘well connected’ teachers in the headquarters. Others manage on medical ground; true or false. Yet others come up with excuses of ailing old parents, and close relatives; some actual, some cooked up to stay in South Andaman Main Island, not even Neil, Havelock and Little Andaman. If the warning from Secretary-cum-Director that non-performers will be shown the door makes an impact, well and good. Moreover, there are no incentives for performers, who gradually feel let down by the Directorate.

While the private schools with minimal infrastructure and manpower delivers, the over pampered government schools with experienced teachers and quality infrastructure fails miserably. The govt spends around Rs 20 crores on just salary of teachers, and per head expenditure on a child comes to more than Rs 40,000/- but the output is dismal. The irony is that when a parent spends Rs 1000/- per month for education in a private school, government spends Rs 2000/- per month on a child in government school. 

Sixth Pay Commission brought a windfall for the government teachers beyond their wildest dream. But in terms of output, there is hardly anything to write home about. The teaching fraternity instead of discussing the debacle in board exams would be more keener to discuss threadbare about Seventh Pay Commission and its nitty-gritty.

Its a fact that educated parents including govt teachers admit their children in private schools despite knowing that the teachers are not experienced and are not paid at par with those in govt service, but they are confident that the schools will deliver.

Its an enigma why govt schools in outer Islands, where there are no private schools too fail to perform. The enrolment is not bad. The community as stakeholders too needs to give a thought about it. 

If ten percent of the time teachers spent on gossiping about their pay scale, DA and pay band is utilized to discuss about education and their students, the Administrator wouldn't have to worry about the declining quality of education in the Islands.

By Almas Shamim

No, we aren’t talking about “Fuck” here, though, we could do that as well. ‘Fuck’, or let’s be more technical and call it ‘sexual intercourse’, seems to be a lesser taboo today than it was a decade ago, maybe, but any discussion around it continues to turn heads and raise eyebrows. So, yes, we’ll talk about it, but let’s begin with a different F-Word- something that meets with too much hatred and discrimination, and is as big a taboo (if not bigger) as sex.

You may have guessed it- yes, I’m talking about ‘Feminism’.

The much spoken about, the much extolled and the much criticized ‘feminism’. For some, it is the Holy Grail and for some there couldn’t be a bigger slander. Of course, we are all entitled to our own opinions, but, we must ensure that our opinions are well informed and not based on any ignorant portrayals or beliefs.

So what is feminism? Is it ‘blaming men for every problem under the sun’? Is it ‘demanding men to do household chores’? Or is it ‘labeling all men rapists’?

THIS seems to be the general perception surrounding feminism, which, sadly, is not true.

Contrary to popular belief, feminism does not mean placing females at a higher pedestal than men. It does not translate to female superiority and definitely does not call for male bashing. What feminism does mean is ‘equality’. As a movement, feminism calls for equal social, political, cultural and economic rights for women. It only demands that a woman be treated as an equal to a man.

Any person who says that such a demand is baseless because women already have all the rights, is only living in denial and needs to come out of the cave that he/she resides in and look around at all the injustices being meted out on women for the simple reason that they are women. Be it killing of the female foetus, be it demanding dowry from a bride, or be it maltreatment of a woman after she is widowed, there is a definite bias against women. To deny it is a sign of cowardice- cowardice to own up the mistake that we humans have been committing for ages.

Our society is highly patriarchal and gives too much importance to men. Women have always been looked at as some ‘thing’ that just has a supportive role to men. Feminism, here, does not call for a role reversal. It, in reality, calls for a balanced role assignment, where both men and women are equally important and both are supportive to each other. In this way, feminism is not a movement that is beneficial to women alone, but also to men.

Imagine a society where only men could be earning members of their families, only men could drive vehicles and only men could go out to the market for buying groceries. On the one hand, it would undermine the potential of women, underplaying all that a woman could do (besides being highly claustrophobic!), on the other hand it would place too many responsibilities on the men- they would literally be running around outside the house with hardly any time to spend at home. Feminism, in its demand of giving equal rights for women, also places equal responsibilities on them, so that the world runs smoothly with both halves of the population- the men and the women- complementing each other, rather than one subjugating the other.

It’s imperative that we understand what feminism is, and how important it is for both women and men to be feminists, so that the world moves at least one step closer to be the fair place it should be.

So, what are your thoughts about this F-Word – Feminism?

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.

Our Sore Expectations

By Almas Shamim

“Ye to haalat hai G.B.Pant ke doctor log ka!” my friend fumed, seemingly exasperated by the unsatisfactory prescription for her runny nose. One does not go to a doctor only to be told to take paracetamol and cetirizine! Obviously, a doctor is supposed to do much more- or should I say- ‘prescribe much more’?

