Archive | July, 2009

Women’s health need for gender justice

29 Jul

K.S. Jacobin  The Hindu

The poorer health indices for girls and women mandate a social revolution which not only provides equal opportunities but also focusses on achieving equal outcomes.

There has been significant improvement in the health, education and employment status of women in India over time. Yet, health indices for girls and women compare much less favourably with those for boys and men. Successive governments have recognised the inequalities in health indices and have implemented many schemes to improve women’s health. Many programmes, including the National Rural Health Mission, provide care for women, especially during pregnancy and deliv ery and after childbirth. Family planning programmes offer services related to contraception for women, improving their health. Many programmes aimed at the general population also impact women’s health.

Nevertheless, community programmes have contended and shown that economic development results in greater improvement in women’s health than direct medical interventions alone. Consequently, education and employment for women became core features of such programmes. The national campaigns on education (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) and employment (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) have a specific focus on girls and women. Self-help groups and micro-credit initiatives also increase skill levels, provide alternative livelihoods and generate income and assets for women.

Indicators of the status of women: A detailed analysis of national data shows some reduction in maternal deaths and an improvement in many indices related to infant health. However, there are gender differentials in many indices, with data disaggregated by gender, showing far greater improvement for males than for females. The perinatal mortality rate, infant mortality rate and under-5 mortality rate are poorer for girls. There is evidence of foeticide and infanticide of girls. They are often malnourished and brought to hospital later in their course of illnesses than boys. The birth of a girl and failure to conceive a boy are significant risk factors for post-partum depression. The suicide rate among young women is about three times that seen for young men. Violence against women and girls is common.

Women and girls have lower adult literacy rates, school enrolment and attendance figures. The long walk to school with its associated fear for physical safety, lack of toilets at schools, the small number of women teachers and the second class status of the girl child contribute to these lower rates.

Socially devalued

Women’s work at home, because of its invisibility, is rarely recognised, although they work for roughly twice as many hours as men. Technological progress in agriculture and the shift from subsistence to a market economy have had a dramatic negative impact on women, cutting them out of employment as many women are unskilled and lack education. Child labour among girls and unequal wages for women for similar work are common. Working women of all segments of society face various forms of discrimination, including sexual harassment. Women’s work is also socially devalued and autonomy in decision-making related to their life rarely exists for the majority of women.

While gender equality and justice are among the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, their implementation in India has been slow and patchy. Issues related to gender equality are not adequately mainstreamed for India. Discussion of gender is usually confined to Goals 3 and 5, which are gender equality and maternal mortality. Women are cast only in the role of victims, rather than as equal partners in development. The social, economic and cultural contexts, the most significant predictors of women’s health, are barely mentioned.

Health justification for gender justice: Gender injustice is often viewed in the socio-cultural context and usually in terms of social outcomes. However, analysis of health data clearly documents the importance of gender and its impact on women’s health. Women are the largest discriminated group in India. This results not just in adverse social outcomes but also unfavourable health outcomes.

Social determinants have a significant impact on the health of girls and women. Viewing the health of women in general as an individual or medical issue and suggesting individual medical interventions reflects a poor understanding of issues. Reducing public health related to women to a biomedical perspective is a major error of the public health movement. Social interventions should form the core of all health and prevention programmes as individual medical interventions have little impact on population indices which require population interventions.

Barriers to scaling up interventions for women: The major barrier to mainstreaming gender justice and to scaling up effective interventions is gender inequality based on socio-cultural issues. The systematic discrimination of girls and women based on culture and tradition needs to be tackled if interventions have to work. Although the short time-lag between the (absence of) medical intervention and the health outcomes stand out as causal, it is the longer latent period and the more hazy but ubiquitous and dominant relationship between gender and culture which have a major impact on the outcome. Failure to recognise this relationship and refusal to tackle these issues result in poorer health standards of women. Tradition and culture maintain their stranglehold on gender inequality. Debates on gender equality are often reduced to talking about culture, tradition and religion. The prevalent patriarchal framework places an ideological bar on the discussion of alternative approaches to achieve gender justice for girls and women.

The way forward

While the Constitution guarantees equality for women, legal protection has little effect in the face of the prevailing culture. Many researchers and activists are no longer convinced that we can succeed in improving women’s health or status unless society attempts to confront its gender bias openly. For too long we have been refusing to discuss women’s issues explicitly with society. It would appear that nothing short of a social revolution would bring about an improvement in the health of Indian women.

Many approaches have been suggested. They will all need to include approaches which examine, understand and confront gender discrimination in social, cultural and religious spheres. Legal solutions enforcing gender justice are equally necessary, and monitoring the implementation of legislation is mandatory.

The right to health is a fundamental right and the poorer health indices of half the population is a cause for concern. There is an urgent need for a detailed re-examination of public health statistics for India, disaggregated by gender and region. There is an equally vital need to set up policies and programmes to counter adverse trends. The evidence from such disaggregated data should be used to set targets for action. Progress has to be visible and benchmarks have to be set high.

The magnitude of the inequality related to health is often downplayed even within medical circles. The second-class status of women in Indian society persists and women’s perspectives continue to be missing, marginalised or ignored. There is a definite need to engage communities and the population as a whole in a debate to challenge traditional stereotypes and accepted social norms. Programmes to achieve gender equality should not only focus on the provision of equal or greater opportunities for women. They should also concentrate on achieving equality in gender outcomes within a reasonable time frame. Outcomes in general, and health outcomes in particular, are measurable with a much greater degree of accuracy than opportunities.

All plans and projects within community programmes should be assessed using the “gender lens” in order to achieve gender justice for women. These programmes will have to cover the social context of home, school, workplace, law and politics in order to improve women’s health. There is a need to challenge the normalisation of gender discrimination in India. The focus should be on public health approaches to change social and cultural perspectives with the aim of primary prevention of discrimination while continuing medical interventions for early diagnosis and management of the medical consequences. There is a need for aggressive gender justice in order that women in India achieve equal health and social status in the foreseeable future.

(Professor K.S. Jacob is on the faculty of the Christian Medical College, Vellore.)

http://www.hindu.com/2009/07/29/stories/2009072956090800.htm

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HOME MINISTER’S STATEMENT IN THE RAJYA SABHA ON HONOUR CRIMES

28 Jul

Following is the text of the statement made by the Union Home Minister, Shri P.Chidambaram in the Rajya Sabha today in response to a Calling Attention Notice regarding increasing incidents of so-called honour killings and honour-related crimes in the country and the role of self-proclaimed panchayats therein.

“Honour crimes are acts of violence, usually murder, mostly committed by family members predominantly against female relatives, who are perceived to have brought dishonour upon the family. Honour killings are rooted in antiquated traditions and social values. Since “honour killing” is not a crime classified separately under the Indian laws, no data is collected separately regarding this crime by the National Crime Records Bureau, and the same is covered under ‘murder’. Moreover, it is difficult to identify or classify an honour killing as such in any given community, since the reasons for such killings often remain a closely guarded private family matter. There is no separate law to deal with the crime of ‘honour killing’, and such crimes are dealt with under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code and are investigated and prosecuted as offences under the IPC/Cr. P.C.

2. ‘Police’ and ‘Public Order’ are State subjects under the Constitution. The responsibility for dealing with enforcement of the laws pertaining to these two subjects, including prevention, registration, detection, investigation, prosecution and punishment of crimes against women, lies with State Governments.

3. Some caste Panchayats are known to approve of these killings as reported in the media and thus are accomplices in the violation of the laws. However, caste Panchayats are informal bodies and have no legal status as such. Often, villagers give precedence to the judgement of a caste Panchayat rather than that delivered by the courts of law.

