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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Benefits of Volunteering- Johnson Thomas

Benefits of Volunteering:  This presentation is an attempt to help
understand how Volunteering can be beneficial to individuals in terms
of developing beneficial skill sets that could help sustain and
stabilise their work-life balance. Individual benefits to be derived
from doing volunteer work  reach far beyond the volunteer act itself
and may linger long after the volunteer role is relinquished.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Aasra in

Government's move to decriminalise suicide is half-hearted

Government's move to decriminalise suicide is half-hearted
Photo Credit: milan81
The Mental Health Bill says that suicide cannot be prosecuted. But it remains a criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code and allows for people who attempt to take their lives to be incarcerated in institutions.
Amendments to the Mental Health Care Bill were approved by the cabinet on Thursday, in an attempt to protect the rights of people suffering from mental illness. But experts have criticised its provisions relating to suicide, even though the proposed legislation claims to decriminalise the action. Unless the Indian Penal Code is also changed, they say, people who attempt to take their own lives can still be prosecuted.

“At the end of the day, suicide will still be a crime,” said Amba Salelkar, a lawyer and disability and mental health rights activist. “If suicide were truly being decriminalised, legislators would have removed it from the IPC itself.”

The bill will be tabled in the Lok Sabha in the budget session in February. The original draft of the bill was filed in the Rajya Sabha in August 2013. A parliamentary committee on health and family welfare submitted their review of changes to the union cabinet.

At present, attempting to kill oneself is illegal under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, and can be punished by a year in prison. The Mental Health Care Bill says that notwithstanding the IPC, anyone attempting suicide “shall be have severe stress at the time of attempting suicide and shall not be liable to prosecution and punishment."

It goes on to state that it is the government’s responsibility to help ensure that those who have survived a suicide bid do not attempt it again. This clear puts all those who attempt suicide under the health care provisions of the bill, one clause of which includes the right of the government to incarcerate people of unsound mind for up to three months against their will.

By retaining IPC legislation and classifying suicide as a mental illness, the bill effectively gives the government the right to incarcerate anyone in a mental institution if suspected of having attempted suicide, experts say.

“If suicide were truly being decriminalised, legislators would have removed it from the IPC itself,” said Salelkar. “At the end of the day, suicide will still be a crime. This is what makes me uncomfortable about the bill.”

Dr Bhargavi Davar, another mental health activist, added that the decision to cite the cause of suicide as “severe stress” is dangerous because it allows a much larger range of people to be classified as mentally ill. “Mental illness is defined so broadly, any person is liable to be brought under the bill,” she said. “Who in urban areas is not stressed? Will they also be deemed mentally ill?”

She said that the earlier draft of the bill left open the option for people had attempted suicide but did not have any official diagnosis of mental illness to go to court to prevent themselves from being incarcerated in a mental institution. “How do you prove to the court that someone is not stressed?” she asked.

Both Davar and Salelkar believe that the solution would be to change the IPC, and not mention suicide in the Mental Health Care Bill at all.

Not a deterrent

Most psychiatrists agree that criminalising suicide is illogical. According to them, the law has never served as a deterrent to people wanting to take their own lives. The rate of suicides inIndia has steadily risen in the past five years.

“It is a good move to decriminalise suicide,” said Dr NN Raju, secretary of the Indian Psychiatric Society. “Suicide is a move taken to end suffering. They think it is theONLY OPTION left to them. Society has an obligation to help them out, rather than labelling them as criminals.”

Dr Kedarnand Banerjee of the National Institute of Behavioural Sciences concurred. “Suicidal people are least bothered about legislation,” he said. “When the thought comes, it comes. Thinking about the law never stopped anyone from attempting suicide.”

While they welcomed the apparent decriminalisation of suicide, they too were not pleased with its being described as a mental illness.

Labelling suicide as a mental illness is inaccurate, according to Raju. “While severe stress doesn’t necessarily cause suicide, calling somebody mentally ill is not correct either,” he said. “Someone who tries to commit suicide may need the help of mental health professionals, certainly, but trying to commit suicide is not necessarily the result of inherent mental instability.”

