Thursday, 27 February 2014

INTERVIEW WITH CALLUM MACRAE, London based journalist and documentary film maker

He produced 'No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka’ documentary that talks about war crimes in Sri Lanka

Blind support to Colombo can boomerang on India: Callum Macrae

Chennai, February 24:  Slamming the Indian ban on the screening of his much-acclaimed documentary ‘No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka’, celebrated journalist-documentary maker Callum Macrae said such softness towards Colombo in trying to even ignore serious human rights violations during the final phase of the Eelam war could boomerang on India’s long-term interests in the region.

Reacting to the Indian censor board refusing certificate for his documentary, Mr Macrae said one of the grounds cited by the censor board was that allowing its public showing would ‘strain friendly relations with Sri Lanka’. “I am afraid it is impossible to see this as anything other than an act of overt political censorship. There was no suggestion that this (refusal) was because the film was wrong in what it says. The accuracy of our journalism has been vindicated at every stage by independent examination and by the continuing emergence of more video evidence”, he told me in an e-mail interview from his London office.

“In effect, this ban is an act of short-term political expediency. It was an attempt to smooth over relations with the Rajapaksa regime. The problem is the long-term effect”, Mr Macrae cautioned. “The fact is that without truth, you cannot have justice and without justice, you cannot easily move forward to peace, political solutions and reconciliation. And so, despite difficulties, India has to take the lead”.
If India chose to become part of the attempts to prevent truth from coming out, it would slow down the progress towards justice and political solutions. “That is not in India’s interest; nor is it in the interests of ordinary decent Sri Lankans, of all ethnic backgrounds who just want to live in peace and harmony”, said Mr Macrae, whose documentary has already been seen by thousands of viewers on YouTube and select screens across the world, such as the UNHCR venue during the last Geneva session.

The documentary shocked the world after UK’s Channel 4 played it through several TV stations, and triggered an increased cry for international investigation of alleged war crimes during the final phase of Eelam war, when an estimated 40000 civilians were killed. Mr Macrae’s team was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize last year.

Sri Lanka, however, dismissed the documentary as falsehood sewed up by clever manipulation of irrelevant images through technology, sponsored by pro-LTTE elements in the Tamil Diaspora. Mr Macrae in his DC interview reiterated that his film was “three years of investigation” and had been “subjected to the closest scrutiny”. Detailing the extensive ‘scrutiny’, he said: “The fact is that our film tells the truth…we are merely one of the messengers of that truth. Attacking us will not change that”.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Oven friendly pots in the making

Chennai, February 25:  In a marriage between traditional expertise and cutting-edge technology the potters of Kanyakumari and researchers of IIT-Madras and Central Institute of Glass and Ceramics (CIGC) in Kolkata, are engaged in designing a clay vessel that could be used in a microwave oven. 

A sample clay vessel, created after several deliberations between the scientists and potters, was tested in the CIGC lab two weeks ago and gave positive results. Now potters in Kanyakumari expect the government to help them by funding the trial production of the clay ware.

In order to revitalise the business of potters and also to reach clay products to the urban markets, P. Bagavatheeswaran, director of centre for social development, a voluntary organisation that works with potters in Kanyakumari, approached the RuTAG (Rural Technology Action Group) in IIT-Madras in 2011. Based on his request, researchers in IIT-M took a shot and involved CIGC scientists to design the microwave clay ware.
Scientists sweated it out to arrive at the right combination of clay materials to design the vessel, which will be compatible for use in microwave ovens. Giving details of the project, Bagavatheeswaran said, "I witnessed the lab test of oven-friendly clay vessel in the last week of January 2014 at the CIGC lab. I am impressed and hopeful that this project would help the potter's community." He said, "We need funds for trial production. Based on response from users, the clay ware would be modified. Scientists have agreed to help us in designing the final product."
Speaking to me, S.Gopalakrishnan, project consultant of RuTAG, said, "This oven-friendly clay vessel will be a sure hit in city markets. Scientists had tried out various combinations of clay and other materials to create this vessel. Commercial production of oven-friendly clay ware is an immediate solution to improve the livelihood of scores of potters and also for many urbanities who want to avoid plastics."

Thursday, 6 February 2014

RTI -Right To Insane        

Chennai, February 6: Every citizen in India is bestowed with the right to question any government department under the Right To Information act, 2005. But that doesn’t mean all the departments would react promptly and provide answers to such petitioners.