4. I recoil with shame when I read in the newspapers that two teenagers – a Dalit boy and a Muslim girl – were brutally killed in a village near Meerut, Uttar Pradesh in the name of honour. Or when I read that a young man, accompanied by a warrant officer was killed when he was on his way to fetch his wife from a village in Jind district, Haryana. Or when I read that a newly married couple in Delhi fear for their lives following a fatwa issued by a Panchayat in Jhajjar district, Haryana. Hon’ble Members will note with regret that these incidents happened last week. The vilest crimes are committed in the name of defending the honour of the family or women and we should hang our heads in shame when such incidents take place in India in the 21st century.

5. The United Nations’ “Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, 2002” as well as the latest report i.e. “15 Years of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (1994-2009) – A Critical Review” do not mention India in the context of honour killings.

6. However, the Government of India is deeply concerned about violence against women and recognizes that real progress can only be made by addressing the causes that are rooted in anachronistic attitudes and false values. More efforts need to be made through educational and awareness campaigns in the communities and through sensitization of law enforcement agencies. Towards this objective, Government of India has initiated a number of legislative and ameliorative measures to check such crimes which include:

(i) Enactment of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 which provides for more effective protection of the Constitutional rights of women, who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family;

(ii) Setting up of helplines for women in distress under the Swadhar Scheme of Ministry of Women and Child Development;

(iii) Support services to victims of violence through schemes such as Short Stay Homes and Swadhar under which shelter, maintenance, counseling, capacity building, occupational training, medical aid and other services are provided;

(iv) Redressal of grievances through interventions of National and State Commissions for Women; and

(v) Economic empowerment of women through the programmes of Rashtriya Mahila Kosh, Swashakti project and Swayamsidha Project by Ministry of Women & Child Development.

7. Instructions/guidelines have also been issued to the State Governments/Union Territory Administrations to effectively enforce legislation relating to crimes against women and improve the administration of the criminal justice system and take such measures as are necessary for the prevention of crimes against women. The measures suggested include:

(i) sensitize police officials charged with the responsibility of protecting women;

(ii) vigorously enforce the existing legislations;

(iii) set up women police cells in police stations and exclusive women police stations;

(iv) provide institutional support to the victims of violence;

(v) provide counseling to victims of rape;

(vi) ensure wider recruitment of women police officers;

(vii) train police personnel in special laws dealing with atrocities against women;

(viii) appoint Dowry Prohibition Officers and notify Rules under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961;

(ix) sensitize the judiciary and police and civil administration on gender issues; and

(x) follow up reports of cases of atrocities against women received from various sources, including NCW, with authorities concerned in the Central and the State Governments.

8. Government deplores crimes committed allegedly to uphold the honour of the family or the victim or women in general and would welcome a wide discussion on how to prevent such crimes.”

A billion Indians and millions of injustices

26 Jul

Shobhan Saxena, TNN 26 July 2009, 01:39am IST, SUNDAY TIMES OF INDIA

The figures tell dark stories of injustice in India: More than 30 million cases are pending in the courts; the National Human Rights Commission

receives more than 75,000 complaints a year; the National Crimes Bureau (NCB) registered 27,000 cases of violence against Dalits in 2006; the NCB also reported 32,481 murders, 19,348 rapes, 7,618 dowry deaths and 36,617 molestation cases.

While many of these cases involve disputes between individuals, there are far too many instances of families and communities playing judge and jury and imparting “instant justice”. They don’t just delay justice, they abort it. Here are some cases that exemplify the ambivalence of justice in India:

Honour Killings

The woman, who is seen to be going against her family, is killed by her kin. The murder is seen as excusable. Hundreds of Indian women are killed every year. The majority of cases are not reported to the police. Sometimes, even men don’t escape this “justice”. This week, villagers in Jind, Haryana, lynched 21-year-old Ved Pal in the presence of police when he was collecting his new wife. His crime: Pal belonged to the same sub-caste as his wife.

Vigilante Mobs

Last year, an irate mob in Bhagalpur brutally thrashed Salim Ilyas for allegedly stealing a gold chain. When the police arrived, they joined the mob, tied Salim to a motorcycle and dragged him along until he lost consciousness. It happens all too often. Rioters shut Agra down over a road accident; parents stoned a Delhi school where a teacher was accused of sexual abuse; in Bihar, dogs were seen eating the bodies of two thieves left to die on the road by an angry mob.

Caste Conflict

In 2006, a group of upper-caste men surrounded Surekha Bhotmange’s house in Khairlanji, Maharashtra. Surekha, her 17-year-old daughter Priyanka, and two sons – Roshan and Sudhir – were dragged out. The women were stripped, beaten and paraded through the village. The men were beaten so badly their faces were disfigured. All four died. Their crime: the family had objected to their land being used as a throughway by upper-caste farmers. The whole village watched the spectacle. The police refused to file an FIR.

Gender Bender

Government statistics record a 15-fold increase in dowry related deaths since the mid-1980s – from 400 a year to around 6,000 a year by the mid-1990s. Since then, there has been a 170% rise. Unofficial figures put the number of deaths at 25,000 women a year. Their crime: not bringing enough dowry at the time of marriage.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/NEWS/Sunday-TOI/Special-Report/A-billion-Indians-and-millions-of-injustices/articleshow/4820879.cms

Invisible work

22 Jul

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI IN THE FRONTLINE

The International Labour Organisation fears that the global recession may push up the number of child workers.

RUPAK DE CHOWDHURI /REUTERS

A child labourer near Siliguri, West Bengal, on June 12. It is estimated that there are around 100 million girls involved in child labour across the world.

IN 1999, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) adopted the Convention on the Worst Forms of Labour. One aspect of the convention dealt with the special situation of girls. It is estimated that there are around 100 million girls involved in child labour. In view of the impact of the global recession on labour in general, and fearing that the economic slowdown might erode the progress made in the eradication of child labour in particular, the ILO decided to make the girl child the theme of the World Day against Child Labour in 2009. Its report is titled “Give Girls A Chance: Tackling child labour, a key to the future”. It recognises that despite a ban on child labour in many countries, it continues to flourish in the informal sector. It says that effective labour inspection is vital.

There is nothing new in what is suggested in the report in terms of the differential impact felt by girls as compared with boys in the distribution of household chores and in access to education. What is worrying, however, is the observation that the continuation of the financial crisis may worsen the child labour situation as a whole. “As the crisis deepens, young girls could well be among the main victims,” the foreword to the report says. As remittances decline nationally and internationally, a serious knock-out effect may be experienced in the poorer regions, the report says. It is also predicted that governments may make budget cuts in the social sector, especially in education, which will lead to more children dropping out of school and entering the workforce.

The remedy, according to the ILO report, lies in education, which is the most important area for policy initiatives. But this in itself will not be enough to prevent girl children from entering the labour market. The problem areas are threefold. First, there is the sheer number of girls engaged in child labour; second, much of their work remains invisible and hidden; and third, more than half, that is, 53 million, of the 100 million girls engaged in child labour do hazardous work. Of the 53 million, 23 million are not yet 12.

It is clear that the solution lies not just in free and quality education or in raising the minimum age for employment. More and more people are bound to get affected by the global economic situation and also by the lack of policy measures, safety nets and interventions by governments. While developed nations might resort to protectionist policies to safeguard their own interests, developing countries may see a greater shortfall in expenditure in crucial sectors, including the social sector. As the pressure to supplement family incomes goes up, child labour is bound to increase. Unless governments take measures for employment generation, child labour is not likely to disappear. At present, the situation does not look hopeful with layoffs, closures and wage cuts becoming the norm rather than the exception.

For the Indian reader, the report may hold some special interest. The first chapter begins with a box item narrating the work experiences of 15-year-old Jyotsna, who works in a salt pan in western India. Sections within this chapter deal with inequalities of opportunities, including in education. Quoting a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) report, the chapter says that of the 16 per cent of the world’s population that is unable to read or write, two or three of every 10 persons are women. However, it needs to be investigated whether illiteracy is a factor contributing to poverty or if it is an outcome of poverty.