According to National Crime Records Bureau figures, which are most likely under-representative, India’s rate of suicide, 11.2 per 100,000 in 2012, is far lower than the global rate of 16 per 100,000.

Within India, nuances emerge. More men kill themselves than women. According to an NCRB report, men kill themselves for economic reasons, while women kill themselves for personal reasons. Housewives formed 18.2 per cent of the total number of suicide attempts in 2012. This is more than over half of the women who were reported to have killed themselves in that year.

The top five specified occupations of those who committed suicide from 2001 to 2012 included housewives, farmers, those in private service, the unemployed and self-employed. These constitute 54 per cent of a total of 1.4 million people who killed themselves during this decade.

“It is necessary to understand that suicide is not an event,” said Johnson Thomas, who works with Mumbai-based suicide helpline Aasra. “It is not a one-time process. People go through different stages of stress and when it comes to a head, that is when they commit suicide.” Thomas, however, believes that the bill will be useful as it will force the government to take the responsibility of therapy after a failed suicide attempt, which is their stated intention.

Dangers of the bill

The social and political consequences of including suicide in the Mental Health Care Bill extend beyond just wrongful incarceration if the person survives, according to Salelkar. For instance, if a housewife were to survive a suicide attempt, they will be classified as mentally unstable and could have custody of their children taken away from them under the Juvenile Justice Act.

There are also cases in which pressure from in-laws for dowry is a pressing cause of women committing suicide. “When the case comes to trial, because she is deemed to be mentally ill, her evidence could become shaky,” said Salelkar. “Even if she doesn’t survive, the fact that suicide is filed under the Mental Health Care Act means that the family that might have abetted the suicide has someMORE ROOM to wiggle out of being convicted.”

Political acts of protest are also likely to be prosecuted as before. Irom Sharmila has been on a hunger strike for ten years now. Each year, she is released from hospital custody for one day, then re-arrested under section 309 of the IPC. The government can choose to argue that Sharmila is not under severe stress. Since suicide has not been decriminalised, the government will not be obliged to release her from custody.

With this misguided attempt to help suicide survivors, experts say, the government has instead laid the ground open for them to be persecuted further.

We welcome your comments at

AASRA 'Suicide prevention' Training for other helplines

5 - TRAINING AND CONTINUOUS SKILL UPGRADATION Following the recommendations of the experts who participated in the National level Consultative Meeting, the counsellors employed at iCALL's were put through a rigorous twelve day training programme from 6th August 2012 to 18th August 2012, prior to the commencement of the helpline services. The focus of the training was both perspective building as well as skills training. The topics covered were as follows: 1. Understanding Gender – Mithun Sarvagod (Akshara Foundation) 2. Family in Crisis – Dr. Geeta Joshi (IPH) 3. Communication Skills – Adrian Rosario 4. Violence Against Women – Divya Taneja (RCI – VAW, TISS) 5. Counselling Skills – Ms. Akanksha & Ms. Jill (Ummeed) 6. Suicide – Johnson Thomas (Aasara) 7. Sexuality – Prabha Nagaraj (TARSHI) 8. Alternate Sexuality – Kavita Nair (Humsafar 21 Trust) & Shruti Chakravarty (LABIA) 9. Understanding Law – Adv. GH Khan 10. Addiction – Mr. Madhav & Mr. Inderjeet (Muktangan) 11. Helpline Counselling – Pratibha Nagaraj (TARSHI) & Sulabha Narayan (IPH, Maitra Helpline)

as abridged from TISS iCall's annual report 2012-13

Aasra in the BBC news

By Zubair Ahmed 
BBC News, Mumbai
Sharadashram Vidyamandir school
Sharadashram Vidyamandir school has been rocked by Shushant Patil's death

