SUNDAY FEATURE: 2020 – It’s time to wrap up!

2020 : ‘Tis the year of learning

2020 has left a scary impression on the collective conscious of humankind. As New Year is around the corner, it’s time to step up with hope, optimism and lessons learnt from 2020 to glide in next year like a pro. Here is what the mind and body health professionals have to say about the lessons learnt during this unprecedented year and their expert advice to make your 2021 better.

Heidi E. Spear

Author, Meditation teacher and Energy wellness instructor based in California

Her books ‘Ayurveda Made Easy’ and ‘My Pocket Chakra Healing’  are published by Simon & Schuster.

As a meditation teacher, what do you think is the main challenge in recalibrating people after the damage of 2020?

As a meditation teacher, my focus is to help people meet the moment where it is and from where they are, with compassionate awareness. 2020 has been hard on mostly everyone not only for how they and their loved ones have been impacted, but also (due to human empathy and our energetic connection) for how they feel about the toll it has taken on everyone: their neighbors, the healthcare workers, and even people they don’t know throughout the world. What we need to do, even as we are still in the midst of what began in 2020, is to learn and consistently practice meditation so that we can move through our feelings in healthy ways. The challenge comes when we look outside for others to fix things; we have to realize we each have a unique role to play in life as part of the collective whole. Self compassion and compassion for others is the key.

What are the lessons or reflections you have gained from your profession and as an individual during this pandemic?

There have been countless lessons I have gained from my profession and as an individual during this pandemic. The one that is on my mind most often is that – crises heighten both the positive and the negative in ourselves and in our society which allows us to give it all a closer look and make better choices. Remember that choices don’t only refer to our actions. They refer to what we think, say, and do. Every thought, word, and deed effects our lives and contributes to the energetic and evolution of our world. This pandemic has shown how powerful human connection truly is. Just as important is noticing where we can improve; we also must have and share gratitude for the positive aspects we see in ourselves, in others, and in our world. Then, we move forward with compassion in our choices. It just has to happen step-by-step.

What advice would you give to make 2021 a better year?

My advice to make 2021 a better year would be first to notice all the good that came out of 2020 for you. 2020 has been extremely challenging. Finding gratitude can help you cultivate hope and resilience. Meditation is important because it takes us to a place where we can find gratitude and where we can assess and refuel our energy. From there, we know what we need, we can learn to show up well for ourselves and others and we will be able to see all the good that is happening alongside suffering. Seeing the good in ourselves and others and being grateful helps stay afloat. We can do this! I believe in wisdom, in love, and in the warmth of human heart: and this is the space where we need to continue to reside.

Dr. Amanjot Sandhu

Medical doctor based in London

(MBBS, MRCGP)

How do you think 2020 has affected the mindset of medical health professionals?

2020 has been a challenging year from medical perspective. We have been practicing telephone triage in England for a long time now but it is now accepted as the main form of patient care. Hot hubs were quickly set up in areas where suspected covid patients were triaged and accordingly further care was decided. Hospitals did have coping issues as well and as a result special units were set up here. However, there were issues of staffing and equipment. We have lost a lot of doctors, friends and family members due to this virus. It has certainly affected mental health globally. Overall this has been a very challenging year for medical professionals and is continuing to be. But I would say this has made us stronger, resilient and taught us a lot of things on how to be prepared for future.

What are the lessons you have gained as a doctor during this pandemic?

Viruses are highly infective organisms and have a capacity to mutate fast. For instance the influenza pandemic of 1918 lasted more than 2 years until a vaccine was formed and we still get a wave every year. Vulnerable patients need to be vaccinated each year against the active strain even now. We can have more viruses like this and covid could be one as well. The medical community has realized the need to have a proper strategy to fight any such future pandemic. Quick and effective measure will be required as compared to this time. Public health needs to be more proactive and plan on this from now onwards.

What advice would you give to make 2021 a better year?

Personal hygiene (hand washing, mouth covering) social distancing, self isolation and good ventilation are key to tackle any infections. I believe these should be followed in future and forever.

Anjashi Sarkar

Motivation and Manifestation Coach, Counselor based in Delhi

Miranda House alumni, PhD from Jamia Millia Islamia University

 Author of ‘Voicing Contentious Silences: Other Narratives on History and Society’,

                    ‘Sectarian Politics in North Bengal and North East India’

                    ‘Transformation Targets: Your Pocket Fitbook’

Which prime psychological and behavioral issue you observed in 2020?

