About FOOTPRINTS IN THE BAJRA (Cedar Books, New Delhi); By Nabina Das

"Fittingly for a poet, Nabina’s novel also has a strong lyrical core. 'Footprints in the Bajra' takes the homely image of the millet field as its central metaphor. ... But the novel is less a thriller about guerrilla action than a subtly colored character study of a fascinating group of individuals who intersect at various points in their lives ..." -- DEBRA CASTILLO, author, editor and distinguished professor (Cornell University, April 17, 2010).

Footprints in the Bajra is a serious book that moves at a smart uncontrived pace. It voices deep concerns about how and why the deprived and the marginalized in certain parts of our country join the Maoist ranks; how they adopt desperate and often terrible measures to wrench justice and to make their voices heard... a confident debut novel, a good read, which will leave you with plenty to mull over. -- PRITI AISOLA, author (See Paris for Me, Penguin-India, 2009) in DANSE MACABRE XXXIV.

In her debut novel, Nabina Das writes about an India where social divides stand taller than multistoried shopping malls. Footprints in the Bajra, inspired by what she saw while touring the interiors of Bihar as part of a travelling theatre group, inquires into why the Maoists have an influence over a large section of Indian society. Das talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York about her book, and its protagonist Muskaan -- DAILY NEWS AND ANALYSIS, Mumbai, March 28, 2010.


"The interspersion of references from both the West and India do not clash. Shakespeare and Lazarus as reference points are brought in with ease, as also Valmiki and Goddess Chhinnamasta, and nothing jars ... The language is poetic and creates visual images of beauty and ugliness side by side." -- ABHA IYENGAR, poet (Yearnings: Serene Woods, 2010) and fiction writer in MUSE INDIA, May-Jun 2010

Shwetank Dubey says Nabina Das ably recreates the milieu of Maoist-infested regions of India -- Nabina Das has chosen the first person account of narrating a story from the main characters of the novel, Nora the sheherwali (urban dweller), Muskaan the rebel, Suryakant Sahay the crafty clandestine planner and Avadhut the frontrunner of all the operations... the book deals with something that no urban resident is bound to know on his own — the life and times of people living in Maoist infested areas and why do they give in to the temptation provided by the Red Brigade. -- PIONEER newspaper, April 25, 2010.
'"If you misrepresent them, they'll abduct and kill you," says Muskaan, our hostess'... goes the first line with which Nabina Das settles everything about her novel -- style, subject and pace... Excellent plotline. Wonderful detail. A beautifully crafted book. -- Karunamay Sinha; THE STATESMAN, Sunday supplement "8th Day", May 16, 2010.

"This is bitter-sweet, if a rather longish tale of a modern-day Maoist revolution and the seeds of destruction and betrayal that lie embedded in it." -- Business World, May 17, 2010

Friday, October 31, 2008

All Souls Saved

My Halloween musings, in a poem:
The day splits open like a pumpkin
Orange and sunny

Seeds are birds
They peck on dark leftover clouds in the corners

Clouds or souls that pine to leave
With night, fog and disembodied leaves
Dropping one two three
From the great white oak on the lawn

It is still slender
Yet to grow in girth
Mimics the dreams and mysteries this day
May bring or night may savor –

Brief passion, eyes of amber, skin that sizzles
And masquerades to waltz with the wind

A crazy reveler who talks to the dead
In a tongue that lives, forever lives.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Few Things of Remembrance

Okay, so there's a brothers and sisters festival coming up soon. It is observed mostly in the eastern part of India and is known by two or three different names. I had written the poem below not exactly addressing this sentimental occasion, but generally as a musing about my brother and me when we were kids, and above all, brats. The poem is an exercise in some kiddish recollections... but for a change I like it. Sometimes, a brief vacation from the adult world refreshes me. Hence this me-created nursery rhyme, edited a bit from the existing version on Sulekha.com...

A Few Things of Remembrance

He would always do
such nasty things,

My brother. He'd always upset me.
Once he had snuck open my sketchbook

And doodled a darn bird
That mocked my unruffled

sunrises and gregarious waterfalls

With that cock-a-doodle-doo trick.
Defiant, brash, energetic,

It showed me the lack of sound and movement in my art.

He had secretly scribed it in there with no one watching, not me.
A darn springy little chick.

I got hold of his toy train tracks,

vendetta of course!

And hammered it altogether
Just to make the point that I

did not need a plucky rooster
To animate the heart of my art
However immobile or inert.