A writer once said that more than one soul dies in a suicide.
It seems so in Neha Sawant's home. The atmosphere in the tiny flat in Mumbai has been lifeless since the 11-year-old was found hanging from her apartment window.
It has been weeks but her parents are still in deep shock. They look dazed and sleep-deprived.
Neha's distraught grandmother said in a broken voice: "Our brains are not working. We still cannot believe it."
Neha, at 11, must be one of the youngest in Mumbai to commit suicide. Figures suggest that more and more teenagers in India's financial hub are killing themselves.
Inexplicably, teenage suicides have become an almost daily occurrence in Maharashtra - one of India's most developed states - and its capital Mumbai (Bombay).
Rhea Timbekar
 Something has gone amiss in [children's] lives quite early and suicides are a manifestation of that 
Clinical psychologist Rhea Timbekar
The toll of teenage suicides from the beginning of the year until 26 January 2010 stood at 32, which is more than one a day.
While there are no comparative figures for the same period in 2009, there is a consensus among the concerned authorities in Mumbai that teenage suicides are spiralling out of control.
There is also a general agreement between psychologists and teachers that the main reason for the high number of teenagers taking their own lives is the increasing pressure on children to perform well in exams.
The scale of this largely preventable problem is dizzying - both in India with its billion-plus people and particularly in the state of in Maharashtra.
More than 100,000 people commit suicide in India every year and three people a day take their own lives in Mumbai.
Suicide is one of the top three causes of death among those aged between 15 and 35 years and has a devastating psychological, social and financial impact on families and friends.
'Needless toll'
World Health Organisation Assistant Director-General Catherine Le Gals-Camus points out more people die from suicide around the world than from all homicides and wars combined.
"There is an urgent need for co-ordinated and intensified global action to prevent this needless toll. For every suicide death there are scores of family and friends whose lives are devastated emotionally, socially and economically," she says.
Mangala Kulkarni
 The children don't realise they have more avenues than academic successes 
School principal Mangala Kulkarni
In Mumbai the authorities are so alarmed by the scale of the problem that they have began a campaign, Life is Beautiful, which aims to help students cope with academic pressure.
Psychologists visit government schools in Mumbai once a week to train teachers dealing with students' problems.
Sharadashram Vidyamandir school boasts illustrious alumni such as cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli. It has been holding parent-teacher assemblies where parents can receive tips on tackling the pressures children face.
And yet such sessions could not prevent 12-year-old Shushant Patil's death. He was found hanging in the school toilet on 5 January.
Mangala Kulkarni is the principal of the girls' section of the school. She says that ultimately families need to be more proactive when it comes to stopping students from feeling stressed.
"The children don't realise they have more avenues than academic successes. They need to be made to realise this by their families from childhood," she said.
A helpline in Mumbai, called Aasra, has been operating for several years to tackle the problem.
The director of the helpline, Johnson Thomas, says the problems today's children face are manifold: "They have peer pressure, they have communication problems with their parents, broken relationships, academic pressure and fear of failure," he says.
Aasra class in Mumbai
Classes to help vulnerable teenagers are now being held
The home ministry estimates that for every teenage suicide in Mumbai there are 13 failed attempts.
One theory behind the recent rise is the influence of a recently released Bollywood blockbuster, Three Idiots, which has a scene where an engineering student is shown committing suicide after a mediocre exam result.
The film's impact has been debated and scrutinised in prime time television shows, with many directly blaming it for adding to the problem.
But Mumbai clinical psychologist Rhea Timbekar argues that it would be wrong to blame the film, which she says strives to explain that parents should not put too much pressure on their children.
Ms Timbekar says that she recently met a child who had not eaten for four days.
The child's parents said they were upset with him because he only got 89% in exams and stood third in the class, compared to coming first in previous years.
"Such parents need to be counselled," she asserts.
Ms Timbekar said that another explanation for the high teenage suicide rate was "copycat suicides" where children read about suicides in newspapers and decide to do the same thing themselves.
'Extreme steps'
Dilip Panicker, an eminent psychologist in Mumbai, says that pressure of exams is alone is too simplistic an explanation.
Pupil at Sharadashram Vidyamandir school
It's hoped that young people will have a brighter future
"At one level school pressures and expectations from parents are a valid reason," he says, "but that's always been there.
"In fact, parents used to beat up their kids in our time. What's changed is that today children are more aware, they have more exposure. They are more independent. So they blame themselves for failures and take extreme steps."
Psychologists also argue that the definition of a teenager needs to be revised in 2010.
"Today's 11-year-olds are the new teens. What we did at the ages of 14 and 15 children can do at 11 today," says Rhea Timbekar.
She demolishes the theory that children are more likely to be spontaneous in committing suicide, as opposed to adults who start with an idea, proceed with a plan and end with action.
"A child doesn't just wake up in the morning and says I will commit suicide today," she argues. "Something has gone amiss in their lives quite early on and suicides are a manifestation of that."
The breakdown of India's traditional family system is also being blamed for the problem. In a city like Mumbai - where it is common for both parents to work - children tend to become reclusive and watch too much television.
Dilip Panicker argues that there is a simple solution.
"If parents love their children unconditionally, with all their successes and failures, the problem would be greatly alleviated."

