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Archive for September, 2008

“Social Consciousness and Vogue India’s gross miscalculation”

Sunday, September 28th, 2008


There’s something about this notion of globalization that makes people seem to think that we are not all responsible, as citizens of a nation and of the world, for being socially conscious and aware. Many seem to be blindsided by the rapid progression and economic boom hitting the world, and India in particular, to the point of truly becoming blind to what is appropriate and what is utterly unacceptable.

A friend in London brought this to my attention, and frankly I thought it was a joke.

For those of you who haven’t seen this particular issue of Vogue, take a look at the NYT article linked to in the previous paragraph. When challenged by the NYT, Vogue India editor Priya Tanna told folks to lighten up. She states herself that fashion magazines are not where one should look for social consciousness and “saving the world.” Amen, sister. But here’s the thing. Where do we draw the line? Whom are we allowed to exploit? Who is allowed to do the exploiting? The men and women depicted in the shoot are not referred to by name, merely as “lady” or “man”. I appreciate the egalitarianism, but is there anyone who truly believes that given the choice, if woman is living in a leaky hut with her husband who earns barely enough money to feed her 4 children and not enough to send them to school so only the boys go to school and they eat meat once in two weeks, after saving up, and they all share one 3 rupee cup of tea because they can’t afford milk for the children, she is going to save up for maybe 4 years and buy a Prada handbag? If you’re out there, you lofty dreamer, get in touch with me because I’d love to pick your brain.

I understand the thematic approach: anyone can be pretty, you can aspire to these great heights if you really want to, blah di blah, et cetera, et cetera. But do you mean to tell me that these people that are in these pictures have heard of Gucci? That the children write to St. Nick asking for a Versace backpack for Christmas? I don’t think anyone can be so deluded as to think that the ‘lady’ and ‘man’ and ‘boy’ depicted in the shoot know anything about haute couture. And if they don’t, then why are they the subject of the pictures?

Frankly, I am personally appalled that an Indian can subscribe so shamelessly to a neo-colonial mindset. So now that we don’t have foreign invaders in our country anymore (well we do, but more on that in a moment), it’s time for us to behave imperially towards fellow citizens? Beautiful, Priya Tanna. Bravo. Maybe next time we can show an auto-walla driving a Jag. If Louis Vuitton and Hermes are no longer a rich man’s privilege, maybe Bentley and Ferrari aren’t either. Maybe those of us who still believe that poverty may be holding some people back are living in the history books. Maybe we should open our eyes and look around.

The sad truth is, however, that enough of us are NOT looking at our surroundings with as close an eye as we should. The human beings around us have become part of the landscape. We see them but we do not notice them. They have become important to us purely in a utilitarian manner. I wonder many things about the people chosen to become models for this shoot. How were they compensated? Did anyone really learn their names? Were they treated like other models? Or no because they were amateurs? Or even – maybe – because they were poor? (gasp!)

I think it’s important that we as the residents and citizens of India – nay, the world – owe it to ourselves and our fellow citizens to pay attention to what’s going on. And even more importantly, the media has a strong role to play in this. The first thought I had when I saw the NYT article (after my Britain-dwelling friend sent it to me) was ‘why haven’t I already heard of this, living in India?’ And that is the first thing that is wrong with the Indian social consciousness. If you pick up any well-regarded Indian newspaper, you will see one page devoted to local news, one page for national news, and one page for international news. There’s maybe one page for general human interest stories, one page for business, and approximately 10 pages for celeb gossip and of course there’s the supplement with the society pages and full body shots of hot, famous women. I happen to glance at the papers almost everyday, and I’m online quite a bit. But neither me, nor any of my friends and colleagues who do read the newspaper everyday, had heard anything about it. Why? Because the media believes – rightly – that not enough people care to make it worthwhile news.

