It’s an open secret that has come to haunt the Karnataka government again. Taking note of the Devadasi system in the state, the Apex Court recently directed the Karnataka Chief Secretary to take necessary steps to prevent women from being forced into it. In spite of a ban on the age-old system, which human rights activists term akin to slavery, Devadasi dedication is still prevalent in the country.
Traditionally, a Devadasi is a woman dedicated to the worship and service of a deity or a temple for the rest of her life, but the system is believed to have allegedly become illegal prostitution. “It’s a shameful and sad reality. The Devadasi system is still prevalent in various pockets of Karntaka. After reading an article in a newspaper about the plight of former Devadasis, I decided to make the Kannada film Thippaji Circle, which is based on the real-life story of a Devadasi named Thippaji. She had revolted against the social evil and opened a small shop to provide education to her daughters. In Chitradurga, a circle is named after her, as a mark of honour to the brave lady,” says director Aditya Chikkanna.
The film, starring Pooja Gandhi in the lead role, faced legal trouble after the family of Thippaji took objection to the subject of the film. The shoot for the film was stopped after the team received a stay order against its making. However, the case was withdrawn in January, and the director says that the film is set to release in a month’s time.
Incidentally, the system has been banned by the state government for over three decades, when the Karnataka Devadasis (Prohibition of Dedication) Act, 1982 was implemented. But members of the Mahila Abhivruddhi Matthu Samrakshana Samsthe (MASS), a society for and run by former Devadasis in Belgaum district, say that without the support of the government and society at large, the system cannot be eradicated.
Founded in 1997 by Shobha Gasti with about 2,500 members (that has now grown to about 3,600), the society aims to sustain the momentum of a project initiated by the Karnataka State Women’s Development Corporation and Bangalore-based non-governmental organization MYRADA to bring social justice and equality to Devadasis in Belgaum district.
Seethavva Jodahatti, a former Devadasi and member of MASS says that the organization has managed to stop the practice in Belgaum, and is looking to achieve the same in 10 other districts of the state.
In fact, members of MASS recently demanded that the project to rehabilitate former Devadasis be returned to them. According to reports, the project was handled by Shobha’s team at MASS between 2002 and 2010, but was later handed over to a retired Child Development Project Officer (CDPO), leading to problems in its implementation.
Shobha has been quoted as saying, “We are people who have ourselves suffered as Devadasis and best suited to ensure that the system is completely rooted out. We don’t want just economic independence. We also want our children to be treated well.”
A THRIVING SYSTEM
Besides Karnataka, the Devadasi system flourishes in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. To ascertain the exact number of Devadasis in Karnataka, the women and child development department conducted a survey during 1993-94 and found that there were 22,873 Devadasis spread across 10 districts.
By: Maitreyee Boruah
Times of India
Posted on: February 19, 2014
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah may be keen on bringing in a law to ban all kinds of superstitious rituals in the state, but the government is still looking on helplessly as the banned Devadasi system continues to thrive in secret in remote villages. An age-old practice, it inducts girls into the oldest profession in the world in the guise of dedicating them to the service of a deity or temple.
An NGO from Athani which has been instrumental in saving dozens of girls from being drawn into the Devadasi net, say Devadasis are still found in remote areas of Saundatti. “Several innocent girls are made to perform the rituals to become Devadasis in their homes to avoid being caught by the police these days.
The girls’ guardians are given the black bead chains they are supposed to wear in the Kokatnur temple or Saudatti temple and they present them to the priests for sanctifying. Later, the girls are made to wear the chains to become Devadasis,” said one activist.
The secret practice came to light after a 13-year-old girl was found being forced into the profession in Saundatti in March last year. A family from Dharwad district was caught carrying out the rituals involved. Acting on a tip-off, officials of the Devdasi Rehabilitation Project and Department of Women and Child Welfare traced the family in the nick of time . The teen was rescued and shifted to a remand home in Belgaum for rehabilitation.
Investigation revealed she had been brought from Jogyellappur, Dharwad district to Saundatti along with several other women for the ritual.
Posted on: November 11, 2013
Chinnayi Ayyappan (55) was among the group of dalits who stridently fought non-dalits of her Koolayanur village near Bodi in Theni district after the latter refused the former to be buried in the village graveyard.
But barely 20 days after the dalits demanded burial rights in January 2011, a group of non-dalits hurled petrol bombs on her house. Four days later, she succumbed to injuries at the Government Rajaji Hospital in Madurai. Not all dalit women are as unfortunate as Chinnayi to die, but they endure equally harrowing experiences if one goes by a study on crimes perpetrated against dalit women conducted by an NGO.
Incidentally, more number of atrocities against dalits, are reported from southern districts, particularly Madurai. The study conducted by Evidence, a Madurai-based human rights organisation found that 124 cases of atrocities against dalit women in 25 districts of Tamil Nadu from January 2009 to September 2013. Madurai tops the list of districts with 23 cases, followed by Tirunelveli with 13, Sivaganga 12, Virudhunagar and Theni 11 each and Dindigul 10. “These numbers pertain only to those atrocities that were registered in police stations and pursued legally and not all incidents of atrocities,” said A Kathir, executive director, Evidence.
“Thirty-six of the women were raped, eight survived attempts to rape and 18 suffered sexual harassment,” the report said. A case in point was the plight of Thulasiammal (35), a widow who was raped by a gang of non-dalits at her house in Veerapagoundanur near Pollachi in 2010. In the same year, at Jittandahalli in Dharmapuri, a 16-year-old girl was molested by the school headmaster.
Shockingly, seven of the 124 women have committed suicide while 16 of them have been murdered. The study also said that the perpetrators have not targeted the victims just once, but several times in some cases.
After the Dharmapuri violence in 2012, there was marked increase in atrocities perpetrated against dalit women, says the study listing out 27 such incidents that occurred across Tamil Nadu.
A senior police official said that it was wrong to paint a picture portraying that dalit women are targeted in large numbers. “If you look at the number of atrocities against women in general, dalit women would only be a small part of it,” he said. “We don’t discriminate atrocities based on the caste of victims. We approach the cases depending on the magnitude of the offence and not based on the victim or perpetrator,” said the officer.
Kathir, however, said that seldom do the police register cases under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. “Committees comprising human rights activities, feminists, advocates and journalists should be formed in each district to monitor atrocities against dalits,” he urged.
BRAZEN ATTACKS (January 2009 – September 2013)
124 cases in 25 districts of Tamil Nadu
Madurai tops the list with 23 cases
Tirunelveli comes second with 13
Sivaganga follows with 12
Virudhunagar and Theni 11 each
Dindigul recorded 10 cases
7 of the 124 have committed suicide
16 of them have been murdered
36 women were raped
8 survived attempts to rape
18 suffered sexual harassment
Posted on: October 9, 2013
Haryana police have suspended three cops for “molesting” a dalit woman in Kaithal district on Monday, when a group of women was returning after attending a state government employees’ rally in Panchkula.
The cops allegedly misbehaved with two other women also. All of them work in Haryana women and child development department. According to a complaint, when the brother of a woman tried to help the women, the cops took him to police station and put him behind bars. He was released after the women informed the police helpline.
The employees of several departments on Tuesday staged a demonstration at Kalayat town where the incident took place. Deputy superintendent of police, Kaithal, Surender Singh Bhoria told TOI that ASI Ishwar Singh, head constable Vijender and another cop Karambir were suspended in connection with the incident.
The three women had reached Kalayat town at 11pm on Monday from Panchkula. According to the complaint, when they were walking towards their houses, one of the cops deployed sitting in a Gypsy used abusive language. When the women tried to run away from the spot, the cops followed them and put them in the police vehicle.
The cops allegedly snatched a gold chain and Rs 3,350 from a woman before molesting her. On being informed, husband and brother of a woman reached the spot. The cops then pushed the women from the vehicle and took the men to the police station and threatened them.
Later, the three women and brother of one of them were admitted in a hospital who were discharged on Tuesday.
The DSP said that a two member team including a lady police officer would probe the matter. The accused cops were medically examined on Tuesday.
Posted on: September 11, 2013
A family tried to force abortion on a woman just because her husband suspected her of having an illicit relationship with someone. The woman was forcefully taken to Chaksu hospital of Jaipur district but she fought for her right and she later gave birth to the baby but lost her family. The semi-literate woman is now fighting for her rights in the court and she is worried about the future of her baby.
There were eighteen such cases of dalit women who came out with their woeful tales during the state level public hearing on Sunday at Pastoral Social Centre, Naka Madar, organized by the Dalit Mahila Manch of Rajasthan and the Mahila Jan Adhikar Samiti.
Narrating her story at the hearing, the 20-year-old woman came from Jaipur district stated how she was harassed by her in-laws just because her husband suspected an illicit relationship. “Now my condition is that I have a two-year-old child and no place to live. No money to eat or to give my advocate’s fees. My family also went to the community panchayat but no one came to help,” she said.
In another case, 65-year-old Anguri of Bharatpur was beaten up and thrown out from her house by her own son and his wife on allegations of witchcraft. “I have to beg for bread on the roadside despite the fact that my husband left me a big house and a land. My son and his wife took everything. When I went to police, the asked my son to keep me but after sometime they again throw me out. My son’s wife alleged me to be a witch,” said Anguri, who shared her story at the public hearing.
Similarly, a woman from Bharatpur said she was harassed just because her father had not given a buffalo as dowry. She alleged that she was thrown out from the house and her in-laws kept the children and do not allow her to meet them. She went to police but nothing happened.
In another interesting case, a woman from Ajmer not only filed a case of harassment against her in-laws but also against her parents. The woman alleged that her husband beat her up with a helmet and forced her to live with him in a graveyard. “I refused to live in the graveyard and returned to my parents but my parents started harassing me so much so that I have to seek police help,” the victim said.
In another case, a 19-year-old girl said she was harassed by her husband. She now wanted a divorce and to pursue studies so as to be able to stand on her feet. “From the first day of my marriage, my husband wanted me to talk to his friend on phone at night. He was mentally sick and tortured me. When I realized the problem, I left my house. Now I want a divorce and study,” she said. Her father also supported her to be independent and continue with her studies.
“The major problem these women had were that they married early and they are not educated,” said Ruth Manorma, national coordinator of NFDW. She asked these women to get back their confidence and continue their her fight through education.
“It is not easy to break a family on small issues. Besides, we suggested them to get legal aid from the legal cell of every district court,” said D L Thripathi, vice president of PUCL . “The motive is to provide legal and social help to these women on issue of domestic violence,” said P L Mimroth of Dalit Right Centre. He added that these cases were referred to proper government bodies for disposal and “we also requesting the state government to make the police department sensitive on such issues”.
Posted on: September 10, 2013
August 20, 2013
Meenu Vadera is the founder of New Delhi’s only all-female taxi company. The service, which launched in 2008, has 11 women drivers who ferry female customers around the Indian capital. Another 49 women work as full-time personal drivers.
Sakha Consulting Wings, the for-profit social enterprise set up by Ms. Vadera, runs the service.
For this week’s “Women at Work” series, The Wall Street Journal’s India Real Time spoke with Ms. Vadera, 48, who is also the founder and executive director of Azad Foundation, a non-profit organization working to improve women’s rights.
The Wall Street Journal: Why did you decide to launch an all-female cab service in New Delhi?
Meenu Vadera: In 2001, the census showed the sex ratio in India and the gap was shocking to me. Delhi, Punjab and Haryana were the red states. I began wondering why there’s no cab service for women in Delhi, having seen it operational in some other parts of the world. I read at the time that some five star hotels had floors allocated for women travellers, so all of these different ideas came together in my mind.
Also, of course, violence against women has been and continues to be so widespread across all classes in our country. So we were meeting two objectives with one intervention. On the one hand, we were able to ensure livelihoods with dignity for resource-poor women who become drivers, and on the other hand, to offer safe mobility for female passengers.
Another reason we set up the cab service is because the entire public transport system, including the taxi system, is so male-dominated and chauvinistic in its ways. You cannot have women working 15 hours a day, not because they don’t want to, but because that’s what men tell women as they are meant to have other responsibilities within the family. So we had to create a working environment to let them do this.
WSJ: What have been some of the barriers you faced?
Ms. Vadera: Of course the world is full of jokes about women drivers. There’s such a bias against women drivers. When I first told people about my idea, the response was, first teach them how to park a car. People were sarcastic.
It’s been very difficult to get all types of licenses for our drivers. The transport department says it follows the same policies with men and women but it doesn’t work like that in practice. For many of our drivers, it’s been very difficult to get address proof. There have been cases even when they have the relevant documents but they are sent away or forced to make several visits to get things done. We’ve helped around 250 women get different licenses and I can say 95% couldn’t have got them on their own. Is this not an example of a clear gender bias?
WSJ: What are your growth plans?
Ms. Vadera: We aren’t hung up about having a large fleet of cars. For us, what is more important is to establish the role of women in public transport. So definitely we would like to see women as bus drivers, for example. We would like to have a large enough presence that breaks the perception forever, opens these doors for women so that tomorrow there could be a girl growing up in any slum or area who would not need us to get a license. We have to grow to an extent where this can be achieved. In that sense, we’re not a typical enterprise that wants 500 cars. That’s not what gives us a kick.
We will, of course, increase our fleet size and the number of drivers. We definitely want to break-even first and then make profits. We would like the women drivers to at one stage become shareholders in the company. We’re also expanding to different cities. We now have a presence in Gurgaon, we’ve started in Jaipur and are probably going to start in Kolkata, so four cities in total over the next three years.
WSJ: As a social entrepreneur you’re also a businesswoman? Do you enjoy this aspect of your job?
Ms. Vadera: Yes, part of me is a businesswoman. I’m still learning to be a businesswoman and getting familiar with business plans, talking about things like sweat equity. My background is development, but I like both sides to my current role. Being a businesswoman gives me the thrill and challenge of learning something new, and breaking new ground within myself. A lot of times, our auditors and lawyers confront me and ask which hat I’m wearing. It’s good to be held accountable and pushed to think about the profit side as well. But of course a large part of me is development and as a feminist, women’s rights are very, very core to me, so that is definitely my identity.
WSJ: How do you measure success?
Ms. Vadera: For us, success is really the kind of transformation the women we work with are able to achieve. We’re talking about empowerment. The women who are today working with us as drivers, I can say that none will accept violence from men in their lives anymore. That’s very important for us. We’re talking about building change agents. That’s the most important measure of success. Other things like breaking even and bringing down costs are definitely important but secondary.
WSJ: Do you think women make better social entrepreneurs?
Ms. Vadera: I don’t know. I don’t think there is anything to prove that. There’s nothing to suggest that. But definitely women are better drivers.
By Atish Patel
Wall Street Journal-India
Posted on: August 20, 2013
Dear Girls of the World,
First of all I have to say: Congratulations! We have all come a long way from once being mistakenly called the inferior sex. I remember the first time I read Aristotle’s view that a female is an incomplete male, “or as it were, a deformity.” I was really offended and furious. The first thing that popped in my mind was, “We have to prove all our detractors wrong.” But we definitely can’t do that with 60 million of our girls out of school! So yes, we have come a long way, but we are still not there yet.
A wise friend recently told me: No child in the developing world has died directly due to the lack of education. They die due to illness, during childbirth, due to violence, poverty, etc.—which is probably why the world hasn’t yet understood the gravity of having more than 100 million children not in primary school, of which 60 million are girls.
If you really think hard, you will realize that the way to end the cycle of poverty, reduce the number of teenage pregnancies and early marriage and many other ills that befall our girls is through education. An educated girl will marry later, will have fewer and healthier children, will educate her daughters and without a doubt her sons, will be self-sufficient and, most importantly, will have a voice. She will not only dream but also realize her dreams of becoming whoever she wants to be.
I am writing this letter to all of you girls, but especially appealing to those who have had the privilege of going to school. We need to use our educated voices to raise awareness in our families, communities, countries and the world and say we cannot and will not ignore our sisters anymore. They have the same rights as we do, and there can be no discrimination. We can and must hold our governments accountable and ask them to give us the answers and results we deserve.
I am also writing this letter to all the boys—fathers, brothers and husbands, friends who have supported us. I am grateful that you see us as just as important to the human race as our male counterparts. Your support and belief in us keeps us encouraged to keep powering on. Please keep it coming and please spread the word.
Finally, I write to those we want to affect with our voices positively: You have the right to an education. You have the right to grow up healthy, in safety, and with equal access to opportunity. I, and millions of your supporters across the globe, stand with you in the pursuit of equality. Change is coming; the world is listening.
I know that this movement—your movement—will grow in influence and scope. My promise to you: I will continue to use my voice as your voice. Together, we can ensure that girls everywhere can go to school and stay in school.
You hold our future in your hands. I believe in you.
With love and hope,
June 17, 2013
Posted on: June 20, 2013
By: Divya Trivedi
In a first, Dalit women from four South Asian countries made a representation at the United Nations in Geneva on their struggles and movements earlier this month.
Following a side event at the UN Human Rights Council on multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence against Dalit women and women from similarly affected communities, non-government organisations—IMADR, Human Rights Watch, Minority Rights Group International and the International Dalit Solidarity Network called on UN member states to support efforts to eliminate gender and caste based discrimination.
The multiple forms of discrimination and violence against Dalit women have mostly been neglected until now, but some UN human rights bodies, including Special Rapporteurs and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have begun to pay attention to this serious human rights issue.
Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences said, “The reality of Dalit women and girls is one of exclusion and marginalisation in geographic contexts within which they live. They are often victims of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights violations, including sexual abuse and violence. They are often displaced; pushed into forced and/or bonded labour, prostitution and trafficking; and also experience inter and intra-community violations of rights.”
The ambassador from the German UN Mission, Hanns Heinrich Schumacher, said he had been “shocked” when gathering information about the situation of Dalit women and came to realise the “urgency, the dimension of the problem.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called on UN member states to “take on the challenge of addressing caste-based discrimination and the human rights violations flowing from this seriously and by mobilising all of their relevant institutions to this end.”
The group consisted of women from India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Whether lobbying at the UN makes a difference on the ground is another question but the Dalit activists visiting Geneva have already travelled very far – in more than one sense of the word.
“It is my first experience with such high level meetings. I am watching what is happening and learning how to lobby, how to put forward different themes and key points to the international community,” said Bagwhani Rathore of Pakistan in a statement.
The Hindu, June 11, 2013
Posted on: June 11, 2013
United Nations member states should focus urgent attention and decisive action to improve conditions for Dalit women, four international nongovernmental organizations said today. The combination of caste and gender makes millions of Dalit women extremely vulnerable to discrimination and violence, including rape, forced prostitution, and modern forms of slavery.
“Many [Dalit women] experience some of the worst forms of discrimination,” said Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, in a written statement. “The reality of Dalit women and girls is one of exclusion and marginalization, which perpetuates their subordinate position in society and increases their vulnerability, throughout generations.”
Following a side event on June 4, 2013, at the UN Human Rights Council on multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence against Dalit women and women from similarly affected communities, IMADR, Human Rights Watch, Minority Rights Group International, and the International Dalit Solidarity Network called on UN member states to support efforts to eliminate gender and caste-based discrimination. The multiple forms of discrimination and violence against Dalit women have mostly been neglected until now, but some UN human rights bodies, including Special Rapporteurs and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have begun to pay attention to this serious human rights issue.
Dalit women leaders from four caste-affected countries in South Asia took part in the side event and made strong appeals to the international community as well as their own governments to address discrimination. This was the first time that a UN event focused exclusively on the situation of Dalit women, whose courageous struggle for human rights has come a long way over the past decade.
Addressing the event in a written statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, reiterated her “fullest commitment in contributing to the eradication of caste discrimination and untouchability and the correlated deeply rooted exclusion, exploitation and marginalization of Dalit women and other affected groups” through the work of her office.
Pillay, who has spoken out strongly against caste discrimination on a number of occasions, also called on UN member states to “take on the challenge of addressing caste-based discrimination and the human rights violations flowing from this seriously and by mobilizing all of their relevant institutions to this end.”
The ambassador from the German UN Mission, Hanns Heinrich Schumacher, said he had been “shocked” when gathering information about the situation of Dalit women and came to realize the “urgency, the dimension of the problem.”
The fact that numerous states co-sponsored the event demonstrates the increased international attention to the situation of Dalit women – an interest that now needs to be transformed into concrete action by the international community as well as caste-affected countries.
One such country is India, home to almost 100 million Dalit women. Although there are laws in place to protect them, implementation remains an obstacle.
“New laws are useless unless they are implemented, as we have seen with previous efforts to ensure protection of Dalit rights,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
Many of the speakers noted that the lack of implementation of legislation that is meant to protect Dalits is a key problem. Manjula Pradeep, director of the Indian Dalit rights NGO, Navsarjan Trust, stressed the importance of more data about the situation of Dalits and said that, “It is time to look at the intersection of caste and gender.”
Many victims of the combination of caste and gender-based discrimination live in South Asia where they are known as Dalits. Similar forms of discrimination occur elsewhere as testified by Mariem Salem, a parliamentarian from Mauritania and herself a member of a group targeted for discrimination, the Haratines, who are descendants of former slaves.
Salem noted that the pervading social attitudes and perceptions which stigmatize Haratine in general are “a key challenge for Haratine women.” She added that “specific types of work continue to be assigned to them on the basis of their hierarchical status,” a description that could also have been applied to Dalit women in South Asia.
Human Rights Watch, June 7, 2013
Posted on: June 10, 2013
In a shocking incident, a 27-year-old woman was delivered of a baby near a drain after she was forced to leave the Government Mohan Kumaramangalam Medical College Hospital here on Sunday, as she could not pay Rs. 1,000 allegedly demanded by an employee in the maternity ward.
Laxmi, her husband, Samuel (30), and two children, Venkatesh (5) and Naveen Gopal (2), who hail from Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, had been in the city for the past two years.
The couple, working as labourers, used to take shelter on the veranda of Corporation’s Commercial Complex on the Old Bus Stand premises at night.
When Laxmi developed labor pain at around 4 a.m., Samuel with the help of a 55-year-old woman Bannari reached the hospital by foot.
Laxmi was allotted a bed in the maternity ward at around 5.30 a.m. An employee allegedly demanded money for the delivery. As the couple did not have money, they were forced to leave the hospital. With the help of Bannari, Laxmi was delivered of a male child at around 11 a.m. near the drain on the Commercial Complex premises.
Members of the media fraternity who rushed to the spot called the 108 ambulance and the mother was admitted to the maternity ward, while the child was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit.
Dean Dr. R. Vallinayagam told The Hindu that an inquiry would be conducted on Monday.
The Hindu, April 15, 2013
Posted on: April 15, 2013
By Joanna Sugden
In Koppal, an impoverished district in Karnataka, virginity is for sale.
When girls dedicated in local temples under the illegal devadasi system hit puberty, their virginity is auctioned off to the highest bidder. Traditionally girls in this district in south India undergo an 11-day purification ceremony following the onset of menstruation. The “first maturity” ceremony, as they call it in Koppal, marks the transition into womanhood.
Bheemakka, who doesn’t have a surname because she doesn’t know who her father is, went through the puberty ritual in March, but she wasn’t sold.
The 11-year-old’s mother and grandmother are both devadasis, which means female servants of god. They were dedicated to the Hindu deity Yellamma as children and sold off after hitting puberty. They have been used by the men in their village for sex since their early teens.
Bheemakka says she was covered in turmeric and sandlewood paste as part of the purification process. After washing off the concoction, she was kept indoors for 11 days. Afterwards, her neighbors came over for a party.
“I enjoyed the attention,” says Bheemakka, wearing a bright pink shirt stretched tight over her chest and a red wilting flower clipped into her black braided bunches. “But I’m not going to become one of them.”
She means a devadasi. “Society looks down on them and they are labeled as prostitutes.”
Some say the original devadasi system of giving over females in service or marriage to a deity dates back to the ninth Century, but others believe it has existed in some form since 2500 B.C.
Their role and status have changed over the years.
In their heyday, between the 13th and 16th centuries, devadasis were high caste, educated women — sometimes from royal families — who performed dances for Yellamma, the deity, and looked after the temple precinct. They were forbidden from marrying mortals.
Historians record that by the 16th Century the role of devadasis had become sexualized and they were regarded in the community as auspicious high-class mistresses who men could visit for sex with impunity. Successive legislation to ban the practice since the 19th Century however meant that their status declined and lower caste women began to take their place.
The system was outlawed in Karnataka in 1982 but it is still widely practiced, mainly by poor, illiterate Dalit women in the northern parts of Karnataka, in places like Koppal, according to charities working in the region.
Many devadasis in Koppal have one partner who is usually already married and regards the devadasi as his “second woman” but not a legal wife. Other devadasis who don’t have the support of one man, known as a mallik (master), have many partners.
The penalty for anyone taking part in a devadasi dedication is up to five years imprisonment.
Government rehabilitation programs for ex-devadasis offer 400 rupees ($7.25) a month as a “pension” for the 46,000 women they have identified in Karnataka who say they have given up the role. Local NGOs working with both devadasi and ex-devadasi women say that amount is a pittance and not enough to deter women from continuing as devadasis with quasi-support from a partner.
“Every time they get paid the pension they have to give some back as a bribe,” said Nazar P. Sainudheen, an advocacy co-ordinator for Visthar, an NGO working with devadasi women and their children in Koppal since 2005. “They aren’t empowered enough to take a stand,” he added.
Nagar Raj, general manager of the Karnataka government’s Women’s Development Corporation, says sometimes there is a delay in getting the money to the women. “But we have not received any complaints about bribery,” he said.
Mr. Raj added that the devadasi system was “not existing” in Karnataka now because of better education. “If anyone is practicing they can be arrested,” he said.
But David Selvaraj, founder and director of Visthar, says programs and legislation have failed to eradicate the devadasi practice.
“You can go to temples where there will be a plaque on the wall saying that dedication of daughters is banned and round the back there will be a room where those dedications still take place,” Mr. Selvaraj says. “It’s an abuse of women with a religious sanction.”
In 2010, his organization set up a free school and residential home called Bandhavi (meaning “friend” in Kannada, the local language) for the daughters of devadasi women who are at risk of being dedicated into the system.
Bheemakka is one of its pupils. After her 11 days of purification she returned to the school, located on a copper-orange patch of land in the village of Chikkabidanal, just beyond Karnataka’s fertile cotton belt.
The 11-year-old left her job working as an agricultural laborer to join the school in 2011 after a team from Visthar arrived in her village asking if anyone wanted to have a taster day at the school.
“If I didn’t come to school my brain wouldn’t grow and I wouldn’t get to know what is right and what is wrong,” she says. Above her on the classroom wall is a portrait of perhaps India’s most famous Dalit, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who drafted the country’s constitution.
“He was a poor boy like us,” says Bheemakka before rattling off his achievements in enshrining freedom of religion and equality in the constitution.
There are 100 girls at the school. Mr. Selvaraj says he could fill it many times over with the daughters of devadasi in the area. Some have entered child marriages or been rescued from child labor. Most, according to Mr. Selvaraj, were at risk of being made devadasis.
It costs $24 a month to look after a pupil at the school. Around 80% of the funding comes from Kindernothilfe, a German NGO.
Around half of the pupils, like Bheemakka, don’t have enough education to go straight into mainstream school so they join the Bandhavi bridge school where they learn the basics as well as lessons on current affairs and human rights.
Another pupil at Bandhavi, 15-year-old Jyothi, says one of the best things about the school is not being teased about her parents.
“Outside, other children used to say to me, ‘We don’t know how many men your mother has slept with and then you were born.’ Here that doesn’t happen,” Jyothi says.
Both Jyothi and Bheemakka say their mothers are happy that they have joined Bandhavi. But money worries can sometimes tempt them to remove the girls from the school.
“Our mothers’ dreams are very small,” said Bheemakka.
These small dreams mean their mothers believe it may be easier to put them to work in the fields and eventually as devadasis, she added.
“It’s not because our mothers are our enemies,” Bheemakka says. “The situation and the cost of daily life make them think that we shouldn’t be here… But it’s only for a short time and we can bring change because of our learning.”
Bheemakka says she hopes to become a teacher and help others enjoy their childhood and education.
“I’m expected to do the same as my mother and go down that channel,” she says. “But I’m going to break the chain.”
The Wall Street Journal – India Real Time, April 5, 2013
Posted on: April 9, 2013
by Shoma Chaudhury
Mahavir Enclave is a bustling working-class colony at the hard extremities of New Delhi. Houses snake up here in haphazard bursts whenever their inhabitants can afford to elbow a little more space for themselves in the world. For an outsider, these seem less homes, more just slivers of precarious brick slapped together. But for those who live there, it’s psychological solidity: a toehold, finally, on life.
