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Fate of troubled minds during Covid-19

The death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who was allegedly on medicines for depression, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, has shaken us all. The tragic incident is a reminder for all of us to work on inner fitness as much as we do for physical wellbeing.

Suravi Sharma Kumar

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The battle with coronavirus, fought with social distancing and enforced isolation, is taking a psychological toll on many of us and our country, like the rest of the world, is now confronted with another brewing pandemic of mental sickness. But we need to be aware that we are almost as less equipped to handle any such crisis as we have been with novel coronavirus. Anne Harrington, the pre-eminent historian of neuroscience, opines in her books and essays that the mind and brain medicine has not come as far as we all would like to imagine or wish.

The death of an ambitious, hardworking actor Sushant Singh Rajput in the middle of a pandemic, who was allegedly on medicines for depression, has shook us all asserting the need to work on inner fitness as much as we do for physical wellbeing. We need to be fully aware of preventive and curative aspects of any such disease and work on it accordingly. Renowned psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, in his famous book The Myth of Mental Illness, argued that psychiatric diagnoses were too vague to meet scientific medical standards and that it was a mistake to label people as being ill when they were really, as he termed it, ‘disabled by living’ — dealing with vicissitudes that were a natural part of life.

 For over half-century Szasz insisted that illness, in the modern, scientific sense, applies only to bodies, not to minds — except as a metaphor. A body part or an organ, say, the heart, can be diseased, but to be heartsick or homesick, though real enough, is not to be medically, but only metaphorically, ill. Equally metaphorical, said Szasz, were such supposed mental illnesses as hysteria, obsessional neurosis, schizophrenia and depression.

Unlike surgeons and oncologists, psychiatrists don’t have the privilege to peer into a microscope to see the biological cause of their patients’ suffering, which arose, they assumed, from the brain. They are stuck in the pre-modern past, dependent on the apparent mental condition as judged from the outward manifestations to devise diagnoses and treatments. Challenges to the legitimacy of psychiatric diagnosis forced the profession to examine the fundamental question of what did and did not constitute mental illness. Homosexuality, for instance, had been considered a psychiatric disorder until the seventies, but now it’s accepted as a natural phenomenon in humans as in animals.

In the late nineteenth century, researchers explored the brain’s anatomy in an attempt to identify the origins of mental disorders. Such studies ultimately could find no specific anatomical location causing such disease. In 1885, the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal noted a rapid increase in the number of the insane over that decade. Mental asylums built earlier in the century were now overflowing with patients. This pointed to a possible relationship of the stark rise in insanity to an increase in syphilis those days. This, what we now know to be “general paralysis of the insane” is nothing but a late stage of syphilis. Patients were afflicted by dementia and grandiose delusions and developed a wobbly gait. Toward the end of that century, as many as one in five people entering mental asylums had general paralysis of the insane. Proof of this causal relationship between a mental condition and syphilis came in 1897, and this for the first time marked the discovery of a specific biological cause for a common mental illness. But the work on syphilis proved to be something of a dead end.

 Researchers in neurosciences of those times analysed autopsies of patients who had suffered from mental illness, but the brain anatomists found that these mental illnesses left no trace in the solid tissue of the brain. Anne Harrington frames this outcome in the Cartesian terms of a mind-body dualism: “Brain anatomists had failed so miserably because they focused on the brain at the expense of the mind.” Sigmond Freud commented on the approach by asserting the fact that there was an intimate connection between the story of the patient’s sufferings, his upbringing and social conditions, the severity of mental trauma undergone and the symptomatic manifestation of his illness. Freud, who stated that the case histories of a psychiatric patient should read like short stories and lack the serious stamp of science.

 In 1954, the FDA, for the first time, approved a drug as a treatment for a mental disorder — the antipsychotic chlorpromazine (marketed with the brand name Thorazine). The pharmaceutical industry vigorously promoted it as a biological solution to a chemical problem. One advert claimed that Thorazine reduces or eliminates the need for restraint and seclusion; improves ward morale; speeds release of hospitalized patients; reduces destruction of personal and hospital property. By 1964, some fifty million prescriptions had been filled in the US. The income of its maker — Smith, Kline & French — increased eightfold in a period of fifteen years.