It’s time for us to make these things worthwhile. We should know, we should make it our duty to know, what’s going on around us. If we really want to turn a blind eye to the state of affairs, then we are doomed to a very difficult life. The cotton, dye, stitching, and embroidery for the clothing we wear, the raising, growing, harvesting and transporting of the food we eat, and every other kind of handiwork we take for granted, is done by the poverty-stricken people that we so blithely dismiss. Priya Tanna and her cohorts have committed a true travesty by allowing this to happen.

Here’s what I read in The Independent:

“Leading Indian fashion designer David Abraham jumped to the magazine’s defence.

“This kind of juxtaposition is always there in India – the servant who serves a glass of wine which costs more than his monthly salary,” he said.”

True, it’s always there. And I believe we should all be doing whatever we can to narrow the gap. But fine, even if you don’t agree with my brand of egalitarianism, I don’t see the legitimacy of propagating and highlighting such juxtaposition. The tragedy of seeing a homeless man lie, sick and hungry, in front of a glamor-ridden, blindingly minimalist Marks and Spencer store never escapes me. Photographing that image highlights the juxtaposition enough for me. Capture that image, and as an artist, display the dichotomies in our society. I would gladly support that. But what is the need for creating such inequalities and then publishing them for the world to see?

It seems to be an inherent problem in the way we think. The interesting point here is that I don’t think Tanna or her colleagues ever intended to hurt, offend or harm anyone. But as individuals who have the power to reach out with a message to so many people, I think that whether or not they accept it, members of media outlets do have a social responsibility, to be at least minimally aware of injustices and ignorance that are present around them. To me it truly seems reminiscent of old-timey Indian exoticism as “captured” by the British. We should not allow ourselves to be colonialized and imperialistic within our own society. By forcing so-called signs of prosperity onto people who cannot dream of ever being in such a position, I do not think we do ourselves a favor. I do not think it is acceptable for women like Editor Priya Tanna, who should be a beautiful example of the success of the Indian woman, to
degrade and exploit her fellow Indian in such a way.

Instead of declaring that fashion is no longer a rich man’s privilege, why not we take the opportunity to share with the public that education is no longer the rich man’s privilege? That is actually something to spread the message about. When India has reached a point where we can say that every person has the bare necessities, food, water, a means of sustenance, a place to live, and if they’re lucky, the chance for an education, then we can move on to bringing high fashion to the masses. Until then, let’s try and keep our priorities straight. When the last little girl has two pieces of clean, whole clothing that she can wear proudly, then let’s start thinking about teaching her fashion and style.

The hierarchical, classist ignorance shown by Vogue India and its supporters is disdainful. I urge everyone to make their views known to the editorial staff so that they think twice before making a similar gaffe in the future.

From my blog, Informed Activism in India.

Women’s Camp with CanSTOP, Ramavaram, September 21, 2008

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

The Women’s Camp was held on Sunday, September 21st, and was quite successful. The camp began from 10 and lasted till about 1 in the afternoon.

We were honored that the CAN-STOP Organization joined us in conducting this camp. This organization, run by Sundaram Medical Foundation, focuses on cancer screening camps as well as general medical camps for underprivileged populations in Chennai. We would like to thank Arjun Rangarajan, an intern at Sri Ramachandra University, for his immense help in arranging this project.

CAN-STOP’s gynecologist, Dr. Sunantha came for the camp. She was a very kind and understanding doctor who treated not only a variety of gynecological complaints but also general medical complaints for the women who came to the camp. In addition, she also screened the women for cervical cancer via a Papanicolaou (PAP) smear. Accompanying her was a nurse, Sister Jeevitha. We were also glad to have with us doctors from Sri Ramachandra University – Dr. Shihas Salim, Dr. Prabhu, Dr. Ashmitha, and Dr. Arjun Rangarajan who saw cases as well.

In addition to the medical work, we also provided reproductive health education to each of the camp visitors. Lalita and CAN-STOP’s social worker, Ms. Sujatha, instructed a group of female volunteers on teaching points for sexual and reproductive hygiene which included important topics such as breast self exam, menstrual hygiene and sex education. These lessons were given individually to the women who utilized the camp.