Like the cycle of malnutrition, illiteracy can also be a cause and an outcome of poverty. The visibility of the work done by women and girl children is no longer an issue. The problem is that it is very much open and to a large extent has social, if not legal, sanction. Employers exploit the availability of cheap labour and a pliable workforce, which, on the other hand, has no security of employment or legislative protection and faces arbitrary retrenchments, abuse, and other forms of exploitation.

The social profile of these working young girls is that they are poor and belong to hitherto socially excluded groups. To analyse the gender gap, the ILO collected data from 16 countries, mostly developing nations, between 1999 and 2007. The majority of the girls were found to be employed in agriculture: 61 per cent of the economically active girls between five and 14 years were found working in this sector. As they grew older, the services sector seemed to be absorbing more of them compared with industry. The percentage of girls working in agriculture in the 15-17 age group was 49 per cent. The next highest proportion of girls was found working in the services sector, followed by industry. This was found true for boys as well.

The report says that domestic work constitutes one of the worst forms of child labour found in many countries. The “hidden” nature of the work makes for greater exploitation than in other sectors. As expected, there are more little girls to be found in this workforce than little boys. More than 35 per cent of working boys and girls under 15, the report says, put in more than 21 hours a week.

It is a known fact that in many homes in India, including the capital, Delhi, children employed as domestic servants put in more than 21 hours a week in return for three meals a day, lodging and a meagre salary. They are expected to do all the menial chores, including going out to buy groceries. They are not only deprived of an education but have no leisure at all.

T. VIJAYA KUMAR

A domestic help in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. The ILO report says that domestic work constitutes one of the worst forms of child labour and that its “hidden” nature makes for greater exploitation than in other sectors.

However, there seems to be more money in domestic work compared with employment as farmhands or in factories. For instance, Saroj, who works for an upper middle class home in Delhi, gets Rs.3,500 for cooking food for a family of four, dusting, and making tea for the grandmother, and her employer pays for her lunch. She puts in eight hours of work every day. In her previous employment with a factory assembling electronic parts, she got Rs.1,200 for 12 hours of work.

Saroj also does all the work in her own home before leaving, and cooks dinner for her family of four after she comes home. All this, of course, is unpaid labour. Though she does not like selling her labour as a domestic help, she knows this is the best deal she can get. She sees nothing wrong with young girls being employed in domestic work. The report says that domestic work is a protected type of work for girls who may otherwise have few employment opportunities.

These are all the known aspects of child labour and work by women in general. For the first time, the report has looked at the uncalculated costs of household work done by girl children in their own homes, a kind of work that is not counted as child labour. However, if a boy helped his father in agricultural work, he would be considered as economically active and included as part of an official statistic. The report insists that the work done by little girls in their own homes should also be considered as economically active work since it would be counted among “services” if it were done outside the household.

It is a narrow definition which recognises only work pertaining to economic activities as “work”. The report says that this does not capture a number of important forms of non-economic work. The number of girls engaged in household services increases as they grow older. In terms of the number of working hours, girls work more than boys. There is unquestionably a gender dimension here, which policymakers need to think about. The solution may lie partly in getting girls and boys in school, but that is not the entire solution.

The report says that countries should review the situation of child labour in agriculture and set up mechanisms to monitor and enforce child labour legislation in rural areas. One of the assumptions in the report is that the rights of child domestic workers are not systematically infringed everywhere. That may not be correct. Recent experience of organising domestic workers has shown that in the absence of any recognised legal rights, the scope for exploitation has only worsened in recent times. Child domestic workers would definitely be more vulnerable.

The report acknowledges that for many children, moving to a household where they are “expected” to help out is not a positive experience. There are many studies investigating the vulnerable situation of domestic workers, and the problems include verbal, physical and sexual abuse. According to the Indonesian Association of Domestic Worker Suppliers, the biggest demand from employers was for children between 13 and 16. The association adopted a policy of not supplying children in that age group. Perhaps similar strategies should be designed by such associations in other countries as well.

The solution to the problem lies not just in creating mechanisms to ensure that child labour is not exploitative but in ensuring the effective elimination of child labour by addressing the factors that generate such labour. As long as there is supply, there will be demand. Codes of conduct by themselves will have only a cosmetic effect in the absence of a political and administrative will. The report goes on to elaborate on the various vulnerable areas where girl children are employed, which include commercial sex, the armed forces and manufacturing jobs. In fact, the report recognises that material and economic causes are involved when children get associated with the armed forces.

Governments, says the report, need to take the lead in tackling child labour. It definitely cannot be left to non-governmental organisations alone, however well-meaning they may be. •

http://www.frontline.in/stories/20090731261508100.htm

The Rape testimonies

16 Jul

1. KUMBLI A

For weeks after they raped us the Salwa Judum men freely roamed our camp while we hid ourselves’

AGE
Around 20 years old, married with daughter

VILLAGE
Pottenar
DISTRICT
Bijapur

ACCUSES
Munna Telga and Dinesh Kunjam

THE FOLLOWING is the account of my rape that I gave the questioners from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC):

I was raped along with probably 10 other girls. At the time, we were all residents of the Salwa Judum camp, next to the police station. Our rapists were SPOs who lived at the police station. Some lived even inside our camp. The distance between the police station and the camp was about 10-15 metres.

One night, some SPOs came to our houses in the camp at dinnertime and asked us girls to come out with them. They had guns. We didn’t go. The men were in full uniform at that time.

Later, at about 10pm, when we had just gone to sleep after dinner, a number of SPOs entered the camp again and woke us up at our houses. Now they were wearing only half pants and vests, which is the regular SPO gear at nights.

“Come with us,” they said. “We have to question you.” I was home sleeping with my father, mother and sister. Outside, I saw they had collected the other girls, too. My father came out of the hut and asked them, “Where are you taking her at night?” My mother said: “Why are you taking these girls? We will follow you.”

The SPOs said, “Don’t worry. We won’t do anything to the girls. But if you follow us, we will kill you.”

The SPOs then took us to the forests just outside the camp. Some marched ahead and some behind us. The girls cowered in the middle. It was a dark night and we walked some distance. All the girls started crying. We all thought they were going to kill us.

We kept asking the SPOs, “Where are you taking us at night? What have we done?” Some boys from our camp were following us. The SPOs caned them and said, “Go back. The girls will come back in a while.”

There, by the roadside, they raped all of us girls, next to each other.

A man disrobed me. I begged him: “Please don’t do this. You aren’t my husband or anything.” But he raped me. He was totally drunk.

I could hear the other girls wailing, “Oh, mother…” I also screamed: “Oh God! He is killing me.” After this man raped me, he said: “Go back now. Don’t even dare tell anyone that I have raped you.” I somehow wore my clothes and started running back to the camp.

But another man caught me and asked: “Where are you off to?” I cried: “I have fever. Please let me go.”

He held me by the hand. I couldn’t free myself. He took me back to the roadside. For the second time, I was disrobed. He, too, raped me.

Then all the men were done with all us girls. The girls got together and somehow ran back home. The men, too, returned to their rooms. I wept before my parents. I told them that the SPOs beat us up. I was too ashamed to tell them that I had been raped.

But the next day, our village people asked us if we were raped the previous night. We had to admit that we indeed were. All the rape victims were all unmarried then. The villagers didn’t do anything.

I bled a lot at being raped. For three months, I was bedridden. I got my periods three months after the rape. For three months I had fever. For three months I bled.

I know the men who raped me. One is named Munna. His caste name is Telga. The other man is named Dinesh Kunjam. I had known them long, though I had never talked to either of them.

After these men raped us girls, they freely moved around the camp for weeks. We were so ashamed of what had happened that we stopped stepping out of our homes. I stayed at the camp another month, then our family moved back to the village.