Next came sedatives. Approved in 1955, Meprobamate was hailed as a “peace pill” and an “emotional aspirin.” Within a year, it was the best-selling drug in America, and by the close of the fifties, one in every three prescriptions written in the United States was for Meprobamate. An alternative, Valium, introduced in 1963, became the most commonly prescribed drug in the country the next year and remained so until 1982.

One of the first drugs to target depression was Elavil, introduced in 1961, which boosted available levels of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter related to adrenaline. Then the focus shifted from norepinephrine to the neurotransmitter serotonin, and, in 1988, Prozac appeared, soon followed by other selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). Promotional material from GlaxoSmithKline couched the benefits of its SSRI Paxil in cosy terms: “Just as a cake recipe requires you to use flour, sugar, and baking powder in the right amounts, your brain needs a fine chemical balance.”

 In America, the final decade of the twentieth century was declared the ‘Decade of the Brain’. But, in 2010, the National Institute of Mental Health reflected that the initiative hadn’t produced any marked increase in rates of recovery from mental illness. To it, Anne Harrington calls for an end to triumphalist claims on treatment of mental illnesses and urges a willingness to acknowledge what we don’t know about the mind.

Although psychiatry has yet to find the pathogenesis of most mental illnesses, it’s important to remember that medical treatment is often beneficial even when pathogenesis remains unknown. This is very comparable to the case of peptic ulcers where we now know that stress doesn’t cause ulcers but it can exacerbate the symptoms and hence controlling stress can help a patient with ulcers. There are other instances where the discovery of pathogenesis has produced medical successes, it has often worked in tandem with other factors. Without the discovery of HIV, we would not have antiretroviral drugs, and yet the halt in the spread of the disease owes much to simple innovations, such as safe sex education and the distribution of free needles and condoms.

Cancer specialists are found to reflect that their field bore similarity to the field of psychiatry (despite a growing knowledge of the pathogenesis of cancer), one could not precisely predict whether a patient would benefit from a treatment or suffer pointlessly from its side effects. This catapults the gravity of side effects of medications of psychiatric drugs which is comparable to toxicity of cancer therapies. Weighing and balancing the benefits and losses of a drug regimen of a psychiatric problem needs the same preciseness of clinical judgment as in cancer treatment.

 The search for pathogenesis in psychiatry continues. Genetic analysis may one day shed light on the causes of schizophrenia, although, even if current hypotheses are borne out, it would likely take years for therapies to be developed. Recent interest in the body’s microbiome has renewed scrutiny of gut bacteria; it’s possible that bacterial imbalance alters the body’s metabolism of dopamine and other molecules that may contribute to depression. More importantly, we’d do better not to set so much store by the idea of a single key solution to mental sickness. It’s more useful to think in terms of cumulative advances in the field by being more knowledgeable about the range of treatments available and lifestyle recommended.

In addition to medication, there have been other approaches, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, which was propounded in the seventies by the psychiatrist Aaron Beck. He posited that depressed individuals habitually felt unworthy and helpless, and that their beliefs could be “unlearned” with training. An experiment in 1977 showed that cognitive-behavioural therapy outperformed one of the leading antidepressants of the time. Neurosciences today can demonstrate that cognitive-behavioural therapy causes neuronal changes in the brain (This also happens while learning a new language or a musical instrument.) The more we discover about the brain the easier it will be to disregard the apparent divide between mind and body. Words are another powerful tool in healing of the mind as words can also alter, for better or worse, the chemical transmitters and circuits of our brain, just as drugs or electroconvulsive therapy can. We still don’t fully understand how this occurs. But we do know that all these treatments are given with a common purpose based on hope, a feeling that surely has its own therapeutic biology.

The writer is a medical doctor (pathologist) and her love for creative writing had her accomplish an MA in creative writing from the University of London.

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WE ARE FOCUSED ON HELPING THE HELPLESS AND FEEDING THE NEEDY: ARIDAMAN RATHORE & AANJNEYA SINGH

Aridaman Singh Rathore, Founder, Act Jaipur and Aanjneya Singh, Member, Act Jaipur joined NewsX’s special series, NewsX India A-list and spoke about how social media became a valuable tool in making their aim a fortunate reality.

