‘No Water, Unsanitised Toilets, NEET Exam Was Terrible’

Hasnat Fatma, 19, a medical seat aspirant from Kanpur, says her NEET exam centre left much to be desired. The candidates had a harrowing time in un-sanitised environs with little food or water.

Medicine is an ever-growing, ever-evolving field and the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us how important it is to have state of the art medical resources for our society. But sadly the well-being of students, who will be the frontline workers tomorrow, isn’t being given the required attention. This is the impression I got from the way the recently-held NEET exam was conducted.

I took the medical entrance exam (NEET) on September 13. If you ask my personal opinion, I would have preferred the exam be postponed, for most of us are just about adjusting to the changes the pandemic has brought in its wake. Most students hadn’t been able to study properly. I am a gap year student (I passed Class 12 last year) and this was my second attempt at NEET. The difference in the way the exams were conducted this year and the last couldn’t have been more stark.

Last year, we could choose any time slot and take the 3 hour long exam. This year, we were asked to report at a scheduled time, 11 am in my case. I had expected the exam to begin maximum at around 11:30 or even 12, after the requisite precautions like temperature checks etc. But would you believe it, our exam started only at 2 pm?

ALSO READ: ‘I Am Happy, Govt Decided To Hold JEE’

We were ushered inside at 11 am and made to wait till 2 pm. Clearly, the organisers weren’t up to the mark at the exam centre. I had left home at around 7:30 am with my brother because we knew traffic would be heavy and had reached the venue at 10:30.

There were no social distancing measures at the main gate. We were told that there would be around 100 students only at this centre, to ensure distancing norms, but there were nearly 250-300 students. We were asked to wear masks provided by the centre, but they were all of the same size. While many boys were uncomfortable with the undersized masks, several others, particularly those wearing spectacles, suffered from foggy glasses.

Fatma feels authorities should prepare well for holding an important exam like NEET

None of us was allowed to take our water bottles inside, nor were we provided any water at the centre. There was no food available too. So from 11 am to 5 pm, when the exam finally got over, there was little for us to eat or drink. A person can still carry on without food for six hours, but without water! Isn’t that going to compromise our health?

ALSO READ: ‘Choked Washroom, Smelly Linen. Quarantine Was Jail’

The invigilators must have realised it when at the fag end of the exams, many students complained of dehydration. The students were then allowed to go to the water cooler, throwing social distancing and sanitising norms to the wind. Leave alone the precious moments lost at the long queue. The washrooms also weren’t being sanitized after use.

Most students had come using personal modes of transport because of the fear of Covid-19. But no proper parking arrangements were made. Those family members accompanying the aspirants had a terrible time too. To cut the long story short, it was one of the toughest days of my life, possibly the worst 12 hours I ever spent. I sincerely wish that exams of this scale and importance were better organized.

Watch – ‘Farmers Will Become Bonded Labour Of Rich’

There is widespread anguish among the country’s farmers with regards to the new Agriculture Bills passed by Parliament in the recently concluded Monsoon Session. Various political and apolitical farmer organisations have come out on streets in opposition to the proposed laws that seek to bring in private buyers for farm produce.

As there were few debates in Parliament on the issue, the jury is still out whether these reforms will help increase farmers’ incomes or add to their misery. LokMarg meets the protesting farmers in Uttar Pradesh to know their view and found their demands:

1) The Centre must ensure that minimum support price bar is maintained for the buyers while purchasing farm produce, be it in mandis or to a corporate house.

2) Allay farmers’ apprehensions that their land will not be grabbed in the name of contract farming.

3) The support price must be revised frequently in accordance with the rise in inflation rate.

Watch the video:

‘License Fee Of A Casino Is ₹40 Cr; Income In 2020, Zero’

Shrinivas Nayak, owner of a casino, bar and cruise ship in Goa, says Covid-19 has taken the wind out of tourism in the coastal state. He urges Govt to reopen bars & casinos to save scores of livelihoods

We pay about Rs 40 crore as the license fee for a casino in Goa and we have been out of business for last six months. Tourism in Goa is dependent on its iconic cruise ships, casinos, discos, bars and a thriving nightlife. If these are not open, tourists will not come here to take a stroll on the beaches and then go back to their hotel rooms.