For instance, the experience of Mr K.Neelamegam of T Nagar, who filed a RTI petition with the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), shows how difficult it is get RTI answers and how the process could drain both the money and the spirit of the petitioner.

Social activist Neelamegam filed his RTI petition with the SHRC in March 2013 listing five questions on the functions and publications of reports by the commission. He had sought to know how many days the commission took to respond to a public complaint. “The reply was disgusting. I was told that SHRC would not be able to provide answers to speculations. I merely wanted to know the number of days SHRC takes to clear cases and I can’t understand how that could be termed as speculative question,” Neelamegam told DC.

Worse still, when he asked for publications by the SHRC on human rights law, he was told that he could find those books in bookshops. “In the first reply I was told that the SHRC did not publish any books on human rights law. When I mentioned that I would file an appeal with the State Information Commission (SIC) to get correct answers, the second reply landed; it said I could get those books in a bookshop. That’s not a proper answer for a RTI query,” said Neelamegam.

Unhappy with such responses, Neelamegam filed an appeal with the SIC but its hearing held in Chennai on Thursday was even more disturbing. “During the hearing, a SHRC official said the information I had sought would run to 3,000 pages and I would have to pay Rs.6,000 to get that. I have no clue why I was forced to wait for this answer for almost an year,” he said.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014


Mobile van zooms to relax stressed schools students  

Chennai, February 6: Class 12 student K. Anbarasi of Maraimalai  Adigal high school in Pallavaram complains of severe headache within an hour of her study. For the last one month she couldn't spend more than an hour with her books. She needs frequent breaks to get back to preparations.

On Wednesday Anbarasi shared her plight with child psychologist Deva Kiruba, who was sent by the school educationdepartment in its mobile counselling van, at her school. Ms Kiruba listened to her and offered solutions to overcome the headache.

In order to relieve students like Anbarasi from mental stress and other psychological problems, the government has been operating 10 mobile counselling vans across the state since October 2013. As the public exams are approaching and many students are worried about their scores, child psychologists in mobile vans are zooming to schools to conduct stress management sessions. The multi-media presentation and an hour's interaction with psychologists encourages students to sort out their problems.

Just after the session, student Anbarasi could realise that unwanted fear and stress were the major reasons for her headache. "Thepsychologist taught me breathing exercises and how to balance my study and leisure hours. I understand that there is no need to worry and stress myself. I will practise stress management techniques regularly and concentrate on my studies," said Anbarasi.

Speaking to me about the counselling sessions, Ms Kiruba said, "In many cases children are severely stressed when family members do not care for them. They long for love and affection. Some students are depressed about having failed in previous exams and are unable to get themselves out of the rut. I give them tips to handle stress and to improve their positive thinking."

Psychologists do not only counsel students, but also provide orientation for teachers on how to handle children with learning disabilities and psychological problems.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Facebook post helped to rescue a child worker

Chennai, February 4: Facebook posts are not full of fantasy messages.A BE student in Tiruchy learnt about Chidline helpline (1098) through Facebook and alerted the volunteers to rescue a 12-year-old boy who was bought by a trader in Ramanathapuram for Rs 50,000. The trader has been remanded and the child worker is in a care home for rehabilitation.

Mechanical engineering student M. Vijaykumar said Facebook posts and media reports on Childline helped him know about the problems of child workers and how to rescue them through Childline. "I visited my native town Manickamkottai in Ramnad last week. I found Ravi tending a large herd of goats. I learnt from my friends that Ravi has been working for the past one year under a local trader named Udaiyar. And Ravi's family sent him to work because of poverty," he told me.
Vijaykumar said during his interaction with Ravi he understood that he worked almost 20 hours a day. "He was half-clad and half-fed. He cried convulsively when asked about visiting his family. Udaiyar did not feed him properly and not allowed to be with his poor mother who was ditched by his father. I alerted Childline and told them all the details about Ravi," Vijayakumar said.
Childline director S. Devaraj and coordinator K. Balamurugan along with local officials rescued Ravi and filed a complaint with the police about the child being exploited as a bonded labourer. "Ravi told us that he had to take care of 132 goats. He was severely beaten up if a goat went missing. Udaiyar has been remanded; Ravi will be produced before the child welfare committee shortly," Balamurugan said.