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Covid-19 was an unprecedented disaster that wreaked havoc on the world and is still at its prime momentum. Humanity is being tested daily, and some warriors are holding up its sanctity with valour and pride. NewsX’s special series, NewsX India A-list, aims at acknowledging such warriors. Aridaman Singh Rathore, Founder, Act Jaipur and Aanjneya Singh, Member, Act Jaipur, participated in the special series for their excellence in social work.

Introducing the concept behind this initiative and how it all came together, Aridaman said, “It was nothing but friend and family coming together to do their bit.” Driven by the feeling of helplessness and witnessing the Covid-19 pandemic exploding onto our country, he added, “We are focused on helping the helpless and feeding the needy. Even people with a good job profile who got laid off are suffering, and we came to their aid as well.”

Aanjneya Singh, who has been working in New York for six years, came to India for holidays and couldn’t go back due to the lockdown restrictions. Explaining how he came to be a part of this noble initiative, he said, “Actions speak louder than words. We had the resources and the network, so helping people in need was our responsibility.” Aanjneya also mentioned how donations from across Europe and New York, through his contacts, have been beneficial in propelling social aid.

Both the individuals spoke about how social media became a valuable tool in making their aim a fortunate reality. Aridaman connected with his cousins and friends over a WhatsApp group and started their page on Instagram. Social Media proved to be immensely helpful in propagating the idea further.

Throwing light on the reach and expansion of ‘Act’, Aridaman said, “Our initial goal was distributing 10,000 food packets. Today, we have distributed 23,791 meals, and are projecting close to 50,000 packets by mid-June.” Reiterating the importance of social media in times of the pandemic, Aridaman talked about the ease with which people with similar aim and equal drive connected with Act on Instagram. The platforms also facilitated their networking with several NGOs. One such NGO is ‘Raksha’. In collaboration with Raksha, Act Jaipur also fed stray animals and has expanded to distributing dry ration in slums.

“We wanted people to act out. We had had enough of just talking, it’s time to act now. We wanted people to realise the power of Social Media and reach out to the needy in such trying times,” said Aridaman while enlightening about the name of their initiative. He said that they want to do as much as they can in their limited capacity and are unwilling to stop until they achieve it. Aanjneya echoed Aridaman’s thought and said, “Doing something is always more beneficial than just speaking up.”

Humanity is facing a crisis, and initiatives like Act Jaipur gives people hope and a dose of positivity which is the need of the hour (after a dose of the vaccine). Ending the interview on a hopeful note, Aridaman said, “No amount is less, and no effort is lost.”

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WHAT OTHER STATES CAN LEARN FROM MP IN DEALING WITH COVID-19

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The worst ever pandemic, Covid-19 has affected the mankind world over, almost every country was caught unaware and unprepared. The gravity and severity of the pandemic were very much visible over time. It affected almost every aspect of human life including health, economy, development, and growth. It all came to a halt. The scientists, doctors, government, and the common man didn’t know what had hit them.

The worst situation the country ever faced after independence — the leadership and the common man didn’t know what had hit them and didn’t know how to deal with it and what to do. Everyone including scientists, doctors and researchers tried their level best to find a way out to deal with this dragon of the pandemic.

Though at the national level, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the charge of the affairs and in Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan took the bull by the horns. So what made Madhya Pradesh different from other states in dealing with this pandemic is the Chief Minister taking the charge directly to control the scenario before it could get worse by taking adequate steps. This helped to not only control the pandemic but fight it and try to finish it. The fallout was much less than the anticipated one, damage to the economy and people were within control.

It was precisely because of the leadership of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, owing to his vast experience, know-how of the state, people, flora and fauna, as well as his vision and long term measures, nipped the problem in the bud itself and stopped it from blooming.

Whether it was managing the affairs at the state level, inter-state level, or national level, he was at his best, using all his resources in dealing with the pandemic.

Shivraj Singh Chouhan saw to it that the necessary medicines were made available besides providing oxygen and medical equipment, availability of beds to the needy ones on the one side and on the other side, making a team of dedicated officers to ensure the availability of necessary medicines that are not overpriced, keep a check on black marketing, hoarding etc. Also he ensured to check the supply of genuine medicines and lifesaving drugs, all these were made available timely to the patients at reasonable prices.

Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s way of dealing with the situation was lauded by the Prime Minister and other states were asked to replicate the Madhya Pradesh model especially in dealing with the pandemic in rural areas.