Almost 90 percent of people who I have mentored have abandonment issues. That being said, it is not uncommon to find individuals resorting to immoral practices, having frivolous relationships, etc. just to seek validation or to be accepted in a group. There is also a constant indecisiveness when it comes to personal relationships. Again there is lack of consistency (in work) in most people; out of the 53 cases I came across, I found 37-38 people complaining that they have no idea if they’d be able to continue the momentum. They ‘think so’ and that is the problem.

What are the lessons you have gained from your field of work during this pandemic?

I was able to begin sessions immediately after the lockdown was announced. There was a time I had been in the same position as the people I have been helping. My biggest takeaway of 2020 is- -if you are able to inspire people enough, if you’re able to make them realize their true potential, that is undoubtedly a big win. And if you can make them eradicate their fears and allow them to become more compassionate, help them re-evaluate definitions of love and humanity, everyone can motivate themselves enough and help others heal too. For me, I don’t see people as good or bad anymore; I view them as healed or unhealed.

What advice would you give for a smooth glide in 2021?

While 2020 showed us the mirror – taught us the value of food, money, shelter and made us connect with our family more, 2021 could bring a lot of abundance if one takes a lesson from the past and begins working on their mindset. Instead of being reactive, one may choose to be responsive. That should serve most of our purposes since presumptions have mainly been the reasons behind conflict. Everyone counts, every mind counts, every opinion counts, all things matter but little patience, mindfulness, lot more love and compassion, and a bit of empathy have the power to change the world.

Dr. Parvati Halbe

Pediatrician based in Pune, Maharashtra

 (MBBS, MD)

What was the main concern of parents you encountered in 2020? Was there any child development issue because of the pandemic and social isolation?

In the initial phase of pandemic, in the year 2020, as everyone was shocked and scared, parents were more cautious about the health of their young ones. The vaccine issue has been in the discussion since last couple of months. For all age groups in my clients (children brought to me), I have come across problems due to lack of exposure and schools being shut for a very long time. Kids were found lagging in speech development. Some developed wrong habit of watching videos on mobile after the online classes. Their food habits got deranged. Sleep patterns changed and even led to insomnia in some school going children. Adolescent group showed lack of energy in studying and extracurricular activities remained out of reach which also contributed to excessive weight gain in some.

What are the lessons or reflections you have gained from your profession and as an individual during this pandemic?

 Fearful it was last year, 2020, no doubt. But one has to start thinking in broader aspect of humankind – inclusive of other lives on the planet Earth. Implementing our simple guidelines to protect our environment can reduce the further scary situation in future. 2020 has made me reflect on our deteriorating natural resources. We need to look at them in a more responsible manner and use them wisely to spare them for future generations.

What advice would you give to parents and others alike for making 2021 a better year?

Though younger population is spared much from the disease, it is facing side effects of the measures taken to control the disease. I would advise parents should take this opportunity to bond well with children and work on building a healthy lifestyle. Involve children in other healthy exercises at home. Sharing daily chores with them can be an interactive activity. There should be more thought sharing as well as passing experience based knowledge to them.

Amreen Sekhon

Former Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Apollo

Special Educator Counsellor at Strawberry Fields High School, Chandigarh

Ph.D in Psychology

Which mental health issue has been predominant according to you in 2020?

According to a survey done by the University of Exeter in the year 2020, a fifth of people reported having experienced mental health issues and a third people having felt isolated due to the pandemic. The current outbreak has revealed the psychological makeup of the society. Major depressive disorder has been predominant in this year.

What are the lessons or reflections you have gained from your profession and as an individual during this pandemic?

Some of the lessons learnt during this year have been that do not personalize an experience (rather) have self compassion. The current situation is being faced by entire humankind. Hence, do not stop your life and wait for things to fall back in place. Instead, make the best of the time in hand. Secondly, mental illness is not a sign of one’s weaknesses and one should not have to deal it alone. Talk about your mental health and seek help if necessary.

What advice would you give to make 2021 a better year for mental health?

Exercise regularly and practice habits that you thoroughly enjoy and find relaxing. Keep up with your daily routine as much as possible. Have a schedule. Shift your current narrative, focus on the positive. Seek credible information and help when necessary. It is also important to stay connected with your family and friends always.

Published in The Post India on 29.12.2020

OPINION: The Global Environment Fiasco

Global Environment Fiasco

“Earth provides ENOUGH to satisfy every mans need but, NOT every mans greed!”

