Beyond Money
Nudging the Debate for Gender Equality
Prajnya Trust’s understanding of peace, justice and security, is holistic and its initial work areas reflect this. Swarna Rajagopalan, founder of Prajnya in 2006, recalls that “We chose to work on gender equality issues, including gender violence awareness, and peace education.” They wanted to do something tangible that the general public could relate to.
Swarna is a political scientist by training. She points out, “Those who work on gender, do not engage with those who work on security; those who train Panchayat leaders, do not work with ordinary citizens.” To avoid too narrow a focus, in its day-to-day work, “Prajnya was imagined as a space that could, by design, transcend pigeon-holing and offer fluidity between methods and media,” insists Swarna. 
So almost everything that Prajnya does is through a loose network of volunteers; they come and go at various stages of their lives and the organisation’s needs and keep its multifarious efforts going. Its blog seeking volunteers says, “We don’t have an office. So it’s not possible to come and help in the office every Thursday morning. We actually don’t have assignable tasks. We are so small we only have responsibilities we are happy to share with or delegate to volunteers. In fact, ALL Prajnya’s core team members are volunteers. We give our time, while earning a living. So the work happens all the time, and yet not all the time.”
Swarna is the focal point of its activities along with Shilpa Anand,  partner in Eastern Engineering Company, Dr D Jayashree, an Ayurvedic physician, and Saundarya Rajesh, founder-president of AVTAR Career Creators. It also has a powerful advisory panel. 
So how does Prajnya reach out? Dr Rajagopalan tells us, “From the beginning, we have drawn committed volunteers who have given all their spare time to working with us. They have made donations. They have called their friends to give us use of their time and talent. They have trained. They have written. And they have built Prajnya to a point where our work has grown beyond their ability to support it.” 
So a full-time salaried team is next on the agenda as well as fund-raising for better logistics, resource persons and hiring space and equipment for conducting programmes. In her appeal to donors, Swarna says, “The kind of work Prajnya does calls for a special kind of donor who can think beyond traditional charity giving or public works, to see knowledge and communication as integral to social change. We need donors who understand that salary and operation costs are critical; without people who are well-supported, nothing can be accomplished. Finding those donors—we believe they exist!—and building a proper full-time team in the coming year is critical.”
Its broad spectrum of work includes conducting 16-day awareness campaigns against gender violence, spreading the message through concerts, theatre and satsangs which focus about gender equality. Future plans include setting up of the Prajnya Resource Centre on Women in Politics and Policy which seeks to fill the gap created by scattered and unsystematically compiled information in this field. There are several components of this project: the creation of a database with salient statistics and lists of women in politics and policy-making; a series of oral histories and life-stories of women who have played a pivotal part in politics and society; and a user-generated visual archive of photographs of women participating in the public sphere.
People are usually told that “Prajnya is like an Indian wedding. People come and go. Pick up the work in front of you so it gets done—folding clothes, putting away newspapers, whatever.” If you would like to be a part of this attractive effort to spread gender equality, chip in, in whichever way you can. 
Or you can simply send a cheque to ‘The Prajnya Trust’ at the address alongside. Donations qualify for deduction under Section 80-G of the Income Tax Act. 




Jyoti Dua

6 months ago

Very useful work is being undertaken by PRAJNYA. Gender violence is a big issue all over the world, including developed countries. It is heartening to know that work is being done on this issue in India too.

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Prosecutor Targets Commerzbank for Deals That Dodge German Taxes

German prosecutors have expanded an ongoing investigation of international tax-avoidance deals to cover questionable trades exposed last week by ProPublica and other media partners.

Handelsblatt, which collaborated on the report along with German public broadcaster ARD, reported that Commerzbank is the target of the new inquiry for its involvement in the trades, which cost German taxpayers $1 billion a year in forgone revenues.

The Frankfurt general prosecutor's office confirmed that it had opened a new investigation but declined to name the target. A Bloomberg report also named Commerzbank as the target.

Commerzbank declined to comment. In an interview with Germany's Bild newspaper, however, board member Michael Reuther said on Wednesday the trades were "no longer socially accepted" and that the bank will exit the business in Germany and elsewhere ahead of a government move to extinguish them.

Alexander Badle, a spokesman for the Frankfurt prosecutor's office, declined to provide further details, saying that individuals, rather than corporations, may end up becoming the focus of any of its investigations.

The center of Germany's finance industry is in Frankfurt, where state prosecutors had previously set up a special unit to pursue criminal investigations into an earlier scandal involving duplicate claims for dividend tax refunds. With the newest probe, Frankfurt now has five open investigations, the spokesman said. Other states also have begun inquiries.

The investigations all center on complex transactions engineered by banks to help international investors avoid paying taxes on dividends they receive from German companies.

In the deals, known broadly as "dividend arbitrage," foreign investors briefly lend their shares of German stocks to German banks or funds that can claim a refund of dividend taxes that are withheld. The loans bracket the stock's dividend record date; participants split the tax savings. (See how it works and the annual spikes in borrowing DAX 30 shares.)

One variety of dividend arbitrage 2013 known as "cum/ex" trades 2013 was engineered to help investors and banks reclaim more tax money than was actually withheld by the government. These deals were outlawed by Germany in 2012, and more than 100 banks are under investigation by German tax authorities, Handelsblatt has previously reported.

But confidential documents obtained by ProPublica showed that bankers have continued to book other dividend arbitrage deals, known as "cum/cum." In these trades, only one tax refund is claimed for each share receiving dividend payments. Those transactions are now also the focus of the Frankfurt prosecutor's expanded investigation, the spokesman confirmed.

ProPublica estimated the loss from these trades at $1 billion a year to the German treasury. Documents indicate that at least 20 other countries are active markets for this type of dividend arbitrage.

Commerzbank played a key role in enabling the tax-avoidance by signing on as borrower of the shares. That struck a raw nerve in Germany, where taxpayers rescued the bank from failure during the 2008 financial crisis with a $21 billion bailout.

Leaders of the opposition in Germany's Parliament invited Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Commerzbank Chairman Martin Zielke to discuss the deals today. Neither accepted the invitation, however, because leaders of the ruling party voted against the discussion and moved it to a special committee where any meetings will be held in secrecy.

Schäuble's Finance Ministry has proposed legislation to eliminate dividend arbitrage transactions, but lawmakers have yet to vote on the measure. A hearing on the proposed reform was held on Monday; another hearing is scheduled in July.

This article was written by Cezary Podkul, with reporting contributed by Arne Meyer-Fünffinger of Bayerischer Rundfunk in Berlin and staff of the Handelsblatt newspaper. Translation contributed by Jennifer Stahl.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.






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