Whether it was dealing with the problem of migrant labourers, farmers, and agriculture-related issues, and getting the right prices to the farmers for their produce, the Chief Minister excelled in everything.

In this time of distress, his government made special policies for helping street vendors. Apart from this, taking the responsibility of the orphan children whose parents have died in the traumatic situation, Shivraj Singh Chouhan set an example, which was later on replicated by the Centre and other states also.

The Chief Minister, on regular basis, tried to get community feedback from various sources. He invited suggestions from every quarter of the society before framing any policy or taking any important decision. Involving public participation was the key to his success. On important issues, he didn’t shy away from taking advice from leaders of opposition and taking their help in case of need.

At the national level also, due to his vast experience and long stint, he was in regular touch with several Union Ministers in case of any help the state government needed be it the Union Railway Minister, for running Oxygen Express to various destinations of the state, or talking to Union Health Minister for the supply of necessary medicines, medical equipment, masks, oxygen concentrators etc. in time of need, or asking the Union Commerce and Industry Minister to open oxygen plants for various places in the state.

In case of severity, Shivraj Singh Chouhan didn’t even hitch in requesting the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for timely release of necessary funds under various schemes to cope up with the dreaded situation. He didn’t shy away in asking for help from Chief Ministers of other states for helping the migrants from Madhya Pradesh stuck in their states. Meanwhile, Shivraj Singh Chouhan also helped the migrants from other states stuck in Madhya Pradesh. He took full care of them and ensured their safe return to their native places.

Shivraj Singh Chouhan is is the real son of the soil. In the state, he decentralised the powers to the ground level and made all district magistrates act and take quick decision, and in case of fatality, were answerable also.

Shivraj Singh Chouhan held regular meetings with the health and district officials and that helped him to get the right feedback and act accordingly as per need. It was this approach that all the districts of the states are out of the red zone and the state has begun with the unlocking process from 1 June onwards. It is his confidence, grit, and zeal to work for the people of the state to move forward with confidence and courage that worked wonders for Madhya Pradesh in fighting with Covid-19 pandemic.

The writer is Joint Director (P.R.), New Delhi, Government of Madhya Pradesh. 

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The Greek connection of the pandemic and more

When the world is looking for politically-correct nomenclature and yearning for a medical utopia in which everyone is protected from the pandemic, ancient Greece is as good a place as any to start looking for beginnings of ideas and experiences that preoccupy us today.

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One of the latest developments in the year and a half old pandemic has been nomenclatural. On 31 May 2021, the WHO rechristened Covid virus variants of interest after the first four Greek letters — alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. The Greek alphabet is the major contributor to English, but even in original, it occupies an important and euphonious place in domain-specific jargons, popping up in unlikeliest places. The Phi Beta Kappa Society, active since 1776, has 290 chapters in the US. Leaders of social groups are called alphas, betas, and omegas, in the order of dominance, based on research originally conducted on wolves in captivity. Software development goes through beta testing. We sleep wrapped up in alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and theta waves. Some unconscious patients end up in an alpha coma. Theta captures the decline in the value of a stock option over time. The Riemann Zeta function is used to study the properties of prime numbers. Lambda has come to stand for gay liberation, besides dozens of others meanings in as many disciplines. The examples can be multiplied almost without end. If Greek enrichment of jargon is diverse and wide-ranging, Greek contributions to ideas and culture are encyclopaedic. 

 To ancient Greeks, we also owe the idea of Polis. Poleis were nascent city-states established in ancient Greece over two millennia ago. The Covid-19 pandemic, already a year and a half old, has germinated a new aspiration among people across the world- to acquire as quickly as possible membership of a polis that might be called Immuno-polis. It is the virtual, global, and utopian community of those who have developed immunity to the SARS-CoV-2. Some have become its unwilling members by contracting the disease and developing antibodies against severe future attacks. Others are members by vaccination. The remainders, still a majority of people, await membership after getting their shots. Fears that they might be expelled from the protective borders of Immuno-polis by emerging strains have largely proved unfounded. Immunopolitans will continue to enjoy most of their privileges with the existing vaccines, with more on the way. From polis have arisen Metropolis, Cosmopolis, Necropolis, as well as the above-mentioned Immuno-polis. When herd immunity is achieved, benefits of this imaginary community would be available to all, even those who haven’t suffered from the disease or received a vaccine; we would all end up living in a Utopia.

