Something to smile about in gloomy times…

The theme of this issue is peace and conflict resolution, an area in which Rotary International has spent millions of dollars to educate and equip bright people from across the world with adequate skills to work at bringing sense, sensibility, sanity and peace in conflict zones. That our world is getting more and more violent has been proved once again by the dastardly and shocking terrorist attack on the office of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, during which eight journalists — including an editor and cartoonists — were gunned down in Paris.

Earlier too several attempts were made on the lives of the magazine’s cartoonists who have created extremely provocative cartoons of Prophet Mohammed, Islam’s most revered religious leader. But the precision and brutality and the manner in which this operation was carried out, with both the gunmen walking away till they were hunted down, chased and killed, but not before four more lives were lost, has left the entire world shocked. What is fiercely being debated is freedom of expression. While infuriated readers in the West have demanded that all media houses must reprint the offensive cartoons to show solidarity with the slain journalists, leading newspapers like The Guardian and The New York Times have desisted, arguing against this definition of solidarity. Pope Francis too has given his take on the right to free speech coming with a rider.

An expert on India’s relations with its neighbours such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, retired IAS officer Shakti Sinha, who was Joint Secretary to former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee, analyses the intricacies of the Indo-Pak conflict and why it has been such a challenge to resolve it.

I write this edit while attending the week-long annual International Assembly at San Diego. At the opening ceremony while the Flags of the Rotary World were being presented in a cheerful and colourful background, as the presentation began with Afghanistan and Algeria, and the flags of Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan, Pakistan, Palestine, Israel and so on flashed by, the troubled times in which we live was reinforced. These are countries that have seen or are continuing to see a great upheaval and violence in their lives. Displaced and traumatised people forced to flee their homes and live as refugees, children denied the most basic of rights — to education and a safe environment, women and girls denied the right to study or work, as is happening in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan … the list continues.

This reinforces how much we have to be grateful for in India, home to 1.3 billion people of diverse faiths, languages and cultures. It is not as though we don’t face challenges, the biggest of them being poverty and unemployment. But then it is heartening to see so much being done on the ground level. Whether it is through the National Skills Development Agency (whose Chairman S. Ramadorai has written in this issue), or corporate houses such as the pharma major Lupin, or thousands of NGOs, not to forget the thousands of projects being undertaken by India’s Rotarians, India’s young are getting new skills, and along with them, better livelihoods. The manner in which lives and livelihoods have been transformed in the villages around Bharatpur in Rajasthan, through acquisition of skills such as marble cutting, gems polishing or smart and advanced agricultural practices, has been detailed in this issue. After all, our disadvantaged classes are not asking for the moon — basic education for their children, a clean and safe environment to live in, and a decent livelihood. We may stumble and fumble, take a wrong turn here or do something stupid there, but slowly and surely we are marching resolutely towards these basic goals. And that is something to smile about in these gloomy times.


Rasheeda Bhagat

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