In June 2008, I deposed before the NHRC. I was pregnant at the time. I now have a five-month-old daughter.

I was taken from my village to the Dantewada town to depose. There were two people in the room. One asked me questions and wrote my answers. The other was the interpreter. Both were men. They wore shirts and full pants.

They asked me, “What did the Salwa Judum men do to you after they abducted you?” I told them that the Salwa Judum men raped me. I told those two NHRC men that I had begged the Salwa Judum men not to rape me.

THERE WERE five of us who had gone to depose before the NHRC. All of us were rape victims. Inside the room, there was one more girl with me from my village.

They asked us questions together. They asked me if I knew who had raped me. I said, “Yes! It was the men from Salwa Judum.”

I gave them the names of my rapists. They asked why I didn’t go to the police. I told them that the Salwa Judum men had told me that if I went to the police, they would kill me.

Hadn’t our rapists gone back to the police station right after raping us? The other girl was quiet as I gave my testimony.

Did the NHRC give me any documents? No.

Did they give me a copy of my testimony? No.

I don’t know what’s an affidavit. Nobody told me that I have a right to get a copy of my testimony, my affidavit. They took my thumb impression on some papers. That’s all. I got nothing from them.

A year after my rape I was married off. I now live with my mother-in-law and husband.

I don’t have faith in the NHRC anymore.

I want my rapists dead.

2. MADHAVI B

All four raped me repeatedly. They kept saying, “Don’t worry. I will marry you later

AGE
Possibly a minor when raped

VILLAGE
Bhandarpadar
DISTRICT
Dantewada

ACCUSES
Veko Soma
of Korpar village, Odiya Rajesh of Polempalli village, Suyid Idma of Palem village

MY PARENTS died six years ago of illnesses. I live with my late brother’s widow. On the day I was raped about three years ago, I had gone with another girl to the woods to pick mahua flowers. At noon, several men in uniforms and carrying guns attacked us. They were SPOs who lived in nearby villages and often passed by.

Four men held me down. I know three by name. They dragged me to a field and disrobed me. As each raped me, the other three held me down. This lasted probably two hours. All four raped me repeatedly. They kept saying, “Don’t worry. I will marry you later.” I wept all the while. I begged them not to pin me down so brutally as it hurt my limbs. They threatened they would kill me if I told anyone of being raped. Once done, they abandoned me there. My clothes lay torn at some distance.

A woman helped me up. Another fetched me her wraparound. They brought me back to my house. The sun had set by now. I told my sister-in-law I had been raped. She washed me with warm water and gave me a herbal drink. I developed an infection and bled for days. My limbs ached for weeks.

I was too scared to tell anyone else. My sister-in-law informed her family and the sarpanch, Sudi Nanda. I gave him the names of three of my rapists. He later told me he went to the police station and reported my rape. I trust the sarpanch still. But the police never came to talk to me or investigate. I didn’t go to the police station myself. A few journalists came and interviewed me, but I never heard anything come of it. I don’t know of any court case in the Supreme Court. I don’t know the NHRC.

I have come across my rapists several times at the weekly market. They avoid me and I avoid them. If I ever look at them, they melt away in the crowd. Do I want my rapists punished? If you can help me, then please send them to jail.

Why didn’t I go to the police? [Goes quiet]

3. MADKAM I

They locked me in a room in the police station. Some time later, a man I know came in. He raped me

AGE
Possibly between 18-20 years old

VILLAGE
Bhandarpadar
DISTRICT
Dantewada

ACCUSES
Tudka, Suresh, Arpat, Govind,
and seven others

IN MARCH 2008, the Salwa Judum burnt down my village, including my house. My father asked me to go to our relatives’ in another village. As I was about to get into a bus at Konta [150km south of Dantewada], a man named Dinesh, whom I knew to be with the Salwa Judum and who was the sarpanch of a village named

Gorka, approached me with another man. He asked me: “Where are you headed?” At that time, my aunt – my mother’s sister-in-law – was passing by. She told them she would take me to her house. My aunt took me to her tenement in the Salwa Judum camp at Konta.

The next morning, at 7.30am, about 10 SPOs in uniform carrying guns, landed at my aunt’s hut. They said Dinesh had sent them. I knew three of them. They were SPOs from a nearby village. Their names are Suresh, Arpat and Govind. I had often seen them at the weekly market. They said the thanedaar [police station chief] at Konta had summoned me. I asked my aunt to come with me but she backed out.

At the police station, the SPOs told the thanedaar that they had caught me with the Naxals. Shortly, my aunt landed up. Three people interrogated me separately through the day in my aunt’s presence. One of them, whom I recognise by face but can’t name, said to me, “You will be jailed, or even killed.” I was scared. I pleaded to be allowed to go. In the afternoon, they said I could go. But just as I left with my aunt, I ran into some SPOs who told my aunt to go away and forcibly brought me back to the police station.

They took me to a bare room about 10ft by 7ft in size, blindfolded me with a towel, and locked it from outside. It had two windows and both were shut.

Some time later, a man came in. He took off my blindfold. I recognised him, having seen him often at the weekly market. I don’t know his formal name, but he is nicknamed Tudka and is an SPO in Konta. He asked me, “How did you get here?” I said: “They brought me here.” Then he raped me. I got very angry. I swore at him. I tried to push him. But he held me and continued to rape me. Once he was done, he blindfolded me again and left the room, locking it from outside.

I lost all sense of time. Later, two men came in. I begged them, “Show me the way out.” They let me out. I ran back to my aunt’s place at the Salwa Judum camp. After that, every day the SPOs came to check on me. One said, “We will kill you if you try to escape.”

Ten days later, I escaped the camp and came to the house of another aunt in a far-off village. She married me off to her son to save me further trouble. But a week later, seven SPOs with guns landed up in my husband’s village. Terrified, I hid myself. The villagers later told me that Tudka, my rapist, had been among them.

The SPOs demanded money from the villagers, citing a tradition in which the groom’s family pays the bride’s. The SPOs claimed they hailed from my village and that made them my family. At gunpoint, they stole three chicken, three goats, and a cow, as well as Rs 3,500.

They came back to my husband’s village several times afterwards, too. I fear that they will keep returning there. So I prefer to stay in hiding all the time.

4. MADKAM I

The men caught me and beat me up. One man then raped me. The others were throwing stuff out

AGE
Married with daughter

VILLAGE
Shamshetty
DISTRICT
Dantewada

ACCUSES
SPO Joga
of Seesod village

IHAD BEEN married only a month when the Salwa Judum men raped me. This was two years ago. My husband was home. It was about 9am. My mother-inlaw was still asleep.

I was winnowing rice just outside my house, and that is when I saw a force of uniformed men approaching our house. They were in green fatigues and carrying guns.I ran to my mother-inlaw and shook her awake.

My husband was inside eating breakfast. The SPOs had once before caught my husband, so I told him to run away to escape the force.

The uniformed men came and caught me and started beating me up. One of them asked me for the house keys.

I opened the house for them. They tore up the sack which held the rice. One man held me. He then took me inside the house. The other men began throwing stuff out of the house.

One man then raped me. He is known as Joga of a village named Seesod. I can identify him. My mother-inlaw had run away by now. They ransacked the house and took my mother-in-law’s money. My husband returned at night. I told him I had been raped. We did not go to the police. The next day my mother-in-law took me to the hospital at Dornapal.

I told the doctor I had been raped and I was in terrible pain. I don’t know what the doctor said. I don’t know what my mother-in-law paid him as fees.

5. MADKAM S

I told everyone in the village about my rape. The sarpanch said, “We are all scared. What can we do?