Here in Mahavir Enclave, in a tiny mole hole of a room a few feet below ground, in a warren of other similar rooms, two brothers, 20 and 16, struggle to hold on to a dream. The elder is studying to be an engineer; the younger wanted to be an astronaut. But their frontrunner, the lively, quick-brained sister who birthed these ambitions—who made them seem so tantalizingly possible in this nether layer—is no longer there. She has morphed into a symbol: globally known now as Nirbhaya, which means “the fearless one.”
On March 8, Michelle Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry posthumously honored Nirbhaya with an International Woman of Courage Award. A week earlier, in his annual budget speech, Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram announced a 10 billion–rupee (about $200 million) Nirbhaya Fund to empower and promote safety for women. Briefly the Indian Parliament considered dedicating a new criminal-law bill to her name.
Over the last three months, the story of Nirbhaya—a 23-year-old paramedic who was gang raped with unspeakable brutality on a bus on December 16, 2012, and died 13 days later of her injuries—has triggered shock and outrage across the world and galvanized spontaneous and unprecedented protests in India. She has become an icon of resistance, a watershed moment. (Indian law forbids revealing the names of rape victims, so when an Indian media house came up with Nirbhaya as a substitute, it stuck: it encapsulated the spirit with which she fought.)
India can be a cruel place for women. Each day, the papers teem with stories of anonymous women raped, killed, and dumped in different parts of the country. Sometimes they are minors, girls no older than 3. The spectrum of chronic gender violence stretches even further: acid attacks, marital rapes, honor killings, female feticide, acute malnutrition, discriminative access to schools and jobs, the cultural misogyny rolls on. Of course none of this has abated since December 16, but something has shifted in India. The response to sexual assault in this country will never be the same again. The silence has been broken. Women everywhere are speaking up more; men feel freed (or enjoined) to be more supportive. Some of the stigma has been yanked off. Laws are being revised; judicial and administrative machinery is being revamped. Clumsy and inadequate as it may be, the government is being forced to respond.
At one level, therefore, the story of Nirbhaya could be read as a tragic yet celebratory one: a simple but soaring binary about courage in the face of immeasurable bestiality. But at another level, it is a window into a much more complex, perhaps even darker and sadder, narrative about contemporary India and the terrible collision of aspiration and frustration that has been unleashed within it.
chaudhury-fe0213-india-women-embed1The new Indian economy is creating a collision between poverty and wealth.( Wang Ye/Xinhua Press, via Corbis )
Until December 16, Nirbhaya was just one among millions of faceless young people in India trying to break through the stifling fixity of their lives. Her father, Badrinath Singh, had left rural Uttar Pradesh decades earlier in search of a larger life, but failed to find it. Having run through a series of petty jobs in small industrial towns, he had come to Delhi in 1983, his wife pregnant with their first child. Singh carried a schism in his heart. His own impoverished father had had money to educate only two of his four sons. One son now had a job in the paramilitary; the other had risen to be a judge. In stark contrast, the younger two were fated to remain casual farm laborers or scrabble a life out of some urban fringe.
Understandably, education was the driving hunger in the Singh household. Working grueling double shifts, first as a watchman, then as a cargo loader with an airline, earning a mere 200 rupees ($4) a day, Singh put all three of his children—by turns—into a private school that used English as the language of instruction. (English, in India, is the most coveted vehicle of social advancement and mobility.) “My father was determined to give all three of us a strong foundation,” says Gaurav, Nirbhaya’s brother.
“My daughter was different from the beginning,” says Singh. “She was hungry for school even as a toddler. And she was so lucky; she always got what she wanted. We only managed to buy this piece of land when she was born.” From that tenuous perch—the mole-hole home in the ground—the family had begun to build a life.
Nirbhaya—obsessive, industrious, optimistic, face always set inexorably to the sky—was the centerpiece of that life. She had an innate taste for fine things; she was determined to carve a slice of it for her family and herself. After fifth grade, she had to switch to a cheaper government school, because her father couldn’t afford private school for all three. By the time she was in 10th grade, she had started tutoring 25 to 30 neighborhood kids, in 2 shifts every day, to pay for her own fees and help her parents put her brothers through school.
“She hardly had any friends. She never had any time,” recalls her mother. “She was always busy, always rushing. She’d wake at 6 a.m. for yoga, rush to school at 7 a.m., return at 1 p.m., give tuitions till 6 p.m., then study herself.” Despite her ascetic schedule, Nirbhaya loved gadgets, streaking her hair, and trendy clothes—netted tops and high heels were her favorite—and she always strove to speak in English, often even to her mother. She hated going back to the village her parents were from. There was nothing there for her. “She was always dressed like you,” her mother says, pointing to my jeans. “She didn’t like traditional clothes.”
“Both she and I worked double shifts. Sometimes we could only afford to eat rotis and salt,” says her father, “but there was a wonderful atmosphere at home. We were working to improve our lives. We could feel the good times were going to come.”
In 12th grade, Nirbhaya decided she wanted to study medicine. Her father told her he couldn’t afford even the application forms. “She literally fainted with anxiety,” he says. “When we revived her, she told me, give me whatever money you’d have spent on my wedding for my course; I’ll pay for the rest.”
In 2008 Nirbhaya left for Dehradun—a town five hours from Delhi—to pursue a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy. (Neurosurgery fascinated her, but she failed to clear the national entrance test; she kept her interest in it going, however, with additional reading.) In Dehradun, the hard routines of her childhood took over again. To pay her way, she joined a Canadian call center and worked nights, sleeping only two hours every day before rushing to class.
In the end, she came home barely a few weeks before she died, after four years of being away. She had landed an internship with a prestigious hospital, bought watches for her family and a laptop for herself, and put highlights in her hair—fire red, golden, and snow white. Her taste in music had moved from Bollywood to Bryan Adams. In all her textbooks, she had proudly prefixed “doctor” to her name in neat handwriting. “She was finally going to enjoy the fruit of all these years of striving,” says her mother (sangharsh is the word she uses in Hindi, with its inflection of striving against great odds, layered with intense sacrifice). “But that joy was taken from her.”
I ask the mother her name. Asha Devi, she says. His mother’s name “means hope,” Nirbhaya’s brother Gaurav emphasizes with conscious irony. He’s stopped going for his engineering coaching classes; his sister’s death has set him back three months. Now he’s preparing to take the entrance exams on his own instead. “I still dial her number every time I have a question about my application forms or some decision I have to make,” he says.
His father lies back dispiritedly on the bed. He’s developed a bad infection in the knee. His youngest son, Saurabh, no longer wants to be an astronaut. His ambition now is to be a doctor and live out an unfulfilled dream.
The harsh ironies pile up. The family sitting disconsolately on two beds crammed against each other will soon be gone from here. The government has promised them a middle-income house of their own; they’ve also been paid a compensation of 3.5 million rupees ($70,000), partly by the Delhi government, partly by Uttar Pradesh. Nirbhaya’s kept her promises even in death. She’s pulled her family out of the nether region. She’s made good.
December 16, 2012. Awindra Pandey, 28, a broad-chested, soft-spoken engineering professional, picked up Nirbhaya from her home in the afternoon to take her to a movie in a tony South Delhi mall. It should have been an ordinary, happy day. There was a Christmas cheer in the air. The pair watched Life of Pi, loitered in the mall a while, window-shopped, then headed home. It was early in the evening, but none of Delhi’s infamously testy auto rickshaws was willing to go the distance. The couple coaxed one to take them halfway to a bus stop. No public bus came around. A white chartered bus was parked close by. A young boy beckoned them to enter. Anxious to get home, they did.
According to media reports and the police, in a slum cluster not far away from the bus stop, six young men had gathered earlier that day to drink. They played marbles and cursed. One can imagine how the booze must have smudged their heads, erased the squalor of their lives, made them feel zesty, reckless, bold. It uncorked a deadly cocktail boiling inside them. They were sick of being matchstick men, sick of the shining alien city always bustling outside their reach. They wanted a piece of the action. They wanted to feel like kings of the road. One of them was a bus driver. He drove schoolchildren by day; the vehicle lay with him by night. According to the police, he urged his raucous friends out for a joyride: “Let’s have some fun,” he said.
First the gang found a carpenter returning from a day’s work. They lured him onto the bus, stole his cellphone and the 8,000 rupees ($160) in his pocket, then dumped him on the road. They’d tasted blood. A feral exhilaration must have gripped them. They wanted more.
Awindra and Nirbhaya knew something was wrong within minutes of boarding the bus. Their skin prickled. There were only six men inside; the windows were tinted black. The door was slammed shut. As the bus set off, one of the men began to taunt the girl for being out late. Awindra tried to shut him up. The others immediately surrounded him like wolves. Nirbhaya rushed to defend her friend. Her defiance enraged the men. The altercation spun out of control. They began to beat Awindra mercilessly with an iron rod. As he lay pinned at the front of the bus, floating through bouts of unconsciousness, Nirbhaya was dragged, fighting and kicking, to the back and raped and bitten and sodomized in turn by the six men. When she resisted, biting three of them herself, they pushed the rusted iron rod inside her all the way to her diaphragm and ripped her intestines out. “An intestine is 23 feet long, ma’am,” her brother Gaurav had said stoically in his room. “Barely 5 percent of it was left intact.” The doctors who treated her said they’d never seen a rape victim so brutalized.
The men drove the bus in circles for almost an hour as they raped her. When they were done, they stripped the couple of their belongings, tossed them naked on the highway, then tried to run the bus over the girl. Failing in that, the rapists calmly took the bus back, washed it clean, divvied up the spoils, and returned to their homes.
Nirbhaya and Awindra lay mangled and naked in the December cold for two hours before the police finally turned up. Cars kept whizzing by. No one stopped.
In a sense, Nirbhaya embodied a new India no one has a full measure of yet. India’s cities and small towns are full of young men and women like her: restless and on the move; hungry for an education, for jobs, for English, for social mobility, for belonging. They’re an Internet generation; they know there’s a wider world out there. They’re reinventing themselves with energy, dissolving—or at least challenging—centuries-old boundaries of caste and station and wealth. They love their families with a grave sense of duty, but they long to leave the old ways behind. If it’s to be a toss of coin, they’d rather look good than eat, rather have a TV set than a bed. They’ve sloughed off old skins, but not quite acquired the new. Just one chromosome binds them all: aspiration. They are the neo–middle class.
Nirbhaya’s friendship with Awindra was made possible by this new India. He is the son of a lawyer, a high-caste Brahmin; she was a Kurmi, much lower in that unforgiving ladder. His family lives in a three-story house in Uttar Pradesh; hers was cramped in the space it takes to park a car. Yet, introduced by a common friend, they felt instant affinities. They went on trips together to religious places, shared rooms, hugged, held hands, but stayed away from other intimacies, aware that beyond the cocoon of their friendship, a real and more questioning world awaited. They bought each other clothes, talked about their ambitions, discussed the Bhagavad-Gita, advised each other on their careers and investments. He introduced her to books like Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. He was a friend to her brothers, too, helping them choose their subjects, make decisions, write résumés. He spoke to her mother sometimes on the phone, but, aware of Nirbhaya’s discomfort, never visited their home. He always picked her up from the road outside. She called him “a perfect man.”
“We never thought of each other as unequal. Sometimes I felt my family and I were not of the same wavelength. But I could speak to her about anything,” he says on an early March evening, reluctant to dredge through these memories again. “Nothing else mattered. In friendships, you don’t have to be the same; you just have to complement each other. But she’s gone now, and I have only one goal. I have to get justice for what happened.”
Awindra paces about uncomfortably on a cane in a small hotel room, perching awkwardly every now and then at the edge of the bed. He’s still recovering from his injuries. He finds it hard to sit or stand too long. Three months have passed; so has the juggernaut of attention. No politicians are willing to meet him now; no one’s asking after him. Away from global attention, a harrowing trial is under way. He is the sole eyewitness.
“I don’t like being alone,” he says. “I am afraid to live with my thoughts.” He had gone to meet the dying Nirbhaya in intensive care on December 20, four days after. He wore a jacket she’d bought him. Dates mattered to her: December 20 was the day they had first texted each other. But she was sleeping, and he had to go again the next day. He says she was touched he’d remembered. She tried to hug him through the maze of tubes attached to her petite frame. In the end, she could only make a gesture of a hug.
It was the last time they would see each other. She died eight days later in Singapore, her genitals destroyed; her stomach hollowed out; wracked by septicemia, brain injuries, and multiple infections.
He had wanted to linger longer at the mall that fatal day. She told him she wished she’d listened. Perhaps they’d have missed the rogue bus. Perhaps they’d have earned the time to dare disturb the universe.
Perhaps, he says, he would have been with her all his life. In an interview with other media, his father said, “Perhaps if my son had made a very passionate case, we may have listened.”
The story of the gang rape hit the papers the next morning and began to spool out relentlessly over the next few weeks, horrific detail upon horrific detail. There are many reasons why this story caught fire in the public imagination more than any other rape in recent Indian history. There was, most of all, the unfathomably brutal violence involved. But many other things coalesced: the location of the crime, in upper-class South Delhi; the impunity of the attack; the fact that it was early evening; that she was accompanied by a male friend; that there were no complex caste or feudal hierarchies at play; that this was just random urban crime. That she was an average “wholesome” girl making her way in the world. Women across the country felt, “but for the grace of God, that could have been me.” She was Everywoman.
But there was other tinder for the fire: the chronic inefficiencies of the system, the habitual callousness of the police, the dull apathy of the political class, the new hyperconnectivity of the young. And something deeper and more inchoate, too: a seething restlessness that underlies Indian society today. A desire for better governance shot through with a fear of dead ends. As the comatose establishment failed to swing into action, young men and women across strata poured into the streets. Could something so colossal happen, and the Indian state would still lumber on as usual?
Nirbhaya’s own composure also alchemized the air. In the 13 days that she lived after the assault, she testified twice before a magistrate, giving a detailed and clear-eyed account of the attack. Startlingly, her doctors said she showed no psychological distress, no self-pity. She broke the mold: she wanted her name to be known; she wanted her rapists to be brought to account; she wanted them “burnt alive.”
Under intense pressure, the Delhi police made arrests in record time. Within a week, six men were in custody. Ram Singh, 33, the bus driver; Mukesh, 23, his brother; Vinay Sharma, 25, a gym assistant; Pawan Gupta, 24, a fruit seller; Anurag Thakur, 24, a cleaner of the bus; and a 17-and-a-half-year-old juvenile—known as Raju—who worked odd jobs at roadside eateries.
With the arrests, the protests reached a crescendo. These protests encapsulate profound sociological changes under way in India. On the upside, they demonstrate that the vocabulary of feminism has percolated down to the street. For weeks young people who’ve never been part of any formal political movement braved water cannons and baton charges, demanding not only better policing and a swifter judiciary, but also complete autonomy for women over their bodies and lives. India has a galling history of blaming women for the violence that happens to them. But now, when an older generation tried to mouth venal idiocies about how women should be chaste and cautious, the young turned on them with fierce scorn.
The protests also made visible a disturbing phenomenon: India’s increasingly illiberal gene. Nirbhaya’s desire to see her rapists burnt alive is understandable. But on the streets, too, the demand for justice morphed too quickly into a roar for revenge. For the most part, the media and political establishment followed suit: castration, capital punishment, and a reduction in the age of those deemed juvenile became the dominant discourse.
Nirbhaya’s rapists were demonic: there can be no argument about that. But if they’d merely been six deviant, psychopathic men, this story may have found easier closure. Perhaps then, hanging them would have weeded out an isolated virus. But even a cursory look at the back histories of the accused is proof that there are no such neat answers.
Rather, in a bitter twist, both the exhilarations and the devastation of Nir—bhaya’s life are part of the same continuum. There is a terrifying sociology of rage and violence building up in the country. On March 15, a Swiss woman, on a cycling trip with her husband, was gang raped and robbed by six men in central India. The husband was brutally beaten as well. The archetype is hard to ignore.
As the new economy is forcing millions of Indians from their land and traditional livelihoods into hostile megalopolises, a storm of colliding worlds is being created. The glittering city with its bold new ways and siren images now sits in intimate proximity with rural backgrounds. The membrane that separated them is gone, but the divide remains.
In a dramatic development, on March 11, 2013, three months after the gang rape, Ram Singh, the key accused in Nirbhaya’s rape, hung himself in his high-security cell in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. He and the juvenile had reportedly been the most savage of the assaulters. It is hard to know what drove him to take his life. Sudden remorse? Or just bottomless despair?
I was with Ram Singh’s parents in Ravi Dass Colony the evening before he committed suicide. Over the last few months, the media have described the colony in the easy stereotype of the squalid Indian slum—open drains, great poverty, families crammed like sardines into boxes. On the surface, Ravi Dass Colony is all of that, but there’s something more complex about it, too. Like Mahavir Enclave, where Nirbhaya lived, a kind of restless and optimistic energy runs in its arteries. Resigned acceptance, that old Indian status quo, is gone. Parents here may have started out as petty laborers, but their children have moved one rung up. They dress smart, talk smart. Yet for the most part they have to reconcile their new dreams with the harsh reality of their lives. This makes them sleeping volcanoes. Four of the accused rapists came from this colony.
By all accounts, Ram Singh—the said-to-be leader of the pack—was a scrappy, volatile man. He drank heavily. His neighbors spoke of him as “mental.” He had disappeared with a married woman for a few years, then returned even scrappier, saying she’d died of an illness. The night of the savagery, Ram Singh apparently came home and calmly cooked a chicken, ate it, and went to sleep. He had a mutilated arm from an accident on the job a few years earlier for which his employer had refused to compensate him.
“I wish he had died in that accident,” his mother had said, weeping wildly, the night before he committed suicide. “Perhaps my younger son would’ve been spared then. Now we’ve been shamed so much, we can’t even go back to our village. I wish they’d hang us with our sons.”
Her husband, a construction worker, squatted on the floor, head buried in his knees in absolute despair. A mouse ran about on their bed. Both had not an ounce of flesh on them. They were the archetype of the urban Indian dispossessed: skin, bone, and the grind of years.
As they spoke, the parents swung in dizzy arcs from guilt, shame, and angry accusation against the girl for being out late to bizarre conspiracy theories. The father seemed a bit unstable, flaring up in sudden bursts at his wife. “I’m sure Sonia Gandhi has a hand in this,” he said darkly once. The mother, though, was in a place of suffering beyond description.
“We’ve starved ourselves to bring up our boys,” she said. “What demon took hold of them? I always believed God lives within each of us. There were six souls on the bus that night. Did the voice of God not speak within even one of them?”
That question strikes at the inexplicable heart of this story. Barring Ram Singh, none of the other accused appear to have any history of violence before that apocalyptic night. Mukesh, Ram’s brother, was a mild young man (“a follower,” his mother calls him) with a passion for clothes and music. His clothes were always clean, his mother says. No matter how late he’d come home, he’d skip a meal, but definitely wash his clothes. Apparently that’s what he was doing when his brother called him out to drink that fateful night. His parents had just found him a girl to marry.
Vinay, one of five siblings, a gym cleaner and commerce graduate, was also known to be a polite young man. He had started working early to help his father, a construction worker and balloon seller, pay the bills. Their home was no larger than a train berth; the family of seven had to share it, living their dreams and desire out of that inhumanly cramped space. Standing outside that room, the debris of all the wasted years of effort hanging over him like a shadow, the father, a heartbreakingly dignified and stoic man, said, “I met my son in jail once. I’ve told him if he’s done this, he has to pay for it. He should be hanged.”
The fruit seller and the bus cleaner, Pawan and Anurag, have similar stories. Raju, the juvenile, though, was the most dispossessed of them all. He’d left home as a boy many years earlier. His father had become a vegetable after a brick fell on his head and injured his brain. His mother could barely scrape together a living for her children. Raju used to send 600 rupees ($12) twice a year to her. For a few years, he hadn’t done even that. When the police reached her hut in the village—not even tenuous brick, just plastic sheets yoked together—she said, “I didn’t know my son was alive. I thought he was dead.” She hasn’t come to see him even once in jail. She cannot afford the ride to the city.
After he left home, Raju worked odd jobs for years at dhabas, India’s ubiquitous roadside eateries, mostly washing dirty plates. One of his employers, who was fond of him and found him to be a very efficient worker, has a telling story about him. Raju apparently came to him abruptly one day and asked to be made a manager of the eatery; he could not bear to wash another dirty dish ever again in his life, he said. Unable to make him a manager, but wanting to keep him, the manager raised his salary by 1,000 rupees ($20) a month to do the same job. The next morning the boy had packed his bag and gone. He did not even take his last salary. For a couple of years there was no news of him. And then came the headlines about a demonic night.
To ask about the backstories of the accused is not to mitigate or humanize the brutality of Nirbhaya’s attack. It is to understand where it might stem from. By no means is rape the exclusive domain of the working classes. But as the stories of inhuman violence continue to flow inexorably in the Indian media, unless one examines the harsh landscape they arise from—a deadly landscape of squalor and hope and thwarted ambition—and the untapped rage that must inevitably underlie it, the wailing mothers of both assaulters and victim will never have their answer. There were six souls on the bus that night. Why didn’t the voice of God speak in even one of them?
Women In The World, April 3, 2013
Posted on: April 3, 2013
By Lavanya Sankaran
This week the Indian president Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent to a law that many regard as a victory for women’s rights. The law, framed in response to the horrifying gang rape of a young woman in Delhi, seems like an important first step. In addition to harsher sentences for rape and acid attacks, and for rapes in police custody, it criminalises “eve-teasing”, the coy and euphemistic name for the sexual harassment – the stalking, groping and lewd comments – that every Indian woman is forced to navigate every time she walks out of her home.
The new law, passed in a hurry, ignores the glaringly obvious: that marital rape, for instance, is indeed rape. The language is not gender neutral: it does not address the rape or sexual harassment of men and boys. Further, it links the age of consent to the legal marriageable age, 18, in a bid to discourage premarital sex, a ridiculous morality-driven move that ignores changing social mores and the reality of teenage sexuality.
Formulating suitable laws is an important process in a democracy; one that sets the tone for public discussion and lays out intent and promise; the discipline of laws is the very basis for the many other freedoms that a democratic society enjoys.
India is rather keen on framing laws. It is, alas, in the following of laws that things tend to fall apart. And this is where the fight against sexual violence against women is most threatened – and where the new law can lose its potential as an agent of powerful change and instead be no more than an ineffective political Band-Aid.
This is the ultimate Indian irony: an obsession with pronouncing upon human behaviour and codifying it in official edicts, sometimes hurriedly, not always wisely or compassionately, frequently for political expediency – in a country that makes a mockery out of following the law.
In India, we have a regrettable tendency to treat laws as mere suggestions, like worthy advice from a grandmother – to be followed in theory and ignored in practice. If the law suits our interests, we follow it. If not, there are many ways of working our way around it.
The first, of course, is simply to ignore it. Driving on an Indian road is the best example of this: road rules are there to be disdained; lanes are a waste of paint; the difference between a red light and a green one is entirely a matter of opinion, and pavements – where pavements exist – are used by pedestrians, with cycles, scooters and sometimes even tiny cars squeezing past.
The second, famously, is to bribe our way past it. The deplorable collusion of officialdom is essential to this. No basic government service is provided without palms being crossed in sweaty rupee notes; any breaking of the law carries with it two implicit options: be penalised – or pay a bribe and go free.
Then there are the untoward consequences of righteously following the law and penalising the law-breakers. Take someone to court in India – and the case is sure to get mired for years, even decades, in an overcrowded, weighed-down court system that seemingly exists only to prove over and over the axiom that justice delayed is justice denied.
Where does that all of that leave the new law that is supposed to tackle the problem of violence against women? On a rather scary footing. In a world where laws can be ignored or bribed away, what security do they provide?
The real solutions, I believe, lie elsewhere. Social pressure in India is far more powerful than any law.
India, the saying goes, lives in many centuries at the same time. Most Indians exist in a state of uneasy compromise: eager to embrace the future but also reluctant to let go of the past. People with a 21st-century job and education may quite easily have a 10th-century approach to matters of caste or gender – and vice versa. This is a society in a state of change, conflicting pressures and all the attendant confusion.
Women experience this in extraordinary measure, for even as they are encouraged to embrace professional goals, they must usually keep an eye on their traditional social duty as well, like the chief financial officer I know who routinely cooks the day’s food for her entire joint family before leaving for her high‑powered job.
The prevalent regressive Indian government approach, of protective chauvinism and punitive laws, will not keep women safe. It merely reduces women to the status of incompetents and traduces all men as potential criminals.
Real change in India begins and ends with social pressure. This is the force that must be harnessed for true change. Mindsets are impossible to legislate for or against – but they can be altered.
Indeed, they are changing. The tragic Delhi gang rape brought forth that most amazing and thrilling of things: the thundering roar of the vox populi. The sound was of women tired of harassment, angry at police and government indifference, who want better for themselves, their daughters, sisters and friends, and all the men who support them. That, more than in any law, is where hope lies.
The Guardian, April 3, 2013
Posted on: April 3, 2013
By Niharika Mandhana and Heather Timmons
NEW DELHI — Less than three months after a New Delhi woman who was gang raped on a moving bus died from her injuries, India’s Parliament passed a comprehensive bill that imposes stronger penalties on men who attack women and criminalizes offenses like stalking and voyeurism.
The bill quickly cleared the upper house, or Rajya Sahba, of Parliament on Thursday, after being debated for seven hours in the lower house on Tuesday. President Pranab Mukherjee is expected to sign it into law shortly.
“I think this is an important moment,” said Vrinda Grover, a women’s rights activist and lawyer. “We have taken quite a few steps forward.”
The Dec. 16 gang rape and assault of a physiotherapy student, and her subsequent death, prompted widespread and sometimes violent protests in India.
Citizens, activists and many politicians demanded the government do more to protect women and impose harsher sentences on the men who molest them. Reported rapes in India have risen in recent years, and northern India has witnessed a series of highly publicized gang rapes.
The bill, which amends India’s criminal laws, is intended to deter and punish sexual offenders, including men who stalk and harass women, and to create a more responsive police and judicial system, which is widely criticized as being insensitive when dealing with crimes against women.
It expands the definition of rape, substantially increases the punishment for sex crimes like gang rape, introduces the death penalty for repeat offenders and criminalizes activities like disrobing and voyeurism.
India’s democracy has often been faulted for being so unruly and its Parliament so dysfunctional that fundamental, vital development issues, like malnutrition and education, are inadequately addressed.
The fact that the bill passed both houses of Parliament even as they adjourned unexpectedly several times this week, after a key ally of the governing Congress Party abandoned it, is a sign that the demands of thousands of protesters were heard, activists said.
“It is good that India still responds as a democracy when there is pressure from citizens,” Meenakshi Ganguly, the director of Human Rights Watch in South Asia, said. “The terrible attack in Delhi, and the protests that followed, ensured that both the opposition and the government cooperated in ensuring that this law was enacted.”
India’s cabinet ministers were quick to praise the bill’s passage. “The bill is significant as it aims to protect mothers and sisters of this country,” said India’s minister of home affairs, Sushil Kumar Shinde, on Thursday in the Rajya Sabha, according to the Press Trust of India. “Over years, such a stringent law has not been made,” he said.
Although opposition politicians were unsatisfied. Nirmala Sitharaman, the national spokeswoman for the Bharatiya Janata Party, the leading opposition party, said the government could have done more with this bill. “I wish the discussion around the bill would have been more substantive in both the houses,” she said. “This is a step forward, but the government could have done more homework to bring about a stronger legislation.”
In crafting the bill, the government included many of the recommendations of a report submitted in January by a panel headed by former Chief Justice J.S. Verma, which suggested far-reaching changes in the legal and justice system.
The three-member panel consulted hundreds of activists, laws of other countries and literature on criminal psychology to recommend changes that would help fight discrimination against women.
Among the report’s recommendations adopted by government were the creation of stalking, voyeurism and disrobing as separate offenses, provisions to punish police officers who failed to register complaints of sexual offenses and a broadening of the definition of rape to include the insertion of an object or any other body part into a woman’s vagina, urethra or anus.
The law went against the report’s suggestions by adopting the death penalty in some rape cases and raising the age of consent for sex to 18.
Many activists are encouraged by the bill, but say public debate and reforms for gender equality must continue. “The spectrum of change India requires is much, much broader than amendments to the criminal laws,” said Ms. Grover, the lawyer. “We need to really focus on enforcement and implementation.”