I made sure his toy engine would
not puff and rush along like before

My hammer made sure it flattened them all,
a neat rejoinder
Against a scrappy bird mocking my part.

My brother stole my watercolor

tablets the next time

And soaked them well
In a plastic bucket; especially

his favorite ones – red and blue
So he could paint his tiny face
Usually cherubic and chaste.

He chose a droopy holiday
afternoon for the venture

Finding me tired doing those clock-time math
homework and sleepy,
He let the colors run without trace.

I coaxed him into acting in

my dance drama – a ploy –

He was made up as a girl.
Wearing pink frock and frills,

blue liners and painted ruby lips –
A fairy child framed on the walls
Of my Roman Catholic school.

Little did he know how I laughed with
my mischievous friends, called him names,

Punishing him for spoiling my watercolors,
have him dance and jig
Like a girly girl!

My incorrigible sibling stole my

new dolls, actually kidnapped them.

They were barely acquired.
Even before I opened the packing,

examined their tubby face and lace,
Georgette gown and pageboy hair,
Brother and sister –– an adorable pair,

He fed them gumdrops in captivity and
suddenly became a brother to them.

Then realizing something he surrendered to me
Entire cache! How rare!

I would always do this to make

you understand, he mewed:

I thrive in your playthings.
So I took your dolls, rainbow

paintboxes, sketchbook and games
Tiny balls of clay dough clinging
Candy-coloured blocks for building

Our pools of friendship where I’d swim
like a busy fish, with you

In the waters of life that perhaps would
recede steadily everyday

Until our parting.

My brother and I indeed left our

home of tales and so it feels now

I can let him have it all,
Visit it at will with his perky doodles,

funny designs and secret doors
Through where we now travel

To a childhood untroubled,
Every now and then together following

trails that he or I uncannily left

After all fights and quarrels were done and
stolen moments came home
never to double.

Looking at the broken engine, one-legged
carts, dollhouses, cracked fishbowls,

I want to tell him how our silly kiddish
capers now make me smile,

Coming back like dreams
All of it really seems
Coloured leaves we gather as we go on

into a prolonged autumnal spell.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Assam clashes: The communal angle came from the news media

My journalist-writer friend Subir Ghosh has taken out an exciting and deeply investigative study. Those of you who are political animals and in general are interested in the North East of India, do read the news release below. Clicking on the title of this post will take you to the detailed report, downloadable and free.

New Delhi, October 23: The ethnic clashes between indigenous Bodos and Bangladeshi migrants which broke out in Assam in the first week of October 2008 gave unnecessary importance and prominence to the “Muslim” aspect of the latter.

The finding is from a study by Newswatch, an independent online entity which monitors, collates and documents news and information pertaining to the news media and journalism. The Newswatch (http://www.newswatch.in/) probe was conducted over an eight-day period starting the day the clashes broke out (October 3). The study —Identities and descriptors: How the news media described the Assam clashes — was meant to be a qualitative analysis, and not a quantitative one. The idea was to look at the way the news media covered the issue, and not quantify the exact number of publications or news outlets that did a story, or did not. “Sectarian violence in Northeast does not always make it to the front page of newspapers. But this one did — coming as it was in the backdrop of the attacks on Christians by Hindu rightwing elements in Karnataka and Orissa, and a palpable sense of Islamophobia that seemed to be all-pervading in the aftermath of the serial blasts in Ahmedabad, Bangalore and New Delhi. The prime objective of this study was to look at how the media uses descriptors and modifiers in ethnic conflict situations,” explained Newswatch editor, Subir Ghosh.

Altogether, 597 stories published during the period were tracked down by the researchers. After leaving out duplicates (mainly because of news agency creeds), the number was brought down to 187. The next round of elimination was done to exclude non-English stories and ones that ran into 100 words or less. In the end, 138 stories were selected for the content analysis.Very few stories, it was found, desisted from naming the two communities involved in the clashes. It would be wrong to say very few “publications” did so, since different news items emanating from the same outlet used varied descriptors for the two groups of people. In other words, there seemed to be a dearth of policy when it came to naming communities or ethnic groups involved in clashes. The study found 26 sets of descriptors and modifiers which were used to describe the Bodo tribals which ranged from “local Hindus called Bodos” to “non-Muslims.” In case of Bangladeshi migrants, the number was 27, with the descriptors and modifiers varying from “Bangladeshi Muslim migrants” to “Muslim migrant settlers”. Many terms, both correctly and wrongly, were used as synonyms.