We arranged the camp tent this time in a way to create a fully enclosed area to guarantee the highest amount of privacy to the women being examined. In addition, we insisted that the male volunteers coming wear lab coats and that no cameras be used during the camp time, to guarantee privacy with the women, establish a professional atmosphere, and build trust.

Our main problem was with camp attendance. Though we anticipated this and tried to improve the attendance by publicizing it for it twice and distributing a flyer, we were able to treat about 20-30 people. This forces us to confront some of the difficult cultural realities of the camp – that women are undervalued members of their societies, that they will not take the opportunity to serve themselves without having finished their duties of cleaning, cooking, and laundry work, and that women are scared of coming to see a doctor for a gynecological exam though they are aware of the health benefits. These are all aspects of culture that, despite the difficulties, will have to be confronted head on. Despite this, we consider the camp to be a success because we did treat a significant number of people and we were able to learn more about the community from it.

Due to our rule regarding photographs, there are few pictures from this event, which are included below:

Sriram, Nivedita and Sivaprakash stand with visiting Drs. Arjun, Ashmitha, Shihas, and Prabhu

Group photo of the Sangam India and CanSTOP volunteers

Thanks to everyone who came out and volunteered! We saw a lot of new faces, including Nimeshika, Vaishnavi, Swetha, Sivaprakash, Priya, Mulatu, Kivina, Nandini, Ritika, Jaba, and Varna. We were also excited to have a guest from England, Gautam Bagga. Lalita, who organized this camp, did an excellent job in terms of research and with the immense practical work involved in running a camp.

For more information on CAN-STOP, please visit their website at and their blog at

Women’s Camp Tomorrow

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

Tomorrow is our women’s camp at the Ramavaram slum. We are going to be addressing issues including gynecological complaints, PAP smearing for cervical cancer, general medical complaints, as well as explaining to women about maintenance of proper reproductive hygiene.

Today a group of us went again to the slum to spread the word about the camp and to make sure everybody knew about it. We hope that this will increase the attendance at the camp.

In other news, our Sangam India flyer has been updated with the new phone number and with updates to our past events. Please feel free to print it out and share it with anyone who might be interested!

Woman’s Camp is officially on!!

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

It’s my pleasure to announce that our Woman’s Camp will officially be held this Sunday after there was concern that it might be canceled. The camp will be conducted between the hours of 9am to 4pm. A variety of services will be carried out including screening for cervical cancers, gynecological examinations and the importance and awareness of breast cancer. We hope to see some new faces at this camp so please come out and show your support! See you Sunday!

NXg: “Youngistan in Action”

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Today we were published in The Hindu supplement, NXg. A few weeks ago, Nivedita, Sriram, Pragnya, and Apta were interviewed by up and coming journalist, Carl Felix Müller. He wrote a great article about the beginnings and growth of Sangam India.

Here is a link to the article on the NXg home page.

Youngistan in action

INITIATIVE: ‘Sangam India’, an organisation formed by the youth, aims to inspire their not-so-privileged counterparts.


A group of students from the Sri Ramachandra Medical College have recently been gaining publicity among the media in Chennai. In March this year, seven friends from the college decided that they needed to get involved with their community. They wanted to make a difference, and they had the energy and motivation to do it.

Starting out

To start off, they decided to distribute 50 packets of curd rice to a rural community in Mylapore. But then, they realized that in order to make a difference, they would have to distribute food every single day, and they could not yet sacrifice that much. So they started a project called ‘Sangam India’. Sangam India is an organisation that tries to work with rural communities to lead them towards self-sustainability and eventually enhance their quality of education, health, nutrition, sanitation and hygiene. Also, they are in the process of obtaining the NGO status (Non Governmental Organization). The founders Nivedita Gunturi and Sriram Ramgopal and the other members are all students currently studying at Sri Ramachandra.