DOCC: Heroes Speak- S P Jain Institute of Management and Research

DOCC: Heroes Speak                                                                               Jan 7 , 2012

The Centre for Development of Corporate Citizenship (CDOCC), initiated a yet another inspiring event “Heroes Speak”. Heroes Speak attempted to unleash the immensely impactful work of four eminent speakers who are all heroes when it comes to working for the higher needs of the society. The first hero was the only Indian 2010 CNN Hero, Mr. Narayanan Krishnan, from Akshaya Trust. Narayayan shared his experience on how he quit his job as a leading chef at Taj Hotels and began supplying meals to the homeless in Madurai. Narayanan's speech was so moving that it scored him a standing ovation. Next, was Mr. Johnson Thomas, who is Director of an NGO AASRA. AASRA works in the area of mental health providing emotional support, unbiased caring through a helpline service and walkin center. Mr. Johnson spoke on the current issues which lead to suicides and how those could be tamed down with stress management training. Another member from AASRA was Mr. Atish Mukhopadhyaya. Atish is an alumnus of SPJIMR and now is a principal at Tata Strategic Management Group. Atish is actively involved in Corporate Social Projects and aids in projects of AASRA. He spoke in detail about the entire DOCC program for PGDM students and how it marshaled him to give back to the society. The last speaker was a recipient of CNN-IBN's Annual Real Heroes Awards 2011, Prof. Sandeep Desai. Sandeep founded Shloka Missionaries in 2001with an objective to work for education in the rural schools. He shared his story of how he travels everyday from Churchgate Station to Borivali, asking local train commuters for donation for Shloka Missionaries.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Aasra in The Business Standard

The net is taking over

Social media determines how we live, work, party and sulk
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For many days to come, people will speculate what caused Sunanda Pushkar's death last week in a New Delhi hotel. Did Union minister Shashi Tharoor's wife die of poisoning or a drug overdose? Wasn't she unwell? Was it suicide? Or was it murder? No less a matter of speculation has been the socialmedia's role in the whole affair. Writer Suketu Mehta has called it "murder by Twitter". Pushkar's very public spat with Mehr Tarar, a Pakistani journalist, on the micro-blogging site, many psychologists feel, may have multiplied her anguish. Apart from other things, Tarar had tweeted: "The blonde'saqal is weaker thn (sic) her grammar & spellings." Still others believe Pushkar had the premonition that end was near, and it was there for all to see on social media. "Hasta hua jayega,"(will go laughing), she had tweeted a few days before her death.

is no longer time-pass in the country, certainly not with over 90 million users. The line that divides online and offline lives has blurred. have begun to impact human behaviour. Lives are being lived in the open: open to comment, analysis and abuse. Mahesh Murthy, the founder of digital brand management firm Pinstorm, calls it the "demise of the culture of secrecy". This is the age, he says, "of diversity, of coming out in the open with sexual preferences et cetera. Social media will help slaughter sacred cows. It is a good thing to happen, except for the sacred cows." According to Murthy, the pitfalls of uncensored speech are for those "who think they can control their lives or are insecure".