AGE
Possibly a minor when raped three years ago

VILLAGE
Shamshetty
DISTRICT
Dantewada

ACCUSES
Raju
of Chintanaar village, Vijay (village unknown)

I AM THE eldest of three brothers and two sisters. Our father passed away three years ago. One day shortly after that, I was doing chores at the door of my house when someone grabbed my hair violently and dragged me inside my house. I saw there were four or more men. I know at least two of them, Raju of Chintanaar village and Vijay, who was once a construction labourer in my village. I had worked with both earlier and I know for sure that they had joined the Salwa Judum.

They were in their uniforms and had guns. I screamed for my mother but one of them held her outside. There was no one else at home, as my brothers had gone to the forests and my sister was at school. One of the men asked me, “Are you a Naxal?” I said no. He said they would kill me.

Then they raped me, all four of them. I cried all the while. Then they left.

Three days later, a force of uniformed men returned. Raju and Vijay were not among them. They beat me up badly. They beat up other people in the village. They threatened us saying we should join Salwa Judum or else… As they beat us up, they said, “Come to Dornapal [Salwa Judum camp]. We will enroll you as SPOs.” But no one from our village went.

Why didn’t I go to the police? I was scared they would catch me if I did. I told everyone in the village about my rape, including the sarpanch. But he said, “We are all scared. What can we do?”

One year after he raped me, I ran into Raju while on the way to the hospital. Once I came across Vijay too. On both occasions, they turned their heads away when they saw me.

Three other women were raped in my village. I have never heard of the Supreme Court. I don’t know if it ordered any investigations into the rapes of women like me. I don’t know what is NHRC. I don’t know if it carried out any investigations. I do know that no police report was ever filed about my rape.

I want the police to catch my rapists. I don’t know if anyone will marry me.

6. SODI A

They tore up my clothes, gagged me and raped me. I fainted. I was bleeding as my mother picked me up

AGE
A minor when raped

VILLAGE
Shamshetty
DISTRICT
Dantewada

ACCUSES
Salwa Judum SPOs

AT ABOUT 3PM one day two years ago, I was at our granary with my parents. My mother and I were winnowing the rice from its husk. My father was making ropes. Suddenly, a group of about 10 uniformed men were upon us, guns on their shoulders, sticks in their hands. Two caught me by my arm. I recognised none. My father tried to rush to me, but they held him back and beat him so badly that they drew blood from all over him.

My father screamed, “What are you doing to my daughter?” My mother, too, began to wail. They beat her black and blue with sticks and took her away somewhere. Then they raped me. Four people raped me. I don’t know them. They had masked their faces. They took my father to our house, which was about 100 feet away. Thankfully, my father didn’t witness my rape.

I was wearing a wraparound as my lower garment, a towel on my head, and a red blouse. They tore up my clothes, gagged my mouth with a black cloth, and tied another cloth around it. I couldn’t see my mother. They raped me for a long time, all of them. I was crying. Then the men left and my mother came in and picked me up. I had fainted. I was bleeding heavily. My mother took me home and gave me clothes to wear because my clothes were all torn.

We heard that they’d taken my father to the house of his older brother. There they tied up both men. Later, other villagers went and set them free. The villagers told my father he should have screamed when the men attacked.

How do I know they were Salwa Judum and not Naxals? I know they were from the Salwa Judum because eight days earlier they had come to our village and asked us to join the Judum. Well, four days later they came back. This time, they were fully unmasked. In fact, they kept coming back to the village. Every time they did, I would run and hide.

In fact, I had seen other Salwa Judum members dres – sed exactly like them at Dornapal. They were clearly not Naxals. Naxals come to our village sometimes. But they have never raped anyone.

The morning after I was raped, my father, my mother and I went to a hospital 10km away. No one came with us. My lower abdomen was in terrible pain from the forced penetrative sex.

I saw a private doctor who runs a two-room clinic. He is a Bengali. I told him I had been raped. He asked me, “Why did you keep quiet during the rape?” I told him that I couldn’t speak because I was gagged.

The doctor gave me some pills and syrup. We paid him Rs 1,000. He didn’t tell me that I should go to the police. I’ve no idea if he is bound by law to report rape to the police. I don’t remember his name but I remember him. He said I should drink lots of warm water and stop eating tomatoes and sour foodstuff. It’s two years since I was raped but I still get terrible stomach aches during menstruation.

The doctor also gave us ointments to heal my father’s wounds from all the beating. But my father’s wounds were really bad. His skin had come off his back and arms. Blood had clotted all over. My father died of his wounds in less than two weeks.

I never went to the police. I was scared they would catch me again. I get very angry every time I think of my rapists and the killers of my father. I think of them every day. I want them in jail. I want them punished.

I don’t know what the NHRC is. I have never met anyone from the NHRC.

7. GANTAL R

We found my sister’s body after 10 days. She had been raped, stabbed and shot in the mouth

AGE
Possibly between 18-20 years old

VILLAGE
Lingagiri
DISTRICT
Bijapur

ACCUSES
Salwa Judum SPOs
of raping and killing his sister, and killing his father

SALWA JUDUM men raped my sister on December 29, 2006. Then, they stabbed her, put a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger. At the same time, they also killed my father by first beating and then shooting him. At that time, I was working in Andhra Pradesh as a movie theater attendant and visiting home.

On that day, a number of SPOs surrounded our village. They fired upon a villager named Motiram near the village pond. The bullet hit his arm. He ran back to the village. The SPOs began burning down the village. Almost 35 houses were burned down. They even burnt the cowsheds and the haystacks.

I had only recently built a new house at a cost of Rs 50,000. All our belongings were burnt to ashes. They caught my father, Gantal Kanhaiya, and began beating him mercilessly. They brought him inside my grandmother’s hut near our house. I had, meanwhile, hid myself in the housetop granary. From there I saw them thrash my father repeatedly. My father lost consciousness and died later.

The SPOs dragged my 20- year-old sister, Gantal Sridevi, out of her room and began beating her too. They then took her inside my uncle’s room. She was crying and screaming. When my mother pleaded with them to let my sister go, a man put a gun in my mother’s mouth and threatened to kill her. They even beat up my grandmother. They beat my wife and snatched her mangalsutra. They stole all our valuables, including money.

The SPOs dragged my sister near the forest, to a spot close to the pond and raped her. We found her body after 10 days. She had been stabbed and was shot in her mouth.

I didn’t go to the police or register an FIR because I was scared. We cremated my sister. That day four people were killed, including Motilal, the man who had been shot first of all. The local priest, Ramaya, was also shot dead when he was trying to flee his house, which they set on fire. I didn’t approach the Supreme Court.

WRITER’S EMAIL
ajit@tehelka.com

http://www.tehelka.com/story_main42.asp?filename=testimonies.asp

Are N-E kids part of RSS grand plans?

13 Jul

MANGALORE: The Dakshina Kannada District Child Welfare Committee (CWC) thought it had stumbled on a child trafficking racket at Kuttarpadavu in 2007. Little did it realize it had uncovered a cog in the RSS social engineering set-up which moved children from the North-East India to the state to protect them from religious conversion.

It happened when a school correspondent revealed to the Udupi CWC in 2009 that the RSS had been bringing children over seven years to protect them from missionaries and nurture them in the Hindu way. The number of such trafficked numbers was anywhere between 1,600 and 1,800.

The Udupi incident also came to light accidentally when a school applied for grants under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyana (SSA). During inspection, the SSA official found children from the North-East in the Thenkabettu aided Higher Primary School at Uppoor, without proper records. The school was neither recognized by the CWC nor were the children produced before the CWC.

CWC member Prameela Vas said Sukumar Shetty, correspondent, Padmavathi Govinda Memorial Trust, which runs the school, in a written statement said the RSS brought them here as the school faced a shortage of students. Though he assured that all the 17 girls would be produced before the CWC, local MLA Raghupathi Bhat scuttled the move and prevented the Brahmavar police from taking the children before CWC, said Vas. Shockingly, the school has no plans regarding their future after elementary education, she added.