Utopia, or an ideal community, is also a Greek idea, though morphed. In most intellectual histories, coinage of the word is attributed to Sir Thomas More (1474-1535) by whose work of the same name we know him best. However, he was only the efficient cause of neologism, as Aristotle might have put it. More seems to have got the word while translating the works of Greek satirist Lucian, whose True History, a compilation of events that never happened, is based in outopia, meaning ‘no place’. From this root, and ‘eutopia’, meaning a good place, More invented a pun, Utopia. Today we think of Utopia as goodness incarnate in a state. But More’s Utopia is dysfunctional, what we would now call a dystopia.

 This is not merely a linguistic quibble. The idea of a flawless state, and by implication, a flawed one, was Greek before Lucian got going. Plato, and Aristotle after him, assumed an idealised political entity of which all earthly republics and entities were imperfect forms and corruptions. The thread was picked up by Polybius and Cicero in ancient Rome after the disintegration of the Greek city-states. With the spread of Christianity, Augustine of Hippo and several centuries after him, St. Thomas Aquinas developed the idea in the context of a Christianising Western Europe and Italy. Plagues that wracked the medieval world contributed to a concrete concept of the opposite of Utopia. Ideal communities and their debased variants have been imagined, written about, and romanticised and demonised at all times and in all cultures. Dystopian writers today are respected distant descendants of Old Testament writers and Dante, whose descriptions of hell were alarming enough for his native Florence to drive him to seek the protection of Verona. Perhaps the greatest 20th-century creator of dystopias, Eric Arthur Blair, aka George Orwell, was at home in the Greek language. Writing a decade before Orwell, Aldous Huxley, in his Brave New World (1932), ordered his imaginary casteist society from alpha at the top to epsilon at the bottom. 

If renaming the variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus after letters of the Greek alphabet and ideal imaginary communities has ancient Greek roots, so is one of the earliest descriptions of epidemics and plagues. Hippocrates, the great physician of Greek Antiquity (460-370 BC), was perhaps the first to define endemics and epidemics. His pre-modern theory of humour continues to inform several enclaves of alternate medicine. Thucydides, the greatest among ancient historians and chronicler par excellence of The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), describes the Athenian plague in the second year of the war, a contagion he contracted and survived. ‘At the beginning, the doctors were quite incapable of treating the disease because of their ignorance of the right methods. Mortality among the doctors was the highest of all, since they come more frequently in contact with the sick’, he writes. He goes on: ‘Some died in neglect, some despite every possible care being taken of them, what did good in some cases did harm in others. Those with naturally strong constitutions were no better able than the weak to resist the disease’. There were crises of faith, disorganised funerals, overwhelmed public facilities, changed attitude towards wealth and leisure and much else that sounds familiar in these times. What now and what next were as pressing questions then as they are now. When the world is looking for politically correct nomenclature and yearning for a medical utopia in which everyone is protected from the pandemic, ancient Greece is as good a place as any to start looking for beginnings of ideas and experiences that preoccupy us today. 

The writer is a physician and a civil servant in India.

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Need for family offices to work together under a co-investment structure: Jahnavi Kumari Mewar

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Jahnavi Kumari Mewar recently joined NewsX for an exclusive conversation as part of NewsX India A-List. In the exclusive conversation, she spoke to us about her business firm along with insights on internationalism, effective global governance practices and the way forward for the post-Covid world.

Jahnavi commenced her talk by speaking about the creation of Auctus Fora and its uniqueness. She said “Auctus fora was born with a need to work with family offices (preferably) without a fund structure in place. If I take a small step back, I initially worked for JP Morgan from where I decided to set up a boutique investment bank and as that business developed and progressed, I had developed very meaningful relationships with family offices globally. We found that there was significant need for family offices to work together under a co-investment structure rather than that of a fund. Moving on we decided to set-up a co-investment platform, entirety focused on private acuity and private structure credit working with family offices globally. It’s a unique model because we work on ‘reverse origination methodology’ developed in 2011. We use this methodology to make investment decisions and direct our investment philosophy.”