The tourism industry is the key contributor in Goa’s economy, which now lies in shambles because key modes of entertainment in Goa, like all-night casinos on cruise, were kept out of the Unlock 4 and are still not allowed to function.

Take a look at our investment, liabilities and near-zero income to understand the industry plight. We have nearly 3,500-strong staff and we have been paying them without any income since March this year. Now see, it takes at least 60 per cent occupancy for a luxury hotel to reach break-even point in the business. So if tourists are not coming, we have been bearing the running cost of operating the hotels from our own pockets.

ALSO READ: ‘Covid-19 Has Taught Has Business Lessons’

The tourism industry in Goa is also the biggest means of employment for the local residents. The economy of the state heavily depends on this sector. While announcing Unlock 4.0, the government completely missed the point that merely allowing tourists to visit Goa is useless without letting them enjoy its iconic casinos, cruise ships and other such modes of entertainment. There are very few tourists coming to Goa even though the peak season is upon us.

Currently, a tourist can visit Goa with a Coronavirus-negative certificate of RT-PCR test within last 48 hours, or get the test done by paying a fee of Rs 2,000 at a government facility at the airport or go for a 14-day quarantine. Now, tell us are these parameters put in place to promote tourism or to discourage the visitors. You cannot allow the tourists to Goa then not offer them to enjoy the attractions that brought them here primarily.

With no end to the Covid-19 pandemic in sight, the government must rethink and recalibrate its policies about indoor entertainment. Until all the modes of entertainment are not functional, tourism industry will not stand on its feet again.

ALSO READ: ‘Flying As We Knew It Has Changed’

Currently, drinking on beaches is banned and no bars are open. So where do you want the tourists to enjoy their tipple? If they are to buy alcohol from a shop and sip the drinks watching TV in their hotel rooms, why in the first place would they need to come Goa for? They can jolly well do at their own houses and hometowns.

The government must find a way to let the indoor entertainment restart. Lay down strict rules. We are ready to follow the guidelines to keep the pandemic at bay, be it maintain social distancing, mandatory face mask, sanitizers and what have you. If we have to learn to live with this virus, then we must do it now and not wait for the economy to reach ICU.

‘Delhi Metro Has Set An Example Of Work Amid Pandemic’

Sejal Kamra, 19, pursuing her internship in HR, is happy with resumption of Delhi Metro services as it allows her to visit her workplace. Kamra is also impressed how Metro implements safety & social distancing norms.

While online education has caught on during the pandemic, online internship still has a long way to go. I did an online internship during the lockdown, but decided to take a shot at internship at a brick and mortar office, as in a real set up, once the Delhi Metro services started on September 9.

I feel very happy that the Metro services have restarted. After the extended lockdown the Metro serves both to fulfil the necessity of travel as well as a symbol of our life returning to normal after the pandemic.

As usual Delhi Metro has maintained its reputation of being an efficient transport service. I stay in Nangloi and go for my internship at a firm in Rajouri Garden in West Delhi. Being a student of BBA (Bachelor in Business Administration), I am doing my internship in the Human Resources.

ALSO READ: ‘Covid-19 Wreaked Havoc On Children, Their Studies’

The office destination is nearly 15 stations from my home, with a change over at the Kirti Nagar station. I am impressed how the authorities are functioning. Social distancing is strictly adhered to right from the beginning. Temperature checks are done at the main gate, even before the security check is done, plus sanitizer is provided.

During the security check our Arogya Setu app is also checked to find our Covid-19 status. Currently, the number of people availing the metro services are also less as the trains are running at select times: 8 am to 11 am in the mornings and 4 pm to 8 pm in the evening.

Our bags are sanitized before the security check and the CISF personnel wear face shields, gloves, masks etc at all times. During the security check people are asked to maintain distance in the queue. Thanks to such security, health and hygiene, while travelling I feel so much more confident. I think the pandemic would have been under control, if the same rules were adhered to throughout the country.

ALSO READ: ‘I Am Happy. Govt Decided To Hold JEE Main’

When it comes to the seats, people are expected to leave distance between chairs. Markings have been made on seats where people aren’t expected to sit and ditto for the standing travellers. The trains are regularly sanitized thoroughly.