But pitfalls are showing up. Some time ago, a high-profile couple from Delhi approached marriage and family counsellor Nisha Khanna. Their problem was aggravated by the wife's obsession withFacebook, to the extent that she would put out everything, including the ups and downs of her relationship with her husband, as status messages for the consumption of her social media friends and acquaintances. The husband was livid - he felt exposed. It took six months of rigorous counselling before the wife started controlling, though marginally, her social media behaviour. "We are seeing obsession, irrationality and an inability to spot the very thick line that divides the private from the public," says Varkha Chulani, clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and consultant with Lilavati Hospital in Mumbai. People, she adds, are looking for 'like' buttons even in real life.

Feelings of extreme happiness, depression, loneliness and even suicidal thoughts are being shared not with family and friends but with Facebook 'connections' and 'followers'. Tweets or status updates that point to suicidal tendencies, in particular, can be telling. Some of these key expressions are "depressed", "feeling abused", "it's over" or "empty inside". A study - Tracking Suicide Risk Factors through Twitter - conducted in the US last year found a strong correlation between the number of tweets that indicated suicidal intentions and the number of suicides committed.

Having realised that the platform is also being used as a medium to vent and express personal trauma, Facebook has, for about a year, been sending reports on profiles of people with suicide risk to Mumbai-based suicide helpline Aasra. "In the last one year, we have received 350 such email intimations concerning Indians," says Aasra Director Johnson Thomas. Aasra then mails that person to subtly and sensitively convey that there is help at hand, in case it is needed. Facebook and Twitter did not offer any comment for this article.

I am an aggregator who has left a cookie crumb trail (while writing this) for a machine algorithm to follow. So, can it point out to my boss the scoops and their origin? In all probability, yes. For an all-devouring algorithm, no crumb, no target, is too small. Algorithms (at their core, a step-by-step method for doing a job) can sound scary, but social media analysts depend on these little-understood, obscure mathematical creatures.

So, information posted publicly on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites are fair game for these data predators. Suppose you click ‘like’ on Facebook, you’re giving away a lot more than you might think. Your ‘likes’ can be pieced together to form an eerily true portrait of yourself. A study of 58,000 volunteers by Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell (University of Cambridge) and Thore Graepel (Microsoft Research, Cambridge) charts the chances of an accurate prediction: 67 per cent for single versus in a relationship, 73 per cent for cigarette smoking, 70 per cent for alcohol drinking, 65 per cent for drug use, 88 per cent for male homosexuality, 75 per cent for female homosexuality, and 93 per cent for gender.

Another point is not all data out there are cold facts. Far from that, most are sentiments and slang: sweet, bitter and often intimate. “Wazup homie!! howz it going!!” is a profound example. “‘Yo, homie, I'll be at my house in case you want to come kick it later” is another. How is a number cruncher such as an algorithm expected to crunch slang and emotions? But experts insist there’s a bull market in sentiments and foul language. And an emerging field known as sentiment analysis is taking shape. The simplest algorithms here work by scanning keywords to categorise a statement as positive or negative, based on a simple binary analysis (‘love’ is good, ‘hate’ is bad). But a more reliable analysis requires decoding many linguistic shades of gray. For example, to get at the true intent of a statement like ‘dude, i'm like......duuuude,’ the software will have to activate several different filters, including polarity (is the statement positive or negative?), intensity (what is the degree of emotion being expressed?) and subjectivity (how partial or impartial is the source?)

“People first thought that emotions expressed on social media were just cute and stupid,” says Sreeju Thankan who has done computer science and engineering from the Indian Institute ofTechnology Roorkee and is now working at Mango Solutions. “Now, they are recognising it as a rich vein.” But translating slang into binary code can be much tougher. “Sentiments are different from conventional facts,” says Thankan. “There is a long way for slang patrol to go.” For casual websurfers, a simpler sentiment-analysis tool, Tweetfeel, is available. It tells you the numbers of positive and negative tweets on a given topic. It also gives you their percentages. Its analysis is based not just on emoticons, but also words and phrases.
Ashish Sharma

* * *

Last October in Mumbai, a 17-year-old college student, Aishwarya Dahiwal, killed herself after her parents barred her from using Facebook. "Is Facebook so bad? I cannot stay in a home with such restrictions as I can't live without Facebook," her suicide note reportedly read. The parents were in utter shock. "Girls are more prone to putting personal and emotional messages on social networking sites," says Manju Chhabra, child counsellor who runs an organisation called Cactus Lily in Delhi. And they tend to get more affected by what people say and how they react. "And comments on this very impersonal medium which we are giving a very personal space can be very cruel."