Others said the bill was a disappointment. Sandhya Valluripally, president of the Progressive Organization of Women, said that women’s organizations had been demanding for years a bill that offers complete protection for women from sexual harassment. She said she thought the bill that was passed Thursday has fallen short of that.
Many of the Verma committee recommendations were missing in the bill, she noted.
“There are so many recommendations that were rejected by the government of India,” she said, saying that her group is against the death penalty and wanted child trafficking to be considered rape.
She also was critical of the discussions that took place in Parliament on the bill. “The discussions were derogatory to women,” she said.
Sruthi Gottipati and Pamposh Raina contributed reporting from New Delhi.
The New York Times – India Ink, March 21, 2013
Posted on: March 21, 2013
By Davinder Kumar
A few months ago, I was travelling through the interiors of Andhra Pradesh to investigate the issue of girl child labour. I came across infinite number of girls who were forced into exploitative and extremely harsh labour such as working in agricultural farms or hand-rolling tobacco cigarettes or beedis, to support their family income. None of them was enrolled in any educational institutions.
Poverty was the obvious and primary reason for their families to push them into the labour force, but certainly not the only one. The pattern of girls dropping out of schools was disturbingly consistent. In the majority of instances as soon as the girls attained adolescence, they were pulled out of education and invariably pushed into various forms of labour. When I tried to find the reason, many parents said the schools were not safe for girls. They feared their daughters could face sexual harassment or attack on the way to school or at the school itself.
Ayesha, a 13-year-old beedi worker, said girls in her community preferred not going to school as it had no decent toilets they could use. They faced the daily humiliation and associated risks of relieving themselves in the open. Sexual harassment and general violence from boys and male teachers was so common that they found staying at home as the only way to keep safe.
The problem of girls facing violence in and around schools is not restricted to India alone. Statistics show that globally between 500 million and 1.5 billion children experience violence every year, many within schools. An estimated 150 million girls and 73 million boys have experienced sexual violence worldwide. Girls face more discrimination because of their age and their gender. The fact that they are valued less and have lesser physical strength than boys, they end up being more vulnerable and at greater risk of facing violence due to their lower social standing.
At schools, it is not just male students girls can face violence from. Incidents of sexual violence by male teachers and staff against female students are common in India and many other parts of the world. This involves a range of aggressive behaviours and misuse of authority, including rape, verbal sexual harassment, and bribing students with money or the promise of better grades. In Mozambique, for example, a government study found that 70 per cent of girl respondents reported knowing that some teachers used sexual intercourse as a condition for promotion between grades. In Niger, a study showed that more than eight out of 10 teachers confirmed existence of sexual acts between students and teachers at their school.
Gender-based violence in and around schools is one of the major barriers for girls in completing their education. It threatens to slow the progress in achieving universal access to primary education and gender equality as part of the Millennium Development Goals. According to latest estimates, 66 million girls are still out of primary and secondary school worldwide.
There is a strong link between girls’ education and their fundamental rights and freedoms. Girls who complete primary and secondary education are more likely to earn a greater income during their lifetimes, have fewer unwanted pregnancies and marry later. They are also more likely to break the cycle of generational poverty within their families and the communities around them. The girls I met in Andhra Pradesh exemplify the fact that being denied the chance to complete an education they were being pushed in an opposite direction.
It is imperative that girls are allowed to complete a quality education and schools and their surrounding environments are made safe for girls. As part of its global report released on Tuesday at the ongoing 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, child rights organisation Plan is calling on all governments to create a concrete action plan to end gender-based violence. The report, A girl’s right to learn without fear: Working to end gender-based violence at school, recommends coordination with front-line bodies, law enforcement agencies, civil society, parents and school administrators to tackle the problem.
Solutions involving communities, particularly boys and men, to create an environment where rights are promoted and valued, are critical too. Marcela, 18, a Plan youth volunteer from El Salvador, is using this method in her community where both physical and sexual violence is a major problem. “It is only through awareness and education that we have succeeded in scaling down the level of violence in my community,” she says. “Men can very much become part of the solution through change in behaviour and attitudes.”However, school-related gender-based violence is so widespread in its scale in the form of number of children, particularly girls, it affects, that it warrants concerted action. States, as duty bearers, have the ultimate responsibility to fulfill their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that holds that every child has the right to feel safe at school, at home, and in the community. Weak institutional capacity, limited enforcement of laws, and poor reporting and accountability mechanisms are failing to protect children, particularly girls, so that they can complete a quality education.
Gender-based violence in and around schools cannot be ignored. Girls like Ayesha in Andhra Pradesh should not have drop out of school and limit her chances to progress in life for fear of harassment and violence. It is every girl’s right to learn without fear.
The Times of India, March 7, 2013
Posted on: March 7, 2013
By Anupama Chandrasekaran
Tamil Nadu boasts some of the best indicators in India when it comes to women.
The southern state’s female literacy rate is 73.9 percent, well above the national average of 65.5 percent, according to the 2011 census. It has also one of the narrowest gender gaps in India, having 995 women for every 1,000 men.
Another statistic that bodes well for Tamil Nadu’s women, although it may not seem so upon first glance: Tamil Nadu logged 3,983 cases of domestic violence in 2011 – or 42 percent of all the cases reported in India, by far the highest of any state.
Policy researchers and lawyers in Tamil Nadu say this figure indicates that women feel more comfortable reporting these incidents, which used to be considered a private matter. They also said the increase in reporting is a positive development amid discussions about violence against women following the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi in December.
Tamil Nadu overtook Andhra Pradesh as the state reporting the highest number of domestic violence cases in 2010. While the number of reported cases of domestic violence reported rose 67 percent in India between 2008 and 2012, the figure went up 400 percent in Tamil Nadu.
“The number of cases reported in Tamil Nadu is rising due to better awareness and more scope for women to report cases against them,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, a policy specialist with the United Nations Children Fund, or Unicef, in Chennai.
That increased sense of empowerment stems from a number of other factors, including the growing economic power of Tamil Nadu women and legislative changes to protect them.
“There is also a historical advantage for women that is rooted in the social history of Tamil Nadu,” said Ms. Radhakrishnan. For example, nearly a century ago, women in Tamil Nadu benefited from anti-caste movements that celebrated women’s liberation.
Women in Tamil Nadu also find protection through local marriage practices, which join them with men within the same village and within a wide family network, allowing women to seek help from family when faced with a violent husband. Shireen Jejeebhoy, the author of a 1998 study comparing violence against women in Tamil Nadu and in Uttar Pradesh, found that women in Tamil Nadu saw themselves as less alienated after marriage compared to their counterparts to the north, where marriages within a village are prohibited.
However, V. Geetha, a historian based in Chennai, said she believed that the practice of marrying within the family is fading away in Tamil Nadu as more men and women leave their homes in search of factory jobs. Tamil Nadu is the second-most industrialized state in India after Maharashtra, and women make up nearly 55 percent of the workforce of some companies, like the Finnish cellphone maker Nokia.
“Marriage circles have become wider in recent years,” said Ms. Geetha. “But despite the violence of displacement, the fact that women are leaving their villages is empowering.”
A 2012 report from the International Center for Research on Women, or I.C.R.W., showed that the female labor force participation in Tamil Nadu has been rising since at least the 1980s, when 39 percent of Tamilian women ages 20 to 39 were employed. In 2004, that figure rose to 51 percent, the I.C.R.W. study reported, quoting National Sample Survey data.
The “self-respect movement” that was started by the social activist and politician E.V. Ramasamy in 1925 did take radical positions on women’s autonomy in a marriage and advocated motherhood by choice, Ms. Geetha said. But for decades afterward, “there were no progressive discussions on gender, and Tamil cinema merely filled this void with sketches of virginal, beautiful, victimized women and tragic mothers.”
In 1998, the state government was forced to take a harder look at how it dealt with violence against women. That year, Sarika Shah, a 20-year-old student at Ethiraj College in Chennai, decided to stop by a juice shop close to her college with a friend. They were harassed on the way by a few politically connected men in an auto-rickshaw, who threw water on her, The Hindu reported. One of the men jumped on Ms. Shah, causing her to fall and hit her head.
She later died from her injury.
This case dominated headlines in the state that year and spurred tough legislative action against sexual offenders through the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Eve Teasing Act, later renamed the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, which carries penalties of life imprisonment and a minimum fine of 50,000 rupees ($900).
Following the Delhi gang rape case in December, Tamil Nadu’s chief minister J. Jayalalithaa was one of the first to announce a series of initiatives, including the death penalty and even chemical castration, for sexual assaults against women in the state.
To be sure, violence against women in Tamil Nadu still occurs “because it is still a patriarchal society and gender hierarchy is entrenched,” said Ms. Jejeebhoy, now a scholar in New Delhi who works with Population Council, a New York research group. “Still, women in the state have more access to economic resources and opportunities.”
“In terms of the social structure of violence I don’t think, we can say one region of India is better than the other,” said Geetha Ramaseshan, a lawyer and advocate of women’s rights based in Chennai. “The difference I would say is that there is greater access to the system here when compared to the other states. I will not say access is perfect or pretty good.”
One question is whether Tamilian women will be able to expand on what power they have now. The state’s overall sex ratio is poised to decline, with just 946 female children in the age group of 0-6 years for every 1,000 male children. And easy Internet access is leading to new forms of sexual harassment that are harder to prosecute.
Changing the laws alone isn’t enough, said Sudha Ramalingam, a social activist and a lawyer based in Chennai. “We have to introspect and change our mindsets,” she said.
NYTimes, India Ink, March 7, 2013
Posted on: March 7, 2013
To commemorate the International Women’s Day on March 8, a meet to discuss violence against woman was organised by the Southern District Women’s Federation (SDWF) here on Tuesday.
Rajni, advocate and organiser of SDWF, said that the objective of the meet was to provide a platform to the women from the marginalised sections to voice their struggles against oppression in their everyday life. She expressed that it was disheartening to note that the Justice Verma Committee had not mentioned about violence against women on the basis of their caste.
V.Vasanthi Devi, former chairperson of State Commission for Women, pointed out that atrocities against women were three tiered — on the basis of caste, patriarchy, and class. In the case of Dalit women, they were victims of multiple forms of oppression, she said.
Ramani from Naikkankottai in Dharmapuri, a victim of the recent incident of caste atrocity, said that they suffered so much owing to mental trauma after witnessing the violence. It was an attempt to destroy our upward mobility in terms of education and employment, she said while narrating the series of incidents.
Other speakers said that the government should implement stringent laws against honour killings and sexual assaults “which are increasing day by day.” Participants representing Adi Tamizhar Peravai and Arunthamizhar Viduthalai Iyakkam also shared their views on violence against women.
The Hindu, March 6, 2013
Posted on: March 6, 2013
By Sumati Yengkhom
Several Delhi-based placement agencies, that claim to provide work to these trafficked girls, are being run illegally and without any registration. These agencies work in nexus with the ‘agents’ who are local tea garden workers and known to the victims.
The ignorant poor parents, who cannot feed their children, are ready to lap up the opportunity of sending the children to Delhi for work. in order to get rid of the their responsibility and also in the hope of getting a regular monthly income.
Once the victims reach Delhi, they stay in touch with the families for a few days. some of them is in contact with the family.
But soon they are barred from communicating with their parents and also, money stops reaching their families. Only a handful of them get work as domestic help, while the rest are either sold in brothels or for marriage.
About four months ago, a placement firm by the name Sai Placement Agency lured four girls from the Mateli police station area. Shakti Vahini members rescued the girls with the help of West Bengal Police. The agency was found to be fake and the trafficker Neelima Sharma was arrested after an FIR (number 223/12 under section 363/366/374 dated 21/11.2012) was lodged with the Mateli police.
Though the trend of migration by tribal girls started way back in 2000, the exodus has taken a massive proportion in last five to six years after several tea gardens were declared sick. Many of these tea estates do not even have primary schools and heathcare facilities. There is hardly any penetration by organizations that work for the welfare of the tribals.
Jalpaiguri police are aware of the magnitude of the problem and admitted that there is need to do much more to prevent trafficking. Police’s anti-trafficking activities like awareness programmes are restricted to educational institutions, a place that is out of bounds to the girls here.
“Poverty is the main issue. Unless it is addressed, the girls here will remain vulnerable. Though we cannot do much on that front, we are working on other preventive measures. Few days back we arrested two agents in Banarhat for trying to lure some girls. We need to penetrate deeper into the tea gardens. Officers-in-charge of all police stations have been asked to maintain records of girls who are going away for work, the persons taking them away, contacts of employers in collaboration with the local panchayats,” said Jalpaiguri SP Amit P Javalgi.
The schemes for the poor, like the BPL card and old age pension, are distant dreams. Most are not even aware of the existence of such schemes. There is no effort worth mentioning on part of local politicians for uplift the economic status of this tribal population. A major portion of the funds under schemes like NREGA are being pocketed by local panchayats.
“Recently we found misappropriation of NREGA funds by the local panchayat. Many garden workers were made to sign that they were paid for 100 days work, whereas these illiterate workers were paid only for seven days. We were even threatened by some panchayat members for unearthing this information and educating workers on their rights and dues,” said Omega Minj, a field worker.
Unfortunately NGOs active in anti-trafficking in many pockets of North Bengal seem to have left out these tea gardens of Jalpaiguri.
“We have been working in various parts of North Bengal but we need better penetration in the tea gardens. We will work out with the district administration, police and other stake holders to start off,” said Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini, an orgnisation that has successfully worked with administration and police in Malda.
Going all guns out on the traffickers by the police could only serve a temporary purpose. Till the concerned departments salvage the tea garden community out of poverty and hunger, young women and children will continue to be smuggled unabated from the cursed tea gardens.
The Times of India, March 4, 2013
Posted on: March 4, 2013
By Prathiba Raju
Two months after the gang-rape of a 23-year-old, protests might have quelled but women in India’s national capital say they still don’t feel safe and are haunted by the horrific incident on that wintry night of Dec 16.
Every woman in the capital has in some way relived in her mind the trauma of the young physiotherapist. And battled that nagging, subliminal fear that it could have happened to anyone, particularly a woman whose work or studies compel her to stay out late.
“If not her, it could have been me. I travel during late hours after my work. Putting myself in her position on that dreaded night when five men and one juvenile stripped her clothes off and raped her, left her battered and bleeding on the roadside…a chill runs down my spine,” Neha Khanna, a journalist, told IANS.
“What would I have done… a sense of helplessness grips me as I wait alone everyday for autorickshaws near metro stations and walk out alone. My educational qualifications, economic independence, self defence classes and the pepper spray can may not be helpful… I know I can be a victim too, anytime,” said Tanima Sen, a BPO employee.
However, Deputy Commissioner of Police (South) Chayya Sharma told IANS that there should be no fear psychosis after the Dec 16 incident as police vigil had been increased.
“As a woman living in Delhi, yes I feel safe…you come from other cities then you will realise it’s true,” Sharma said.
Many women say they are unable to forget the incident and forgive the accused as their barbaric act put an end to the dreams of a girl, who belonged to a lower middle class family and was working towards becoming economically independent.
“Police presence on roads is not enough. Police personnel have to be more sensitive to women’s issues. A week ago on my way home with two of my friends after a movie, our car was stopped by three patrolling policemen. They said it was a routine check-up after the Dec 16 gang rape incident and asked me even after the incident why don’t I go home by 7 p.m.,” said Deepali Bharadwaj.
Like Bharadwaj, many women say the mentality of the men should be changed, not the working hours of women or their clothes.
Based on the recommendations of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee, formed to look into laws on sexual violence against women, the government passed an ordinance paving way for stricter laws for crime against women.
Activists claim that the women’s helpline set up by the Delhi government, added police vigil and an ordinance by the government that is weaker that what the Justice Verma committee has recommended are not sufficient enough to protect women.
“The case has definitely been an eye opener to youngsters and men to a certain extent. But it doesn’t end, the government should bring in a strong anti-rape law; this case should become a benchmark for how a rape case should be handled,” Kavita Krishnan, All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), told IANS. Krishnan was at the forefront of the anti-rape protests that was seen in the city in the wake of the gang-rape.
Various women activists say the government should take their words seriously and would ensure that the movement does not fizzle out.
“We will again stage protests in Jantar Mantar from Feb 21 when the budget session begins in parliament. We will fight till a strong bill is passed to amend anti-rape laws,” Krishnan told IANS.
An ordinance is a law made by the government while parliament is not in session. It lapses unless it is approved by parliament within six months.
The protest over the incident has emerged as a global torchbearer for awakening on sexual violence against women as the capital’s women call it a blot on history.
“Mindsets have to change otherwise women will continue to feel insecure and scared and that in a society is a big no-no,” Arti Mehra, who works in a call centre, said.
DNA India, February 18, 2013
Posted on: February 18, 2013
By Niharika Mandhana
The protests in Delhi demanding justice after the Dec. 16 gang rape may have wound down, but many women here, including Reecha Upadhyay, a 34-year-old filmmaker, continue to feel a “deep sense of outrage.”
“We can’t be on the streets physically every day, but surely there’s something we can do,” Ms. Upadhyay said in an interview Wednesday. “I felt the need to continue the movement to demand safety for women.”
On Thursday, as India participates in One Billion Rising, a global campaign that uses dance to call for an end to violence against women, Delhi will have a full day of events, including a flash mob organized by a small group of young professionals including Ms. Upadhyay, at 5 p.m. on Parliament Street.
The international reaction to One Billion Rising, spearheaded by Eve Ensler, the author of “The Vagina Monologues,” has been strong: nearly 200 countries are expected to participate, and dance troupes are expected to pop up on street corners and at public squares around the world.
In India, the issue is particularly raw. The problem of violence against women has dominated public discussions and debate for nearly two months. The trial of the five men accused of the rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student is being watched closely, and legislative and judicial changes are afoot.
“This is a new struggle for freedom,” Kamla Bhasin, the South Asia coordinator for the campaign, said of One Billion Rising. “Freedom from patriarchal mindsets, patriarchal families and patriarchal religious traditions.”
The campaign in India seeks to shift the focus from the lapses of the state to individuals who can drive change in their homes, communities and families. “Governments don’t rape; people do,” Ms. Bhasin said. “We should ask: What are we as a society doing to our girls and women?”
The One Billion movement urges people to “walk out, dance, rise up and demand an end to violence against women.”
On Thursday, women from low-income colonies in Delhi will organize candle marches in their localities. In Andhra Pradesh, those who benefit from the National Rural Employment Guarantee program will pledge not to participate in or tolerate violence. In Mumbai, popular actors and singers will attend public events.
The movement is designed to bring thousands out of their homes, Ms. Bhasin said, and seeks to “reclaim the streets” for women.
“Delhi Rising” hopes to do just that. It was born a month ago, when Shruti Singh, a 25-year-old fashion designer met Sakshi Bhalla, also 25 and a dancer and development worker, through Facebook. Soon, a handful of other young women, including Megha Chawdhry, a 24-year-old branding consultant, Reema Gudwani, a 30-year-old founder of a dance school, and Ms. Upadhyay, who makes films, joined the crew.
These women, who brought diverse skills to the campaign but were animated by the common goal of highlighting women’s rights issues, knew almost immediately that they wanted to organize a flash mob, and quickly divvied up the work: one took charge of social media outreach; some volunteered to choreograph the flash mob dance; and others started working on promotional material.
Soon, the campaign had a couple of videos (see here and here), an anthem and a choreographed routine. One of the short promotional videos, which has over 34,000 hits on YouTube, features four young unnamed women, some of whom have faced harassment in their homes, on the streets and in their communities and now pledge to rise up against that kind of treatment.
“I had stayed mute too long; I had stayed mute too often,” one of them says in the video. “But now I want to strike.”
An Indian classical dancer since she was very young and now a salsa instructor, Ms. Bhalla, along with Ms. Gudwani, choreographed a flash mob that would be easy to learn and powerful to watch. Ms. Bhalla, who said she resents the stereotypical portrayal of women in Indian cultural and educational material like television advertisements and textbooks, put “everything else on hold,” including her job hunt, to work on the campaign.
Set to “Jago Delhi Jago,” (“Rise Delhi Rise”) a song composed for the event that urges women to stand up to silence and oppression, the dance routine closely echoes the lyrics. An instructional video was posted online to stir people to learn and participate in the flash mob.
In the last four weeks, Ms. Bhalla and others reached out to several dozen dance studios, teaching dance instructors the routine, who then taught their students. She also connected with nonprofits and student groups, including those in lower-income areas where school dropout rates are high because of sexual harassment. She estimated that she and her friends have taught the dance routine to some 200 young men, women and children.
“Dance allows you to express emotions – outrage, anger, hope – that sometimes words don’t allow you to,” said Ms. Bhalla. “It’s a really powerful experience because you embody everything you’re thinking.”
The New York Times – India Ink, February 13, 2013
Posted on: February 13, 2013
NEW DELHI — India dramatically tightened its laws on sexual assault and trafficking Sunday, with a far-reaching package of measures rushed through to satisfy public opinion in the wake of a horrific gang rape of a young woman in the capital in December.
Women’s groups complained that the government had not gone far enough, particularly because it neither outlawed marital rape nor dealt with the legal impunity enjoyed by members of the country’s armed forces. But other activists said the new measures, which imposed much stricter penalties for a range of crimes, marked one of the most significant changes to laws protecting India’s women.
With Parliament in recess and the government looking to move quickly, the changes were pushed through in an ordinance that was approved by the cabinet on Friday and signed into law by the president on Sunday. The measures go into effect immediately, but Parliament must ratify them within six months.
“This shows the intention of the government to take the issue very seriously,” said Bhuwan Ribhu, an activist who has spent the past decade fighting trafficking and child labor. “We now have to ensure this gets translated into law [by Parliament] and the law gets enforced.”
A panel’s recommendations
A high-level committee led by retired Chief Justice J.S. Verma was set up in the wake of nationwide protests over the rape of the 23-year-old woman in New Delhi and her subsequent death. The panel, which looked at ways to protect India’s women, went further than many people had expected by recommending sweeping changes to Indian law and governance. The government has accepted many of the committee’s recommendations.
In particular, India’s rape law has been changed to allow for tough penalties for all types of sexual assault. In the past, rape was defined as penetration only, and anything short of that fell under the ambit of criminal assault on a woman with “intent to outrage her modesty,” an offense that carried a light penalty. That provision was almost never enforced, leaving women vulnerable to, for example, groping on public transportation by men who knew they were unlikely to be prosecuted.
Separate offenses with strict punishments have been introduced for stalking, voyeurism, stripping a woman or carrying out an acid attack. For the first time, trafficking has been outlawed in India, with stiff penalties for the trafficker and for those employing people who have been trafficked.
In effect, that means anyone employing children as maids, a sizable proportion of the Indian population, could be jailed for at least five years, and the vast network of “placement agents,” who bring children from poor villages to work in India’s towns and cities, could be put away for at least 14 years. A police officer or other public servant found to have been involved in trafficking could be jailed for life.
The dramatic changes, if implemented, could serve as a deterrent to India’s huge child labor industry.
The ordinance went beyond Verma’s recommendations in just one area, with the government bowing to popular pressure to allow the death penalty in cases in which a rape leaves a woman in a persistent vegetative state.
‘An act of bad faith’
Women’s groups had urged President Pranab Mukherjee not to sign the ordinance into law, saying the government had sidestepped many of the most important recommendations of the committee. They have pledged to continue their protests this week.
“The ordinance is a complete betrayal of the faith that people had put in the government — that they will carry forward the demand from the street, the demand from the women’s movement and what was reflected in the Verma committee report,” activist and lawyer Vrinda Grover said at a news conference Saturday. “This is an act of bad faith. It is the most horrible form of politics this government could have played on us.”
The Verma committee had recommended that members of the armed forces who are accused of rape be tried under civilian law, instead of being protected by a special law that gives them virtual immunity from prosecution. The panel had also recommended that members of Parliament charged with rape and other serious crimes be forced to resign their posts and that marital rape be outlawed.
Those recommendations were ignored, although the government insisted that it is open to further discussions and possible amendments when the ordinance reaches Parliament, which is expected to approve the changes. The next step is a parliamentary committee, which will examine Verma’s recommendations in more detail.
“The reluctance to address the accountability for the police or for the army is a problem,” said Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch. “Any state that wants to address this [violence against women] will have to deal with accountability.”
But Ribhu said there was still time to discuss those more politically sensitive issues in Parliament. For now, he said, the new provisions represented perhaps the most significant changes to India’s laws protecting women since the penal code was implemented by British colonial rulers in 1862.
A law to outlaw the payment of a dowry when women are married was introduced in 1961 and tightened in the 1980s, while a bill to outlaw domestic violence came into force in 2006.
“Parliamentary debate can wait, public opinion can wait, but women need to be protected now,” Ribhu said. “Every single hour, a woman is getting raped in India. Eighteen children get raped in a single day on average in India, and every single day, hundreds of thousands of women are assaulted, groped, stalked and trafficked.”
Five men pleaded not guilty Saturday to charges of rape and murder in relation to the December gang rape. A specially convened fast-track court is expected to begin hearing evidence Tuesday, and the men could face the death penalty if convicted. A sixth suspect, who is 17, will be tried in a juvenile court and could face a maximum sentence of three years.
The Washington Post, February 3, 2013
Posted on: February 3, 2013
By Jim Yardley and Neha Thirani Bagri
India’s government on Sunday approved tough new laws to deter sexual violence against women, including the death penalty in certain rape cases, as leaders moved to respond to public outrage over a recent gang rape case in the national capital.
The new package of laws, signed on Sunday by President Pranab Mukherjee after earlier approval by the cabinet, amends India’s penal code and, for the first time, will apply the death penalty to rape cases in which the victim dies. The new measures also made crimes such as voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and the trafficking of women as punishable under criminal law.
India’s coalition national government has been criticized for its clumsy handling of the protests that erupted after the brutal Dec. 16 gang rape of a young woman, who later died. The new ordinance takes effect immediately, though it must be approved by India’s Parliament within six months.
Reaction has been mixed. Even as some legal advocates praised the changes as overdue, leaders of different women’s groups on Saturday held a news conference appealing to the president not to sign the measure, which they considered incomplete.
“This is a piecemeal and fragmented ordinance, which seems to be more of an exercise to make an impact,” said Kirti Singh, a lawyer who specializes in women’s issues. “After 20 years of not doing anything, they seem to be in a tremendous hurry to do something or the other to appease public sentiment.”
Last month, a special three-member committee led by a former Supreme Court chief justice, J. S. Verma, completed a far-reaching report that urged the government to act on a broad range of measures, including changes to criminal penalties, but also placing an emphasis on education and a holistic solution.
While the new measures followed some of the recommendations by the Verma committee, others were ignored, including the panel’s call for criminal penalties in cases of marital rape, as well as the prosecution of military personnel who commit sexual assaults. In addition, the Verma committee pointedly rejected the death penalty in cases of rape.
India’s cabinet approved the new measures on Friday, as leaders spoke about their desire to send a signal to the public after the New Delhi rape case. Included in the changes were provisions to improve police investigations of sex crimes, such as requiring the presence of female officers to help interview rape victims.
The new provisions include varying degrees of punishment, ranging from a minimum of seven years in prison to the death penalty, in those cases where the victim dies or is left in a vegetative state. Many advocates, while welcoming some of the changes, objected to the introduction of the death penalty.
“Every country is moving toward the elimination of death penalty, and India is strengthening the legislation for the death penalty,” said Kavita Srivastava, the national secretary for the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. “Here we are still looking for an eye for an eye framework.”
The New York Times, February 3, 2013
Posted on: February 3, 2013
By Sheelah Kolhatkar
India is in the midst of a moral crisis. The deadly gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in New Delhi last December focused attention on the mistreatment of women in Indian society, though not all the outrage was directed at the perpetrators. Rural politicians blamed the victim for being out in public. When demonstrators took to the streets of the capital to demand justice for the woman’s killers, police fired tear gas at them. For Indians justifiably proud of the country’s economic advances, the episode has been an unsettling reminder of how far India still has to go when it comes to defending the rights of women. “The brutal rape and murder of a young woman, a woman who was a symbol of all that new India strives to be, has left our hearts empty and our minds in turmoil,” said Indian President Pranab Mukherjee during a nationally televised address in January. “It is time for the nation to reset its moral compass.”
The inability of the world’s largest democracy to guarantee the security of half its population is indeed a moral crisis, but it’s also an economic one. India has been celebrated for its steep growth and rapidly expanding middle class, as well as its position as an exciting market for foreign multinationals. Yet it has achieved these gains with astonishingly low economic participation by women; those who enter the business world often find themselves in chauvinistic and threatening work environments.