The warm and majestic green landscapes, the glory of the snow crowned mountains, the pristine maiden rivers and lakes… (wait let’s fast forward)… is a matter of history.

Does that not give you goose bumps?

The clarion bells keep ringing over the degradation of various flora and fauna, and now the scenario is only graver. The very topography of our land has been altered, or rather plundered!

Being an adventure seeker, I have been visiting various places especially across the Himalayas but it is a sad sight now. The beautiful pockets of nature are being replaced by plastic bottles, litter, dams, rapid construction, luxurious hotels and resorts – making these areas dull and grey! The irony of the situation is that the luxury and modernization that we are trying to achieve from such rampant dissection of these ecologically sensitive areas, is absolutely menacing.

There is an increase in the occurrence of natural calamities and higher likelihood of pandemics. Man has been reckless in the past decade – ignoring guidelines, exploiting natural resources and taking full advantage of the political bureaucratic nexus! It has aggravated the conjectured dire consequences. Development is taking place at the price of the destruction of nature. The spoilage of the Dal Lake causing the locals to abandon their means of livelihood, the soil erosion due to flooding of the Brahmaputra, loss of life and property due to floods almost every few years across various states!

Not only within the country but all across the globe, there is a drastic change in the climate due to devious human activity, thereby altering ecosystems callously. The tsunami in Thailand, the hurricane Katrina and the Sandy Storm in the United States are some examples. There is increase in population and decrease in natural resources. Today deforestation and global warming have reached to such a level that there is a constant environment alarm beeping, via natural disasters.

The World Bank report on climate change warns that a warmer world will trap millions in poverty. Underdeveloped nations will majorly bear the brunt. A scientific report commissioned by the World Bank named “Turn down the Heat”, looks at the possible impact of global warming on the most vulnerable regions of the world. According to it there will be unusual summer heat extremes and water availability in Pakistan and Nepal will be too low for self sufficiency in food production by 2050. Most coastal reefs are projected to be extinct, with the loss of associated fisheries and coastal protection. There would be loss of 41-51% of unique plant species in South Africa and Namibia. The report also projects that 33% of the Kolkata metropolitan area is projected to be exposed to flooding of more than 25 cm in the event of extreme rainfall pattern by 2050.

It is high time to protect our environment.  The power and beauty of the natural world cannot be tamed – man is a fool to do so! There is much said and written about environment catastrophe but it is time to pull up the socks. Little things of common sense can go a long way in making a difference. For instance, using buckets and pails for bathing is better than using showers, turn off your vehicle’s engine at red light, reducing red meat consumption or vegan dietary habits, reusing and recycling, using eco-friendly products or reducing the flow of water when washing something can help in restoring the lost environmental balance. Another interesting concept to save our environment is using creativity as a tool to fix the problem. Great creativity can make something out of nothing, a monotonous idea into a great novelty!  We need to think differently and out of the box, thereby attracting and involving the human mind to do various things to save our environment.

 Apart from this, green societies should be given impetus. These are an association of persons, business and organizations that create local and global support systems developing sustainable resource based communities. Grooming green societies is grooming culture of optimum utilization. Last but not the least, both our central and state governments should not merely provide financial help but also devise an adequate plan and policy. A workable solution is the need of the hour because – TO MOULD THE HISTORY OF OUR FUTURE, WE NEED TO MOULD THE ENVIRONMENT OF OUR PRESENT HARMONIOUSLY!

OPINION: Why Farmers Opposition To The New Agricultural Reforms Is Justified

Punjab farmer unions to corner Cong govt
Farmers are unhappy with the new agriculture bills

After the CAA protests, now the centre government is facing yet another major backlash. The new farm ordinances promulgated in June this year, have not gone well with the farming community, especially of Punjab and Haryana. The reforms in the agricultural markets include deregulation of farm foods from the Essential Commodities Act (ECA). Farmers are also allowed to sell their produce to the government regulated market yards (mandis) or Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs), as well as to private firms outside this set up. They have also been allowed to enter into farming contracts. The government says that these bills have rid the farmers from the shackles of middleman, increased the profit margins for them, increased their bargaining power and hence a freer trade. However, the farming community refuses to accept these as pro farmer legislations and they have strong arguments to make which should not be overlooked.