It would not be too far off the mark if I say we are feeling freer though we are still using the metro only when we absolutely need to and maintain self-discipline.

After reaching home in the evening I take a bath and ensure nobody else touches my bag or the clothes I have worn to office. Everything is thoroughly washed/sanitised before next use. Using the Metro for going to meet far off relatives or for shopping or outing, is still out of the question right now, but we hope the time comes soon when we can go out and about like in the pre-pandemic

‘It Cost Me To End Ties With China, But I Don’t Regret It’

Anantha VR (38), a Bengaluru-based commercial space designer, says his business was heavily dependent on quality Chinese imports but Wuhan virus and Galwan clashes made him snap the trade link

As an owner of an architecture firm, how could I let the opportunity of rebuilding the country pass? As country after country is left ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is upon us, especially business owners, to lead the way and to let people know that the world is going to be all right again.

Some tough decisions need to be made in the wake of changed strategic environment and a belligerent neighbour on our eastern border. I stopped all my business with China, even though my business was heavily dependent on it! In fact, the Indo- China standoff that started around May 2020 helped me crystallise my decision. I made this choice on my free will and I am not regretting it.

Our Bengaluru-based firm Hidecor is into designing new office/commercial spaces as well as renovating already existing ones and we have clients ranging from Titan to Big Basket to Furlenco to Decathlon etc. Before Work-From-Home or WFH became the new normal, office spaces, especially with regards to ergonomics, were constantly evolving to help people become more comfortable and efficient at the workplace. The WFH is going to come back in a big way because they help provide structure to business.

I used to import all items for designing office spaces from China, be they then furniture, carpets, flooring materials, or lighting fixtures etc. I visited the country too around 5-6 times in the past three years.

Anantha VR during one his business trips to China

So while most people were just responding to what was going on in China as the news of pandemic started trickling in around January, I had been aware of it around November 2019 that China was trying to suppress news regarding the deadly virus.

ALSO READ: ‘China Ban Is Short Term Hardship, Long Term Blessing’

Every year Chinese people suffer from seasonal cold between November-February and China faces a public health crisis, but in 2019 it was different. Moreover, the way China was suppressing the news I knew it was serious. When they started side-lining whistle-blowers warning of an impending pandemic, I first started thinking about ending business ties with China.

When the pandemic exploded in Wuhan, our business was anyway stuck. There are so many things about the way China handled the pandemic that don’t add up. China might be efficient when it comes to large-scale production in little time but the way they suppress and divert information even about crucial issues wasn’t something I was comfortable with.

A few months passed by without any work because production of goods and materials had halted worldwide. While we were all waiting for the lockdown to end, China snuck up from behind and started creating tension at the LAC in Ladakh. Whatever little trust I had in China was gone after this. I felt the whole border skirmish and the continued standoff since May is a ploy to divert the mind of the Chinese public from the way the government has handled the coronavirus crisis.

ALSO READ: Will Chinese Aggression Draw Global Attention?

I have a close relative in the Army so I have an emotional connect with what’s going on at the border. You can call the Galwan Valley incident as the final nail in the coffin for my business links with China. That was the day I decided to cut off ties completely with China.

I am all in favour of Atmanirbhar Bharat even though our country has a long way to go in matters of end to end manufacturing and it will take us nearly 5 years to be truly self-reliant. Our supply chain is still dependent on various other markets in the world. But we need to start somewhere, right? I now buy products from Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and deal with Indian brands such as Feather Lite, Monarch, ISIT etc.

I wouldn’t say our business hasn’t been affected or that it has been an easy decision. Our profit margins have dropped from 10-15% but we ‘soldier’ on with fortitude. We recently opened a new branch in Hyderabad and are keen to do business with local manufacturers.

Slowly orders have started coming in and we hope the whole country works together in making our country atmanirbhar. We business owners alone cannot do it. The customer also has to be ‘vocal for local’. We hope the pandemic gets over soon and office spaces start buzzing with chatter, laughter and productivity.