Seema Hingorrany, a Mumbai-based psychologist, says one of her recent patients is a girl studying in Class 9. Her friend from school had uploaded a photo of herself, which got 200 'likes'. That upset the patient terribly because it reinforced her belief that she was unattractive and she became extremely upset, to the extent that her parents felt she needed counselling. Constant use of Facebook can affect one's self-esteem, if it's already low. Another of Hingorrany's patient was a 30-year-old who took to social media after he lost his job. But seeing other people's photos and updates made him increasingly jealous, and he began posting nasty comments. The recipients of his ire began "unfriending" him, which only made him more withdrawn.

Irrational behaviour can also be seen in the world of random video chat. Sites like Omegle and Chatroulette aim to bring together surfers together with the help of webcams. The promise is irresistible: an endless stream of visitors in your room. When Ashish Sharma (the author of the accompanying article) logged on, he met a gaggle of girls who giggled endlessly, a German painter who was looking for his muse and wanted him to pose in a state of undress, a Swede who danced around and asked him to sing in praise of his bottom, and a man with an iron mask. It was crude and shocking. The excessively sexual behaviour can be unsettling for an unsuspecting (and young) visitor.

There is another side to it. "Twitter posts," says an article posted on, "have saved lives. A man lost on a ski slope in Switzerland got help when he tweeted his predicament. Another got bail from arrest as his friends discovered from a tweet that he was jailed in a foreign country." Human resource managers check out the profiles of job applicants on social media. "People might mask many judgmental things in an interview; there is a possibility that they might express it on social media," says Debdas Sen, leader of technology consulting, PricewaterhouseCoopers. "Inclusion and diversity are important for us." But job seekers have become wise to it. That's why many airbrush their social media profiles. All politically incorrect posts are removed. Friends are treated lavishly offline so that they write nice posts on Facebook pages. Some even hire professional photographers for as much as Rs 20,000 to paste good profile pictures.

But those who hire have started to see through it. Says Murthy of Pinstrip, "One can easily figure out the truthfulness of your statements by seeing what your friends are saying." One human resource manager says he pays more attention to what people post after 10 pm because "it tends to be more truthful". A senior functionary of a Gurgaon-headquartered firm says that he had hired somebody after he had found nothing suspicious on his LinkedIn profile; it was only later he found out that this person had been involved in some financial misdemeanour in his earlier job. "His LinkedIn profile had no clues, he was not on Facebook. That should have struck me," he says. Of course, the person was asked to leave.

Sunil Abraham, the executive director of Bangalore-based Centre for and Society, says social media has made people forget the distinction between private, semi-private and public statements. "Speech used to be ephemeral, but Internet has given it the power it never had," he says. "Internet never forgets." The fact that traces of a communication may remain in cyberspace even after they have been deleted has prompted a legislation called the Right to Erasure by the European Union. Under the law, earlier called Right to be Forgotten, an individual can request all his data to be erased, including by third parties. India is also mulling a similar legislation under its Privacy Bill.

Those at the bottom of the social pyramid, who have little to lose, express themselves most freely on social media, while those with reputations to protect are cautious. The consequences can be serious, as the Mumbai girl who questioned the city's shutdown after Bal Thackeray's death in November 2012 on Facebook and her friend who "liked" realised: both were called in by the police. It's not surprising why even standup comedians, who can't resist taking potshots at one and all, turn extremely careful before they tweet.

So, is social media good or bad? "Social media can help," Amartya Sen said at the recent Jaipur Literature Festival, "But you must read more books".