The study also looked at the use of the term “Muslim” both in the headlines as well as in the body of the copies. Seven news items (of six outlets) played up the Muslim card in the headlines. As many as 66 stories used “Muslim” to denote Bangladeshi migrants either in the first two paragraphs, or later in the copy (if this community was first introduced only in a latter part of the story concerned). Though the Bangladeshi migrants, by and large, are Muslims, the over-emphasis on the “Muslim” aspect of this particular community went a large way in adding a communal colour to a clash that was not essentially communal in nature. It was rather surprising that the coverage of a clash which left over 50 dead and rendered about 100,000 homeless, saw only 21 Bodos/Assamese/Bengalis and 8 Bangladeshi migrants being quoted in 138 stories. This filtering of voices becomes all the more lopsided given that most of the stories analysed directly or through insinuation projected Bangladeshi migrants (even mostly mentioned just as Muslims) as being the victims of orchestrated violence against them. The lopsidedness in the count of both sources and voices of the people may be gauged from the fact that almost half the stories (65) originated from Guwahati.

The report can be downloaded from here: http://www.newswatch.in/research/1754

Details of the report:

Pages: 10
Format: PDF
Colour: All-colour
Price: Free
Size: 640 KB

For more information contact: Subir Ghosh, Editor-Publisher, NewswatchTel: 0-9811316305Email: editor@newswatch.in Website: http://www.newswatch.in/

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


This is one of my favorite poems by Joy Leftow. Read more at http://joyleftowsblog.blogspot.com/ (clicking on the title too will take you to her blog)

JoAnne is one tough broad,
Italian Irish descent
from the Northeast Bronx
Through sacrifice and dedication
JoAnne is now a nurse at
Presbyterian Medical Center
This is her story
bout a methadone baby
born addicted
on JoAnne’s ward
This boy had tupelo
honey colored skin,
and hazel brown,
almond eyes
Birth mama’s blond and curly haired
A blue eyed Nuyorican
Daddy is a dark skinned African
Mama named the baby Shonequon
The nurses called him “Sweet”
Sweet’s a boarder baby who
lived on the ward
for 2 and a half months
BCW tryin to decide
what to do with that tiny
methadone addicted baby
Now me amiga esta sin ninos
she has no children
e quiere uno mucho
she wants one very badly
so she fell in love with Sweet
talked about him constantly
JoAnne said,
Sweet is cryin all the time
He holds his body rigid
his cryin is so fitful
Kindled by the pain
cause Sweet’s addicted to meth
and this is how he sounds
Sweet’s tiny fists
are always clenched
his spindly arms crossing
his scrawny chest
This baby can’t relax!
He’s got a monkey on his back
Sweet’s addicted to meth
The Doctor confides
he wishes he could
keep Sweet tranquilized
cause he’s screamin so fretfully
JoAnne loves to nurture Sweet
She embraces him reverently
comforts him with the rhythm of her heart
she whispers soothing sounds
her voice falls like soft waves
caresses tender hollows
of his frail anatomy
her soft warm breath
glides down his velvet neck
Sweet responds with purring sounds
JoAnne’s gentle devotions
linger on
like a mango blossom’s scent
fragrant on a breeze
Sweet watches her giddily
clinging with his
tightly gripped fists
Yesterday Sweet smiled for the
very first time
JoAnne bragged
as though he were her own
Sweet, my boarder baby
is delayed in his response
and yesterday was the
first time
God graced me with his smile
Her eyes rimmed with blurring droplets
Dewdrops silhouette
I love him, she said
I want him to be mine
Even though he’s HIV
and surely won’t survive
I want him to be mine
Child Welfare lets his Mama visit
she hardly came at all
Daddy was there
mostly every day
but he was always drunk
Today they let her come and
take my Sweet away
Honey, JoAnne said,
This baby’s in a lot of pain
he suffers from anxiety
You don’t have to hold him
24 and 7,
but you need to let him
see your face
smiling, talking
into his
Sweet’s Mama answered
I know mucho more than you do
let me tell you somethin’
You don’t know what I been through
All my kids are born on meth
and that’s the way it’s always been
The baby started fussin’ then
his spindly arms
clenched across
his scrawny chest
Sweet opened up his eyes
and focused on JoAnne
reaching out his scrawny arms
But Mama reached the baby first
and took him from his crib
Esta te quieto, nino
she said as she rocked him
to her methadone beat
Esta te quieto, nino
It’s gonna be okay Mama said
Grandma said she’s gonna help,
She’s carin’ for my other five
My oldest girl’s gonna be there too
And like I told ya,
All my kids are born on meth
And that’s the way it’s always been,
but we know how to get by.
"Floodlight Reflection" and "Autumn Breezes" are among the other poems that I like on Joy's blog, also "Mimicking Marguerite Duras: A Tribute ". So, go there, and imerse yourselves, dear readers.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fiction forthcoming in Mirage Books short story collection