The fate of 20 children at Mangala Seva Samithi, Kuttarpadavu, also hangs in the balance. For two years, nothing has moved from the district administration / police or the Women and Child Welfare Committee. The only positive thing is that the Meghalaya joint director of department of social welfare, Nelle, visited Kuttarpadavu, and submitted his report to the government a year ago. CWC sought a copy of the report two months ago. Now the DK CWC is planning to move the state child commission, formed on July 8, for expediting the case and returning children to their state.

Geo D’Silva, CWC member, told STOI that apart from human rights violation by denying children education in their native tongue, they are being subjected to “unwanted influences” which could turn them into anti-social elements. Stressing they have been “trafficked” assuring their parents that they would be given good education, D’Silva claimed they are being engineered to be made foot soldiers of a fundamentalist organization. D’Silva says, “If Tukaram Shetty, who claims to be the guardian of 20 children, is so interested in educating these deprived children, why are they being educated only in RSS-run schools? Moreover, the applications doesn’t contain any details about parents and the place they hail from except that the guardian is Tukaram Shetty. This violates Section 34 of the Juvenile Justice Act.” He points out, “The system has not moved an inch in bringing Shetty to book. Moreover, their religion has been shown as Hindu, while in reality they are tribals.”

After the Kuttarpadavu case, though there is no case against the perpetrators, there have been many complaints that CWC members are over-stepping their jurisdiction.

D’Silva says the return of the children should happen at the governmental level after the Meghalaya government goes trough the report. Till then, the fate of hundreds of children in an alien place is quite uncertain.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sphome/4719148.cms

Great Indian bride bazaar

4 Jul
Away and alone: Rasespuri, of Bargarh in Orissa, and her daughter are left to fend for themselves in Chhatarpur, Madhya Pradesh, after her husband died. / Photo: Sunil Mishra

Oriya girls are hot property for matchmakers and wannabe grooms from Hindi heartland

By Deepak Tiwari / Orissa & Bundelkhand

Amit Jain, 37, a trader from Jhansi, spent 12 years looking for a bride in his village. He found none thanks to the skewed sex ratio in the region. Finally, he did what many wannabe grooms in central India did-headed to the ‘bride bazaar’ in Orissa.

An agent took Jain to three Oriya girls. He chose a good-looking Brahmin girl from Kuranga village. The impoverished farmer family, with five daughters and a son, all educated till Class 12, sealed the marriage after verifying Jain’s credentials.The ‘bazaar’ is spread over a dozen districts of Orissa. It works through a network of agents who persuade impoverished parents to marry their daughters to men like Jain. No matter if the groom is over-aged, unemployed, notorious or poor; the agents-in cahoots with local leaders, lodge owners, temple priests and the police-get brides for them, for fees ranging between Rs 20,000 and Rs 40,000.

With sex ratio above national average, the districts of Sambalpur, Bargarh, Kalahandi, Bolangir, Sundergarh, Jajpur, Koraput, Rayagada, Nuapada and Mayurbhanj in Orissa are hotspots of the bride ‘business’. “The agents convince parents by painting a rosy picture of prospective grooms from distant lands and cite examples of Oriya families who have married their daughters to these places,” said social activist Lingaraj Pradhan.

“The best season for agents to look for brides is during the months of hardship in summer,” said social activist Ranjan Panda. “The practice is rampant in the poor pockets. The unbalanced development in the state has added to the problem. A study showed that 80 per cent of target Oriya families is landless and 70 per cent of those trafficked illiterate.”

The agents bring wannabe grooms in unreserved coaches of trains to evade the police and put them up in dingy lodges. They take part of their fee as advance and the balance when the marriage is fixed. Half their fee goes to the facilitator, usually the bride’s relative or neighbour, and the local agent, in most cases village leaders, educated unemployed youths, hotel managers or grocers. The local agent also mobilises support to conduct the marriage in a temple or in the presence of a notary. If the bride’s family is poor, it gets Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 towards marriage expenses.

Sometimes greedy agents get people of different castes to marry, leading to marital discord later, said Narayan Sahu, who owns a lodge in Bargarh. Caste hurdles are overcome by passing off a Jain as a Brahmin and those from backward communities as banias (traders). “Once the marriage is over, the couples adjust to the new life,” said agent Tulsi Kumar.
“Many girls who marry men from remote areas in the Hindi belt return with tales of exploitation,” said Tikalal Mishra, a social activist in Parmanpur village of Bargarh. His niece was duped by a Brahmin family which had claimed to own vast tracts of land but later turned out to be paupers. “Most agents lie about the grooms’ background,” he said.

Videshi Mahapatra of Porwadi village in Sambalpur married his daughter Aruna, 26, to a man from Bundelkhand after an agent told him that the groom was from a rich family. But the groom turned out to be a landless labourer. When Aruna protested, her in-laws abused her. She returned to Sambalpur and filed a police complaint. The case of Rasespuri, 28, of Bargarh is tragic. She married Ajjudi Rajput of Ranital village of Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh. But after he died of kidney failure, she and her nine-month-old daughter were left to fend for themselves, with only her mother-in-law to help. Not all girls suffer. Asarfi of Orissa’s Kharmanda village married Kriparam Lodhi of Chhatarpur in 2003. After five years, she got her younger sister married to Lodhi’s brother. The sisters are happy. “The two girls have learnt our traditions and are like us now,” said Lodhi’s father, Santram. Similarly, Kamlini Pani of Dungipali village of Bolangir, who married Mahesh Shukla, a Brahmin, five years ago, is settled in her husband’s village, where she is an anganwadi worker.

The dowry system was not traditionally prevalent in western Orissa but has caught on over the past three decades. This is a reason that “poor parents marry their daughters to grooms from across the state border,” said Shibshankar Nanda of the Oriya daily Dharitri. The worst hit by the dowry system are Brahmin farmers and educated families from other castes whose farms were ruined because of shortage of farm workers, caused by NREGA and migration. Social taboos have prevented Brahmins and the educated class from working in the fields.

A reason why Brahmin men go bride hunting is shortage of girls in their own community. “In the Bundelkhand region, the Brahmins are poor and illiterate and live in remote areas. Parents do not want to send their daughters to such places,” said Pushpendra Nath Pathak, BJP president in Chhatarpur.
Aspiring grooms find paying an agent to get an Oriya bride better than spending on wedding ceremonies. “Oriya girls serve their twin needs-sex and farm labour,” said Virendra Diwedi, a Youth Congress leader in Panna district in MP. Women who cannot adjust to the new place are sometimes sold to other men.

Noticing the trend of men from his state marrying Oriya girls, Madhya Pradesh Rural Development Minister Gopal Bhargava told an agent in Sagar that he would organise a mass marriage for the grooms so that they can benefit from the Mukhyamantri Kanyadaan Yojana, under which couples get Rs 10,000 as government grant. Pathak, who plans to form a confederation of Oriya brides in Bundelkhand to help them interact with each other, feels the practice of marrying Oriya girls should be institutionalised to eradicate the ills of the system. Such a move could help the Oriya girls, because a study by the Institute of Social and Economic Development in Bhubaneswar in 2003 showed that even brothel owners in Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata were among the bride hunters.
(Some names have been changed to protect identity.)

Men in uniform may face stiffer rap for rape

4 Jul

5 Jul 2009, 0109 hrs IST, Himanshi Dhawan, TNN

NEW DELHI: In keeping with increasing instances of sexual misconduct by men in uniform and in positions of authority, the National Commission  for Women (NCW) is pushing for a radical overhaul of laws on crimes against women, including the anti-rape law, to make punishment more stringent.

The NCW is seeking higher punishment for policemen, public servants and employers, for not just rape but sexual offences that stop short of forced penile penetration. The maximum punishment for non-rape offences, it proposes, should be increased from five years to 10 years in jail.