The lamentable state of gender equality belies the image of a prosperous, modern India. It also suggests why the country’s economic miracle has stalled. The continuing exclusion of India’s female human capital from professional life is something that the country can no longer afford.
In a paper called “India’s Economy: The Other Half,” published last year by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Persis Khambatta, a fellow at the center, and Karl Inderfurth, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, point out that India has the world’s second-largest workforce, at 478 million people. And yet the proportion of women in the workforce is only 24 percent. The number of senior-level female employees sits at 5 percent, compared with a global average of about 20 percent, and almost half of all women stop working before they reach the middle of their careers, in large part because even well-educated Indians cling to traditional views of women’s roles.
“It has a lot to do with familial pressure and cultural pressure,” Khambatta says. “Once a woman gives birth, they’re expected to be home taking care of the family, and in many cases they’re taking care of their in-laws as well. There are family expectations, and marriage expectations.” As India modernizes, gender attitudes have retrenched. “There are so many more women in the public space, especially in urban centers,” Khambatta says. “There has been a sort of societal male backlash.”
The 2012 Global Gender Gap Report, which is published by the World Economic Forum and analyzes 135 countries on benchmarks such as economic participation and political empowerment, gives some indication of just how far down the economic ladder India’s women find themselves. The country is ranked 105th overall, after Belize, Cambodia, and Burkina Faso. India’s standing is skewed slightly upward because of high scores in women’s political participation relative to other countries—thanks in part to Sonia Gandhi, head of the Indian National Congress party, as well as improved female representation in local politics. Judged on a purely economic basis, however, India falls to 123, with only 12 nations ranking lower.
This gender imbalance poses a major threat to India’s growth prospects, to say nothing of its ambition to become a world power. Compare India with China, whose economy outperformed India’s significantly in 2011, at 9.3 percent compared with India’s 6.9 percent, according to the World Bank. There are many reasons for the difference, but an important one is the robust participation of women in China’s workforce.
A report published by Gallup, which conducted surveys of the two countries from 2009 to 2012, found that “Chinese women are taking part in their country’s labor force in vastly greater numbers than Indian women are. Gender gaps are also much narrower in China than in India, and all but disappearing among Chinese with the highest level of education.” Seventy percent of Chinese women participate in the labor force, according to Gallup, and they have an easier time finding full-time jobs. The female literacy rate is also magnitudes higher than in India. As Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of UN Women, said in 2011, India’s economic growth rate could make a “quantum jump” of 4.2 percentage points if women were given greater opportunity to contribute to professional life.
In response to the New Delhi tragedy, political leaders have taken some steps to deter violence against women. A “fast track” court has been set up for the trial of five of the six attackers. A special government report issued on Jan. 23 points to many other problems that need to be addressed. In addition to recommending a major overhaul of the police and criminal justice system, the study acknowledges rampant discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace, and a cultural preference for sons over daughters that has led to a population imbalance.
Addressing such problems isn’t solely the responsibility of India’s government. A concerted push by businesses on behalf of women would both improve the lives of millions and make the economy more globally competitive. As Bloomberg Businessweek has previously reported, some companies operating in India have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect and retain their female workers: Google (GOOG) maintains taxis to shepherd employees safely home, while Boehringer Ingelheim, a German drugmaker, pays for women employees to bring their mothers with them on business trips to avoid traveling alone. Indian companies Wipro (WIT) and Infosys (INFY) have policies that help working mothers, such as on-site child care during school holidays and extended maternity leave. Ernst & Young, the accounting giant, may be the most creative, launching an education campaign for parents and in-laws of female employees to persuade them to let the women continue to work. The sooner that other companies follow their example, by aggressively recruiting, retaining, and promoting women, the better off India will be.
Until Indians embrace the economic benefits that flow from female empowerment—and work to change the social attitudes that hold women back—the country will remain in a state of arrested development. A great democracy and its people deserve better.
Bloomberg Businessweek, January 31, 2013
Posted on: January 31, 2013
By Natalia Antelava
The death of a student who was gang-raped on a Delhi bus has prompted anguished soul-searching about the place of women in Indian society. The widespread killing of female foetuses and infants is well-documented, but less well-known is the trafficking of girls across the country to make up for the resulting shortages.
Rukhsana was sweeping the floor when police broke into the house.
Wide-eyed and thin, she stood in the middle of a room clutching a broom in her hand. Police officers towered above her, shouting questions: “How old are you? “How did you get here?”
“Fourteen,” she replied softly. “I was kidnapped.”
But just as she began to say more, an older woman broke through the circle of policemen. “She is lying,” she shouted. “She is 18, almost 19. I paid her parents money for her.”
As the police pushed the girl towards the exit, the woman asked them to wait. She leaped over towards the girl and reached for her earrings. “These are mine,” she said, taking them out.
A year ago, Rukhsana was a 13-year-old living with her parents and two younger siblings in a village near India’s border with Bangladesh.
“I used to love going to school and I loved playing with my little sister,” she remembers.
Her childhood ended when one day, on the way home from school, three men pushed her into a car.
“They showed me a knife and said they would cut me into pieces if I resisted,” she said.
After a terrifying three-day journey in cars, buses and on trains, they reached a house in the northern Indian state of Haryana where Rukhsana was sold to a family of four – a mother and her three sons.
For one year she was not allowed to go outside. She says she was humiliated, beaten and routinely raped by the eldest of the three sons – who called himself her “husband”.
“He used to say, ‘I bought you, so you do as I tell you.’ He and his mother beat me. I thought I would never see my family again. I cried every day,” she said.
Tens of thousands of girls disappear in India every year. They are sold into prostitution, domestic slavery and, increasingly, like Rukhsana, into marriage in the northern states of India where the sex ratio between men and women has been skewed by the illegal – but widespread – practice of aborting girl foetuses.
The UN children’s agency Unicef says it’s a problem of “genocide proportions” and that 50 million women are missing in India because of female foeticide and infanticide – the killing of baby girls. The Indian government disputes this estimate, but the reality of life in Haryana is hard to argue with.
“We don’t have enough girls here,” the woman who bought Rukhsana cried as she tried to convince the police to let her stay. “There are many girls from Bengal here. I paid money for her,” she wailed.
There are no official statistics on how many girls are sold into marriage in the northern states of India, but activists believe the number is on the rise, fuelled both by demand for women in the relatively wealthy north, and poverty in other parts of India.
“Every house in northern India is feeling the pressure, in every house there are young men who cannot find women and who are frustrated,” says social activist Rishi Kant, whose organization Shakti Vahini (or Power Brigade) works closely with the police to rescue victims.
In just one area, the Sunderbans in the South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, the BBC visited five villages all of which had missing children, mostly girls.
A graph showing the percentage more boys than girls at birth in different states in India
According to the latest official data, almost 35,000 children were reported missing in India in 2011 – and over 11,000 of them were from West Bengal. Police estimate that only about 30% of cases are actually reported.
Trafficking peaked in the Sunderbans after a deadly cyclone destroyed rice paddies around the area five years ago.
Local farm worker, Bimal Singh – like thousands of people – was left without income, and so he thought it was good news when a neighbour offered his 16-year-old daughter Bisanti a job in Delhi.
“She went on a train. She told me ‘Father, don’t worry about me, I will come back with enough money so that you can marry me.”
They never heard from her again.
“The police have done nothing for us. They came once and knocked on the door of the trafficker but they didn’t arrest him. They don’t treat me well when I go to them, so I am afraid to go to the police,” Singh says.
In a Calcutta slum we manage to meet a man who sells girls for a living. He doesn’t want to give his name, but speaks openly about the trade.
“The demand is rising, and because of this growing demand I have made a lot of money. I now have bought three houses in Delhi.
“I traffic 150 to 200 girls a year, starting from age 10, 11 and older, up to 16, 17,” he says.
“I don’t go to the source areas, but I have men working for me. We tell parents that we will get them jobs in Delhi, then we transport them to placement agencies. What happens to them after that is not my concern,” the man says.
The man says he makes around 55,000 rupees ($1,000; £700) from each girl. Local politicians and police, he says, are crucial to his operation.
“Police are well aware of what we do. I have to tell police when I am transporting a girl and I bribe police in every state – in Calcutta, in Delhi, in Haryana.
“I have had troubles with authorities but I am not afraid – if I go to jail I now have enough money to bribe my way out.”
The head of the Criminal Investigation Unit in charge of anti-trafficking in West Bengal, Shankar Chakraborty, describes police corruption as “negligible” and says his unit is “absolutely resolute” in its determination to tackle the problem of trafficking.
“We are organising training camps and awareness campaigns. We have also recovered many girls, from different areas of the country. The fight is on,” he says.
The very existence of his unit, he adds, shows the government’s resolve and activists agree that police are now more aware of the problem. Every police station in West Bengal now has an anti-trafficking officer. But their caseloads are overwhelming, and resources are scarce.
“Simply changing the police will not give results. When we rescue a child together with the police, then what?” says Rishi Kant from Shakti Vahini.
“What we need is fast rehabilitation. We need social welfare and judiciary systems that work.”
Rishi Kant says there is a need for fast-track courts – like the court being used to try the suspects in the latest gang-rape case – to prosecute perpetrators, and make it more difficult for them to get out on bail.
Even greater, some argue, is the need for a change in attitudes.
Two weeks before the notorious Delhi rape case, a group of influential local elders, all of them men, came together in a Haryana village to discuss what they called the most pressing issues their communities face – rape, illegal abortions and marriage laws.
One speaker addressed what he called an “alarming” increase in rape cases. “Have you seen the suggestive ways that girls ride scooters?” he said. “There is no modesty in the way women dress or act any more.”
Another man spoke about the roots of female foeticide. “These days the society has become very educated and the girls from this educated society have started eloping. When girls bring shame on their own parents and behave like that – who would want a girl?” he asked.
Rupa, a 25-year-old woman was trafficked to Haryana from Bihar. She was sold as a wife to a man who failed to find one in his own community. The family forced her to have two abortions until she was finally pregnant with a baby boy.
In India, the cycle of abuse carries on.
BBC News, January 8, 2013
Posted on: January 8, 2013
By Palash R. Ghosh
The gang rape of a young Indian medical student on a bus in Delhi—and her subsequent death—has unexpectedly galvanized a huge protest movement calling for a complete overhaul of the nation’s attitudes toward and treatment of women.
In a country where rape and the sexual assault of girls and women are so routine that they typically do not even merit mention in the media, the outrage over the horrific rape and beating of the unidentified woman in Delhi on Dec. 16 has taken on a life of its own. It has sparked a continuing series of protests by activists demanding not only the death penalty for the six men accused of the crime, but also requesting the police and the courts to guarantee the safety of females in public, something they haven’t done so far.
But what would be an issue of public safety and gender equality in the West is intimately linked in India with ancient patriarchal attitudes, the stigmatization of unescorted women in public, and the traditional preference for male offspring.
Further complicating the problem is India’s ancient caste system, which remains firmly in place despite legal efforts to dismantle it. Indeed, for females at the very bottom of India’s rigidly stratified society—the Dalits (or Untouchables, as they are known in the West)—rape has long been used as method of oppression and terror by higher-caste men.
In September, three months before the much-publicized Delhi incident, a 16-year-old Dalit girl was gang-raped by at least eight drunken higher-caste men for three hours in a village in the northern state of Haryana. The men even videotaped the assault on their cellphones, and eventually the images were shown to the girl’s father, who committed suicide shortly thereafter.
That rape hasn’t been prosecuted. It rarely happens in India when the victim is a Dalit, due partly to the silence of the victim and her family, partly to the authorities’ indifference to the plight of low-caste people. In some cases, rapists kill the victim to prevent any investigations.
This assault was one in a series of rapes recorded in Haryana this year—some of the victims were children under the age of 16.
Before the unprecedented coverage surrounding the recent Delhi gang rape, the reaction to the epidemic of rapes in Haryana ranged from indifference to accusations by local village elders that the victims sought consensual sexual relations, which, in conservative India, amounts to committing the unforgivable sin of adultery.
“I think that girls should be married at the age of 16, so that they have their husbands for their sexual needs, and they don’t need to go elsewhere,” a local village council leader named Sube Singh told news channel IBNLive . “This way rapes will not occur.”
Other elderly male authorities across India have blamed rapes on the adoption of Western behavior by youth, pornography, the pernicious influence of Bollywood films, even the widespread use of cellphones.
In Haryana, a particularly backward rural region deeply steeped in ancient patriarchal feudal codes, rape victims frequently commit suicide, to spare their families shame and to avoid the frustrations of coping with an uncaring police force and sluggish legal system.
“If you are a poor woman who is raped, you cannot even imagine a life where there will be justice,” columnist Kalpana Sharma wrote in the Hindu newspaper. “If you are a poor woman and a Dalit, then the chances of justice are even slimmer.”
Shefali Chandra, assistant professor of history at Washington University in St. Louis, pointed out that Dalit and other low-caste women have always been considered sexually available to higher-caste men.
“Their mobility, and presence as laborers, has signaled sexual availability,” she said. “Moreover, caste hierarchies themselves have always relied on staking distinctions between the women whose sexuality was secured (the upper-caste, chaste, wife/widow) on the one hand, and the women who were sexually available on the other. The entire edifice of caste required this.”
‘The Broken People’
According to official statistics, Dalits represent about one-sixth of India’s vast population, some 190 million people, comparable with the population of Brazil. Dalits—meaning “the broken people” in Hindi—occupy the bottom of Hinduism’s strict social hierarchy, relegating them to the worst jobs, such as street sweeping and toilet cleaning, and a life of unyielding poverty, rejection, and social exclusion.
Dalits are so despised and marginalized that they do not even belong to the caste system: They are trapped outside the structure, which also prohibits marriage or even personal contact with higher castes. Dalits also face severe restrictions in housing, education, and access to social services.
Dalits have theoretically benefited from the Indian government’s legislation, similar to affirmative-action laws in the U.S., that largely bans caste discrimination and sets aside some state jobs and school placements for them, including the Civil Rights Act of 1955 and the Scheduled Castes and Tribes Act of 1989.
However, laws written in parliament have done little to change peoples’ attitudes and are often ignored by local authorities. To the contrary, Dalits remain vulnerable to an avalanche of abuse—including myriad transgressions all the way up to torture, rape, and murder—by both higher-caste people and the police.
Dalits enjoy virtually no legal recourse for their many grievances.
According to Human Rights Watch , or HRW, a Dalit activist in the state of Punjab named Bant Singh went to the police in 2006 to seek justice after his daughter was gang-raped. He actually was able to secure the conviction of those responsible, but their supporters then beat him so badly that both his arms and a leg had to be amputated. Such tragic incidents have been repeated across the breadth and width of the subcontinent.
And that’s just what we know about. According to Mridu Rai, a lecturer in Indian studies at Trinity College Dublin, sexual offenses against Dalit women are underreported.
“And that is in line with the fact that violence against all Dalits is underreported,” she noted.
Six years ago, the Dalits appeared to have gained a voice at the highest reaches of Indian government—Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is not Hindu but Sikh, explicitly linked untouchability to South Africa’s system of apartheid, calling it a “blot on humanity” and noting that “even after 60 years of constitutional and legal protection and state support, there is still social discrimination against Dalits in many parts of our country.”
An HRW report in December 2007 lamented that India has “systematically failed to uphold its international legal obligations” to ensure the fundamental human rights of Dalits, and emphasized the use of rape and sexual abuse to maintain caste oppression.
HRW documented incidents where rape was employed as a method of terror by landlords and other authority figures to crush dissent and labor organizing by impoverished Dalits in Bihar in the north and Tamil Nadu in the deep south.
In the most horrific cases of sex abuse, Dalit women have not only been raped, but mutilated, burned, paraded nude through villages, and even forced to eat human feces.
“[The] rape of Dalit girls by the powerful … upper-caste men is an instrument of caste oppression,” wrote Ananthapadmanabhan Guruswamy, director of Amnesty India. “[Dalit] women are often the targets of widespread and systematic rape.”
William Gould, senior lecturer in modern Indian history at the University of Leeds in England, agrees: “I think vulnerable sections of the [Indian] population are more likely to be victims of this type of violence, since rape is an obvious means of demeaning other communities—we see it in instances of communal violence, where rape is used as a weapon of terror and subjugation.”
Not all Dalit women take this without a fight. Perhaps the most high-profile rape of a Dalit woman involved the saga of Phoolan Devi, popularly known as the Bandit Queen, who led a Robin Hood-like campaign of violence against feudal upper-caste landowners in rural Uttar Pradesh. In 1981, she ordered the massacre of 22 landlords in retaliation for her rape and the murder of her lover. She was arrested in 1983 and spent 11 years in jail, inspiring a film based on her exploits.
After her release from prison under pressure from politicians of various stripes, the illiterate Devi composed an autobiography—dictated to a writer—entered politics and even visited, in 2000, the United Nations in New York. There, she said that “Dalit women continue to be oppressed at will in India.”
But even the celluloid and literary immortality she achieved failed to ignite any significant social movement to alleviate the sufferings of the Dalits—nor could it save her life. She was shot in 2001 by three masked gunmen outside her Delhi home, presumably in retaliation for the massacre she perpetrated 20 years before. Only one of her killers has been caught.
What would Phoolan Devi, the poor, illiterate, rural renegade, think of the new wave of anti-rape protests in India?
The Middle Class Gets Involved
Phoolan Devi might note that we don’t know whether the recent Delhi gang rape was prompted by caste hatred. The still-unidentified 23-year-old medical student came from a poor, remote village in Uttar Pradesh, and therefore is presumably of low caste. However, her assailants on the Delhi bus—who were reportedly intoxicated—likely neither knew of her caste status nor cared.
“I cannot imagine a caste dimension to this incident of rape and violence,” said Trinity College Dublin’s Rai. “The aggression was perpetrated by a few men drunk and functioning within the permissiveness of patriarchal norms to the communities to which they belong.”
The larger issue of rape in India, particularly in Delhi, is that women of all castes, ethnicities, and income groups have been victimized. Middle-class, upper middle-class, and wealthy women in Delhi and elsewhere, all members of the higher castes, have been raped with impunity for years.
As a medical student, the Delhi rape victim could herself be considered part of India’s emerging middle class. Indeed, India’s buoyant economy has thrust tens of millions of women into the workforce and universities, making them visible targets for resentful men who have been left behind trapped in poverty and ignorance.
And it appears that it is these women—urban, college-educated, ambitious, liberal, and middle class—who are leading these protests. India’s FirstPost newspaper described the crowds assembled in Delhi as “the young middle class, the social-networking and smartphone-wielding youth.”
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, a female Indian blogger, seemed to confirm the relatively bourgeois nature of these demonstrations, when she opined at Vice.com : “This incident has become a rallying cry for the issue of women’s safety—something long-ignored in India. And perhaps because this happened to ‘people like us,’ India’s long-apolitical middle class has taken notice.”
One has to wonder now whether the anti-rape protests sweeping across India will include empathy for those who have suffered the brunt of rapes in the country—rural, poor, Dalit females.
The University of Leeds’ Gould is highly skeptical this will happen.
“I think it is probably a bit unlikely that the movement will focus heavily on Dalit or other low-status women,” Gould said. “What has helped to create protests on this scale is a new kind of public confidence that the government might react positively, which, in turn, is partly generated by other recent large-scale movements, including the anti-corruption campaign of politician Anna Hazare.”
According to Gould, these political movements were largely driven by urban middle-class interests. They did not reflect the needs of the rural poor, like the Dalits, who have very different concerns.
“I do not think the movement galvanizing India is in any way a movement that protests the problems faced by Dalit women,” agreed Washington University’s Chandra.
Thus, even in the heady atmosphere of a protest campaign that may change history in the world’s biggest democracy, the Dalits are again locked out.
International Business Times, January 5, 2013
Posted on: January 5, 2013
by Stella Paul, Reporter – Delhi
India News Desk
HYDERABAD, INDIA – Bujjiamma Begary, 27, can finally afford to eat vegetables again.
“For nearly five years, all I could afford was rice and a thin red gram [pigeon pea] soup because I didn’t have the money to buy fresh vegetables, which have become very costly,” she says.
Begary is a Dalit, also known as the “untouchable” caste in the social hierarchy, who lives in Malchalma, a village in southern India. Without land of her own, Begary previously earned less than 655 rupees ($12) a month as a farm laborer.
But earlier this year, Begary joined a collective farm along with four other Dalit women in her community. Life has changed considerably since they joined this government initiative, she says.
Today, Begary and her fellow farmers grow 22 crops on the 3-acre farm, including corn, okra, gourd and an array of beans.
“Today, I cooked rice, pappu [lentil] and string bean curry,” she says. “I plucked the beans right from my own farm.”
The government has invited thousands of Dalit women to take up collective farming to empower themselves economically. The women say the program also elevates their social status within their communities. Caste-baste discrimination is illegal in India but continues against Dalits. The program’s success in changing this in one state is prompting plans to expand it nationwide.
In India, 70 percent of Dalit people are landless, according to ActionAid, an international development organization that works to eliminate poverty.
The percentage is even higher in Andhra Pradesh state, where 86 percent of Dalit people do not own any land, says Mary Madiga, founder and president of Telengana Mahila Samakhya, an all-Dalit women’s organization in Hyderabad, the state capital, that fights for Dalit women’s political and social rights.
“Dalits are considered inferior to people born in higher castes,” she says. “So, they do not want the Dalits to have equal rights because it would put them in equal position in the society.”
But the list of landless Dalit women overcoming poverty and finding economic independence through collective farming is incredibly long, says D.V. Rayudu, director of Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture, the government program that provides this collective farming opportunity.
Rayudu says the total number of women turning to collective farming exceeds 1 million. The majority of them are from marginalized communities in Andhra Pradesh, currently the only state where the initiative is offered.
He says the program started in 2004 to help eliminate poverty. But it has also succeeded in providing better nutrition to women while helping them to find dignity and economic independence.
“We especially targeted Dalit and tribal families because most of them live below the poverty line,” Rayudu says. “So, we started to set up all-women’s self-help groups in villages. In each village, the SHG identifies the poorest of the families and selects the women members for collective farming.”
The government buys 3 to 5 acres of land for each collective farm and hands control of it to a group of five to 10 women, Rayudu says. The women are free to use the produce they grow to sell or to consume. Once they generate enough income, they pay the government back for the land.
The program also provides the women with training in organic and multicrop farming. The government and local self-help groups offer microloans to the women to buy materials such as seeds.
“The idea is to help them overcome poverty, grow their own food at a low cost and get better nutrition,” Rayudu says.
For Dalit women like Begary, the biggest benefit of the program has been a dramatic change in social and economic status.
At the personal level, they have shifted from being homemakers and dependent on their husbands to being the main providers for their families, she says. In the community, they are no longer seen as poor untouchables who work on others’ farms, but as farmers with their own land.
“Though earlier we did everything that we do now – tilling, seeding, weeding and cropping – we were invisible earlier,” says Anjamma, 36, a Dalit farmer who does not use a surname. “We begged for work. We also got less than the standard wages. But now, we are noticed.”
Susheela Yadaiah of Kambalapalli, a village in southern India, is a Dalit woman who runs an organic pesticide shop.
The Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture program trained Yadaiah to make the pesticide, which collective farmers buy from her.
She says that owning a business has improved her economic standing as well as has brought her more respect in her community.
“Do you notice how our house is at the back of the village?” she asks. “That is because the best spots in villages are always taken by the people of the higher castes.”
But since she started selling the pesticide, Yadaiah says government officials and people of higher castes have visited her home.
“We are no longer ignored,” she says. “I even have bought a color TV, which you could only see in higher-caste people’s homes.”
Nagamma Shekhapura, 42, a Dalit woman in Raipalle village in southern India, joined a 5-acre collective farm in 2011.
“My parents were landless farm laborers,” she says. “As a child, I worked with them all day long, weeding, plucking and washing vegetables for selling in the market.”
Shekhapura never went to school.
“Education was only for the rich and the higher-caste people,” she says. “As poor Dalits, we had neither any money nor the time to think of schools.”
So, like her parents, she became a farm laborer, earning 550 rupees ($10) a month.
But since joining the collective, her monthly earning has increased to nearly 5,500 rupees ($100). This helps her to pay for the education of her son, who has just become the first boy in their community to go to college. Ramesh is studying to be an agricultural scientist.
“This is like a dream come true,” she says.
These women’s stories defy the norm of discrimination against Dalits.
“Legally, it is a crime to treat the Dalits as unequal or deny them their rights,” Madiga says. “But in practice, it continues.”
India has a constitutional ban on caste-based discrimination and harassment. But data collected by the National Crime Records Bureau, a government institution, shows that every state in India continues to report crimes committed against Dalits by those belonging to higher castes.
In Andhra Pradesh, 11 percent of police cases were registered as crimes committed against Dalits. These include beating, rape, molestation and murder.
Madiga says that when Dalits protest this treatment, those in the upper castes physically torture or harass them until they fall silent.
“When a woman has no land and no money and is dependent on others for a livelihood, she can’t question or argue any of the rules,” Madiga says. “So, she accepts everything – denial of work or full wages – as her fate.”
Madiga says that economic independence gives the Dalit women a voice and the courage to stand up against what is wrong. This leads to greater liberty and dignity.
Rayudu says that the program has spread to more than 8,000 villages across the state of Andhra Pradesh. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has also expressed interest in introducing it in other parts of India.
The government has also begun to package and market the produce grown by the women of the collective farms under the brand name “Krushi,” which means “farming” in Hindi, Rayudu says.
The growth of the program means continued positive changes for the women involved.
For the first time this year, Begary was able to prepare for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights that celebrates the victory of good over evil.
“Earlier, I had to go find work even on the day of a festival,” she says.
But this year, Begary celebrated the festival in November at home with her children. She was also able to buy them new clothes and sweets for the special occasion, she says with a broad smile.
Global Press Institute, December 6, 2012
Posted on: December 6, 2012
Sunita Devi couldn’t take her Class IX final exams because the date clashed with the day of her marriage. Nine years on, she has not only completed her BA, but also teaches other Dalit women who couldn’t continue their studies after marriage. The resident of Baghpat in western Uttar Pradesh was recounting her story to a large number of Dalit women who had gathered here on Tuesday as part of the first national conference of Dalit women to debate and outline a National Dalit Development Agenda. The agenda is to focus on the access of Dalits to essential services like Integrated Child Development Schemes (ICDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDM) and the Public Distribution Scheme (PDS).
“After marriage I told my husband that at any cost I would continue my studies. I challenged the social norms prevailing in Baghpat because somebody has to take the courage to break the social structures. If you won’t then nobody will,” Sunita told the cheering crowd.
Sunita was joined by Laxmi Bagri, a field worker on Dalit issues in Haryana. She narrated her story of fighting against a casteist and patriarchal society. “I raised my voice against sexual violence on fellow Dalit women and took the matter up with the police. The victims got justice because of the solidarity shown by the Dalit rights activists and groups,” she said.
“The bottom line is that it is high time we say no to all kinds of violence by any body and every body,” Laxmi , adding, “We need to take our every legitimate right from the self appointed guardians of the society.”
The occasion saw eminent feminist and women’s leader Kamla Bhasin singing empowering songs about not getting bogged down by patriarchal dictates and fulfilling one’s every wish and aspiration.
“Let’s take a pledge not to be defeated by patriarchal onslaught. All that it takes is courage on our part,” said Ms. Bhasin.
During the public hearing, the Dalit women talked about how they faced discrimination while accessing food programmes like PDS, ICDS and MDM and demanded that ICDS centres and PDS shops be opened in Dalit villages. They also demanded that the cooking staff should be appointed from among the SC/ST to “eliminate the notions of purity, pollution and untouchability.”
On this occasion, Ashok Bharti from the National Confederation of Dalit Organisation, a coalition of several Dalit rights groups, underscored that at present the PDS, ICDS, and the MDM were arguably the strongest available tools with which the poor and marginalised could actualise their Right to Food.
“But the biggest roadblock is the considerable disadvantage faced by Dalits while accessing these schemes which has finally resulted in poor nutritional indicators of the majority of the SC/ST communities,” he added.
A recent UNICEF study showed that 37 per cent of reported maternal deaths were from the Scheduled Castes, said Mr. Bharti, adding that children from SC/ST communities were more likely to be underweight and malnourished.
“It shows that there is some thing seriously wrong with our nutritional policies,” he said, demanding the National Nutrition Policy be redesigned and a National Nutrition Authority be established with substantial presence from the SC/ST communities. He also asked the Government to make the social audit of all food and nutritional schemes mandatory.
The Hindu, December 5, 2012
Posted on: December 5, 2012
New Delhi: Educating Dalit women is the most important way to empower them and reduce many social evils, Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath said Tuesday.