Besides conducting medical camps, the students also sponsor some of the children’s higher education. The project is not at all ‘just’ about giving them food, education, and medicines. The students actually work with the children on a “buddy” basis. They interact with them, play games and try to be their role-models. They want to inspire the kids, motivate them to finish school, because “they are the next generation.” The group’s aim is to provide a model which other organisations and students can follow. Ramavaram, along Poonamallee High Road, next to Miot Hospital, is their pilot project. Here, they have already conducted a door-to-door survey and collected information on the residents. “It’s just a matter of getting there,” says Nivedita, who’s now in her second year at Sri Ramachandra. “People are socially aware, but they don’t see options to act.” It is part of Sangam’s aim to also reach out to the general public and give them options to contribute to their society.

Together for a cause

At their college, the original seven have now become a group of 150 students volunteering to participate, donate, and help; ‘together for a common cause’ is their motto. “Right now we have the energy! There are so many different courses at in college that we don’t even know most of the students.” The project has brought the students of Sri Ramachandra closer together.Through word of mouth, the residents of Ramavaram have already found themselves a huge support from the new, enlarged group. “Without the group, we would have never gotten this far” feels Nivedita. Their new ideas and main support comes from the group itself. Through fundraisers that were organised at the college, they have been spreading the word among the students.

The last fundraiser was a Basketball tournament at the college, charging Rs. 100 per participant as a donation towards Sangam. “The tournament was a lot fun and the students want more fundraisers like that,” says Pragnya Chigurupati, who’s also in the second year of her MBBS. Also, they have been receiving donations in the form of money, clothes, and expertise from different sources. “There haven’t been any limitations so far concerning our funding,” says Sriram, who’s in his third year at Sri Ramachandra. The students have been lucky to have their parents as occasional financial back up. They were also surprised when they received support from the college staff. On their first dental camp, the students had only a few chairs and tables for their procedures, but with the second camp they had support from professors and better equipment for better treatment. “That’s our belief: youth helping youth to improve our society.”

All the members present during our meeting said that they have learned to be responsible, not only for themselves but also for their community. With their project, they hope to inspire others and build awareness. Everyone agreed that “social work will always stay with us”.Concerning the recent attention from the media, the students were surprised, but to them it is encouraging and nice to know that people do care. For those interested to engage themselves, the next camp will be held on September 21.

For details log on to: Reach them at:
or call: +919789901650

Thanks for your help, Felix! We hope that articles like these will help raise some awareness of the conditions in India’s urban slums and how ordinary people really can make a difference.

If you saw this article and have any ideas, thoughts, or advise – we’d love to hear it. Please feel free to send us an email and let us know what you think. We are a growing group with a lot of ideas, and we need all the help we can get! Send us an email at and let us know what you think!

Caduceus Magazine, 2008

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Caduceus is a yearly magazine put out by the the students of Sri Ramachandra University. It features poetry, stories, and essays written by the students and faculty at our college.

This year’s Caduceus features an article on Sangam India. Written by Sangam India members Aslesha, Sriram, Nivedita, and Lakshmi, it contains some information on what we do and how people can get involved.

We’d like to thank the editors of the magazine for getting us published in this year’s edition! They are Apta, Rajah, Sai, Irfana, and Gem.

Below is the article that was published:

Sangam India

Who We Are: We are a group of medical students studying at Sri Ramachandra Medical College. We began our work in early 2008 with distributions of food to slum residents, and we have grown in membership and vision since. Our members come from a variety of courses and from all years.

Our Mission: Sangam India is based in Chennai, Tamil Nadu and is concerned with slums, located on the Adyar River next to the Miot Hospital. We aim to improve the living standards of this underprivileged community by enhancing the quality of its education, health, nutrition, sanitation and hygiene.