It has suggested a broader definition of sexual assault to include “introduction” instead of “penetration” as the defining crime and to include anal and oral sex on an unwilling woman or minor. Towards this end, the Commission has proposed a slew of changes in the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Evidence Act.

Said NCW chairperson Girija Vjas: “The need for a new law on sexual assault was felt as the present law does not define and reflect various kinds of sexual assault that women are subjected to in our country.” She said the Supreme Court had, in the Sakshi vs Union of India case, recognized the inadequacies in the law relating to rape and suggested that the legislature bring about the necessary changes.

NCW has also suggested changes in the process of reporting, medical examination and the role of police officials. While several of the amendments are already in practice following Supreme Court rulings, the Commission strongly pitched for bringing about changes in the law to dispel any ambiguity.

In its 172nd report, the Law Commission had examined the laws relating to rape and sexual assault and suggested their complete overhaul. In keeping with that, the NCW has sought amendments to sections 375, 376, 354 and 509 of IPC. While NCW has accepted almost all amendments suggested by the Law Commission, it has differed on one: the NCW has asked for deletion of section 376A that invites a two-year prison term and fine if a husband has sexual intercourse with his wife without her consent while the two are living apart.

The NCW has also come down heavily on sexual offences committed under judicial custody. It has proposed that if a police official commits sexual assault within the limits or on the premises of the police station where he is appointed or commits assault on a woman or child under 16 years of age, he should be liable for a minimum punishment of 10 years in jail and a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

The staff or management of a hospital, remand home or a women’s or children’s institution committing such an act should be liable to punishment from five years to 10 years in jail and a fine, NCW has said.

The commission has suggested the introduction of a new section — 376D — that would make any man who touches, directly or indirectly, any part of a woman’s body with sexual purpose, liable to three years’ imprisonment. In order to discourage incest, NCW has said that if the offender is related to the woman, the prison term should be increased to seven years. Unlawful sexual contact in the case of a minor would invite a five-year term and if the minor is in a relationship of dependency to the offender, the punishment could be increased to seven years.

The number of rape cases reported has been increasing steadily. NCW received 57 complaints in January 2009 which increased to 61 in June this year. “These are cases that have come to us. There are many other women who do not have the courage to complain,” Vyas said.

Accordingly, the commission has redrafted a scheme to rehabilitate victims and give them compensation. The NCW has also suggested repeal of the Section 377 of IPC (dealing with homosexuality) and addition of a new section that is in line with the Delhi High Court’s ruling. The commission on Saturday reiterated its stand that it would hold wide-ranging consultations on the issue of homosexuality.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Men-in-uniform-may-face-stiffer-rap-for-rape/articleshow/4739105.cms

Kilns of bondage

3 Jul

S. DORAIRAJ

In The FRONTLINE JULY 2009

An ILO report on the exploitation of brick kiln workers in Tamil Nadu pushes the State government into action to end the practice of “debt bondage”.

A. MURALITHARAN

At Reddypalayam village near Chengalpattu in Kancheepuram district. Brick workers live in thatched huts close to the kiln.

IN the brick kilns of Tamil Nadu, life for lakhs of men, women and children is one of extreme exploitation. Every brick they make has a story to tell – of dismal working conditions, back-breaking toil for 12 to 16 hours a day, meagre wages and generations of bonded labour.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has put these narratives in perspective in its report “Forced Labour: Facts and Figures/The Cost of Coercion-Regional Perspectives” released on May 11. About the situation in Tamil Nadu’s brick industry, it says: “[B]onded labourers, and sometimes their families, lose their freedom to choose employment through a system of loans or advance payments for work.”

Most of these workers are from families that have for generations toiled in brick units in different parts of the State and are not aware of their rights or the welfare measures the State and Central governments offer them. The vicious cycle of debt begins when the rural farmhand migrates to a distant place and finds work in a brick kiln through middlemen known as “maistries”. He accepts an advance amount offered by the kiln owner not realising that in the process he was trading away his freedom. By the time he does it is too late, as he is tied to the kiln in perpetual bondage. Incidentally, the maistries, who are part of the workforce, play an important role in the disbursement of the advances and weekly wages to the workers.

In response to the ILO report, the departments concerned of the State government and the Centre and six Central trade unions have initiated action to end the “debt bondage” of brick kiln workers. To begin with, the focus is on Kattangolathur block in Kancheepuram district, where 12,000 kiln workers and their families are being made aware of their rights, their children are being sent to school and they are being given the benefits of welfare schemes.

LACK OF DATA

In the absence of any comprehensive official data on the number of brick kilns and the workers they employ, analysts depend on surveys conducted by private agencies or non-governmental organisations (NGOs). According to informed sources, in Tamil Nadu there are around 2,000 brick kilns – both registered and unregistered – in the big and medium categories, apart from thousands of units making country bricks in the tiny sector.

Dalits and members of the Scheduled Tribes constitute around 90 per cent of the workers and the remaining 10 per cent belong to the Backward Classes or the Most Backward Classes. Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts have a high concentration of brick workers, including child workers. They go there from Dharmapuri, Namakkal, Krishnagiri, Villupuram, Cuddalore, Tiruvannamalai, Madurai, Virudhunagar and Tirunelveli districts every year during the season, which lasts from January to July.

A. Mahaboob Batcha, managing trustee of the Society for Community Organisation (SOCO) Trust, blamed the agrarian crisis and industrial backwardness for the large-scale migration of people from the southern districts in search of work. The trend could not be reversed without proper planning and implementation of job schemes for the rural poor, particularly farm workers, he said.

The most important factor that makes the workers and their children vulnerable to bondage is the advance paid to migrant workers, who then pledge their labour to the owners of kilns. It is a common practice in the industry and the amount ranges from Rs.5,000 to Rs.40,000.

Both employers and workers believe that the advance system fosters “mutual trust”. But experts point out that it not only makes workers vulnerable to bondage but also pushes them into the quagmire of perpetual indebtedness. An ILO-funded study conducted by an Indo-French research team of the French Institute of Pondicherry in 2003-04 dubs the system a “vicious circle” and says that “the characteristics of the production process (a continuous and cyclic process, highly intensive in terms of labour force) explain in large part the need for this advance system”. Importantly, it enables the kiln owners to employ migrants, who cannot leave the kilns until they have repaid the advance fully. The workers are given the advance not only before they are recruited but also during the off season to ensure that they continue in the same kiln in the next season.

Unionisation of brick kiln workers at the local level, thanks to the intervention of the NGO ‘Sarpam’ Irular Thozhilalar Sangam, helped release brick workers from bondage at Palavansathu village in Vellore taluk and at a few villages in Arcot taluk in Vellore district during the past three years. However, some of them were yet to be compensated fully, said I. Jeyabalan, leader of the union.

The piece-rate remuneration is not commensurate with the hard work that the skilled workers put in during the seven stages of the brick-making process, said trade union sources. The seven stages include heaping, gathering and mixing of clay soil; moulding of bricks; edge cutting; transporting the dried bricks to the baking yard; and baking the bricks.

HARASSMENT

Apart from low wages and curtailed mobility, the workers, both men and women, are subjected to harassment in various ways, alleged trade union activists. Most of the workers were reluctant to narrate their tales of woe fearing the brick kiln owners and the maistries.

P. Selvi, one of the 15 bonded labourers at Palavansathu village released from a brick kiln in Vellore district in March 2006, said she, along with her son P. Kumaran, was detained at a house in the village for 29 days on the grounds that she tried to flee the workplace without repaying the advance she had taken. The house was locked and even for attending nature’s call they had to be at the mercy of the watchman who had the key.

K. Gopi of Mandhangal village was among a set of bonded workers of the Irular tribe to be freed at Oothukottai taluk in Tiruvallur district in February 2008. He said they had to face the wrath of the kiln owners for seeking their help to trace the missing eight-year-old daughter of a worker.