“How many troubles the women may face, they should not skip education. Even Babasaheb Ambedkar had said that education is the greatest weapon to protect one’s respect and self-esteem and for the protection of one’s rights,” Tirath said at a conference of Dalit women here.
“If you are educated, you become aware of your rights. You are not seeking anything from anyone, your rights have been given to you by the Constitution,” she said.
Tirath said education would empower women which could bring an end to a lot of social evils. If women are empowered they can stop practices like child marriage by insisting that a girl child below 18 years will not be married, she said.
“To ensure that children get educated, I have sent suggestions to the HRD ministry that schools should be constructed near villages and from schools to houses, there should be pucca roads, and there should be proper seating arrangement, water, toilets,” she said.
Education would lead to awareness through which people can benefit from schemes which the government makes for them, she said.
The minister said it was important that children should get proper facilities at schools.
Dalits were becoming aware of their rights and women were no longer weak as they were perceived to be, she said.
Zeenews.com, December 4, 2012
Posted on: December 4, 2012
JODHPUR // Concern over the high rates of female foeticide and infanticide in the state of Rajasthan has prompted a community to open a bank account with a deposit for every newborn girl.
The amount of 5,000 Indian rupees (Dh330) will be deposited in each account for families of the Ghanci community in Jodhpur city, about 350 kilometres from the northern state capital of Jaipur.
“It will provide financial security to the girl’s family members,” said Rajendra Bhati, the general secretary of Ghanchi Mahasabha.
The move aims to ease the financial burden on families when a girl is married, since even the poorest families often get into debt when arranging marriages and having to pay elaborate dowries to their daughter’s new family.
“Cases of female foeticide and infanticide are quite rampant in the area. The major reason behind the evil practice is that the families think girls cause financial burden till marriage,” Mr Bhati said.
He said the money would be collected through donations and non-government organisations.
Rajasthan, as in much of India, continues to battle a declining male-female child-sex ratio because of female foeticide and infanticide, especially in rural areas.
An infant girl was found recently near bushes by a road in Chittorgarh. Some passers-by noticed the baby and called the police.
“Those who dumped her had placed a stone on her [that caused injuries]. The girl is undergoing treatment at a hospital,” said a police officer.
According to the 2011 census in India, Rajasthan has 883 girls under the age of six for every 1,000 boys. That’s down from 909 girls in 2001.
Alarmed over the skewed sex ratio, the state’s government recently announced steps to curb prenatal sex-determination tests at ultrasound clinics.
The steps include increasing the number of health-department inspection teams and equipping them with devices such as hidden cameras and voice recorders.
The state government has also increased the amount of money given to a person who complains about errant ultrasound clinics.
The National, November 25, 2012
Posted on: November 25, 2012
It could happen to anyone from anywhere at anytime. The message was loud, while the picture was grim. Plucked out of their homes — for reasons varying from poverty to the promise of better jobs elsewhere — millions of children and women are trafficked, sold and exploited sexually and economically, said speakers at a programme to raise awareness against trafficking here on Monday.
The magnitude of the problem resonates in the examples narrated by Premanand Kalmadi, an activist working for the Udupi-based human rights organisation Breakthrough, who called the trade a $ 40 billion (Rs. 2,12,000 crore) industry that was comparable to the illicit arms and drugs trade. “The demand for 8 to 10 year-olds is very high here. India itself generates Rs. 12.5 crore a day out of this revenue that comes out of sexually exploiting girls. A rescued 11-year-old girl was asked to ‘serve’ 270 customers a week or 13,000 men a year. Can you imagine the mental state of the girl? Or, the anguish of a four-year-old girl who after being exploited contracts and dies from a sexually transmitted disease,” he told an audience shocked into silence.
He said Mangalore was the key transit point to Mumbai, Pune, and Goa networks of trafficking, which are just a few of the at least 21 networks identified across the country.
N. Yogish Bhat, Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, expressed concern over the growing number of missing children in the district, a statistic that is often linked to trafficking. While 16 boys and 15 girls had been reported missing in the year, six boys and five girls remain untraced. “It is of paramount importance to trace them, so that they don’t fall into the trap of traffickers,” said Mr. Bhat.
Apart from strengthening vigilance, committees and cells to curb the menace, he said hostels and boarding homes should be audited to investigate missing persons or causes for suicides there.
Chairperson of Child Welfare Committee Asha Nayak said the district recorded about 10 cases of trafficking this year, where little action had been taken against the traffickers or against the officials who were a part of the system. She called for greater awareness and rehabilitation of victims to reduce trafficking.
Rameela Shekhar, Dean at the Roshni Nilaya, said factors that fuel trafficking were poverty, sexual and economic exploitation and gender discrimination.
“Girls are sold or they are lured to other cities with promises of better jobs. As they are considered as being lesser than boys, the parents take part in selling them or sending them elsewhere. They are then sold to brothels or as cheap labour. Women from all classes of society are affected,” she said.
Earlier, carrying placards against female infanticide, child marriage, sexual exploitation of children and women, several citizens carried out an awareness rally from Jyothi Circle to Town Hall.
The Hindu, November 20, 2012
Posted on: November 20, 2012
By Jason Overdorf
A spike in cases of human trafficking during the leadup to Diwali reveals a disturbing truth about the Mewat region of the western Indian state of Rajasthan. Because of a badly skewed gender ratio, families have taken to buying young girls for marriage to older men around the occasion of “Dev Uthani Ekadashi”—considered an auspicious day.
According tothe Times of India, earlier this month police in Alwar arrested two men and rescued three girls who were to be sold on Diwali and married off to much older men, and police records show a rise in human trafficking cases over the months leading up to the holiday.
The crime takes place practically on Delhi’s doorstep, too—with the backdrop of a bird sanctuary in Bharatpur that is frequented by countless tourists each year.
Bharatpur’s Sevar police had on November 12 raided a house in Ludhavai village and arrested two “agents,” the Times of India said. Cops also rescued three girls being kept captive there. “Two men – Supriya Kumar and Mukesh Upadhyaya — had purchased the girls from one Laxman Jat. The girls were residents of Jabalpur district in MP. The girls say they were lured to Bharatpur on the pretext of a religious fair. The agents later confined them and told them they would be sent to their in-laws on Diwali,” said Sevar SHO Akhilesh Kumar.
As GlobalPost has reported, India faces an ever more severe problem with a skewed gender ratio, as rich and poor alike choose to abort baby girls, who are deemed to be undesirable.
Meanwhile, as India develops and its middle class grows, the aborting of female fetuses is becoming more common. India’s 2011 census showed that the country’s child sex ratio, the number of girls to boys under age 7, is the worst it has been since India gained independence in 1947.
A natural sex ratio is 105 boys born for every 100 girls. This is to adjust for girls’ slightly higher likelihood of surviving than boys. However, India’s 2011 census showed that the sex ratio for children under age seven is 109 to 100. While not ostensibly a large difference, that ratio equates to 7 million fewer girls than boys under the age of 7 in India, which is home to 1.2 billion people.
In Mewat, it’s resulting in human trafficking. In Haryana, it has been blamed (perhaps in an oversimplification) for a swath of recent rapes. And in several states with deeply held patriarchal views on the status of women—brides now have to be imported from others, like Kerala, where the gender ratio is more equitable.
The trafficking of brides across the country puts these women at risk because they become isolated and more vulnerable to abuse, women’s-rights activist Ranjana Kumari told GlobalPost last year. The women also come from different cultural backgrounds and therefore struggle to adapt to their new village’s dietary habits and customs, she said.
Obviously, matters only get worse when they’re sold off to an old geezer.
Global Post, November 19, 2012
Posted on: November 19, 2012
By Naila Kabeer
Does gender equality contribute to economic growth? If yes, it might galvanise our growth-obsessed policymakers to take a more serious interest in gender equality. And does economic growth contribute to gender equality? If so, perhaps many hitherto sceptical feminists may take more interest in growth. We would have a win-win situation. But what if the answer to one of these questions is no?
Luisa Natali and I have been sifting through the economic growth literature. These studies generally use nationally aggregated data drawn from different countries over different periods of time. We found fairly consistent evidence that greater gender equality in education and employment has made a positive contribution to economic growth (although a number of countries were able to compete in the early stages of their industrialisation by combining rising levels of female education with restrictions on female wages).
The positive effect on growth operates through at least two routes. The direct route is via the market and the expanded pool of talent that results from increasing numbers of women with higher levels of education. It means that economies are maximising their human resource potential. As a catchy phrase coined by advocates within the World Bank puts it, “gender equality is smart economics” (pdf). The indirect route is via the family and reflects the positive effect of women’s education and employment on the next generation of workers, parents and citizens. As many studies have shown, women tend to be more likely than men to use the resources at their disposal to promote the nutrition, health and education of their children – sometimes closing the gender gap in these outcomes.
The evidence for the reverse relationship – that economic growth leads to greater gender equality – is far weaker, less consistent and sometimes negative. While this might appear counterintuitive, it reflects the fact that the forces that give rise to affluence are not necessarily the same forces that give rise to gender equality.
Look at Saudi Arabia and Ghana. Saudi Arabia is among the wealthiest countries in the world, with a per capita GDP of $16,423 in 2010 but ranked 131 out of 135 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2011 Global Gender Gap Report. Ghana, with a per capita GDP of only $1,319 in the same year, ranked 70. China and India, with respective growth of 10.6% and 9.6% in 2010, ranked 61 and 113 respectively while Bangladesh, with a growth rate of 6.1% and considerably poorer than the other two, ranked 69. India and China both report abnormally high rates of mortality among girls relative to boys as well as selective abortion by parents who want only or mainly sons. In Bangladesh, on the other hand, girls’ survival chances are improving relative to boys and there is little evidence of sex-selective abortion.
So what are the options facing those of us who would like to see a fairer world for both men and women? The first possibility is that where economic growth is accompanied by greater gender equality in employment and education, the implications for women’s wellbeing and rights, as well as social attitudes to gender equality, are likely to be positive. In other words, women’s economic empowerment can be a pivotal factor in transforming the opportunities generated by economic growth into broader gender equality.
Second, affirmative action by the state can address some of the constraints that prevent women from taking advantage of the opportunities generated by growth and help to improve its distributional impact.
There is growing recognition that the pattern of growth matters as much as its pace: controlling inflation and balancing budgets may be important, but the quantity and quality of jobs is crucial (video). Men and women must be able to share in the benefits of growth rather than finding themselves competing for scarce and poorly paid jobs in a shrinking labour market. We might want to revise the World Bank’s catchphrase into something less instrumental: gender equality may be smart economics but it also offers the promise of more human-centred growth.
The Guardian, November 6, 2012
Posted on: November 6, 2012
By Sarada Lahangir
Indian women farmers are emerging as the backbone of the rural economy. Recent data from the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data revealed that 18 per cent of farming families are headed by women.
To put faces to these figures, one just has to travel to Odisha’s largely tribal district of Koraput and one can find hard working women creating a space for themselves through their agricultural activities and ensuring food security for entire villages in the process.
Take Kamala Pujari, 62, of Patraput village in Koraput. As a tribal woman, she has been something of a trail-blazer by preserving hundreds of indigenous varieties of paddy.
Says Pujari, “We have a small patch of land on which we are dependent for our survival. I had observed that our region was once home to some of the best varieties of paddy but over the years they had disappeared and some were on the verge of extinction. This had happened because tribal farmers, who were dependent on cultivation for their livelihood, gave up farming and preferred to become wage-earners instead.”
This neglect of farming saddened Pujari so much that she decided to take up traditional farming seriously. Her first stop was the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation at Jeypore.
Once she had learnt the basic techniques there, she was determined to get others to join in. But no one turned up for the group meetings she tried to organise. Recalls the feisty farmer, “I had to virtually go from door to door, from village to village, convincing people of the rich returns inherent in organic farming; highlighting the fact that it did not damaging the fertility of the soil.”
Her single-minded crusade worked. Today, there is not a single farmer in Patraput village and its neighbouring areas, who uses chemical fertilisers. Most of the women in the village, who once eked out a living by gathering minor forest produce, shifted to cultivation full-time.
Champa Muduli, 35, is one of them. She smiles and says, “All credit for this should go to Kamala Ma. She showed us how to get good harvests from organic farming. Now our children don’t go to sleep hungry.”
Kamala Pujari’s contributions won her The Equator Initiative Award in 2002 and she was given the Krusi Bisarada Samman in New Delhi a year later.
Equally amazing is the story of Ralila Muduli, another tribal woman from Boliguda village of Boipariguda block, Koraput. After struggling to feed her family of six, she was introduced to a nature-friendly farming system that not only changed her status but that of her tribal community.
Their farming technology came to be recognised as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) and Ralila was personally felicitated by the prime minister for her work.
Earlier, rice cultivation in her village had demanded large amounts of chemical fertilisers. Now, thanks to her advocacy farmers have switched to cow dung and vermicompost for manure.
Ralila explains the method, “To prevent crops from getting infected, we prepare insecticides in the traditional manner by using neem leaves and other plants found in the forest. Through this method of farming we have been able to increase our annual yields by almost three times – and at much less cost.”
Ralila says that she now has an annual income of Rs 50,000 (US$1=Rs 52) and can feed her family comfortably, with the children in the family being able to attend school.
In rural Koraput, one can find women involved in every stage of food production. Although it is the men who usually drive the draught animals and plough the fields, women do most of the other work, including sowing, weeding, and harvesting.
Women like Manima Disari, living in the remote village of Gadiagumma in Nandapur block of Koraput. A skillful tribal woman farmer, Manima, in her early thirties, lives with her husband and three children in a joint family comprising her and her brother-in-law’s family.
Together they own 10 acres of land and its produce is shared between 12 members. They grow paddy in six acres and ragi in another three acres. These food grains are meant exclusively for the consumption of both families. The rest of the land, along with an additional three acres taken on lease, are used to grow maize, vegetables, pulses, spices and the medicinal Pipla plant for cash income.
Three years ago, Manima decided to experiment with the SRI (System of Rice Intensification) approach to rice cultivation in a plot of about half an acre, and became the first woman in her village to do so.
The SRI system was developed as a methodology aimed at increasing the yield of rice by spacing out the saplings evenly so that each gets adequate nutrition. It was after participating in a farmers’ training programme, organised by Pragati, a Koraput-based civil society organisation that Manima learnt about this method and decided to switch to it.
“Initially, my husband and my in-laws were very reluctant, but finally they agreed to support me if I confined myself to a small patch,” she recalls. Fortunately for her, that initial foray proved successful, and she was allowed to expand the area under SRI cultivation to one acre in 2011.
She discovered that by using less seed and less labour than the conventional method, she could garner a larger harvest – 20 quintals of paddy from an acre when earlier she had got only 12 quintals. The impact on her family was telling. They no longer had to be dependent on rice from the public distribution system to feed themselves.
Encouraged by the results, Manima and her family took the decision to put all the six acres of paddy land under SRI. Her family members helped her prepare the seed bed, complete the transplanting, and do the weeding. After that the organic manure Manima had already prepared was used. So far, the results have been encouraging. Only 12 kilos of seeds were needed for all six acres.
This is as far as paddy cultivation goes. Manima also has plans to cultivate Pipla, turmeric and pigeon pea on her farm because she believes that crop diversity is the key to keeping the land fertile and ensuring a full food basket. Today, she has inspired many in her remote village to adopt the SRI method of rice cultivation and prepare potted manure at home.
Women like Manima make Prabhakar Adhikari, Director, Pragati, very proud. He says, “Tribal women have lot of potential as farmers since they have a great deal of indigenous knowledge. They are also hardworking and receptive to change. They only need to be guided in the right direction.”
Dr M.S. Swaminathan, the father of India’s green revolution, and founder of the research centre in Koraput’s Jeypore, which has helped to change destinies in this part of the world, is convinced about one thing. “Women farmers will determine India’s agrarian and rural economy in the years to come,” he says.
Going by the example of women farmers like Kamala, Raila and Manima, it looks like he is going to be proved right.
The Weekend Leader, October 26, 2012
Posted on: October 26, 2012
Reported by Uma Sudhir, Written by Samira Shaikh
Hyderabad: The 34th World Food Day is being observed today. As shortage of food introduces new challenges, a group of dalit women farmers in Medak district in Andhra Pradesh are working steadfastly towards preserving traditional farming practices, an effort which will help India tackle the serious malnutrition challenge it faces.
Applying and spreading their traditional knowledge of seeds, these Dalit women farmers are using biodiversity as a weapon against hunger, malnutrition, erratic monsoon and climate change. Their effort will earn these villages the status of being declared an agri-biodiversity heritage site.
Encouraging their children to take up agriculture, these women farmers are passing on their knowledge of traditional farming practices.
“Our children see a future in it. Even my daughter-in-law listens to me and is learning all about seeds,” says Chandramma, a farmer from the Medak district of Andhra Pradesh.
Chandramma and many more like her are working to pass on the traditional knowledge of bio-diversity in agriculture.
Every season, these women sift through dozens of varieties of seeds and meticulously store the choicest seeds of dryland crops like bajra, jowar, pulses and oilseeds to be sown next season. Putting Rabi and Kharif crop together, at least 85 different varieties of seed are grown, says another farmer Lakshmamma.
According to the National convenor of Millet Network of India, P.V Satheesh, these women grow 12 types of crops in one acre.
“Some grow when there is no rain and some others can withstand excess water. This is intrinsically risk-insured agriculture. That is where the future seems to lie,” he adds.
In January this year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had called the problem of malnutrition a matter of ‘national shame’.
“Despite impressive growth in our GDP, the level of under-nutrition in the country is unacceptably high,” he had said while releasing a report on Hunger and Malnutrition (HUNGaMA).
By bringing in biodiversity in agriculture, these woman farmers are paving the way to address the nation’s challenges in the area of malnutrition.
Father of India’s Green Revolution Dr M.S.Swaminathan calls millets ‘climate-smart nutri-cereals’ that can be the answer to the challenges of food and nutrition security facing India.
“Once millets are introduced in the public distribution system and awareness grows about their nutritional value, it will give a big boost, after all the Prime Minister has said that the biggest national shame is that 42-45 per cent of our women and children are still malnourished and undernourished,” says Mr Swaminathan.
By educating others, these women farmers of Medak are arming the future generations with vital knowledge which will play an increasingly important role in addressing the challenges like hunger, nutrition, health, ecology and livelihood in India.
NDTV, October 16, 2012
Posted on: October 16, 2012
Press Trust India
In an alarming trend, girl child numbers in India have shown a sharper decline than the male children in the decade beginning 2001, leading to a skewed child sex ratio.
On the eve of the International Day of the Girl Child, government on Tuesday said that while the decade saw an overall drop in share of children to total population, nearly three million girls, one million more than boys, are “missing” in 2011 compared to 2001 and there are now 48 fewer girls per 1,000 boys than there were in 1981.
“During 2001- 2011, the share of children to total population has declined and the decline was sharper for female children than male children in the age group 0—6 years,” said the study “Children in India 2012- A Statistical Appraisal” conducted by the Central Statistical Organisation.
“Though, the overall sex ratio of the country is showing a trend of improvement, the child sex ratio is showing a declining trend, which is a matter of concern,” the study said
According to the report, female child population in the age group of 0-6 years was 78.83 million in 2001 which declined to 75.84 million in 2011.
The population of girl child was 15.88 per cent of the total female population of 496.5 million in 2001, which declined to 12.9 per cent of total number of 586.47 million women in 2011.
Similarly the male children population has also declined from 85.01 million in 2001 to 82.95 per cent in 2011. During the period, 1991-2011, the child sex ratio declined from 945 to 914, whereas the overall sex ratio showed an improvement from 927 to 940.
“Though the child sex ratio in rural India is 919 which is 17 points higher than that of urban India, the decline in Child Sex Ratio (0—6 years) during 2001—2011 in rural areas is more than three times as compared to the drop in urban India which is a matter of grave concern,” it added.
The Hindu, October 9, 2012
Posted on: October 9, 2012
By Manash Pratim Gohain
NEW DELHI: Even though nearly 33% of households among the lower income groups in the city feel that a girl child is abused in school and nearly 48% say they are abused on way to school, 57% of them are still ignorant of the RTE Act two years after its implementation. These and many other facts were revealed in a survey conducted by Child Relief and You (CRY) on ‘prevalence of barriers to girl child education’ across five cities and 480 households among members of the lower income group.
As per Delhi specific findings in the survey, 43% respondents said that children faced problems while going to school and more than half of the respondents said that the present transportation was not safe for them, 29% of those surveyed in Delhi were unaware of education as right of every child in the age group of 6-14 years. Over 50% respondents lacked awareness about schemes for the girl child. Also, nearly 30% people are ignorant about the Right of Children For Free and Compulsory Education Act.
The survey was conducted in slum clusters in New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore. The sample size of 480 households was randomly selected from one slum cluster in each city.
The survey also compiled data at an all India level painting an equally dismal picture. Barring Delhi (51.1%) and Bangalore (30.9%), education is not a priority for such households. Equally alarming are the safety concerns as, according to the all India figures , 20.4% said girls were abused in school while 23.7% said they were abused on the way to school.
Stating that the report will be submitted to the ministry for human resource development , National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and department of women and child development, CRY director (volunteer action), Yogita Verma, said, “The report on girl children’s education clearly brings out an urgent need to address the issue at all levels. There are still significant gaps, especially at the secondary education level.”
Infrastructure still remains another major factor with 15% respondents saying that neighbourhood schools don’t have separate toilets for girls.
Ignorance is another matter of concern as all India figures revealed that 20% felt that education is not free in the country.
CRY is now suggesting five broad reforms based on this study. “Improvement of infrastructure for girl child, rights from toilets to trained female teachers, transport and security, targeting out of school girl child who are physically challenged or exploited , good governance right from panchayat and block levels so that schemes exclusively for girl are implemented , improving awareness on entitlements and initiatives in overall behavioral change in the community are urgently needed,” said Verma.
The Times of India, October 4, 2012
Posted on: October 4, 2012
By Rahi Gaikwad
“Would you like to compromise?” That’s the first question a judge asks when a caste atrocity case comes up for trial, says Manjula Pradeep, of the Gujarat-based non governmental organisation Navsarjan. A study done by Navsarjan on atrocity data obtained through RTI for Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu found that between December 2004 and November 2009, “there were convictions in only 0.79 per cent of cases (three cases) of violence by non-Dalits across the three states. In Gujarat there were no convictions at all.”
The worst sufferers of a systemic failure to probe caste crimes are Dalit women. They are known to face double discrimination; they become the target for upper caste men outside homes and gender-based violence at home.
In a submission to the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), Navsarjan states, “Dalit women are considered as easily available for all forms of violence…The Indian justice system cannot serve as a deterrent for crime when there is no consequence for the perpetrators of violence against Dalit women.”
According to the organisation’s study there were 379 cases of violence against Dalit women by non-Dalits between December 2004 and November 2009 across the three states. However, the outcome of only 101 cases (26.6 per cent) was known to have been decided when the data was analysed in the beginning of 2011.
In the three state—Five Dalit women were murdered by non-Dalits (three in Tamil Nadu and one each in Gujarat and Maharashtra). There were 76 reported cases of rape or gang rape (20 in Gujarat, 35 in Maharashtra, 21 in Tamil Nadu). On the other hand violence on Dalit women by the community itself (including family) saw 15 women being murdered in the three states (eight Tamil Nadu, four Gujarat, three Maharashtra), and 37 cases of rape or gang rape (19 Tamil Nadu, 12 Gujarat, 6 Maharashtra) were reported.
A total of 117 cases (30.9 per cent) remained pending in the courts and the status of 161 cases (42.5 per cent) was unknown. The cases where no information is available are likely to be undecided, the study noted. Navsarjan points out that the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women noted, “Dalit women face targeted violence even rape and murder by the state actors and powerful members of dominant castes used to inflict political lessons and crush dissent with the community.”
At a recent seminar held at Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), activists and academics raised concerns over state complicity as a major hurdle in seeking justice under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. “The Act has completed 20 years, but people, even lawyers still don’t know about it. It is not part of the university curriculum,” Manjula Pradeep says.
She points out that Dalits were moving to the cities to “escape” atrocity and “the identity of being an untouchable.” While fighting caste violence and discrimination, the attitude of the government, police and the judiciary poses a formidable challenge.
Eknath Avhad, Dalit activist from the Marathwada region of Maharashtra blamed low political willpower for the dismal justice rate in atrocity cases. “Activists and people are ready to fight,” he says, “but they can’t fight the politics.” The Maharashtra government’s ‘Dispute Free Village’ scheme for instance is a case in point.
A programme designed to work out compromises, almost imparts impunity to caste and other kinds of crimes. “It’s a licence to hooliganism. All odds are stacked against the Dalits,” Mr. Avhad said. “The police will not register cases or delay registration; if they do, they will conduct shoddy investigation. Then there is no witness protection. After 1995, the percentage of case registration was low. It dropped further after 2000.”
The Hindu, September 25, 2012
Posted on: September 25, 2012
By Aditi Bishnoi.
The incidence of child marriages nationally is coming down. But the pace of change is excruciatingly slow: From 54 per cent in 1992-93 it came down to 43 per cent in 2007-08. According to the District Level Household and Facility Survey (DLHS)-3, 2007-08, in India, 43 per cent women aged 20 to 24 have been married before they turned 18.
These are girls who drop out of school, who are vulnerable to sexual violence and who may not survive their first pregnancy. The figures are self-explanatory: DLHS-3 reveals that 66.6 per cent girls aged between 15 and 19 are more likely to experience complications during childbirth as compared to 59.7 per cent women in the age group 30-34.
The story of Mallamma from Andhra Pradesh’s Muddanageri village in Kurnool district puts this threat in perspective. At 15, Mallamma was married off against her will. Initially, when her husband pestered her to have a child she resisted. But later, she gave in. Mallamma’s first child did not live for long. She then gave birth to two more children, neither of whom survived. Severe health complications followed, which resulted in a hysterectomy. Mallamma can never become a mother now.
Depressing though all this may be, there are also signs that ‘balika vadhus’, or child brides, are ready to put up a stiff fight against the injustice they have bearing in the name of tradition. Earlier this year in Jodhpur, when Laxmi Sargara, 18 stood in front of cameras with a court order that annulled her child marriage, she provided an insight into the transforming mindset of adolescent girls.
After her grandmother passed away, Laxmi, 1, was married off to Rakesh, 3, as per a local custom that dictates that when an elderly relative dies a younger relative should get married to keep away the bad spirits.
This April, Sargara’s world was turned upside down when her “husband’s” parents showed up to claim her. Although she opposed the move, Sargara knew her parents would not be able to stand up to the social pressures, so she ran away and took refuge with a local civil society organisation, which managed to get her marriage annulled under The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.
Sargara’s is one of the first cases of its kind in India and the fact that it happened in Rajasthan, where more than 50 per cent girls marry before they turn 18 (DLHS-3), is good news. Media reports quoted Sargara as saying, “I feel light and free since the annulment. …I would like to learn tailoring and start my own boutique… Eventually I will trust my parents to find me a good match… But it would be my choice. And as a human being I have that right.”
Sargara certainly does, as do others like her. According to Dr Shanta Sinha, Chairperson, National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), “Girls detest child marriage. During my interactions, I have found each one revealing how they hated being alone with the man, how scared they were.” Sinha further points out that a child bride bears the trauma of becoming a mother even before she has lived her own childhood.
Yet, such marriages continue to happen. “There is always a grandparent in the family who is dying and who wants to see the child married. There are always parents who have ‘given their word’ and leave their daughters with no choice. Thankfully, this is a declining trend. Girls who get support are willing to speak up now,” she comments.
Sinha was part of a panel of eminent Indians and international personalities, who agreed to become champions to end child marriage at an event jointly hosted by The Elders and the Population Foundation of India (PFI) in Delhi earlier this year. Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Chair of The Elders, had then memorably commented, “India is a great nation and will only benefit from enabling girls and women to play their full part in building the future of the country. Let girls be girls, not brides.”
Today, both encouragement and assistance is readily forthcoming, whether it’s through government initiatives or NGO networks. Experts and activists concur that the way out lies at two levels. There are long-term measures, like enforcing the laws on the right to education and the prohibition of child marriage.
There are also effective short-term solutions. Take Rajasthan’s successful campaign in the run up to Akha Teej this year. Deepak Kalra, Chairperson, Rajasthan State Commission for the Protection Child Rights, elaborates, “In Rajasthan, marriages are solemnised as per auspicious dates, called ‘savas’. This year, we asked a Hindu priest to give us the dates for these ‘savas’ in advance. Akha Teej, one of the eight major ‘savas’, fell on April 24. We collaborated with the Women and Child Development department and mounted a large-scale campaign.”