This was a nice surprise:
My short story selected to appear in a collection by Mirage Books (http://www.miragebooks.com/), India. The story is "Tara Goes Home" that I originally wrote last year, as an entry for Orange Prize (ambitious, ambitious!), UK. It didn't make the cut there and I felt the story had too many loose ends and quite a bit of fluff. So I edited it over and over again. Finally, this year Mirage Books picked it up and I thought, OMG, they like this story? No way! I had contributed three stories (all within 1,500 words and only one to be selected), and my preference rested on either of those other two. Those were really nice tales! But this probably has more gravitas in the theme. Who knows?

Anecdote: When Nadine Gordimer wanted to stick to the title of her novel "A Sport of Nature", her publisher kept arguing against it citing some silly reason like this title might have the book mixed up with sports books! What I mean is, publishers and writers allegedly have totally different world views... (Now I'm not Nadine Gordimer, so let's move on...)

The selected story is about a young woman named Tara who lives in Delhi. She is chided and goaded by her family to bear a son while she keeps getting pregnant with girl babies (revealed by illegally done ultrasounds) that are aborted one after the other. So, finally one day, she steps out of her conservative home and gets on to a bus. The bus meets with an accident and Tara lands up in a hospital. There, half-conscious, she takes a strange decision about her life. This is all about Tara Goes Home.

Here's part of the e-mail that came this morning from Mirage Books editor:

"Hi Friends,
Announcing the winners of the contest -
[From the list below, you can check if your story has been selected, but do come back to read the following message.]
First of all, I'd like to thank all of you for participating in our contest. The response for it has been much better than what we had expected, initially. For us this has been quite an enriching experience and I hope you enjoyed participating as well.
These short-stories which we have selected will be published in our next book and each story will be followed by a short bio and a photograph of its author: That is the Prize.
The very reason why we announced this contest was to promote writers and story-writing. There are so many good writers who don't get the opportunity to get published: Well, today we feel that fifty talented writers will be added to the select group of – 'Published Authors'. Congratulations Winners!
For the ones whose stories don't feature in the list, I'd like to say: Most of the stories we received were good and it has been quite a tough task selecting the ones which we did.
Here is the list of the stories which have been selected:

Nandita Mundle
Ink And Lead
Anu Chopra
Arranged Marriage
Asma Siddiqui
Beyond Love
Ankita Aranke
Desert Faith
Ketan Joshi
Padmaja Menon
From The Mouth Of Babes
Saurabh Turakhia
Call Of Nature
Vijaya Prakash
A Good Bargain
Susan Smith
Sunil Sharma
Butterflies Grandma And Me
Pooja Nair
Recipe For Disaster
Vandana Jena
Second Sight
Shantanu Dhankar
And I Burn
I D Atkinson
First Contact
Lilia Westmore
Escape To Hopeland
Gerardine Baugh
M Annamalai
Million Steps
Anusarat Kothalanka
Nishgandha-A Dreamscape
Pratik Shah
Wavering Bounds
Rachana Shah
Gulabjamuns In Syrup
Cyril Sam
They Say I Am Crazy
B S Keshav
Fast Forward
Nabina Das
Tara Goes Home
Kenneth Cross
A Healthy Dose Of Insanity
Farahdeen Khan
Divya Mohan
The Silent Brook
Anita Baruwa
Just Rs 499
Sunil Tarini
Ribal Haj
Chased By The Wolves
Leo Mukherjee
The Fly Who Knew Too Much
Anubha Yadav
The Gift
Kamal Sharma
Bharadwaj Vijaysarathy
Tom Dick And Harry
Chandru Bhojwani
The Love Letter
McKenzie Hightower
The Lost And The Forgotten
Sweta Vikram
Challenges Of Breaking Rules
Eva Bell
Perfect Execution
Kirin Gupta
Ramprasad Adpaikar
The Baby
Sindhu Ramachandran
Happy Teacher's Day To Life
John Wolf
Earth Dogs
Vivek Shivram
A Conversation With The Damned
Salil Chaturvedi
Ta Rat Thing
Malavika Shridharan
The Shooting Star
G S Vasukumar
The Last Drop Of Tear
Joe Pfeffer
Supreme Reflections
Tia Rohit
Darkness Behind The Bush
Carmalin Sophia
Love Me Dear
Swapneel Khare
I Am Sorry