While many businesses have shut shop, there are several others that are opening new branches and we are glad we are being chosen to design their spaces. The pandemic has meant that office/commercial spaces require complete overhaul, especially with regards to social distancing.

‘Covid-19 Impact On World Is Bigger Than Personal Setback’

Sania Mirza, the diva of Indian tennis, leads a hectic life, on and off court. At 33, she has seen the highs in her professional career, having won six Grand Slam titles, and still hopeful of continuing her journey. After the birth of her son Izhaan in 2018, her responsibilities increased. That is why she chose not to play at the US Open recently, as the roles of being a player and mom would have been tough to handle during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Currently in Dubai with her husband, Pakistan cricket star Shoaib Malik, and son, Mirza spoke to S Kannan in a freewheeling chat.

Q. How has life been for you since lockdown began in March?
Sania: Initially, I enjoyed staying at home and spending time with the family. But soon it felt weird that my life had come to a virtual standstill. I started working out in the gym at home to stay fit and every evening the family would play a bit of table tennis or some other game to keep ourselves occupied.

Q. Your thoughts on how Covid-19 has affected your tennis this year?
Sania: Of course, tennis has taken a complete back-seat with the world facing serious threats due to the pandemic. I felt that during the Fed Cup matches in Dubai in March, I was back to my peak and was looking forward to a strong resurgence on the international circuit and at the (Tokyo) Olympics that were scheduled for later. But obviously with the Covid 19, I will need to start preparing for the circuit all over again.

Of course, losing almost a year at this stage of my career is unfortunate. But, like I said, personal problems seem small compared to the major calamity that our world has been subjected to due to the Corona virus.

Q. When do you see some amount of normalcy being restored in India for athletes and you personally?
Sania: That is hard to predict for anyone. Attempts are being made to bring about some kind of normalcy by trying to host international tournaments but it is still going to be a while before desired results are seen.

Q: You decided to miss the US Open, how does it feel?
Sania: It is unfortunate that not just me but several top players of the world have had to miss the Grand Slam due to genuine issues. I personally could not take a chance of travelling to US with Izhaan under the existing conditions. The risks were too high and I’m glad I made the right decision.

Q. As a mom, your thoughts on tennis and the more important roles in your life?
Sania: Tennis has always been a very important part of my life but I’ve been very clear that ‘tennis alone is not life’. Now as a mother, Izhaan and his well-being is definitely my most important priority. That does not mean I cannot continue with my career in tennis for some more time. 

Q: We heard about your involvement with some charity work and distribution of dry rations during lockdown. Tell us about it and also how did you raised funds for it?
Sania: I joined hands with an NGO and helped raise funds for the daily wage earners, who were most badly hit during the lockdown. The funds were used to provide ration for thousands of these daily wage earners and their families.

Q. Your take on the postponed Tokyo Olympics, to be now held in 2021?Sania: It is not the ideal situation but there is not much we can do about it. So, we have to simply accept what comes our way.

Watch – ‘Indo-China War Untenable For Both Nations’

As Line of Actual Control between India and China hots up, with both militaries delaying disengagement, TV news channels are on an overdrive sounding the war bugle. Nationalism is the flavour of the season amid common masses, and electronic media is encashing the sentiment to the hilt.

Amid this hullabaloo, LokMarg finds some saner, educated voices among common people who advise caution against the hysteria. While Saurabh Upadhyay, a social activist, says chances of a war, despite their two bloating egos, are little due to international pressure, Nishi Yadav, an educationist, feels both countries are making an effort to avoid military confrontation at the highest level and this is a mutually beneficial situation. Dr Ravi Chauhan, an academic, too believes no country will like to indulge into a war which will set them many years back.

Even as all of them repose faith in Indian armed forces capabilities, they counsel peace and development to continue. Watch the video:

‘Covid-19 Wreaked Havoc On Slum Children, Their Studies’

Dev Pratap Singh Chauhan, 22, who spent his teen years on platforms consuming cheap contrabands, now runs Voice of Slum, an NGO which aims to save many a childhood

I was a child when I left home and became an urchin. I would roam in trains, used contrabands and became an addict like many children you may spot on platforms across India. After spending almost my entire teenage on tracks and platforms, I got in touch with an NGO which enrolled me for detoxification, rehabilitation and education. I must consider myself lucky therefore.