The farming community believes that with the coming of private players it will be difficult to hold them accountable for any malpractice or harassment. The eventual phasing out of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) will take away the farmers safety net and the farmers already have many issues to tackle with from depleting water levels, rising input costs for farming and debts. Least government involvement in the entire process of crop procurement will snub the small and marginal farmer decreasing their bargaining power instead of increasing it. The parallel mandi system that has been allowed to be carried out along with the entry of agribusiness firms will become redundant over a period of time – handing the baton finally to the big corporations. It is to be pointed out here that although the government claims that it is trying to help the farmers by ridding them of the monopoly of APMCs, the farming community has never been entirely against the APMCs work ecosystem in the first place. Many farmers are hugely dependent on artiya system (government licensed commission agents which gives them credibility with the farmers) for loans and smooth functioning of their daily lives. Even the banks could not provide as healthy an alternative to the farmers. Secondly and more importantly if the government could assure the provision of MSP in the legislation itself, they would not have faced such protests. The problem is not the private player but the lack of legal binding of MSP in the new bill.                                 

Here is a deeper analysis.

Small Threat v/s Big Threat

It cannot be denied that traditionally farmers have faced some problems at the hands of APMCs. However, the farmers have a collective strength as the government is answerable to them locally and nationally, which makes sure that APMCs never overreach themselves. Hence, it is a smaller threat to their progress. On the other hand, with big corporations coming in and no government involvement, the farmers will have no backup. A mutual agreement can only take place or rather hold its place if all the parties involved can exercise their strengths equally. With no strong protective measures from their democratically elected government, the farmers will definitely have a bigger threat from these corporations who have the financial power and the digital behavioral data of millions of people. Till date the American government could not completely round off Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for his mega company’s data malpractices that have impacted daily life and electoral decisions of people around the globe. How will the simple farmers ever round up private players and big corporations in case of any injustice?

One size does not fit all

Punjab and Haryana are states where the agitation against the new reforms is the most severe since they have higher contribution in filling the food security pool of India. Therefore the legislation needs to be flexible in its application. 34 % of wheat and 22% of rice is contributed to the nation by Punjab alone. The Punjab government too collects handsome mandi tax which is also outside the GST. This tax helps create and maintain robust infrastructure like roads connecting rural areas, mandi infrastructures, etc. It is used for the welfare of people and hence should not be done away with. By removing the fee on trade and excluding the mandis from the definition of trade areas the government is clearly incentivizing the traders. Earlier the traders came to a defined and well allocated area for trade with the farmers. Now a marginal farmer is expected to carry around huge quantities of produce directly to various bases of traders. This new provision is unviable for the farmers of Punjab and Haryana. This predicament is not as strongly applicable to other states as they have a weak APMC structure. In Bihar not even 1% of targeted wheat procurement happened at MSP in this past rabi season which ended in April this year. The overall contribution of the state in terms of produce is also lesser than Punjab and Haryana. Therefore, entry of a private player might be a good alternative in this state. Yet, without government back up or intervention no trader or private company will give a decent price for the hard labour of a farmer even in these states. The main point to be taken here is that one size or one approach does not fit all.

Why rush it through?

The APMC structure came to fore legally in 1956 in the face of famine in order to check unlawful trading. The system evolved to accommodate the changed circumstances of farmers over the years. Now when it has become an integral part of many state economies, where is the need to suddenly overturn it without a proper dialogue with the stakeholders? Why ram it through with these bills in the already troubling time of coronavirus pandemic? There was no need to issue an ordinance. Normally these ordinances are issued only as an emergency law. These have to be converted into legislation as soon as the parliament reconvenes. More importantly it needs to be highlighted that any law related to agriculture, agriculture processing and marketing is not even a subject of Union list. It is constitutionally a State subject.

The government is free to introduce reforms for the betterment of its people. Precisely, it is for this very reason the elected representatives have been sent to parliament by the people. But firstly, where is the emergency? To do it behind the façade of a pandemic is not the right way ethically and morally. Secondly, does it hint at something else too? Internationally, a new business climate is trying to emerge from the moribund economy due to the ongoing pandemic. There is a visible monopolistic behavior on the rise, with supersized deals taking place between various corporate giants who have strong access to capital market. The recent deals to boost Jio ecosystem is one such case in point. The accelerated digital transformation for these bigger corporations in turn primarily means enhanced “surveillance capitalism” making the governments across the globe more in sync with such deals since they can become the biggest buyers of this surveillance data, giving a more potential rise to ‘Cambridge Analytica’ like case. In times like this, when a new dangerous world wave is emerging do we really want private players to come in.

Even if it is just hysteria, why risk crushing the Anndatta by passing such ordinances in such a hush which might weaken the economy of states, and who knows…might also become entry point for a new East India company!