[This list is subject to the authors' furnishing the details and complying with the rules.]
The authors of these selected stories need to furnish some details, for which we will email them, individually, very shortly.

Warm Regards,
Huned Contractor
[Editor: Mirage Books]

Monday, October 13, 2008


The atavistic life of ancient
Turks or for that matter, Romans, before that Scythians
and who knows who else, is a testimony to the fact that human beings have, time and again, perfected the art of lying,
deception and inflicting misery on others who they (or is it we)
'others'. This is so much like a road
taken again and again
and very much like what I read in Kay Ryan's poem last night,
that a road NOT taken is a road closed to all, to paraphrase Ryan.
The road is here, there,
everywhere. To me it looms
like blue elephants, slow and majestic.
Or it also becomes dry flowers that usually fall in concentric
rings from trees that hardly care.
My pets, my books, my dear ones, are all strewn
along this road dusted with my little deceptions, obsessions and disharmony.
What is atavistic?
What does it mean?
I can't even remember because I don't have my dictionary
or my thesaurus with me. See, how I deceive myself too?
I'm always taking the aid of these tools,
and to a large extent, my computer -- the Internet.
I war
on my senses, my own
memory. I keep them gagged.
And we as humans have been doing this over
and over again until some roads -- especially those that are NOT
taken and those that WANT
to be taken by so many -- are forever closed.
War, deception, memory
linger on like sticky cheese on fingers, making
me sad. Sad because I wish it were different.
But to tell a secret, it also makes me happy, immensely, to note that rigor
is a name applied to anything and everything.
So, there's a chance!

Random thoughts... with Hillary out, will Palin iron shirts now?

Random thoughts are good. They don't stay long! On a propitious day such as Columbus Day (that plunderer...) I am thinking hmm, now that Sarah Palin is the Republican mascot, will anyone stand up in her meetings and holler: "Sarah iron my shirt"? How's that going to fare? As it is, some complaining noise was made about how either her opponents are harsh with her 'because she is a woman' (or a pit bull wearing lipstick) trying to compete with men or too soft on her because 'oh poor thing's woman' and should be back to womanly things only.

Somehow, opponents of Hillary have forgotten that there had been folks holding up signs or screaming "Hillary iron my shirt" (http://elections.foxnews.com/2008/01/07/hillary-hecklers-yell-iron-my-shirt-at-new-hampshire-campaign-stop/) at her campaign meetings. Now I'm randomly forced to think, will this happen in India when Mayawati or Sonia Gandhi or Renuka Chowdhury stand up speaking at their meetings. Will a Mulayam, Advani or any other supposed supporter of "male" privilege of being in politics do or say this sort of a thing, ever? NO.

Well, I don't mean to say anti-woman stances are not there among prevailing Indians, but not blatantly at least.

What is it that in a country like India, where gender biases run deep, where patriarchy can assume ugly forms, and where women are seen as means of reproduction, no one dare stoop so low regarding a woman in politics, government and policymaking. No sir, no one will say "Sonia make my rotis", "Maya clean my dishes" or "Renuka wash my undies"...! They might say, let's see, "Mayawati is a megalomaniac", "Sonia is manipulative" or "Renuka is unrealistic" -- things that politicians are supposed to say to each other.