Our Approach: Sangam India collects financial gifts to purchase equipment necessary for its medical and educational initiatives. We also collect donations in kind for distribution to slum residents. We plan to provide recreational activities for children and to offer them positive, lasting role models through the establishment of a ‘buddy-system.’ We will also offer vocational training to adolescents and adults.

Our Work So Far: We have made several trips to the Ramavaram slum over the past year and we have organized a wide range of activities. We have provided nutritious meals to the residents, played games with the children, conducted a field survey to gauge the needs of the residents, sponsored higher education, and coordinated a pediatric medical camp.

What You Can Do: Sangam India has a large and enthusiastic group, but as a growing project, we are always in need of more help. We need volunteers who are willing to take some time to assist on event days. In addition, we need financial assistance for large projects such as scholarships and medical camps.

We are also looking for donations in kind:
- Clothing (new or gently worn) for men, women and childrem all ages.
- Toys such as dolls, sports equipment and basic art supplies.
- Hygiene items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, combs, lice combs, and sanitary napkins.
- Medical supplies such as essential drugs and first aid materials.
- School items such as notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, sharpeners, scales and folders.

For More Information:
You can also send us an email at

Download the Article: Caduceus2008.pdf

Sangam India Culturals Poster

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

We were able to put up a poster for the Culturals event at Sri Ramachandra University. It has some information about our group, what sort of work we do, and how people can get involved. It included flyers for people to take. Sneha did a great job by additionally distributing flyers at the reception table.

We’d like to thank Saumya Chintamaneni for her immense effort in getting the poster up! Also we would like to thank Ashwin for giving us permission and Anand Muthiah for helping to distribute flyers from his Vitagen stand.

We hope that our poster and flyers increased awareness of our group so more people can get involved.

Kumudam Magazine

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

We are excited to announce that we have been published in this week’s Kumudam magazine. Kumudam is a very popular Tamil biweekly magazine. Not only read by people across Tamil Nadu, it is also read by Tamil expatriates around the world looking to catch up on news of their home culture.

This week’s edition is dated for September 17th, 2008 and we can be found on pages 62-64. The article is full of photographs that show some of our events as well as some of the members of our group.

Thanks to Kumudam for the great publicity!

Publicizing the Upcoming Women’s Camp

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Five women from our group travelled to Ramavaram on Tuesday, Sept. 9 to start informing the women about our upcoming Women’s Camp, which will take place on Sept. 21 in Ramavaram. Thanks to Bharatan of Ananya and Sundar, who is familiar with Chennai’s women’s groups, for coming along with us and guiding us on how to talk to the women in a way that will really convince them to come. We made a flyer in tamil, which we handed to every woman there. Hopefully that will help them to mark the date and be there. Overall, the trip was uneventful. Children tailed us as usual, as we made our way to every house and personally informed every woman that was home to come to the camp to see women doctors.
During this trip, I started to feel like the residents of the slum are starting to warm up to us and our group a lot more. They seem to be less wary of us and our motives. We found out this time that there was a previous group that actually kidnapped children from this community and that is why they are so frightened to trust outsiders. Since we have been visiting them for about 6 months now, they have started to like us a lot more and are willing to trust us, a little at a time. I do hope to see this trust and friendship grow over the next few months.
We will return one more time next week to visit the women and insist that they come to the camp. Hopefully multiple publicity trips will maximize our turnout.

Women's Camp

Monday, September 8th, 2008

We are excited to announce that our Women’s Camp details have been finalized.

The Camp is scheduled to occur on Sunday, September 21st, from 9:00AM to 4:00PM.

The camp will include services such as:

  • Screening the women for cervical carcinoma via Papanicolaou (PAP) smear tests
  • Gynecological examination for the women
  • General medical check up for women of all ages
  • Education to women regarding breast self exam and other important topics.

In order to publicize this event, a group of girls will be going to Ramavaram tomorrow to spread the word, house to house.

In addition, they will be distributing to each house a Tamil flyer to explain about the event.

Below is the flyer:

Edit: Sorry for the mistake, the camp is this September, not last August!