Hence, as I grew up, I always wanted to give back to our society; particularly to the underprivileged children. Although I had been employed in various positions in marketing, I was not oriented towards a career there. It was my friend Chandni, a rag-picker in her early years, who suggested that we could start our own NGO and translate our dreams into reality.

We discussed a blueprint and quit our jobs. We had little savings so we connected with like-minded people through NGOs and laid bare to them our plan. Finally, in 2017, our own NGO Voice of Slum, came into being.

The original plan was to provide basic behavioural training, in some cases even elementary education, to children from poor families and then lobby with local schools to get them admission under EWS (economically weaker sections) quota mandated by the government.

During early, struggling days, sometimes I had to sleep hungry as we had a rented an accommodation and had hired an expert teacher to impart the enrolled children basics of a civil society, etiquettes and language skills so that they may fare well in their interviews for school admission.

ALSO READ: ‘Covid-19 Is Time Give Back To Our Society’

We successfully placed many slum kids in good schools from our first batch and the work got us some attention from people with similar motivations. Some of these people offered monetary help too, and number of children in our NGO grew further. We contacted children of housemaids, security guards, sweepers, housekeepers, drivers, roadside vendors and many other such people from economically weaker sections and encouraged them to enroll with the NGO.

We had started with one rented hall for training the children two years back and now with growing numbers, we have to rent a three-storied building to accommodate all members. As our resources grow, so does the number of our enrollment.

We were charting a steady growth when the pandemic struck in March 2020. The lockdowns wreaked havoc on daily wagers. The children in my NGO mostly belong to that strata. Many parents of these children became jobless. We decided to shift gears immediately. We focusing on and provided food to the slum dwellers. We sought help from Donatekart in providing quality meal for these families.

WATCH: ‘No Smartphones, No Classes; Kids Play All Day’

Noida police officials also came forward to extend their help in distributing food packets. During a series of lockdowns and subsequent weeks of uncertainty, we have been able to distribute food worth Rs 50 lakh, through various donations.

I do not want to see our children begging on the streets or selling flowers and other wares on traffic signals. I do now want these children to be susceptible to same threats that I faced.

I am proud that many of the children who trained with us are also helping their parents in their work, in addition to pursuing their studies, as they have picked up hard lessons at an early age. It is a long road ahead of us, but we haven’t stopped; we are marching on.

‘I Delivered My Baby Girl Amid Covid-19’

Sulekha Madan, 35, a fashion entrepreneur in Delhi, would cover herself from head to toe when she had to step out for check-ups. Madan regularly practised Yoga and switched off news to beat stress & negativity

Motherhood and pandemic! I had never thought I would be uttering the two words in the same breath, leave alone going through it. But go through it I did. I gave birth to my second daughter (who is perfectly healthy) on August 26. My elder daughter was born five years ago and together we are all adjusting to the changes brought into everybody’s life by Coronavirus.

I conceived my daughter in November 2019 and for the first three months we were very excited. We had no idea about the looming pandemic. I had my parents as well as my in-laws to support me and life was going like a dream. Things suddenly changed in the second trimester of my pregnancy, for the pandemic was officially declared. I had just begun my pre-natal Yoga classes in March and I had to stop them due to lockdown.

Thankfully since I practice Yoga regularly and knew all the pre-natal poses properly since my previous pregnancy, I could still continue at home. But I stopped following the news to avoid stress as I didn’t want to be negatively affected by the panic over pandemic. I am a homebody so I didn’t feel suffocated at home but the idea of not being able to meet my parents or in-laws despite them staying nearby pinched.

ALSO READ: ‘I Moved To A New Country During Pandemic’

The biggest issue though was that I couldn’t go for routine check-ups. While online consultation was available, there are many check-ups for which one has to appear physically during pregnancy. I had to step out during the lockdown for an ultrasound in April. It was risky to go out. But finding the condition of the baby was equally important.