So why, in America the land of freedom and other sundry stuff associated with that, will men stand up saying "Hillary iron my shirt"? Now don't try saying that to Palin, or you'll be branded a misogynist, for sure... Random thoughts.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


This is taken from the SACW dispatch that I receive by e-mail:

-- by Badri Raina

Agreed you were Adi Indians,
Long before the Aryans came;
Agreed we made you Dalit
To set off the conqueror’s name.
Agreed you are illiterate,
Agreed you have no say;
Agreed you are untouchable,
Agreed you are kept at bay.
Agreed that our development
Makes you resentful, red;
Agreed, in fact, we prosper
Upon your sweat and blood.
Agreed we rape your women,
Agreed we stray, at worst;
Agreed you may not use our wells
To quench your low-born thirst.
Agreed our Constitution
Is ours and ours alone;
Agreed our hallowed temples
Will not let you in.
Agreed your land, your forest
We grab, we chop, we burn;
Agreed our banks, our markets
Will never serve your turn.
Even so, your villainous move
To leave the Hindu fold –
How could we ever forgive you
Betrayal so beastly, bold?
Go tell these priests who dupe you
That all plants, animals, men
Were created Sanaatan Hindus
The minute the world began.
Do you then prefer Christian ease
To family atrocity?
How traitorous, how ungodly
Can this world of vermin be!

The sarcasm is clean and ringing! For Badri Raina's writings, go to Badri's ZSpace Page >> at zmag.org.

On this note, it is astounding that the Indian Cabinet is divided on the demand for ban on VHP-Bajrang Dal-Sangh. More evidence is needed, is the refrain. Aghast as I am, I hope more evidence piles up from the rightwing outfit's past exploits. What's been going on in Orissa in the past few weeks, is only a glimpse into the dark deeds of the Sangh Parivar practised and honed through years (Gujarat is the golden age... Nanavati may not agree). Combined with it is the issues confronting the Dalit community and other under-privileged citizens of India and also the "intervention" by Maoist groups in rural areas of Orissa and Karnataka. India has a huge challenge here, only a rising GDP and a booming stock market does not guarantee smooth business while other matters remain highly discordant.

A lot has already been written about it ... but the "encounters" in Jamia Nagar in Delhi (pic below) after the recent bomb blasts have naturally put another community more blatantly under the scanner than ever -- the Muslims of India. Two young men and a police officer had died in the shootouts. It is said the bullet that killed the officer is not being found. Why? How do we then know who killed him -- terrorists or his own men or a stray or a ricocheted bullet? Do we remember in broad daylight in Delhi some years ago, police had gunned down two men on the suspicion of being dangerous antisocials? The whole case has been turned over and the dead men found not guilty! Forget that the police actually had planted "evidence" that these men were real targets and ultimately they were punished by the court. And wasn't there a report about the police faking tomato ketchup as blood to 'create' encounter scenes and have medals awarded to themselves? What encounters are these anyway?
I'm not trying to blame the police. The sodden force must be under Himalayan pressure. I just wonder what 'intelligence' leads to such incidents.
And oh, the name "Indian Mujahideen" is really popular now. Apparently they masterminded these blasts. So now there's an identity tag to it -- Indian -- as opposed to let's say Afghan Mujahideen or Pakistani Mujahideen!! Nationalism in terrorism at last, may I say?!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Other India Stories: Indians win 'alternative Nobel' --- some recognition?

I would love some comments on the BBC news article: Indians win 'alternative Nobel' (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7647718.stm)

During my tenures with NGOs in India, working on projects whose beneficiaries were the under-privileged, most often the human faces that would stare us in the face were Dalits, Tribals and other marginalized sections.

My former employer, the National Foundation for India (NFI) does terrific work with women, especially the Girl Child, and their proposals usually seek to aid both Dalits and Muslims without really determining a target group only by those specific configurations. As astounding as it may sound, the 'other India' is still a humongous mass of people who are not only low-income, but also inevitably low in the caste hierarchy. And it serves no good purpose to ignore any dialogue on this aspect.

The likes of Jagannathan and Krishnammal, from Tamil Nadu, may not be overwhelming in number in India, but there are significant ones who work without any recognition. Besides, how many of our silent crusaders work in order to get an award? At least from my NGO experience I can say, quite a few even have to weather threats posed by unfriendly population, dominant upper-caste groups, apathetic government officials and other infrastructural, monetary and logistical hurdles. The award to the Jagannathan couple is heartening for those of my friends who are trying to promote the condition of India's Dalits, through education, direct intervention, awareness programs and even Internet dissemination of information.

Cannot somehow stop here without remembering Sanjoy Ghosh, who was allegedly abducted and killed while working on Assam's Majuli island (the largest riverine island in the world) working among the locals -- not all Dalits -- to raise awareness about flood management and soil erosion. Some say he was picked up by ULFA, a raging bull on Assam's political landscape. Whether that's true or not, we haven't had another Sanjoy back there, a testimony to the fact that the situation is still terrible for Assam (see Sanjoy's Assam).