From District Collectors to the police to anganwadi workers, everyone was involved. Control rooms were set up and the 1098 number was used to register calls of complaints. Local control room numbers were also publicised in schools. Complaints were accepted even in cases where the complainants were unwilling to reveal their identities. Reveals Kalra, “That week, we were able to prevent 1,400 weddings, which was the total number of weddings stopped in the whole year in 2011.”
Although Kalra is satisfied with this effort, she knows that the pace of activity and advocacy could slacken over time, so she emphasises the importance of providing quality education to girls. “Girls today want better opportunities in life. We need more schools at the village-level that give good education,” she asserts.
R Venkat Reddy, National Convenor of MV Foundation, a Hyderabad-based NGO working on education and protection of child rights in Andhra Pradesh, underlines the hurdles faced by girls accessing higher education, “In many villages, there are still hardly any schools for girls beyond Class 5 in the immediate vicinity. This, combined with deficiencies like the lack of toilets and proper transportation, make parents reluctant to send their daughters to the higher classes.”
A possible solution to this problem has been found from within the community. Helping to keep girls in school are youth groups that have come up across the country. For instance, Andhra has balika sanghas, Rajasthan has bal manches and Bihar, Jagriti youth clubs.
The NCPCR, too, has created a force of ‘bal bandhus’ (child rights’ defenders) in nine districts across the five states of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, that are facing acute civil unrest. Had it not been for the timely action taken by Mukesh Paswan, the Bal Bandhu of Parsauni Kapoor gram panchayat in East Champaran district, Bihar, Jyoti Kumari, 13, Class 5 student at Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidhayalaya in Patahi could not have escaped the common fate of illiterate child brides battling domestic violence.
In Andhra, besides rallies and public meetings, MV Foundation initiated an unusual youth group in 2006. In Rangareddy, Warangal, Kurnool and Nalgonda districts, it has mobilised the community with the help of young boys chosen because they were also potential grooms. “We were able to convince these boys to support us after child brides talked to them about the impact of such marriages on underage couples.
Today, they go into different villages and convince panchayats to take action,” informs Reddy. Stopping underage marriages is very much a work-in-progress. But there is hope because girls are increasingly seeking their own version of ‘Happily ever after…’ Sinha concludes, “Child marriage has been stubborn to change.
But greater bounce in the society, in terms of development, opportunities and education, will help girls to exercise agency and say, ‘No, I don’t want such a marriage’.”
Ultimately, says Sinha, every girl is capable of fighting her own battle, provided she has a life after it.
Deccan Herald, September 22, 2012
Posted on: September 22, 2012
By Sarita Brara
Four kilometers from the famous village of Tilonia is Harmada. A land of freedom fighters, Harmada today has a dalit woman sarpanch—Nauroti.
This plucky woman had earned a name in the region for her struggle against injustice long before she was elected to this post a few years back. As she walks towards you, bare foot and clad in a simple, inexpensive sari, Nauroti is a picture of humility but the moment you start talking to her you know that she is no ordinary woman and no ordinary sarpanch either.
Nauroti was born in an extremely poor dalit family in Kishangarh district of Rajasthan and had to work on a road construction site for a living as a stone cutter. But despite the toil, she and many fellow labourers were not paid full wages on the pretext that they had not performed work according to the wages. It was like putting salt on fresh wounds, she felt. Nauroti raised her voice against this injustice, mobilised labourers and became the voice of the agitation. Finally they got justice when their case was taken to a court by an NGO.
That was more than three decades ago. From then till now, Nauroti has continued her unrelenting battle for empowerment of the marginalised and her journey from a stone cutter in Puharu village to a sarpanch of gram Panchayat in Harmada is the story of unflinching courage and impeccable honesty in the face of every adversity.
It was in the early 1980s that she joined the barefoot college in Tilonia founded by Bunker Roy. What made her stand apart from other women was her boldness, her ability to learn fast and above all the leadership qualities she displayed when she mobilised the construction workers. She became a sathin for women’s empowerment and would travel to villages in the region and educate them about their rights. She also joined adult literacy classes and later learnt to work on computers. Later, she trained many other women who had never gone to school like her. She has also had the chance to go to the US and China.
Above everything else, it is working amongst the people that gives her real satisfaction, she says. Nauroti first became member of her gram panchyat – Harmada—and about three year back was elected as its sarpanch with an overwhelming majority.
As sarpanch, she waged a battle against the daru (alcohol) mafia and stopped encroachment of the graveyard in Harmara. She has been working tirelessly to get approval for development projects in the region and has achieved a lot in the past two and a half years. Nauroti says that there are two things she can never tolerate—injustice and dishonesty. When it came to her notice that a mate working for a project of the Mahatama Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme was committing fraud, she immediately took action. Despite resistance from many quarters, she did not stop till the person was jailed.
It is the villagers who talk about what she has done for them and the development of the village, whether it is the construction of water bodies, hand pumps, toilets, houses for those below poverty line, but when you ask her, she speaks about her unfinished agenda. “There is a lot more to be done before my tenure is over”, she says and lists a number of projects that remain to be completed.
The Hindu, September 18, 2012
Posted on: September 18, 2012
By: Lata Rani, Correspondent
Patna: At a time when female foeticide has emerged as a major social evil in the country, there are quite a number of villages in Bihar which have been celebrating the birth of a girl chid by distributing sweets among the villagers.
The encouaging trend has been noticed in dozens of villages in southern Bihar’s Nawada, a rather backward district in matter of poor health facility, illiteracy and poverty.
Authorities said there are certain villagers like Murhetachak, Mudgadwa, Dhonga Bigha, Gandhi Nagar, Sirsa Pahadi, Rampur-Dariyapur, Purnadih, Satan Bigha and Noni which are a messanger of hope for the next generation at a time when most of the country no longer want a girl child as indicated by the Indian census.
Officials said in those villages, girls in the age group of 0 to 6 outnumber boys as the villagers do not consider them a “burden”.
“Girl children are a necessity in this part of the state and hence they are not a burden for the family, for the society”, said Prakash Chauhan, chief of Meskaur block. He added in this part of the state, the majority of villagers are from poor backward and extremely backward classes where dowry demands are fewer. Dowry is said to be one of the main reasons behind female foeticide in India.
A local villager, Upendra Rajvansi, who has five daughters but one son, said he had never discriminated among his children and had got them admitted to the same school for education. “A local medical clinic forced my wife Manju Devi for a sex determination test when she went there for medical advice but I stoutly refused,” he explained.
The development is in sharp contrast to the prevalent social crisis in India where female foeticide has assumed alarming proportions.
According to a Unicef report, foetal sex determination and sex selective abortion by unethical medical professionals have today grown into a Rs10 billion (Dh660 million) industry.
“Social discrimination against women, already entrenched in Indian society, has been spurred on by technological developments that today allow mobile sex selection clinics to drive into almost any village or neighbourhood unchecked”, said a Unicef report.
Researchers for the Lancet journal based in Canada and India have stated that 500,000 girls are being lost annually through sex selective abortions.
According to the decennial Indian census, the sex ratio in the 0-6 age group in India went from 104.0 males per 100 females in 1981, to 105.8 in 1991, to 107.8 in 2001, to 109.4 in 2011.
gulfnews.com, September 12th, 2012
Posted on: September 12, 2012
New Delhi: She is over the moon after becoming the first Indian woman boxer to clinch an Olympic medal but bronze is not the colour for MC Mary Kom, who feels she could have finished higher on the podium had it not been for the “confusion” that gripped her during the semifinals.
‘Magnificent Mary’ as she is called by the International Boxing Association, was the lone Indian in fray when women’s boxing made its Olympic debut in the just-concluded London Games.
The five-time world champion ensured a piece of history for herself and the country by fetching a bronze in the flyweight 51kg division. But for someone who is more used to finishing at the top, bronze was less than satisfactory.
“I am very happy to be the first Indian woman boxer to get a bronze medal but I am sad that I could not convert it into gold. I don’t know what happened during my semifinal bout. My body was not moving the way I would have liked and I felt as if I could not do anything. I was very much confused,” the 29-year-old, who returned to the country to a rousing reception early this morning, told PTI in an interview.
Hundreds of cheering fans welcomed Mary Kom at the airport, breaking into an impromptu jig in which the boxer also participated. She was accompanied by her husband Onler Kom and her mother Akham Kom.
Mary Kom lost 6-11 to England’s two-time world champion Nicola Adams in the semifinals and reflecting on the bout, the diminutive Manipuri was at a loss of words to explain what went wrong.
“I never get nervous before bouts but that day I don’t know what was happening to me. I can’t even explain it. I was not attacking as much and may be it was the crowd also which was cheering Nicola. I generally don’t get affected by how the crowd is behaving but probably in the semifinals, it affected me,” she recalled.
The Indian conceded that Adams had the bout but was not quite convinced by the scoreline which she felt was narrower than what the record books show.
“I don’t think it was that big a margin even though I admit that Nicola won it. At best, it could have been a difference of 2-3 points but certainly not 6-11. Even though my body was not moving that well, I think I hit her hard and I should not have lost by that margin,” she insisted.
“I don’t think she hit me so many clear punches, hers was a touch-and-go game. I had already fought my toughest bout of the competition in the first round itself,” she said.
The mother-of-twins was nevertheless happy that she returned to the country with a medal around her neck.
“I think I have achieved everything that I dreamt of. Of course I wanted a gold medal at the Olympics but I am happy with the bronze too because I am the first Indian woman boxer to get it,” she laughed.
However, realisation of all her dreams does not mean that Mary Kom is thinking of hanging up her gloves just yet.
“I am planning to continue till the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. I don’t know if my body will allow this to happen but if it does, then I would surely try to get a gold there,” she said.
Asked to compare her five world titles with the Olympic bronze, Mary Kom emphatically said that nothing can beat the thrill of being there on the podium at the biggest sporting show on earth.
“This Olympic bronze is very, very special for me. Of course the world titles also mean a lot but an Olympic medal is at an altogether different level for every athlete in the world. It is the highest honour,” she explained.
“It is a perfect climax to all the hardships that I have gone through during my life. God has been kind to me,” said the boxer, reflecting on a 12-year career during which she changed three weight categories since debuting in 45kg.
As for celebrating the historic triumph in London, Mary Kom said once the felicitations and media interactions end, she would hold a quiet thanksgiving prayer at a church in her home state.
“I don’t know when I will get the time to celebrate because there is so much media and other commitments. But once I go back home, I would have a thanksgiving prayer before Christmas to celebrate my medal,” she said.
On the judging controversies that rocked the men’s Olympic bouts, including those involving India, Mary Kom said probably the referees were not experienced enough at the big event.
“I am very much confused because I don’t know how the system worked in the men’s competition. I think the referees did not have enough experience,” she said.
The four-time Asian champion said it would have been a double cause of celebration had her male counterparts also managed a medal.
“I am very disappointed that the men did not get a medal. It is sad because they had worked very hard and after (Vijender Singh’s bronze medal in) Beijing, I expected a better performance from them,” she said.
Firstpost.com, August 14, 2012
Posted on: August 14, 2012
India’s dismal girl child record has got worse during the last one year with four of the eight states surveyed under the Annual Health Survey 2012 recording further fall. These states include Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar and Orissa.
These states had lower than the national average sex ratio as per Census 2011, and now under the Annual Health Survey 2012 the sex child ratio has registered a further fall there.
Madhya Pradesh observed a slide from 912 in 2011 to 904 in 2012, while in Uttarakhand it fell from 886 to 866. In Bihar and Orissa, it fell from 933 to 919 and 934 to 905 respectively.
The sex ratio has also fallen in the states of Assam and Jharkhand where it recorded a slump from 957 to 925 and 943 to 923, respectively. The national sex ratio average as per Census 2011 was 940.
There is no official word yet from either the Health Ministry or the state administration. However, voices of dismay are vocal. Sushila Baluni, chairperson of Commission for Women, Uttarakhand says, “According to our reports districts like Haridwar and Dehradun have registered underperformance with respect to sex ratio. The declining sex ratio of the state as a whole is a matter of concern for the state and for the commission as well.”
A look at the past depicts that sex ratio in India has shown a secular decline since the beginning of the twentieth century, barring some improvement during 1951, 1981, 2001 and 2011 Census.
The defeatist attitude is amply visible. Ex-chairperson of Madhya Pradesh’s Commission for Women, Krishan Kanta Tomar says, “During my tenure as chairperson, I conducted many camps and even visited concern areas to spread awareness, but the hatred towards daughters is so deep rooted that it’s not easy to remove the belief instantly from people’s mind.”
While the government says it has put checks and balances in place, the mounting numbers show the situation on ground has hardly improved. Reinforcing the crisis situation, cases of feticide registered under section 135 and 316 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) increased from 111 in 2010 to 132 in 2011.
Medical professionals on their part seem keen to push the blame on technology. Dr Sunil Mehra, executive director at Mamta, a maternal health focus NGO, says, “Misuse of ultrasound technology for determining sex has still not been curbed. Technology is a boon to us and rather than using it for destruction we should use it in either determining congenital defects or any other complications.”
Dr Sheetal Agarwal, senior gynecologist at Rockland Hospital, Delhi, says, “Conducting sex selection test is a crime and not just the people even the doctors who are doing these tests are to be blamed and punished.” She blames the growing middle class for majority of sex determination tests, especially in urban India.
This is an ominous trend and adds to India’s sex ratio woes pegged by Human Development Report 2011 at 129.
zeenews.com, August 9, 2012
Posted on: August 9, 2012
By Sunila Singh
Societal prejudices and coercive rules had sentenced them to an obscure existence till recently with no room to exercise their democratic rights and have their voices heard. But Dalit women in Uttar Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region has come a long way since — turning into water warriors and working their way up the patriarchal order to conserve water resources in this semi-arid region and also exert their right to water as a basic human right.
The Bundelkhand region suffers from erratic rainfall and experiences drought every alternate year. The conspicuousness of prolonged droughts, doubled up with environmental changes and lack of government policies in the last decade, has resulted in farmer suicides, hunger deaths, unemployment and migration. Traditional methods of water conservation and management have also come to a naught with water resources either disappearing or drying up.
In 2007, when a severe drought struck this region, a non-profit outfit Parmarth made an effort to mobilise rural Dalit women by initiating an informal structure of Pani Panchayats and Jal Sahelis to address the unaddressed issue of water crisis. The aim of Pani Panchayats was to organise themselves to protect and preserve traditional water bodies, and to create models of sustainable water security plans in the districts of Lalitpur, Jaulan and Hamirpur.
The programme helped the Dalit women break free of their stereotypical social role as they now brushed shoulders with men from upper castes at gram sabhas, panchayati raj institutions and also interacted with the local administration to ensure equitable distribution of water in the villages.
Speaking of the resistance faced from the local feudal class in their struggle for right to water at the community level, Mamata says that the feudal class fails to appreciate that Dalit women’s collective voices and actions could result in a bringing a social change and mitigate the water issue through a sustainable security plan since the latter view it as a threat to the existing power equation. She describes how the village headman initially objected to the women using the village pond and later tried to instigate the women against the non-profit outfit.
At present, the network is spread in 60 gram panchayats in three districts with a membership of over 2,000 women. “We are planning to revive all dried up water bodies and build new water structures with the help of panchayat funds,” the members say, adding that the initiative is being supported by the European Union.
The women say that their vision is to increase Dalit women’s participation in the decision making process at all levels by voicing their demands in democratic institutions and seeking entitlements and dignity. Clarifying that they do not nurture any political ambition, they say that their only demand is to establish women’s ‘first right to water’ and reduce water conflicts, increase access to safe drinking water, improve sanitation facilities, facilitating sustainable agriculture, food security and prepare social security safety nets.
Sunita, while sharing her experience of the Jal Saheli and Pani Panchayat initiatives, said: “There are erratic water pipelines in the village which is dry almost throughout the year. Government officials visit the villages, makes promises to fix the pipelines and then they disappear…we collectively repaired a few of the pipelines and the dried-up hand pumps…The perpetual apathy of the State administration underlie the under-performance of the famous Bunelkhand package and several other water schemes for the region.”
The Hindu, July 17, 2012
Posted on: July 17, 2012
Policies that promote gender equality, safeguards against violence and exploitation and access to healthcare make Canada the best place to be a woman among the world’s biggest economies, a global poll of experts showed on Wednesday.
Infanticide, child marriage and slavery make India the worst, the same poll concluded.
Germany, Britain, Australia and France rounded out the top five countries out of the Group of 20 in a perceptions poll of 370 gender specialists conducted by TrustLaw, a legal news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The United States came in sixth but polarized opinion due to concerns about reproductive rights and affordable healthcare.
At the other end of the scale, Saudi Arabia – where women are well educated but are banned from driving and only won the right to vote in 2011 – polled second-worst after India, followed by Indonesia, South Africa and Mexico.
“India is incredibly poor, Saudi Arabia is very rich. But there is a commonality and that is that unless you have some special access to privilege, you have a very different future, depending on whether you have an extra X chromosome, or a Y chromosome,” said Nicholas Kristof, journalist and co-author of “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”, commenting on the poll results.
The poll, released ahead of a summit of G20 heads of state to be held in Mexico June 18-19, showed the reality for many women in many countries remains grim despite the introduction of laws and treaties on women’s rights, experts said.
“In India, women and girls continue to be sold as chattels, married off as young as 10, burned alive as a result of dowry-related disputes and young girls exploited and abused as domestic slave labor,” said Gulshun Rehman, health program development adviser at Save the Children UK, who was one of those polled.
“This is despite a groundbreakingly progressive Domestic Violence Act enacted in 2005 outlawing all forms of violence against women and girls.”
TrustLaw asked aid professionals, academics, health workers, policymakers, journalists and development specialists with expertise in gender issues to rank the 19 countries of the G20 in terms of the overall best and worst to be a woman.
They also ranked countries in six categories: quality of health, freedom from violence, participation in politics, work place opportunities, access to resources such as education and property rights and freedom from trafficking and slavery.
Respondents came from 63 countries on five continents and included experts from United Nations Women, the International Rescue Committee, Plan International, Amnesty USA and Oxfam International, as well as prominent academic institutions and campaigning organisations. Representatives of faith-based organisations were also surveyed.
The EU, which is a member of the G20 as an economic grouping along with several of its constituent countries, was not included in the survey.
Canada was perceived to be getting most things right in protecting women’s wellbeing and basic freedoms.
“While we have much more to do, women have access to healthcare, we place a premium on education, which is the first step toward economic independence and we have laws that protect girls and women and don’t allow for child marriage,” said Farah Mohamed, president and CEO of the Canada-based G(irls) 20 Summit, which organised a youth gathering that took place in Mexico in May, ahead of the G20 leaders’ meeting.
Experts were divided on the situation in the United States.
Civil rights and domestic violence laws, access to education, workplace opportunities and freedom of movement and speech were positive. But access to contraception and abortion were being curtailed and women suffered disproportionately from a lack of access to affordable healthcare, some experts said.
“Many of the gains of the last 100 years are under attack and the most overt and vicious attack is on reproductive rights,” said Marsha Freeman, director of International Women’s Rights Action Watch.
Barriers to development
It is more vital than ever to protect women’s freedoms at a time of political upheaval in several parts of the world, some experts said.
“Times of political transition, we’ve learned the hard way, can also be times of fragility, and when rights for women and girls can be rolled back instead of advanced,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch.
Women’s rights are particularly under attack in G20 host country Mexico, which ranked 15th in the survey. Mexico has a culture of male chauvinism, high rates of physical and sexual violence and pockets of poverty where healthcare and other services are no better than in some of the most marginalised communities of Africa, experts said.
Women are also victims of drug-related crime. Some 300 women were killed in 2011 in the violent border town of Ciudad Juarez with almost total impunity, said Amnesty USA.
“The violence affects men and women but often women disproportionately,” added Worden. “Mexico is a place where law enforcement remains a challenge, and the government has an obligation to protect women, but often fails in that obligation, as it does to protect men.”
Putting women’s rights on the global agenda is the key to progress and to effective development, said Kristof. Countries that restrict women’s rights and freedoms or fail to protect them from injustices will suffer long-term, socially and economically, he added.
While the poll was based on perceptions and not statistics, U.N. data supports the experts’ views.
The Gender Inequality Index (GII), which looks at reproductive health, the labour market and empowerment of women through education and politics, named the same three countries as the worst places for women, although Saudi Arabia ranked the absolute worst in the GII, followed by India.
The GII, however, does not include gender-based violence or other elements such as the fact that many women carry additional burdens of caregiving and housekeeping.
When it came to what country was best, the expert perception did not match U.N. data. The GII ranked Germany, France and South Korea as the top three countries, in that order. Canada came seventh and the United States was in tenth place.
Activists were not surprised by the experts’ favourable view of Canada, however.
“Having an understanding of Canadian culture and tracking the work they’re doing around violence against women and gender equality, I believe that Canada really has been emerging as a model for what most countries should aspire to for a long time,” said Jimmie Briggs, journalist, author and founder of the Man Up Campaign that works to engage youth to stop violence against women and girls.
HOW THEY RANK 1. Canada 2. Germany 3. Britain 4. Australia 5. France 6. United States 7. Japan 8. Italy 9. Argentina 10. South Korea 11. Brazil 12. Turkey 13. Russia 14. China 15. Mexico 16. South Africa 17. Indonesia 18. Saudi Arabia 19. India – Reuters
GMA News, June 13, 2012
Posted on: June 13, 2012
By Vaishali Bhambri
Delhi police’s recent decision of allowing only women officers to investigate rape cases is being applauded by women activists and city girls.
Dharmendra Kumar, special commissioner (law and order) has directed all city DCPs to only allow women sub-inspectors to handle rape cases. “We have
drawn up a list of 33 women officers — three from each district — to investigate such cases. The idea is to make the victim feel comfortable,” says Kumar.
Lady Cops“It is very tormenting for a woman to report rape in a room full of men. Women hesitate from revealing details, which makes their case very weak. It’s great that now only women cops with deal with such cases,” says Kuber Sharma, a human rights activist.
Nandita Chowdhary, a women’s rights activist agrees, “This move will definitely save victims from further humiliation. I am sure women now will be comfortable reporting such cases.”
Meanwhile, city girls also believe that not only rape cases, but all cases of sexual harassment should be dealt by lady cops. “I was molested outside my college few months ago, by two bikers. When I approached the PCR van parked close by, the cops asked me all kinds of weird questions which made me very uncomfortable. I regret my decision of reporting the matter. It would have been much simpler to share all this with a woman,” says Shalu Kumar (name changed), a student of Delhi University.
Pulkit Sharma, psychologist says, “It’s always easier and comforting for women to confide in other women.”
Is Indian law easy on molesters?
The recent case of Steven Sherriff, a British national who may face a sentence of 15 years for pinching a woman’s butt in Dubai has posed questions on the legal system related to such cases in India. “Our legal system is quite disoriented. The laws focus on the accused, and not the victim. That’s why there is hardly any fear of law,” says Meenakshi Lekhi, lawyer, Supreme Court.
In India, If a man pinches a woman’s butt, he can be booked under section 354 of the Indian Penal Code — for assault or criminal force, with intent to outrage a woman’s modesty.
It entails imprisonment for 2 years, or fine, or both. “It’s a bailable offence in most Indian states, and involves only a formal arrest. So, molesters are often not scared. The society undermines such crimes. You hear things like: what’s the big deal, he only pinched her butt, he must have been drunk,” adds Lekhi.
Kuber Sharma, human rights activist says, “There is hardly any implementation of law in India. Once a friend approached the cops after being molested and I was appalled to hear the cops say that butt pinching is not a big deal.”
Hindustan Times, June 3, 2012
Posted on: June 3, 2012
By Ranjani Iyer Mohanty
“New-born girl found in dustbin, second in a week,” announced a recent headline in the Hindustan Times. The article was datelined Gurgaon but it could have come from one of many Indian cities. Thousands of baby girls are abandoned each year, an extension of sex selection practices that, according to a 2011 study in The Lancet, include half a million abortions in India every year. Most abandoned babies die, but a few are rescued. While the statistics on the number of babies killed or abandoned at birth are murky—the vast majority go unreported—the radically skewed sex ratio of children under six years of age is an inescapable indication.
The abandonment of babies is not just a third-world problem. Although with less severity, developed nations—such as the U.S., UK, and several European countries—are also facing the issue. As in India, babies have been found abandoned in a variety of places: on road sides and in alleyways, outside temples and churches, in shopping malls and public bathrooms, and inside garbage cans.
It must be a heart-wrenching decision to abandon one’s baby. One can only imagine the desperate conditions that would lead a parent to do so. The reasons for abandonment may be varied: an unwed mother facing intense social stigma; parents unable to look after their child, often because it is mentally or physically ill; or, as often is the case in India, simply not wanting a girl.
The underlying causes of the crisis, deeply rooted in Indian society, will not be easy or quick to remedy. However, in the meantime, there’s at least one good idea out there for addressing this urgent problem: baby hatches. It’s not a permanent solution, but it could be a temporary stopgap.
A baby hatch is basically a safe place—maybe a crib or a room, often attached to a health center—where a parent can leave their child without fear of prosecution. These children are then looked after by the government and, if possible, placed with an adoptive family. There is a special term for such children—not orphans because they have living parents, but foundlings: they have been found. Since the 18th century, variations of the baby hatch concept have existed in much of central Europe, where they have sometimes been called “foundling wheels”.
Many American states now have “safe haven” laws, designated safe drop-off locations where parents can leave unwanted babies. These are usually hospitals, police stations, or fire stations. In France, a woman is allowed to deliver her baby in a hospital and, if she doesn’t want to keep it, leave it behind—no questions asked. Many countries have set up their own systems of baby hatches: Italy, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Japan, the Philippines, and South Africa, to name a few. Canada installed its first baby hatch at a hospital in Vancouver. Einsiedeln, a small town in Switzerland, has had a baby hatch for ten years, and even though they’ve received only two babies in that time, they still feel it worthwhile to keep it open. As the Economist reports, “Now Germany has around 200 places where a mother can either leave her baby—heated ‘baby hatches’, usually with an alarm to summon a carer—or where she can give birth anonymously.” In Pakistan, the Edhi Foundation accepts abandoned babies at its numerous welfare centers throughout the country. In China some officials are testing what they call “safe islands for babies” and Australia is considering its own safe-haven law.
Since 2007, the idea of a baby hatch has been slowly resurrected in India. There are already some baby hatches operating in India, in the state of Tamil Nadu. A United Nations Population Fund report explains, “Instead of resorting to female infanticide, parents who were unwilling to bring up their female babies could place them anonymously in cradles located in noon meal centres, PHCs, selected orphanages and NGOs. Subsequent to their placement in cradles, babies were to be placed for adoption.” Since the program’s inception in 1992 in selected districts, some 390 boys and 2400 girls have been safely left, according to the Tamil Nadu government’s directorate of social welfare.
Using the model and experience of the work already done in Tamil Nadu, India could set up a nation-wide system of baby hatches. Of course, key pre-requisites for a baby hatch system to work is that women must know that such safe places exist, where these places are, and that no questions will be asked.
Critics of baby hatches argue that it could create more problems than it solves. First and foremost, they say it will increase abandonment. This may well happen. However, that’s not a reason to not have such safe havens. That would be like saying we shouldn’t allow divorce because that would increase the divorce rate. If parents who really want to abandon their children are keeping them simply because there is no safe haven, imagine the care these children must be receiving. Forcing parents to keep unwanted children can lead to abuse and infanticide.
Some also worry that it will result in more children for the public to look after. To manage this situation, India can increase child-care facilities and ease adoption laws and procedures to make the process faster and more efficient, enabling the adoption of more children. Some government departments are already planning to do the latter. This problem may actually turn out to be a boon for the lengthy queues of aspiring parents wishing to adopt.
Die-hard critics argue that the system of baby hatches contradicts the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: that the child has the right to know its identity. Abandoned children would likely not know their parentage. However, children safely abandoned in baby hatches would at least survive.
While newspaper stories—and even actor and filmmaker Aamir Khan’s new reality show on social issues (the opening episode discussing female foeticide)—accomplish the critical first step of highlighting the issue of baby abandonment, acting on the problem is the second step. A nation-wide system of baby hatches could be a real life-saver.
The Atlantic, May 25, 2012
Posted on: May 25, 2012
By Nirmala George and Indrajit Singh
The daily trip to high school was expensive, long and eventually, too much for Indian teenager Nahid Farzana, who decided she was going to drop out. Then, the state government gave her a bicycle.