Indeed, there are many instances when requisite medicines are missed, but the example quoted above is nothing more than a beacon of danger, to put it in the mildest way. Let me remind you that my friend had presented herself only with a ‘runny nose’. She had no other symptoms or signs, whatsoever. So her expectation, which she so eloquently spelled, of being prescribed some more medicines, was unfounded. These expectations form a major factor in forcing many doctors to adopt the unethical practice of prescribing unnecessary medicines. And one of the most abused categories of medicines is that of antibiotics. It is not uncommon to see patients diagnosed with a ‘viral fever’ prescribed some or the other antibiotic, even though the doctors know well enough that the antibiotic cannot treat the ‘viral fever’ in itself, but only help cure the accompanying bacterial infections, if any. Many doctors prescribe these medicines only to avoid the situation mentioned above as an example- of the patient complaining about NOT been given more medicines. A private sector doctor may be scared that an unsatisfied patient might not come back to his/her clinic the next time (meaning a lost chance of earning money!) and so the doctor prescribes a list of vitamin and mineral tablets, syrups for indigestion, a randomly thrown in antibiotic and maybe a few more- so that when the patient leaves the clinic, s/he not only has a lighter pocket (having spent at the pharmacy which is so often attached to private clinics) but also a feeling of gratitude and satisfaction towards the doctor. A government sector doctor might not be bound by the money factor in his prescriptions- probably that is why govt. sector prescriptions have been found, through research, to be less irrelevant than prescriptions by private doctors- but s/he still depends on patients for building up trust of the public on the health system of the state. In short, all doctors are influenced, in some way, by the NEED for more medicines among their patients.

Such unnecessarily prescribed medicines have a lot of serious outcomes on the patient and the state. For one, we might be consuming a tablet that will NOT improve our health any further, simply because our body never needed it in the first place; but these medicines will continue to bring about their side effects on our bodies. Secondly, sometimes these medicines might not be available at the government pharmacy and could burn a hole in our pockets when we try to buy them from ‘outside’. Thirdly, and this is quite an irony, the unnecessary use of some medicines among some patients may translate to the unavailability of the same medicines for other patients who might ACTUALLY need them. And lastly, the unnecessary use of antibiotics may lead to resistance to these antibiotics and they may NOT be effective on us in the future (while continuing to cause their side effects).

So, while it is undoubtedly true that no doctor should prescribe medicines unreasonably, it should be interesting to see how, sometimes at least, WE and our sore expectations shape our doctors’ prescriptions. It will be a good practice to try and ask our doctors the purpose of each of the drugs on our list and also confirm from our doctors if all the pills are really necessary. While the doctor may not go back and change the prescription instantly, and you may also not be able to judge if the medicines are really necessary or not, it DOES help to bring to your doctors’ knowledge that the patients are AWARE and unnecessary prescriptions are NO LONGER NEEDED and WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED anymore. 

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.

Power supply has been playing cat and mouse for quite sometime for the last two months. Constant blaming of nature's vagaries since ages is a reprehensible excuse. Acute shortage of man and material adds to the woes.

By Zubair Ahmed

If you ask why so many interruptions in power supply now, they blame it on the unexpected pre-monsoon showers. The rain was a relief from scarcity of water and the simmering heat. But it brought miseries of a different kind. Nights had turned nightmares without power. The authorities still feel the unexpected rain was the spoiler, the usual rhetoric though.  Its a fact reiterated time and again that rain and power cannot co-exist peacefully in our territory. Vagaries of the nature have been an reprehensible excuse since ages. But, the overall power situation in South Andaman had gone for a toss since February this year. During last two months, that too during Board exams, power played cat and mouse.

And why is it so in Port Blair too, where the vegetation is low and with so many feeders? They blame it on relay coordination. Oops.. its the new term doing rounds. Or maybe that is what we are told to believe. The supply from different small and big power plants with different DG sets and calibrations is in itself a problem, if not properly coordinated.

Speaking with Andaman Chronicle, Mr U K Paul, SE, Electricity Department said that he is expecting a consultancy team from Chennai, who will do the survey and properly set right the relay coordination. And he is hopeful that once its done, frequent tripping of Gensets will come down reducing the downtime.