I covered myself from head to toe and ventured to the doctor’s clinic. The clinic was following all social distancing as well as hygiene and sanitation measures. Another ultrasound was done in June-end and this time there was less anxiety because the ‘Unlock’ had started. In July end, I again stepped out to get my Covid test done. Mercifully, the results came negative.

When I went into the labour, I had to wear a mask. The hospital had been sanitised and all the doctors, nurses, attendants were all following the protocols. Yet I couldn’t bear wearing the mask for more than a few minutes, for, while in labour, we need to draw huge amounts of breath, which was difficult with a mask on.

ALSO READ: ‘I Not Only Fought Covid-19 But Stigma Too’

The staff then found a middle path and placed the mask on my face without tying it; I could then draw deep breathing. They put a curtain a little away from my face, as a second wall of safety, before starting the process. I forgot all about the pandemic once my gorgeous and healthy little one was put in my arms. I am currently staying at my in-laws place as I am following the 40-day ‘quarantine period’ advised after delivery in many a Hindu family.

Sulekha (left) believes Yoga helped her remain both mentally and physically strong. Her fashion brand Juno (right)

What next? I am a fashion entrepreneur and my label Juno has been on the backburner for some time. I hope to get it moving when I feel like it. I love to balance between work and family but the pandemic has taught us that we need to slow down and take things at our own pace some time. So, I have decided to enjoy each day thoroughly.

I believe it was Yoga that both kept me physically fit and mentally strong or handling a pregnancy during the pandemic wouldn’t have been easy. Most of my friends and extended family members have seen my baby only through video calls and photographs and I hope this pandemic gets over soon so that we can celebrate a birth and life in general like in the pre-Covid times – in person.

‘I Am Happy, Govt Decided To Hold JEE Main’

Shreya Vyas (18), an aspiring architect, narrates her anxiety before taking JEE Main and the unprecedented safety measure at her examination centre in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh

When the pandemic first broke out, no one had anticipated that it would last so long and things would change so much. But nearly six months into the pandemic, we students have made peace with the fact that we will have to move ahead with the uncertainty.

I wish to study architecture post high school and though there is a National Aptitude Test in Architecture (NATA), one needs to rank well in Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) Main for admission into a reputed college. This year, I appeared for my Class 12 Board exams just before the lockdown was announced. First, our results were postponed and later there was much confusion about holding of JEE Main. I am glad the government decided in favour of holding JEE-NEET.

I took JEE on September 1. Coronavirus made it different this year. I live near the Cantonment Area in Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh) and my exam centre was quite far. Earlier, vehicles would be allowed right up to the gate of an exam centre but due to contraction fear this year, we had to walk to the centre from quite a distance.

ALSO READ: ‘Online Classes Totally Drain Parents’

There was also heavy police deployment to ensure social distancing measures. A temperature check was done right at the gate before allowing us inside. We were asked to take off our masks and replace them with new masks at the exam centre.

From the main gate of the campus to the exam hall, we had to sanitise our hands three times. Even the pen we used for the exams were provided by the centre. The exam halls had also been thoroughly sanitised.

I believe we need to be cautious but not be scared. Having taken all prescribed hygiene measures, I wasn’t scared about the pandemic as much as about faring well in the exams. While the preparation for the exams were stressful given the confusion before the exams, I heaved a sigh of relief at the end of my exams. I am passionate about architecture and thus had studied really well for the exams.

ALSO READ: ‘Covid Has Taught Us Valuable Lessons’

It is in the hands of our generation to rebuild our society ravaged by the pandemic. I believe that because of Covid-19, the field of architecture too will see major changes and we will have to adapt quickly to those changes. We may have to go back to the architecture of old times where natural light would flow in, where houses and offices were extensions of people’s personalities. The lockdown has taught us all the importance of our homes; how these four walls can either turn into a safe haven or a prison.

During lockdown Shreya painted wall of a relative’s house

I am now taking another exam on September 12 and I hope to get through a good college and follow my dreams. Thanks to my banker parents, my childhood was spent shuttling between cities/towns and thus the idea of one particular rooted space that I can call home appeals deeply to me. In my free time, I even painted one whole wall of a relative’s house by myself. That’s how much I love the idea of housing. Architects ‘build’ houses, people ‘build’ homes; together we ‘build’ societies.