Two years later, she is about to graduate from high school and wants to be a teacher.
The eastern state of Bihar has been so successful at keeping teenage girls in school, the bike giveaways have spread to neighboring states. Now the Indian government wants to expand it across the country in hopes it might help improve female literacy.
Before starting the program in 2007, officials in Bihar, one of India’s poorest and least developed states, despaired over how to educate the state’s females, whose literacy rate of 53 percent is more than 20 points below that of its males.
“We found that the high school dropout rate soared when girls reached the ninth grade. This was primarily because there are fewer high schools and girls had to travel longer distances to get to school,” said Anjani Kumar Singh, Bihar’s principal secretary overseeing education.
Poor families could not spare the money for transport, or were reluctant to let girls travel so far away, fearing for their safety.
The program was an instant success, with the number of girls registered in the ninth grade in Bihar’s state schools more than tripling in four years, from 175,000 to 600,000.
“The results are remarkable. The school dropout rate for girls has plunged,” says Singh.
In her crisply starched blue tunic uniform and white scarf, Farzana appears a carefree teenager, proud to have made it into the tenth grade. But she almost did not make it.
Her daily bus fare of 15 rupees (22 cents) to the new high school 6 kilometers (4 miles) from their home in Rampur Singhara village was an additional burden her father, a car mechanic, could not afford.
“I wouldn’t have been able to keep Farzana in school for long,” said Mohammed Shiraz Ahmad, her father.
A teacher told them about the free bicycles, and Farzana applied for the 2,500 rupee ($50) grant to buy the bike.
“The bicycle has changed everything,” Ahmad said.
In remote villages, along dusty potholed lanes surrounded by sheaves of waving wheat, gaggles of school girls can be seen jauntily cycling to school.
The program has also raised the status of girls, who are often seen as a burden in son-obsessed India, where parents have to pay such hefty dowries to marry off their daughters that the family is often indebted for decades.
Now, girls are bringing an asset to the family, Singh said.
Mohammed Jalaluddin, who runs a tea stall in Rampur Singhara, says his daughter’s bike is used by the entire family.
Nizhat Parveen, his 16-year-old daughter, drops her brother at his school on the way to hers. When she returns, the family uses the bicycle for chores, from shopping for groceries to making food deliveries from the tea shop.
Bihar is also giving free school uniforms to girls to keep them in school. The bike grant money is put into a joint bank account in the names of the student and her parents, and school administrators monitor whether the girls buy bicycles and use them, or if the bike is sold and the girl ends up leaving school, Singh said. But mostly, the program operates on the honor system.
While corruption and fraudulent use of state money is rife in India, the Bihar government reports misuse of the bicycle funds is 1 percent.
The results from Bihar were so encouraging that the program has been adopted by the neighboring states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Rajasthan, another state with low female literacy rates, has launched a free bicycle program for girls in secondary and high school.
The federal government is exploring a plan to give bicycles to Muslim girls as their dropout rate is worse than that of other communities.
The bicycle program “has worked very well,” says Syeda Hameed, a member of India’s powerful Planning Commission body.
Hameed said the body is also looking at other factors that affect school attendance by girls in the higher classes, such as the lack of toilets in schools.
In poor families, older girls also leave school to take care of younger siblings while parents work. “This is a persistent problem which tends to push up dropout rates and is a matter of concern,” Hameed said.
But with the bicycle program gaining in popularity, authorities are tightening conditions, demanding students have 75 percent attendance to “earn” their uniforms and the bicycle.
For high school student Parveen, her proudest possession, the free bicycle, has allowed her to dream of even greater things.
“Even college doesn’t seem far away now,” she says.
The Huffington Post, May 21, 2012
Posted on: May 21, 2012
Mary Madiga as told to Stella Paul
When I was 25 I went to jail for demanding jobs and civic facilities for Madigas, the Dalit community that I belong to. I was dragged into the police van by constables who pulled my hair, slapped and kicked me with their heavy boots until I passed out. I spent six months in the jail of Warangal, a district in Andhra Pradesh.
It might sound unbelievable to many, but ‘untouchability’ is practiced even among Dalits themselves. They believe that some Dalit communities are ‘higher’ than others and those who are ranked lower are treated as untouchables by the upper Dalits. As it happens, my community, the Madigas whose traditional profession has been skinning animals, tanning, cobbling and beating drums (at social events such as weddings) are considered the lowest of all Dalits [because they touch the dead bodies of cows, which are sacred in India, and other animals].
So, most of the facilities meant for the Dalits are enjoyed by only the ‘upper’ Dalits. The lower Dalits, therefore, are deprived twice: first, they are ill-treated by non-Dalits, and second, by ‘upper’ Dalits.
To remove these disparities and to get justice for all, my community appealed to the government to further categorise the Dalits into higher and lower sections, in accordance with their status within the Dalit community. We hoped to expose to the government how ‘lower’ Dalits were treated and therefore ensure their betterment.
The government did not accept the demand, so we launched a state-wide movement which continued for three long years.
As a participant in the movement, leading a group of Madiga Dalit women, every now and then I traveled to Hyderabad– a two-hour journey from my village and stood in front of the state legislative assembly, so the chief minister would listen to our demands. We did not have places to stay or even water to drink. So we stood on the road, ate on the road, drank on the road and slept on the road.
It was during these demonstrations that one day the police cracked down on us and put us behind bars.
It was a tough time; I not only sustained physical injuries, but also suffered emotionally for being in jail for six long months as my two little children lived without me. However, and it was also the time when I really felt connected to my community. I also felt proud that we, the Dalits, who did not have jobs, land or even enough food, had the courage to sacrifice all we had to ensure a better future for our children. For the first time, I felt proud to be a Dalit – people who are broken in body, but not in spirit.
Our movement was eventually successful and the government decided to classify the Dalit communities into four sub categories: A, B, C and D. My community, Madiga, received the B category while Valmiki Dalits, who clean toilets and gutters, came under category A. This meant that we would now get more opportunities at educational institutions and a larger share of government jobs than we received earlier. Soon, I walked home free and formed an all-Dalit women’s group called Telengana Mahajena Mahila Samakhya (All Dalit Women’s Association of Telengana) to fight for issues that continue to affect us such as land rights, police atrocities, and denial of civic rights.
Today the group has more than 500 members. We regularly organise street marches, meetings and sit-in protests and at each event there are risks of getting beaten by the police or being arrested. But having spent six months in jail, I came to believe that, if united, we can do more than just make a little noise – we can change the whole paradigm. It is this belief that brought out the real leader in me.
Women News Network, May 15, 2012
Posted on: May 15, 2012
By Saira Kurup
Shahida Parveen Ganguly remembers her mother often asking her and her six siblings to eat first when there was little food at home. “I was small but would somehow understand that she was giving up her share of the food for us, and I would then make her eat part of my share,” recalls Ganguly, who is Jammu and Kashmir’s first woman police officer.
That expression of a mother’s love and sacrifice is something few children can forget. It’s a story repeated over and over in many Indian homes. It is the mother who puts her children and family first, who sometimes opts to give up a career for caregiving, who puts off buying something for herself to save money and who eats and sleeps last but gets up first in the morning.
Many gender roles might be getting redefined slowly in the 21st century, but that of a mother is not likely to change soon. “The mother remains the backbone of the family,” says Professor Tulsi Patel of Delhi University’s sociology department . In fact, a new survey finds that 92% of Indian women are willing to make the same sacrifices for their own children as their mothers did. Called ‘Thank You Mom’ , it was conducted by Ipsos and commissioned by Proctor & Gamble. It covered over 3,000 women in India and 11 other Asia-Pacific countries.
The survey finds that the mother is seen as indispensable for child development everywhere. Interestingly, India and China reported many similar results , including the highest numbers who said they were very close to their mothers (96%) and knew about their moms’ sacrifices. While the Japanese did not agree much with the sacrifices their mothers made, they acknowledged that moms are important in a child’s life.
What’s significant is that despite having impressive degrees, fatter wallets and greater freedom, women lean a lot on their moms’ support. In India, some 60% aspired to be just like their moms and 86% sought their advice often. Ganguly, a much-decorated officer who led daredevil operations against militants, says her mother is her biggest inspiration.
Harshini Kanhekar, 31, the country’s first female firefighter and now senior fire officer with ONGC in Mumbai, says, “I had my parents’ full support when I got admission to the (then all-male ) National Fire Service College, Nagpur. My mom has a modern outlook and she never put any restrictions on me.”
Even in the west, while the dependence on parents is much less, recession seems to be bringing maternal grandmoms back into the picture. A part of the same survey in 12 European countries on the changing face of motherhood shows that 44% of mothers, on an average , turned to their own moms for support in order to go out and work. The numbers were highest in countries such as Italy, Spain and Portugal where the extended family is a strong tradition.
Yet, despite enjoying far easier lifestyles than 30 years ago, with support systems and labour-saving devices, few are likely to say that motherhood has become easier. If a majority of Indian women said that having insufficient time for their families was their biggest regret , working women in UK reported the highest levels of guilt (” Should I spend more time with my children instead of pursuing a career?”). Many are also discontented for being ‘just homemakers’ .
In fact, a number of European mothers said they were more like “family managers” than traditional housewives. Ganguly agrees: “We have to take care of our jobs and homes, too. Earlier, they were not so educated or competitive. I understood what my mother did for me after I had two sons, now 8 and 4. Ever since they were born, I haven’t thought about anything else but them. I have some dreams, such as to do mountaineering , but have put them on hold.”
A large majority of Indians (81%) believed their mothers could have achieved much more had it not been for the sacrifices they made. Ironically , more than half expressed their appreciation only occasionally.
That’s the thing with mothers – we just don’t tell them enough how important they are, and will always be, to us.
The Times of India, May 13, 2012
Posted on: May 13, 2012
By Donna E. Shalala and Ann M. Veneman
Three years ago, we came together with friends and colleagues to form an initiative representing various sectors of public life, from politics and academics to the media and entertainment. The common thread that brought us together is that we believe every woman deserves the chance to have a safe pregnancy and give birth to a healthy baby. As co-chairs of the White Ribbon Alliance and CARE’s Mothers Day Every Day U.S. advocacy initiative, we’ve added our voices to the existing movement and are urging policymakers to do more for moms and babies everywhere.
As we honor our mothers today, we must make sure that mothers around the world aren’t forgotten. We’re reminded that today alone, around 1,000 women will needlessly die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes. Ninety-nine percent of these deaths will be in developing countries, and almost all of them are preventable.
Lives can and are being saved. Progress has been made in recent years, but more must be done. Proven and cost-effective measures, like having trained midwives and health workers present at births, or giving an expecting mother a bus token to get to the hospital, are transforming communities. Malaria nets that protect newborns from disease can save thousands. A refurbished mobile phone that sends text alerts to remind a mother to breastfeed can save a life.
As we know from our own families, mothers play an essential role in the physical, social and economic health of their families, communities and nations. Their health before, during and after childbirth is critical to the health and well-being of the child, and to the economic stability of their nations and the global community at large. Children with healthy mothers are more likely to receive immunizations, attend school and grow into healthy, productive members of society.
Empowering mothers—beginning with a healthy pregnancy and safe childbirth—is the key to improved health, self-sufficiency, economic growth and sustainability. By expanding proven strategies, hundreds of thousands of women and newborns can lead healthy, empowered lives. But it begins with us reminding our policymakers about the woman who cannot remind him herself.
As co-chairs of the White Ribbon Alliance and CARE’s Mothers Day Every Day campaign, today, and every day, we wish you a happy Mother’s Day.
The Huffington Post, May 13, 2012
Posted on: May 13, 2012
According to a report published recently, India has the highest number of deaths due to premature births, and ranks 36th in the list of pre-term births globally. The ranking included 199 countries.
Of the 27 million babies born in India annually (2010 figure), 3.6 million are born prematurely, of which 303,600 don’t survive due to complications.
Nearly half of all child mortality is due to pre-term births, a new report by Save the Children, titled ‘Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Pre-term Birth’ has revealed. The deaths due to pre-term births are second only to pneumonia, it notes.
In terms of deaths due to pre-term birth, India is at the top (indicating it fares the worst), while in terms of the rate of pre-term births, it is ranked 36th, after Malawi (ranked first), Pakistan (ranked eighth), Nepal (20th), and Bangladesh (24th), says the report.
Each year, 15 million babies, making up more than one in 10 births globally, are born too early, says the report. More than one million of those babies die shortly after birth; countless more suffer some type of lifelong physical, neurological, or educational disability, often at great cost to families.
Save the Children India Senior Advisor for Maternal, Child and Newborn Health Dr. Rajiv Tandon said: “The problem of premature birth needs both attention and intervention if India is to improve its maternal and child health record.
An estimated three quarters of the pre-term babies who die can survive without expensive care, if a few proven and inexpensive treatments and preventions are available globally, according to more than 100 experts who contributed to the report, representing almost 40 U.N. agencies, universities, and organisations.
The countries with the greatest numbers of preterm births are India – 3,519,100; China – 1,172,300; Nigeria – 773,600; Pakistan – 748,100; Indonesia – 675,700; United States – 517,400; Bangladesh – 424,100; Philippines – 348,900; Democratic Republic of the Congo – 341,400; and Brazil – 279,300.
For the report, pre-term was defined as 37 weeks of completed gestation or less, which is the standard WHO definition.
Save the Children – India CEO Thomas Chandy said many factors, such as early marriage and pregnancy, inadequate nutritional intake by pregnant women, and want of adequate health interventions were among the reasons that contributed to such a high rate of pre-term pregnancy, exposing both the mother and the baby to risk.
“All newborns are vulnerable, but pre-term babies are acutely so,” says U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who wrote the foreword to the report, and considers the effort to reduce pre-term births and deaths an integral part of his Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.
More than 60 per cent of pre-term births occur in Africa and South Asia. The 10 countries with the highest numbers include Brazil, the United States, India and Nigeria, demonstrating that pre-term birth is truly a global problem. Of the 11 countries with pre-term birth rates of more than 15 per cent, all but two are in sub-Saharan Africa. In the poorest countries, on average, 12 per cent of babies are born too soon, compared with 9 per cent in higher-income countries.
A key way to reduce pre-term numbers is to find ways to help all pregnancies continue to full term. A number of risk factors for pre-term birth have been identified, including a prior history of pre-term birth, being underweight/overweight, diabetes, hypertension, smoking, infection, maternal age (either under 17 or more than 40), genetics, multi-foetal pregnancy, and pregnancies spaced too closely together.
The Hindu, May 2, 2012
Posted on: May 2, 2012
6o per cent of women do not have access to proper sanitation in India which is the “biggest blot” on a country that has otherwise successfully tested missiles and put satellites in space, Union minister Jairam Ramesh said today.
“60 per cent women in the country do not have access to toilets…We can launch missiles like Agni and satellites, but we can not provide sanitation to our women. What can be a biggest blot on the nation than this?”, the Rural Development Minister said at Nirmal Gram Puraskar-2011 distribution function and Panchayati Raj Sammelan here.
India is lagging behind its neighbours Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan when it comes to providing proper sanitation to people, Ramesh, who also holds the portfolio of Drinking Water and Sanitation, said.
Mahatma Gandhi is the one and only politician in the country who sincerely worked to end the menace of open defecation, Ramesh said.
Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, a re-structured programme of Total Sanitation Campaign, would be formally launched soon, he said, adding that village panchayats concerned would be made responsible for keeping their village open-defecation free.
Ramesh said the Central government has fixed a target to make every gram panchayat as open-defecation free in next 10 years and added that the government would increase the fund under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan from Rs 2,200 to Rs 9,900 per household.
While praising the Haryana government and its approach in the total sanitation campaign, the Minister said that he always asked other states to follow the Haryana slogan of ‘Shauchalya Nahin To Dulhan Nahin’ (No toilets, No bride).
“If you continue this programme in the same pace, in three years your state will become Nirmal Haryana,” he told state Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda who was present on the occasion.
The Times of India, April 28, 2012
Posted on: April 28, 2012
Elaine Kurtenbach, Associated Press
The 2 billion women living in Asia are still paid less than men for similar work and are extremely underrepresented in top leadership positions, even in wealthy countries such as Japan, according to a report issued Thursday.
The Asia Society survey on women’s status in health, education, economic activity and political leadership urges improvements to ensure the region benefits fully from its underused pool of human talent.
While the status of women varies widely from country to country from one category to the next, overall, “to continue in this direction would put in peril Asia’s many achievements,’’ said the report, compiled by Astrid S. Tuminez, a professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.
Limits on female employment cost the region $89 billion a year in terms of lost productivity and human resources, the report said, citing United Nations data.
Overall, based on various measures — the report also uses data from The Economic Forum and other sources — the gender gap was narrowest and women’s leadership strongest in New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Mongolia.
The gap was widest in Pakistan, Nepal, India, South Korea and Cambodia.
“Some economies in Asia with the highest human development rankings also perform most poorly in some measures of women’s leadership,’’ it said, referring specifically to Japan and South Korea.
Asia leads the world in terms of the number of years women have governed as heads of state, and currently has four women leaders. But the report attributes that to dynastic traditions calling for women to take over from fathers, husbands or sons when they die, are imprisoned or killed.
It said the problem begins before birth, with sex-selective abortions and infanticide due to a preference for sons in countries such as China and India.
It said the bias in favor of sons means that girls in some countries receive poorer medical care, nutrition and education than boys, especially in developing countries.
The discrepancy in schooling leaves the majority of women in four Asian nations illiterate, the report said, citing literacy rates of 10 percent in Bhutan, 16 percent in Pakistan, 25 percent in Nepal and 31 percent in Bangladesh.
Although women live longer in Asian nations as in other regions, such disadvantages affect health and earning power over a lifetime, the report noted.
“From the very start, girls in Asia face significant obstacles to fulfilling their human potential, in general, and their potential for leadership, in particular,’’ Asia Society President Vishakha N. Desai said in introducing the report.
Pay gaps remain significant, the report said, with the ratio of women’s pay to men’s lowest in South Korea, at 51 percent, below that of Nepal, Bangladesh and China. Japan’s was not much better, at 60 percent.
The narrowest gaps, the report found, were in Malaysia and Singapore, at 81 percent, and Mongolia and Thailand, at just under 80 percent. Globally, women’s pay is 20 percent to 30 percent less than men’s, on average.
As far as women in senior corporate positions, Japan came in worst in the region with just 5 percent of those postions held by women.
Thailand and the Philippines ranked highest in this regard, with women holding 39 percent of senior level positions, while India came in at 14 percent and China 25 percent, it said, citing a survey by human resources consultancy Grant Thornton International.
The percentage of women on corporate boards was much lower, with Japan at 0.9 percent, South Korea at 1.9 percent and China at 8.5 percent. New Zealand ranked highest, at 9.3 percent. The global average is 21 percent, down from 24 percent in 2009, the report said.
The report suggests specific countermeasures, such as providing more mentoring, more generous parental leaves, childcare and elder care, and gender-equal retirement packages would encourage women to persevere with their careers to top management positions.
But more fundamentally, it urges greater education aimed at valuing girls and women on a par with boys and men, steps to end sex selective abortions and improvement in women’s property rights and other protections to ensure they can contribute fully to society.
The Asia Society, based in New York, is a global non-profit organization seeking to promote closer ties between Asia and the West through arts, education, policy and business outreach.
April 19, 2012, Associated Press
Posted on: April 19, 2012
By Mark Magnier
NEW DELHI — She was called dirty, ugly, a “little packet of poison,” the offspring of donkeys. These days, Kalpana Saroj is called something else: a millionaire.
Saroj, a dalit, or “untouchable,” epitomizes what was once unthinkable in India: upward mobility for someone whose caste long meant she would die as she was born: uneducated, dirt-poor, doomed to a life of dangerous and filthy work.
The manufacturing tycoon — one admirer called her “a real slumdog millionaire” — is among a legion of dalits embracing new opportunities in business, politics, the arts and academia as prejudices ease and economic reforms open new doors in a culture that traditionally emphasized fate and reincarnation.
“Before, Indians thought the only way up was life after death, assuming they avoided hell,” said Chandra Bhan Prasad, a dalit researcher and activist. “Now, not having a mobile phone is hell. Dalits can’t become Brahmins, but they can become capitalists. Once you become rich, you become free.”
Others counter that a few Horatio Alger bootstrap stories can’t sugarcoat the continued suffering of the 17% of India’s 1.2 billion people facing discrimination under an ancient, complex system that traditionally determined one’s occupation and social status at birth, with Brahmins at the top and “unclean” dalits at the bottom shoveling human waste.
Saroj, 51, once hissed at by Brahmins, has built a business empire that employs thousands of upper-caste workers, she said. As she sipped tea in a luxury New Delhi mall, she was wearing gold bracelets, diamond earrings and a traditional salwar kameez worth thousands of dollars. (After her daughter settled on studying hotel management a few years ago, Saroj bought her a hotel. With her son now in possession of a pilot’s license, she’s shopping for a plane.)
Emerging from extreme poverty and pariah status to a position of strength and wealth has certainly been satisfying, she said. That fact that she is a woman — in a country ranked by the United Nations as among the world’s most dangerous places to be born a girl, given high female infanticide, inferior healthcare and nutrition — made her rise more extraordinary.
And although her ascent hasn’t been without its share of speed bumps or caste-related jibes, she said, she has tried to channel anger and frustration into getting things done.
“I’m aware people may still look down on me because I’m a dalit,” she said. “But even when I was very agitated, I never lost my cool, always trying instead to find my way out of difficult situations.”
Saroj was born in Repatkhedha, a tiny village in the western state of Maharashtra, the eldest daughter of a homemaker and a policeman. Dalits were barred from drinking from Brahmin wells, and school for Saroj was an eight-mile walk on dirt paths, interrupted by occasional beatings by upper-caste children.
When she was 8, she asked her mother why, and was told to accept her fate.
“This was my world,” she said. “I didn’t really think about it.”
She was married off at 12 to a laborer from Mumbai at the insistence of an uncle who considered girls “little packets of poison.”
“Your daughter’s an ugly, dark-skinned kid,” he told her father. “If someone from Mumbai is willing, you’d darned well better marry her off.”
Her husband, his alcoholic brother and wife all beat her. Sometimes her brother-in-law would yell: Whom did her mom sleep with to produce this donkey?
“All my dreams were shattered,” she said. “It was hell.”
After six months, her father rescued her. But the village ostracized her and she ended up drinking rat poison and fell into a coma, barely surviving. Afterward, villagers concluded that she must have a guilty conscience.
“I realized, whether I live or die, I’ll get blamed,” she said. “So I might as well go for it.”
Saroj lobbied to return to Mumbai, threatening to try suicide again when her family balked. Once there, she got a job removing lint from finished garments at a hosiery company for 15 cents a day. During lunch breaks she practiced on the sewing machines and became a tailor for $5 a day.
“It was the first happiness in 15 years,” she said. “I’ve earned millions. But that initial $5 was the most satisfying.”
When Saroj was in her early 20s, her sister became ill and died because they couldn’t afford a hospital. “I realized, if it’s all about money, I need to control it,” she said.
She borrowed $1,000 under a lower-caste government program, opening a furniture and blouse-making business that prospered. She learned about some property ensnared in liens and acquired it for $5,000 in savings and an IOU for a fraction of its worth. Eventually she secured the necessary clearances and found a partner to build a shopping complex.
“She is a struggler,” said Madhusudan Anand Batkar, 38, a social worker from Keriveri, a village near Saroj’s hometown, “a real slumdog millionaire.”
Her reputation as a fixer led to another disputed property. When goons threatened her, she stared them down. “I wasn’t afraid,” she said. “I’d already faced death.”
That too did well, leading to a stake in a sugar company and then to industrial equipment maker Kamani Tubes. The troubled firm was saddled with a $24-million debt and 140 court cases after its workers took over the factory for unpaid wages. The union asked her to run it and within a few years, she’d also turned that around.
These days, Saroj acknowledges being a bit of a workaholic. She starts her day with yoga, often works 12-to-14-hour days and spends several more hours commuting. In her meager free time, she likes listening to music and cooking. Her other passion is gardening at her rambling terrace apartment, which she designed to her taste because she owns the building.
Periodically, Saroj returns to her village to distribute food and clothing, set up schools, offer jobs to abused women. “She’s very confident,” said Chaggan Khandare, 36, a dalit social worker in the district. “She tells us to fight for what you want, never give up.”
Although clearly extraordinary, she’s not alone in her success. The Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry now has several dozen millionaires among its 1,000 members.
“We want dalit capitalism,” said millionaire contractor Milind Kamble, the chamber’s founder and chairman. “We’ve been very inspired by black capitalism in the U.S.”
But even as millions of lower-caste Indians climb into the middle class with the help of affirmative action policies, progress for the vast majority of dalits is incremental, at best.
“There are success stories,” said Damodar Manohar, a 68-year-old villager in Repatkhedha. “But the overall situation hasn’t changed much.”
There are still thousands of attacks on dalits annually and hundreds die. A dalit was stabbed to death recently for hitting a bull, considered holy by Hindus; a dalit was beaten to death for filing a lawsuit against an upper-caste member; and a dalit widow was beaten and reportedly paraded naked after her son eloped with his upper-caste girlfriend.
Dalits, caste activist Kancha Ilaiah says, should take a cue from the social upheaval that helped African Americans battle racism.
“A sprinkling of millionaires, some top politicians won’t change people’s thinking,” he said. “We need a civil war.”
But for Saroj, owner of “five or six” cars, including a $200,000 Mercedes S-Class, it’s been quite a ride.
“I was treated as something lower than a person,” she said. “But I’ll die a human being.”
Los Angeles Times, April 18, 2012
Posted on: April 18, 2012
By Emily Jupp
Once upon a time there was a woman who was the wife of a great Hindu sage. The sage and his wife had taken a vow of celibacy. One day she was at the river and she saw two sprites “frolicking” with each other. She wished that she and her husband could be sexually free too. The husband sensed her sexual desires and was so angry he ordered her to be beheaded. However, the sage bitterly regretted the decision, so he tried to fix it. He found the head of another woman from the lowest caste, and attached this to his wife’s body. She was resurrected, but instead of staying with her husband, she roamed by the river, a liberated, sexually free woman, like the sprites. She became the goddess “Yellama” and lived happily ever after.
This is the story told to some of the young girls in Southern India, in the region of Andhra Pradesh, where Yellamma is the patron goddess. At the age of between five and ten they are dedicated to the goddess in a special marriage ceremony, where they are given pretty clothes, strewn with petals, offered gifts and then forced to become sex slaves.
They are too young to fully comprehend what is happening to them until the ceremony is over and their fate is sealed. Saimma, aged 40 explains: *”I felt happy and great as a child saying that I am married and I used to say all the other children, ‘you also should get married to the goddess and then you will get new clothes and can have thali in your neck like me’. Only later did I realise what is the marriage really. In our society, if you have a husband you also have respect, but we die of shame.”
Venkatamma, 45, says, “My mother told me I was the goddess of our villagers. With time I came to know that what type of goddess I was. All are playing games with our life. Today we are living by dying. In the society we don’t have respect and we are subservient to everyone.”
The girls who have been put through this dedication ceremony are known as “Jogini”. Estimates say that 17000 girls are Jogini. They have the glamourous image of being a temple prostitiute, and like Yellama, they will never marry, which to outsiders gives an impression of freedom, but they will always be Jogini and cannot escape their fate. Although there are no physical restraints on them, the community will shun them if they try to take another profession.
“Sometimes they are locked in rooms and battered until they have no will to escape,” explains Dr Beryl D’souza Vali, the Director of Anti-Trafficking at Pratigya India, a charity which campaigns for an end to slavery in India. “But after that they are seen as a sex worker and there is no escaping that, so they are exploited at that level, even if they try to do something else, they will always be a sex worker.”
The young girls usually come from the lowest caste, the Dalits (‘untouchables’). Dalits have few rights and the majority live in extreme poverty. The practice of selling their children as Jogini is said to bring good luck to the families and they are also given a very small percentage of the money made from the sale of the child.
Ashamma, 45, was made a Jogini when she was eight years old. “My father was blind since birth. They made me a Jogini to get financial support. But I still have to go begging with my son because of my horrible situation and lack of food.”
D’souza Vali says that often the men involved in buying the girls are often respected members of society. ”There are stakeholders; they are people from the sex trade industry – politicians, religious leaders or prominent locals,” she explains, “the brothels in larger cities usually get a religious middle man in the village to visit the family to say this should happen.”
The only “escape” from being a Jogini comes from no longer being useful for sex, says D’souza Vali: ”Eventually they have had several children and contracted HIV and Aids, so they are no longer working, then they escape it”.