The power generation scenario in South Andaman is also not very comfortable after IPP Suryachakra Power Corporation Ltd shut down one more 5 MW Genset from its installed capacity of 20 MW. Its generating 10 MW power now. The other two Hired Power Plants (HPP) - Sudhir Ready and New Bharat contributes around 14 MW. In fact, New Bharat, which was almost written off was coaxed to run their gensets. IPP and HPPs seems to have turned constant pain in the neck for the Administration.

The department run power plants at Phoenix Bay and Chatham generates 15.8 MW. The newly installed 5 MW Genset is the only saving grace as of now. Any further disruption by IPP or HPPs would plunge the territory into darkness.

The Transmission and Distribution is one sector, where the Department has been drawing flak from all quarters. Even when power was surplus, the frequent interruptions due to poor maintenance and obsolete and worn out infrastructure had marred the reputation of the department. It forced the Administration to conduct an audit of power generation as well as transmission and distribution. The report saw light in November last year. Six months are over, and as mentioned in the report, most of the short-term work would be completed within two years.

Moreover, lack of inter-departmental coordination is quite obvious when it comes to proper maintenance of overhead as well as UG cables. The Electricity authorities blame the Forest Department for not giving sufficient corridor for laying power lines. In fact they rue the strenuous and tedious process of clearances.

The proposal to replace the overhead bare conductors with insulated cables in the Rural areas is yet to begin, and this rainy season too, blame would be on monsoon miseries. A 33 KV sea-link line Zebra- and Zebra-2 between Surya Chakra Power Plant at Bambooflat and Chatham Power House is completed which would help in power evacuation as well as optimal use of grid apart from the two line Panther-1 and Panther-2 connecting SPCL with Port Blair at Garacharma Sub-Station.

The ground staff of the department is seen working very hard, clearing vegetation, changing fuse, pruning branches of trees and their efforts are well appreciated by everyone, including the Administrator. But, what is seen is not what actually would have been the situation. There is acute shortage of man and material in the department. There are more than 65 posts of linemen lying vacant for decades now. There is shortage of JEs as well. The lines are now maintained by untrained mazdoors, and any accident would attract huge hue and cry. The department is run by skeletal staff and its quite visible in all site offices. There is no efforts to fill up the posts, which is one main reason in delivery of services.  Many gensets in the department-run power plants are performing sub-optimal just for want of spare parts. The list of excuses for all shortfall in service can be attributed to shortage of manpower as well as material.

The Panel - 5 which covered a large area from Hope Town to Shoal Bay and Jirkatang with a peak requirement of 3 MW has been bifurcated with installation of a new sub-station at Bambooflat. Panel 5 has been branched off into three feeders - Feeder 1 -Hope Town, Feeder 2 - Shoal Bay and Jirkatang combined. Up to Wimberly Gunj, the UG cable is connected to SPCL directly. And, the sub-station which was due for last three years have started functioning on trial basis from last Saturday. There are a few hiccups, which needs to be overcome. But, it doesn't seem to be a major solution as the feeder which caters Shoal Bay and Jirkatang - two ends - is overhead line from Bambooflat to these areas. Any disruption in Shoal Bay would still effect Jirkatang and vice-versa. Only safe zone, as informed by the concerned authorities is up to Wimberly Gunj, which has been separated from Jirkatanag and Shoal Bay line. Ideally, a sub-station anywhere close to Wimberly Gunj would be the long term solution with three different feeders catering in three different directions.

There is a mention of more sub-stations in the audit report. That seems to be the only solution in the long run. As the thumb rule, 33KV line should not go beyond 20 kms without a sub-station at every 20 kms.

"A survey needs to be conducted to assess the requirement of sub-stations throughout the territory, which needs to be taken up urgently," U K Paul said.

The 5-MW Solar Plant as of now is more a problem than a solution with huge cloud movements throughout the year. The peak generation that too upto 3 MW during sunny days is hardly for 15-30 minutes between 11.45 am to 12.15 pm. And the sudden fluctuation affects the whole grid with pressure on other power plants. Roof-top solar panels is a good solution for individual houses, but the project is taking its own sweet time.

The 30-MW proposed LNG plant is still in MOU stage, and it seems to be one solution in the field of clean power generation. But if overhauling of transmission and distribution is deferred, nothing is going to help improve the situation.

All talks of renewable energy is quite welcome and needs appreciation. But, in a territory like Andamans, the base load cannot be left to the nature to decide, and hence diesel gensets are going to stay, and a focused vision with long-term planning is required well in advance. Or else, if we keep adding one or two small gensets every now and then on piecemeal basis, we will be accumulating more problems of diverse nature. 

Disclaimer: I regret that lack of flow in this article is due to four or more power interruptions experienced in one hour.