When asked about how pandemic months have been for her and her firm, she responded “I think based on facts that firstly we are directed to asset. Number 2, we don’t do listed securities and are a private acuity focused and private structure credit which organically give you a lot more control over your investment decisions. I am very rigid when it comes to investment decision making process. For example – we’ll never chase dues or get into a bidding war as I believe that if you get your buying price wrong then you already made a big mistake in terms of capital allocation and investment process. In such disruptive times when others have faced upheavals, we have ramped up because of our decent decision making. Based on that what we have done over the past 15 months is that the assets which we felt will continue to give long term returns and are relatively resilient to the disruptions caused by global pandemic and lockdown, we have reinvested capital or added additional capital into those assets and portfolios. So, at a macro level we have reinvested capital into our portfolios and at micro level, into select asset portfolios. I mean not to say that we haven’t felt pain but we have been more resilient.”

Explaining the post-Covid global economic changes, she expressed “What we are seeing globally is unprecedented crisis for which a lot of nations have lacked institutional memory because they have never experienced something like this before. In the absence of institutional memory there is institutional unpreparedness. I think that responsibility and accountability of this crisis doesn’t solely sit with the current government because there has been decades of under-investment in the public healthcare infrastructure. Instead the present government has put concentrated efforts towards formulating new public policies. It is my personal opinion that unfortunately the government lacks sophistication in its policy making. Therefore they come across significant opposition to their policies.”

When it comes to changing global supply chains, Jahnavi described “let’s look at global supply chains from both political and economic perspectives. Politically speaking, we have fallen short on collective action and there has been a crisis of global governance. Supply chains and global governance can work hand in hand. A good small scale example is of QUAD members who have been working together and have been multilaterally more effective. So when we talk of re – engineering global supply chains, we have to look at from the perspective that are we going to create an incentivising engagement that affects better global governance practices.”

Lastly speaking about the importance of institutions like QUAD as representative of the changed world over institutions like UN and WHO, she said “QUAD is a great example of a force for global good. WHO has been less effective than QUAD as it has been dispersing contradictory information globally, it along with UN have failed to garner collective action for a global solution to the pandemic. QUAD is representation of way forward. We need to re-engineer a pragmatic form of internationalism which meets the needs for today and future.”

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‘Lasting impact will come from an aware and educated community’: Sanjana Sanghi & Sudarshan Suchi

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COVID-warriors, a term which in the pandemic year, has given many, power to fight the unseen enemy, i.e, the novel coronavirus, and many, the drive and motivation to step up and contribute to society. Unlike the front-line warriors such as doctors, nurses, police, and the medical staff, the COVID-warriors can be anyone who feels that humanity needs to be kept alive and robust at tough times like these. NewsX’s special series, NewsX A-List, proudly hosted two such warriors. Save The Children is an organisation that focuses on dealing with the plight of the children in the pandemic. Sanjana Sanghi, a well-known actress, and Sudarshan Suchi, the CEO of Save The Children, are working vehemently for this noble cause.

Sanjana Sanghi, on the motivation and drive to work with the organisation, said, “I have been working with children in the areas of education and empowerment since I was a student at Delhi University in 2014. I saw people coming up with various resources to help each other during the pandemic, but the scenario was seen only in the cities. The remote areas and the hinterlands were being neglected, not consciously, but by how things were panning out. Save The Children are doing an incredible work where they tap into aspects that people don’t even know exist.”

Sudarshan Suchi, CEO, Save The Children, elaborating on how the pandemic is impacting children, said, “The list runs long. Even though the disease, in particular, did not impact the children, but everything around it has hit them. Whatever could go wrong is going wrong with vulnerable children – who live on the brink of society – their caregivers are weak in terms of livelihood, security, and network. Child safeguarding became a big issue. The school was a big source of nutrition through the mid-day meal is no longer functional.” Sudarshan also highlighted the lack of space for the children living in slum areas who cannot follow the social distancing norms, even if they want to. He gave an example of a girl from Kolkata whose parents got infected, and the only idea of quarantine was that the whole family had to move out. “The whole family started getting ostracized due to the lack of basic facilities like water,” said Mr. Suchi.

Explaining the mechanism of their organisation, Sudarshan said, “Our efforts have been three-fold. Firstly, we try to be aware of any kind of distress calls from our community mobilisers and others. We ensure that they get safe health care. Secondly, we have been working with communities to build their capacities around the knowledge of COVID and hygiene. Thirdly, we are also focusing on the continuity of nutrition and education of the children who are not able to cope up with this extraordinary situation.” The digital gap is glaring and worrying since everything has switched to online. Save The Children is working against reducing this digital gap. “I would rate the time and engagement with the children far higher than any support,” he added.