GoodShepherdClinicb1 300×225 Sex slaves sold in the name of religion
Jogini women sometimes dedicate their own daughters, because once they stop being useful as Jogini, there is no other way to get an income, or their children are taken and made into Jogini.
Savithramma, 22, was made a Jogini by her mother and grandmother after she gave birth to an illigitimate child when she was 14. “ I asked him after the child birth to marry me but he didn’t respond to me. So, my mother took me to temple and made my avva (grandmother) to tie thali to me. From that time onward all give me the title jogini. ”
“They use our children also after our death,” says Ashamma. “When we die, they take our children as their slaves. By that our children’s lives are also spoiled. Our children’s lives are also in darkness like ours.”
Laws do exist to protect the girls and women, but are rarely enforced. In the 1930s the British were the first ones who challenged the system and outlawed it. This was seen as disrespectful to the religious customs and culturally unaware. In some ways the law backfired and simply made Jogini life much harder. “One Jogini told me that the women used to enjoy a much higher patronage and they were like the Geisha girls in Japan” explains D’souza Vali. “They could do their own thing and not have to be married. It’s true that after the law was introduced they had to be more secretive and so exploitation increased.”
Later, in 1983, those laws were strengthened, but did not have an effect. D’souza Vali says there has not been a case using these protective laws for the last five years. “It’s hard to look at something clearly that is so entrenched with culture and religion, so what happens is a Jogini may get some but not enough help. The police themselves are not always aware of the law or are aware, but don’t really know how to implement the law.”
Malcolm Egner, of the Dalit Freedom Network (DFN), a charity that helps Dalit people (low-caste people) across the world to fight injustice against their caste, says there are many other barriers to getting help. “In some parts of India, Dalits are not allowed into police stations.” D’souza Vali explains, ”In 95 per cent of cases, if a Dalit woman goes to the police they won’t be helped. They are likely to get further harassment. In the unlikely case that the police are helpful there may be other barriers.”
Against all the barriers, a small group of ex-Jogini women are finally speaking out against the tradition. DFN is currently working with Pratigya India, D’souza Vali’s organisation, on a 12-month project in the region to help these women to help educate the Jogini and their families about their legal rights and also to intervene before the dedication ceremonies take place. The stories of abuse go on, but with some help, the ex-Jogini activists are working to prevent this abuse happening in the future. “They want an alternate life for their descendents,” says D’souza Vali.
The Independent Blogs, March 28, 2012
Posted on: March 28, 2012
By Anita Anand
We can consider Anita Narre a heroine all right. Last May, she left her husband’s home two days after her marriage because there was no indoor toilet. Eight days later she returned, after he had built a toilet, a move that cost him his savings and required support from the Panchayat.
Now, the NGO Sulabh International has adopted his village Jheetudhana, in Betul district, Madhya Pradesh for its “Total Cleanliness Drive”. Sulabh also awarded Rs 5 lakh to Narre for her action, saying it will motivate other Indian girls, especially in villages, to ensure that when their parents arrange a match, they must ensure there is a toilet at their in-laws place.
In the same week that Narre was honoured, rural development Minister Jairam Ramesh expressed concern that the government’s Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) is being seen as a “token sanitation campaign” and that woman were demanding mobile phones but not toilets.
The TSC campaign to build toilets in the districts free of cost had previously hit a roadblock as villagers thought it was “dirty” to have facilities inside the house. But Narre’s action has changed this. Many nearby villages have requested the TSC to build toilets.
Women and girls in rural India suffer greatly due to the lack of basic sanitation. The lack of a girl’s toilet is one of the top reasons girls drop out of school. A 2009 survey of India’s schools found that fewer than half of them have restrooms. Of those, only 60 per cent had facilities for girls , many of which were broken or locked.
Women in rural India
Women in rural India often wait until the night or dawn to relieve themselves discretely in fields, often risking sexual assault, kidnapping, and animal attacks. Some women eat and drink less, simply to avoid having to go to the toilet, putting themselves at a higher risk for malnutrition. Lack of toilets and other proper sanitation cost India nearly $54 billion a year through hygienerelated illnesses (malaria, polio, diarrhoea and typhoid), lost productivity and other factors, a World Bank study found. In 2005, the Haryana Government launched a “No Toilet No Bride” campaign to encourage more villagers to build toilets, plastering villages with posters saying “If you don’t have a proper lavatory in your house, don’t even think about marrying my daughter.” The campaign resulted in 1.4 million new toilets.
Under new local laws in states, people’s representatives are obliged to construct a flush toilet in their own home within a year of being elected. Those who fail to do so face dismissal. The law making toilets mandatory has been introduced in several states as part of the TSC. How far this succeeds in creating better facilities for women waits to be seen.
Delhi only has 132 public toilets for women, while there are 3,192 public toilets for men. And, never mind that men are raised to believe that their whole country is a toilet! Working women in Delhi’s urban settlements say they don’t have the time to stand in the endless lines and do a ‘flying toilet’ – evacuate in a plastic bag and then throw it in the trash. Where’s the heroine for public toilets?
March 9, 2012
Posted on: March 9, 2012
By Dean Nelson
India is the most dangerous place in the world to be born a girl, with females almost twice as likely to die before reaching the age of five, according to new UN figures.
The report, which analyses differences between male and female child mortality rates over the last 40 years, reveals that from 2000 to 2010 there were 56 deaths of boys aged one to five for every 100 female deaths.
Indian campaigners for the rights of girls said the figures reflected widespread discrimination against girls, ranging from neglect to abuse and killing of unwanted female infants.
The figures, compiled by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, emerged as India was plunged into introspection over the case of a two year old girl fighting for her life in hospital after being abandoned by her family and trafficked between several adults before being beaten, bitten and branded by a 14 year old girl. The girl, known as Falak, is suffering from severe chest injuries and brain damage and according to her doctors is unlikely to survive the next 48 hours.
Girls are widely regarded as a burden to Indian families who fear the high costs of their weddings and resent spending money on their education only for them later to leave the home to marry.
Many women abort pregnancies when they believe they will deliver a girl, often under pressure from their husbands or in-laws who favour boys.
Campaigners believe there may have been as many as eight million cases of ‘female foeticide’ in India over the last decade.
This discrimination has driven India’s sex ratio progressively lower.
Census statistics show it fell from 976 girls per 1000 boys in 1961 to 914 in 2011.
But according to campaigners the figures hide the cruelty and neglect suffered by girls kept by their families, in particular from malnutrition and denial of medical treatment.
Ranjana Kumari of the Council for Social Research said Indian mothers breast feed girls for a far shorter period than they do their sons and feed them less well because they fear good nourishment will speed the advent of puberty and the need for a costly wedding. While boys are taken immediately to hospital, sick girls are kept waiting because their families do not have the same interest in their survival.
“They think they need to feed the boy, but there is less desire for the girl to survive, it is common in rural India. Boys are immediately taken to the doctor, but not the girl. She is the last to get the medicine,” she said.
Female infanticide was also a factor in the UN figures, she added. “It has been a practice in central India for a long time, where mothers were made to feed the child with salt to kill the girl child.”
The Telegraph, February 1, 2012
Posted on: February 1, 2012
By Paras K Jha
If it is a crime to be born a woman in society, it is a bigger crime to be born a Dalit woman. This, at least, is what a study by human rights organisation, Navsarjan Trust, says.
While women are normally considered to be vulnerable to atrocities, women belonging to Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) are more prone to various crimes. The study shows that it is more difficult for Dalits to get justice in the court of law for their traumatic sufferings. The study indicates that in the cases of violence by non-Dalits on Dalit women, no non-Dalit accused have been convicted so far, and in cases of violence by Dalits on Dalit women, there have been convictions only in six cases.
The study, ‘Gender-Violence and Access to Justice for the Dalit Woman: Final Report December 2011’, was undertaken by Navsarjan Trust in collaboration with Minority Rights Group International, London. It was focused on three districts of Rajkot, Kutch and Bhavnagar. It covers the atrocities cases on Dalit women registered from 2004 to 2009.
The data was collected by filing RTI applications with district superintendents of police. Pointing towards the non-serious attitude of police stations towards Dalit women facing atrocity, the report says: “A low percentage of police stations responded to the request in spite of fines that may be levied for non-compliance with the RTI Act. Data was received from 41% of police stations for non-Dalit on Dalit crime, 44% of police stations for Dalit on Dalit crime, and 49% of police stations submitted Accidental/Unnatural Deaths data, from all three districts.”
Surprisingly, whatever data was received for the study shows a more gloomy picture of delivery ofjustice to the victims. Of 889 registered cases —185 cases of violence by non-Dalits and 704 cases of violence by Dalits, only 6 cases (or 0.7% of the total) resulted in conviction of the accused.
The report says, “Also significant is the absence of even one conviction of a non-Dalit accused. Given that 50.27% of crimes by non-Dalits on Dalits were of a grievous nature — cases that resulted in death or grave physical injury to the woman — not one case has ended in a conviction.Further, a full 50.5% of all cases remain pending in the sessions’ court. And the police stations did not provide any information on the status of 32.7% of cases filed. In other words, only 17% of all cases have reached court settlement or judgment.
Talking about the study, Majula Pradeep, of Navsarjan, said: “Non-Dalit accused often walk free from the cases because of political and social clout they have. For instance, in Bhavnagar, a majority of police personnel belong to a particular caste, so they don’t take seriously the complaints made by Dalit women. We will be submitting our report to state government departments, advocating for the rights of the Dalit women.”
Daily News & Analysis, December 21, 2011
Posted on: December 21, 2011
By Associated Press, Published: October 22
MUMBAI, India — More than 200 Indian girls whose names mean “unwanted” in Hindi have chosen new names for a fresh start in life.
A central Indian district held a renaming ceremony Saturday that it hopes will give the girls new dignity and help fight widespread gender discrimination that gives India a skewed gender ratio, with far more boys than girls.
The 285 girls — wearing their best outfits with barrettes, braids and bows in their hair — lined up to receive certificates with their new names along with small flower bouquets from Satara district officials in Maharashtra state.
In shedding names like “Nakusa” or “Nakushi,” which mean “unwanted” in Hindi, some girls chose to name themselves after Bollywood stars such as “Aishwarya” or Hindu goddesses like “Savitri.” Some just wanted traditional names with happier meanings, such as “Vaishali,” or “prosperous, beautiful and good.”
“Now in school, my classmates and friends will be calling me this new name, and that makes me very happy,” said a 15-year-old girl who had been named Nakusa by a grandfather disappointed by her birth. She chose the new name “Ashmita,” which means “very tough” or “rock hard” in Hindi.
The plight of girls in India came to a focus after this year’s census showed the nation’s sex ratio had dropped over the past decade from 927 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of 6 to 914.
Maharashtra state’s ratio is well below that, with just 883 girls for every 1,000 boys — down from 913 a decade ago. In the district of Satara, it is even lower, at 881.
Such ratios are the result of abortions of female fetuses, or just sheer neglect leading to a higher death rate among girls. The problem is so serious in India that hospitals are legally banned from revealing the gender of an unborn fetus in order to prevent sex-selective abortions, though evidence suggests the information gets out.
Part of the reason Indians favor sons is the enormous expense of marrying off girls. Families often go into debt arranging marriages and paying for elaborate dowries. A boy, on the other hand, will one day bring home a bride and dowry. Hindu custom also dictates that only sons can light their parents’ funeral pyres.
Over the years, and again now, efforts have been made to fight the discrimination.
“Nakusa is a very negative name as far as female discrimination is concerned,” said Satara district health officer Dr. Bhagwan Pawar, who came up with the idea for the renaming ceremony.
Other incentives, announced by federal or state governments every few years, include free meals and free education to encourage people to take care of their girls, and even cash bonuses for families with girls who graduate from high school.
Activists say the name “unwanted,” which is widely given to girls across India, gives them the feeling they are worthless and a burden.
“When the child thinks about it, you know, ‘My mom, my dad, and all my relatives and society call me unwanted,’ she will feel very bad and depressed,” said Sudha Kankaria of the organization Save the Girl Child. But giving these girls new names is only the beginning, she said.
“We have to take care of the girls, their education and even financial and social security, or again the cycle is going to repeat,” she said.
The Washington Post, October 22, 2011
Posted on: October 22, 2011
Originally published as “Grain Banks”, By Kanhaiah Bhelari, The Week, March 22, 2009 issue.
Six years ago, some Dalit women in Maner Telpa village in Bihar were discussing a way out of their plight. They were being tortured and humiliated by the rich and feudal lot for failing to return food grain they had borrowed in times of desperation. All of a sudden, an idea struck them—save food grain during harvest season and distribute it among the needy during September and October, the months of acute food shortage.
Thus was born Grain Bank. And at age six, the concept has spread to 60 villages in five districts-Patna, Bhojpur, East Champaran, Muzaffarpur and Samastipur. “They happen to be Laxmis as well as ‘home ministers’,” said a man, appreciating the women who operate these banks.
Deokali Devi had an ugly experience with some people, who hurled vulgar abuses at her when she failed to return five kilos of rice. But that was three years ago, before she joined the bank. Those bad days are over. Deokali last September borrowed 40kg of rice from the bank. She has to return it in March 2009 with an interest of eight kilos. “There is a one-kilo interest on every five kilos,” said Sudami Devi, secretary of the bank. This year, 14 women have borrowed from the bank in Maner Telpa.
Starting with a small stock, the bank turned wealthy in October 2004 when the NGO Pragati Gramin Vikas Samiti donated Rs 5,000 to purchase food grain and two steel containers. “We began with 55kg in 2002. With the help of the samiti, the bank got a stock of 711kg in 2004. And now it has 1,560kg of rice as capital,” said Punam Devi, one of 26 members of the samiti in Maner Telpa. One container is kept at Sudami Devi’s house and the other at the house of Fulwanti Devi, the president of the samiti’s local unit. Each container can hold 920kg.
Some 50 families belonging to Musahar caste in Nisarpura village used mud containers to store rice. The samiti in 2004 donated two containers and 700kg of rice. “It had already accumulated 70kg,” said Deo Kumari Devi, president of the samiti’s unit in the village. “This year, the bank distributed 1,300kg of rice among 39 families.”
The bank has emboldened the villagers to fight injustice and keep off the fields of landlords who pay them very low wages. “We were being paid a mere 3kg of rice for 10 hours of toil. Our demand was only for 5kg, which they denied, forcing us to stop work,” said Siyamati Devi, secretary of the samiti in Nisarpura village.
Pradeep Priyadarshi, chief of the NGO, said the Dalit women no longer had to go from door to door begging for food. “They just need to come to the bank,” he said. But he does not take all the credit for the good times. “The bank was their idea. We just motivated them with financial assistance.”
The bank is helping the women settle a few old scores, too. Vinay Singh, who borrowed 40kg of rice last year, was asked to return 60kg. “We charged him 50 per cent interest because he used to charge us the same rate when he was financially sound,” said Deokali. But it does not charge even a grain from extremely poor women. Besides, the bank has been donating food grain to needy families in the event of death. Those with physical disabilities are given rice free of cost. “I feel proud that the women in my constituency have started such banks,” said Ramkripal Yadav, MP from Patna, who belongs to the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
Most remarkably, the state government is considering adoption of the concept. Said Pradeep, “An IAS officer approached me recently to know the details.” If the government sets up such banks, the downtrodden will never have to beg the rich for a square meal.
Posted on: March 20, 2009
Original article from Times Of India.
DHANBAD: Days after a widow was paraded naked in a village here for entering a temple, two Dalit widows have been forced to swallow human excreta by villagers who blamed them for being responsible for an outbreak of chicken pox.
Police arrested four people on Sunday for violating the Jharkhand Anti-Witchcraft Act, 2001 and Prevention of Atrocities on SC/ST Act after they tortured Rashmi Devi (60) and Samri Devi (65) in Manaydih village, 15 km from Dhanbad. Samri Devi is a sweeper in a local branch of a nationalized bank.
“It was because of superstition. The villagers, including the son of one of the victims, believed the elderly women were practicing witchcraft,” said Vinod Kumar, an officer at Barwaadda police station.
The trouble started after the four-year-old son of Koleshwar Das, one of the villagers, died two days ago. The family of Das suspected it was because of the “witchcraft” of the two elderly women.
The villagers caught the women on Saturday forced them to eat human excreta. They alleged that the women were a “curse on the village” and chicken pox had spread in the area because of them.
Last Thursday, another widow from a backward community was paraded naked in Ranwatand village, 35 km from Dhanbad, for entering the village temple. The culprits said a widow had “no right to enter a temple”.
Posted on: April 7, 2008
Posted on: March 17, 2008
Linked from WNN.
Dalit women and their families in Bapcha village in Shajapur district of Madhya Pradesh are living in fear. The pressure from the powerful is so strong that violence is usually not reported or greatly “under-reported”. This is an NDTV news production from Sept 2007.
Posted on: March 17, 2008
Posted on: January 7, 2008
By Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 4, 2007
BAIRAGHAR, India — Plenty of women may feel they deserve an award for marrying their husbands, but Madhavi Arwar is actually getting one—from the Indian government, no less.
Not that her husband, Chandrashekhar, is a bad sort. In fact, he’s a good-looking guy, holds a steady job at an insurance company and dotes on their apple-cheeked son.
But he is also a Dalit, or an “untouchable,” the lowest of the low under India’s ancient caste system. Madhavi is not a Dalit, and for marrying “down” the social ladder, she is entitled to $250 in cash, plus a certificate of appreciation.
“I was a bit amazed that even for a thing like marriage, they were giving money,” Madhavi, 33, said as she sat in her living room here in central India.
The windfall is part of the government’s campaign to chop away at the barriers of caste, the complex hierarchy wherein a person’s place in society is determined purely by birth.
As India struggles to modernize and transform itself into an important world player economically, officials know they need to erase these age-old divisions and expand opportunities for social mobility for all the country’s 1.1 billion people, including the majority who have historically been considered low-caste and oppressed.
Mandatory quotas in education and public-sector jobs have been in place for years. Now private companies, the engine of India’s rapid economic growth, are also looking to train and hire more employees from lower-caste backgrounds.
The integration efforts have enjoyed some success, especially in booming….read full article by clicking here.
Posted on: November 5, 2007
From the Times of India
NEW DELHI: On Wednesday, the country’s pluralism will be on display with the first woman President in Pratibha Patil taking oath in the presence of the first Dalit Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan.
And this rare coincidence happened in a year when Mayawati steered her party, on her own steam, to a convincing victory in the assembly elections in India’s largest state to become its Chief Minister. No doubt there have been Dalit CMs earlier too, but their achievements were dependent on the discretion of the high commands of different parties.
The country took 57 years to elect a woman President, who will be the 12th to occupy the top Constitutional post, and to see a Dalit heading the judiciary – the 37th CJI.
Though K R Narayanan was the first Dalit to become President, he was administered the oath of office by the 27th CJI, J S Verma. Zakir Hussain, the first Muslim to become President, after Dr Rajendra Prasad and Dr S Radhakrishnan, was administered the oath by 10th CJI, K N Wanchoo. Dr B R Ambedkar, a Dalit, had led a team of experts that framed the Constitution adopted by the country on January 26, 1950, envisaging equal opportunities to all sections of society without any discrimination on grounds of gender, caste and creed.
With Dalits already getting the posts of President and CJI, the only other important post that has still remained out of reach for them is that of Prime Minister. Popular Dalit leader from Sasaram, Jagjivan Ram, had almost come within striking distance during the post-Emergency era.
The author of the Janata Dal victory in 1977, Jaiprakash Narayan, had wanted Ram to head the government for he had made a mark as an able administrator during his stints as Agriculture and Defence Minister. Had JP stuck to his line, the country would have had its first Dalit PM three decades ago.
Posted on: July 25, 2007
New Delhi: The focus on this week’s 30 Minutes is perhaps the most degrading practice of 21st century in India – a practice that deprives thousands of their fundamental right to live with dignity.
Meet Bhuri with her broom and a basket, every morning she makes her way to the upper caste houses in her village – Gohad in Madhya Pradesh.
Her job is to clean toilets, pick other people’s excreta. Bhuri is a manual scavenger. She has been scavenging for last 10 years soon after she got married.
Bhuri says, “I used to hate the foul smell, I used to vomit after a while I got used to it. Now it’s not a problem.”
Molded into submission Bhuri has responsibilities – the four children and a husband who barely makes enough money to keep the home fires burning. “My husband gambles and drinks. I go to work and he just drinks. Sometimes I have to beg for food to feed my children, “ Bhuri adds.
The Valmikis of Madhya Pradesh, the Bhangis of Gujarat, Pakhis in Andhra and the Sikkaliars of Tamil Nadu are all manual scavengers.
Their daily job is to pick up other people’s excreta from dry toilets using brooms and baskets. This is not something they choose to do but something they’re born into – because they are at the very bottom of the caste pyramid.
More than 50 such women in Gohad go to work with brooms and baskets every morning. They’re all from Dalit sub castes. They all got married into scavenging families. And the job came as a legacy – passed on from the mother-in-law to the daughter-in-law.
Ladkunwar, who was working as a scavenger says, “I had to do it because women in the family did it. My mother-in-law forced me into it.”
Cleaning dry toilets and manually removing human waste is a violation of human rights and dignity and a punishable offence. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act of 1993 says – offenders can face a jail term of up to one year or fined Rs 2000.
But 15 years on, the ground reality is that this law is far from being implemented.
Valmikis don’t have too many options. If they wish to take up another occupation, it is not allowed. Born into a Valmiki family you can only become a sweeper or a scavenger.
Even a minute in this overpowering stench seems too long but thousands across the country have been doing this every morning for years now. These women go through the worse possible form of caste oppression. Even in the 21st century, caste hierarchy and untouchability prevent them from rising to any other job.
“There’s no other work for Valmikis in this village because we’re untouchable. Who will give us a respectable job?” Ladkunwar questions.
Shame comes with very little money these scavengers scrape a meager Rs 10 to Rs 20 per month from every house they clean. Come afternoon and they go back to the same houses this time scavenging for food.
Bismillah, a resident of Gohad, believes in God and in the caste-system. Picking up human waste is the domain of the downtrodden. Ironically, till some time back, Bismillah was herself discriminated against – for belonging to the minority community.
Bismillah says, “Who will clean? If the sweeper gets better work then who will do this work?”
Click here to view the IBN video on Manual Scavenging
Posted on: July 23, 2007
New Delhi: The country has not been able to do away with the dehumanizing practice of manual scavenging because the issue is not just about poverty or lack of awareness. Manual scavenging is deeply rooted in caste and attempts to stop the practice are still resisted.
CNN-IBN travelled to another village – Navrol in Madhya Pradesh to meet Shantibai. She’s a manual scavenger and she hates her job. She has been doing this for 20 years because this is what her ancestors did.
Shantibai says, “We have been doing this for years. Our ancestors did it so we’re also doing it.”
For this work that she finds extremely repulsive, Shantibai is not even paid regularly.
“We get food grains when the crop is good. This year there was a hailstorm, what will we get?” Shantibai adds. Here in Navrol, manual scavengers are paid in kind. During harvest, they’re given food grains in exchange of an entire year of work. But many like Shantibai have not received anything in the last 2-3 years due to crop failure.
And being Valmikis, they’re at the bottom of the caste ladder and are not allowed to do any other work.
Shantibai tried her best to shrug the scavenger’s tag but people in her village wouldn’t allow ‘the untouchable’ to touch another job.
But all hope is not lost. Many have taken up the struggle against manual scavenging and the caste system and regained some of their lost dignity.
Battobai from Malanpur in Madhya Pradesh has found her lost voice. After marriage, she was forced into scavenging by her mother in law. Often locked up and denied food when she refused to work.
But last year her case was taken up by a local NGO and she successfully quit scavenging. Today she knocks doors of other scavenger women cajoling them to a better life.
Battobai says, “I tell people what will they eat in a salary of Rs 10 per month from each house? I tell them if they quit this job, they can earn up to Rs 50 a day.”
But even after quitting this work, Battobai finds that untouchability remains untouched.
Ramvati also a manual scavenger gave up the disgraceful work two years ago. She’d much rather sweep the local police station than go back to cleaning other people’s toilets.
Battobai and Ramvati may have had the courage to fight the system. But activists say, even today the country has as many as 13 lakh manual scavengers.
Safai Karamchari Andolan convenor Bezwada Wilson says, “We have enough money to convert the toilets. The main problem is we want to start we actually practice untouchability everywhere. Even the civil society and the government -everybody feel that, untouchables when they are cleaning the dry latrines there’s nothing wrong because they are meant for that. They can only do these jobs.”
And sure enough the local government in Gohad, Madhya Pradesh refuses to even acknowledge the presence of manual scavengers in the area.
Gohad BJP MLA Lal Singh Arya says, “There is not a single manual scavenger in Gohad.”
So even as laws are being flouted and human rights violated, the state simply chooses to look away.
Posted on: July 23, 2007
by Arwa Damon, CNN
VRINDAVAN, India (CNN)—Ostracized by society, India’s widows flock to the holy city of Vrindavan waiting to die. They are found on side streets, hunched over with walking canes, their heads shaved and their pain etched by hundreds of deep wrinkles in their faces.
These Hindu widows, the poorest of the poor, are shunned from society when their husbands die, not for religious reasons, but because of tradition—and because they’re seen as a financial drain on their families.
They cannot remarry. They must not wear jewelry. They are forced to shave their heads and typically wear white. Even their shadows are considered bad luck.
Hindus have long believed that death in Vrindavan will free them from the cycle of life and death. For widows, they hope death will save them from being condemned to such a life again.
“Does it feel good?” says 70-year-old Rada Rani Biswas. “Now I have to loiter just for a bite to eat.”
Biswas speaks with a strong voice, but her spirit is broken. When her husband of 50 years died, she was instantly ostracized by all those she thought loved her, including her son.
“My son tells me: ‘You have grown old. Now who is going to feed you? Go away,’ ” she says, her eyes filling with tears. “What do I do? My pain had no limit.”
As she speaks, she squats in front of one of Vrindavan’s temples, her life reduced to begging for scraps of food.
There are an estimated 40 million widows in India, the least fortunate of them shunned and stripped of the life they lived when they were married.
It’s believed that 15,000 widows live on the streets of Vrindavan, a city of about 55,000 in northern India.
“Widows don’t have many social rights within the family,” says Ranjana Kumari with the Center for Social Research, a group that works to empower women.
The situation is much more extreme within India’s rural community. “There, it is much more tradition-bound; in urban areas, there are more chances and possibilities to live a normal life.”
But the majority of India’s 1.1 billion population is rural. “The government recognizes the problem,” Kumari says. “It can do a lot, but it’s not doing enough.”
One woman, a widow herself, is working for change. Dr. Mohini Giri has formed an organization called the Guild of Service, which helps destitute women and children.
Giri’s mother was widowed when Giri was 9 years old, and she saw what a struggle it was. Then, Giri lost her husband when she was 50, enduring the social humiliation that comes with being a widow. At times, she was asked not to attend weddings because her presence was considered bad luck.
“Generally all widows are ostracized,” she says. “An educated woman may have money and independence, but even that is snatched away when she becomes a widow. We live in a patriarchal society. Men say that culturally as a widow you cannot do anything: You cannot grow your hair, you should not look beautiful.”
She adds, “It’s the mind-set of society we need to change—not the women.”
Seven years ago, Giri’s organization set up a refuge called Amar Bari, or “My Home,” in Vrindavan. It has become a refuge for about 120 of India’s widows. Giri’s organization is set to open a second home, one that will house another 500 widows.
But as she says, “Mine is but a drop in the bucket.”
At Amar Bari, most widows reject traditional white outfits and grow out their hair. Along the open air corridors that link the house’s courtyard are green wooden doors, leading to dark tiny rooms, home for each widow.
Bent over by osteoporosis, 85-year-old Promita Das meticulously and slowly sweeps the floor just outside her door and then carefully cleans her dishes.
“I came here when I couldn’t work anymore. I used to clean houses,” she says. “Nobody looked after me, nobody loved me. I survived on my own.”
She married at 12 and was widowed at 15. Seventy years later, she finds herself at Amar Bari. “I used to live in front of a temple, but then I came here,” she says.
She carries with her not only the pain of a life without love, but also the loss of her only child. She gave birth at 14; her baby lived a year.
Another widow, Ranu Mukherjee, wearing a bright red-patterned sari, shows off her room at the home and wants to sing for her guests. The lyrics of her song are about a lost traveler.
“When did you come here after losing your way?” she sings. “When I remember the days gone by I feel sad.”
Posted on: July 5, 2007