Sanjana is also working very passionately with the organisation at the forefront. Stressing on the need for education for children, she said, “The effects of the pandemic are both short-term and long-term. The long-term effects of the pandemic will impact the nation at large. The children’s right to personality development, sense of self, dignity, and the right to learn is being taken away from them due to lack of infrastructure. To interweave digital learning into the learning process in such areas is a huge challenge. We are especially focusing on the girl-child as they experience greater neglect.” Sanjana has been associated with such works “deeply.” Starting from a teacher volunteer in a small NGO, she realised the value of her education for hundreds of underprivileged children. “Being a nerd also helped me realise the importance of education,” she said. She has been associated with multiple organisations in the past.

Sudarshan Sanghi appreciated the efforts made by Sanjana and told how she chased the organisation to play the right-front role for the cause, unlike other public figures who the organisations run behind to get more reach. Discussing his aspiration from the road ahead and the future of India, he said, “Ultimately lasting impact will come from an aware and educated community. We are focusing on helping the government help deliver help efficiently. We are also building a team of pediatricians who can deconstruct the implication of pandemic on children and get insights on how to take care of them.” Mr. Sanghi ended with discussing a three-prone approach which involved short-term – Survival, middle-term – Education and Continuity, and long-term – Future Employment and preparing children for the changes. He also stated that across all dimensions and one of the top agendas is Mental Health of the Children.

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‘People are more aware of the quality of products after Covid’: Ashish Khandelwal

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Ashish Khandelwal joined NewsX for an exclusive conversation this week for its special segment NewsX India A-List. Speaking about the company, Mr. Ashish spoke about how the company was formed in 1999 and was made by his forefathers. Having been the business for the past 75 years, Bl Agro Industries Limited has created a niche for itself. 

When asked about the reason behind the entry into kitchen ready products, he said, “Basically for diversification, we started it. We are doing distribution and all the customers and retailers ask for quality products. So we decided why not move forward with diversification and move into food products.”

Talking about the response gained for the product, he said, “Just after the launch, Covid-19 started. It started in January, 2020. The journey has not been very long. We faced lockdown. Moving forward, we will hit our targets.” After Covid hit, kitchen ready products became one of the most searched productions and most of the people started exploring various option. Talking about this, he said,“We got a good push in delivery because of this. Otherwise, a new product introduction during lockdown would have been tough.”

When asked about the existing market and new markets in India, he said, “Right now, we are in northern parts like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttaranchal, Bihar, etc. and we are permanent here. In a couple of months, we are moving to the South.” Stressing on the company’s new marketing strategy, he added, “We are always after distribution. We try to maintain relations with distributors. So, companies provide all sales staff and everything. The sales staff gathers all the market reports and demands and then we work on it. The more prominent and convenient strategy is retailing nowadays because nobody is moving out and going to market and all. Today, Covid problem is for retailers to move out. So we are trying to maintain our market. We recently started our online portal. Soon it will be fully functional.”

Most people are used to bigger platforms like Amazon but small companies have also curated their apps, which shows whatever product available. Bl Agro Industries Limited has the same plan. He says, “Definitely, we are launching an app. We will be available side-by-side with the sites and all. From the first of July, we are trying to fulfil the desire of the customers.”

“We are thinking about expansion typically in pulses, flowers and all. In India, it has not been innovated. There are not many innovations and all. So we have tried to introduce some machines and all. Right now, we are grinding it with the stone mill which was modernized and from Austria. We have started vacuum packaging of pulses and food items. Nobody in India does vacuum packs for pulses. Similarly, we try to procure more specific machines and all and try to give more flavours and more specific aromas and the best quality we can provide,” he added.

Ashish expressed, “After Covid, people are more aware of the quality of products. They are more concerned about the quality. So we are trying to produce good and better things today. We don’t have such competitions and we are focusing on Indian pulses.” When asked about organic chains, he said, “Right now, we are not planning for organic because organic has lost its quality as every brand is producing organic products. Specifically, we don’t have any tests for organic. That is the problem when we say organic, it needs a specific amount of time. It takes 7 years for an organic crop to come and is financially not feasible.” 

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