According to M. Nagarajan, president of the Sengal Aruvai Thozhilalar Munnetra Sangam at Paramakudi in Ramanathapuram district, at some places, including Achangulam village in the district, intolerant employers would belabour workers with sticks if they committed any act of indiscipline. Abuses were heaped on women workers. Such punishments were awarded to frighten other workers, he said. In some cases, the workers who had received “excess advance amount” were kept under lock and key at night, he alleged.

Though some employers claimed that the workers were not forced to toil for long hours, interaction with workers and union activists revealed that in most of the brick chambers work started at around 3 p.m. and went on up to 7 p.m. After a break of six hours, work resumed at 1 a.m. and went on until 10.30 a.m. The bricks need maximum time of exposure to the sun to render them dried. Thus, the workers have to catch up with their sleep only during the day and this is a routine for the brick-moulding community. These cycles of work interfere with the normal development of the children.

In one of the worst instances of harassment, N. Rangasamy, 50, belonging to the Irular tribe of Siruvalai village in Villupuram district, was beaten up and chained by the employer of a brick unit because his daughter and son-in-law had abruptly stopped working in his kiln in January 2003. The employer was arrested under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (prevention of atrocities) Act, 1989, and various sections of the Indian Penal Code, thanks to the intervention of the Pazhangudi Irular Padhukappu Sangam (PIPS).

PLIGHT OF CHILDREN

D. GOPALAKRISHNAN

Labourers of a brick kiln in Vellore district freed from bondage on the initiative of the government.

A distressing aspect of the brick workers’ story is the plight of the children. According to a study conducted in 2005 by two NGOs, ‘Pasumai Trust’ of Tiruvallur and the Chennai-based People’s Forum for Human Rights, over one lakh children in the six to 18 age group were employed in brick kilns in the State. Of them, 60,000 were in the six to 14 age group and they worked along with their parents.

Though some political activists and official sources dub these data “exaggerated”, NGO functionaries and experts concur that almost 80 per cent of the children of the migrant workers do not go to school and many of them help their parents in the work, performing tasks such as arranging the bricks for drying and collecting the broken and improperly moulded bricks. Several others, particularly girls, do babysitting at shelters.

“As the work is clearly given to the families, children have a great propensity towards getting involved in the work to supplement parents’ income. This is not done owing to the pressure of the employers but the system operates in such a manner that children become natural partners in the process of brick production,” says a study titled Rapid Appraisal of Vulnerability of Workers to Bondage Situations in Brick Kiln Sector in Tamil Nadu-2008. It was undertaken by PRAXIS (Institute for Participatory Practices) India in Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts last year.

Dr C.S. Rex Sargunam, president of the Tamil Nadu Health Development Association and former Director of the Institute of Child Health, said the children of migrant workers were prone to a range of illnesses, including allergic bronchitis and skin allergy, as they were exposed to heat and dust. Water-borne diseases such as dysentery and jaundice may also be prevalent if there was the risk of contamination of water. The malnourished children of brick workers were susceptible to anaemia and vitamin deficiencies, he said. Setting up noon-meal centres and balwadis near the place of work could go a long way in alleviating some of these health problems, he added.

“PAIRS” SYSTEM AT WORK

A. MURALITHARAN

Workers at the kiln load bricks on to lorries at Reddypalayam.

Highlighting the travails of brick workers in the brick industry, Malathi Chittibabu, State secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), referred to the unique system adopted by kiln owners of offering jobs and advance payment only to “pairs” and not to individual workers. In some areas, this resulted in the early marriage of girls, she said.

PRAXIS in its rapid appraisal observed that girls got married “as early as 12 years onwards and boys get married as early as 16 years onwards”. It stated: “Early marriages are related to the work environment that needs pairs of workers to work in tandem. To access work opportunities, boys and girls get married at an early age. In most families, the indebtedness to local moneylenders and advances from employers has been transferred to the young generation in case the parents get sick and are unable to work, and such pressure leads to marriage and work in similar establishments. Insecurity of unmarried girls to work in such establishments is another reason for the girls to opt for early marriages.” However, there is a view among the workers that early marriages are no longer prevalent now.

Pon. Kumar, Chairman of the Tamil Nadu Construction Welfare Board, admitted that bonded labour and child labour were prevalent in brick manufacturing units in the State. He promised to initiate measures to ensure that these illegal systems were eliminated, that the children were sent to balwadis or schools according to their age and that statutory benefits such as Employees State Insurance (ESI), Provident Fund (PF) and accident relief were extended to the workers after enrolling them as members of the welfare board. He added that steps would be taken to implement a scheme to provide assistance to the workers, through the kiln owners, during the off season.

K. Murthy, State adviser of the Tamil Nadu Socialist Unorganised Workers Union, sought urgent measures to implement the State government’s order – G.O. MS.75, 2005 – enabling migrant workers to receive essential articles, including rice, under the public distribution system (PDS) by using their ration cards. The “non-implementation” of the order came in the way of migrant workers making use of the Re.1-a-kg-rice scheme, he said.

According to him, in Tiruvallur district alone around 25,000 children work in brick kilns. Lack of balwadis near the work spot resulted in the older children becoming babysitters, he claimed. Workers lived in 6’ x 8’ rooms in unventilated thatched huts, without toilets, put up near the workplace. The workers in general and women in particular faced problems owing to the lack of adequate health facilities near the brick chambers, Murthy said.

OWNERS’ DEFENCE

But kiln owners project a rosy picture. According to K. Manoharan, secretary of the Chengalpattu Area Brick Manufacturers’ Association, bonded labour and child labour are absent in the sector. Admitting that migrant labourers were employed in the brick industry in Kancheepuram district, he said almost 80 per cent of the workers employed in his kiln belonged to Tirunelveli district and the remaining 20 per cent were from the adjacent Villupuram district.

He claimed that the owners by and large were transparent in providing the advance money to workers and in the weekly payment of wages for work done on a piece-rate basis. He called for urgent steps by the government to remove the anomalies in the payment of wages and the duration of the season in different parts of the State. The association, along with the ILO and government agencies, was doing its best to persuade workers to send their children to school, he said.

M. Nagarajan demanded a reasonable revision of the minimum wage from the present Rs.221.78 for harvesting 1,000 chamber bricks and Rs.166.41 for 1,000 country bricks. He alleged that there was a “deliberate deduction” in the number of bricks produced, at the rate of 70 bricks for 1,000 bricks, on the grounds of compensating for faulty bricks. The employers, who insured the products, should not penalise workers for damages to bricks because of rain or other factors, he said.

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

A. MURALITHARAN

Elementary lessons for children of workers at the Reddypalayam brick kiln complex.

Meanwhile, Principal Secretary (Labour and Employment) T. Prabhakara Rao said the State government would extend all support, including provision of manpower, to the project initiated by the ILO to ensure brick workers’ welfare. Poverty alleviation programmes and income-generating projects would be extended to these migrant workers, he added.

Referring to the awareness programme launched recently by the government in this regard, he sought the cooperation of all the stakeholders, including representatives of trade unions and employers’ federations, to make it a success.

The inadequacy of the government’s measures so far can be gauged from the fact that only 1,202 members of the seven Brick Workers’ Cooperative Societies under the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Department have benefited. The paid-up share capital of these societies was Rs.8.08 lakh, including the government’s share of Rs.2.25 lakh, trade union sources said. These societies were formed with the main objective of providing continuous and gainful employment to brick workers.

ILO INITIATIVE

A. MURALITHARAN

A poster announcing the ILO-State government joint initiative to improve the conditions of brick kiln workers.

It was against this backdrop that the ILO took the initiative to improve the lot of the brick kiln workers. It identified 12,000 workers employed in Kattangolathur block to implement a three-pronged strategy of creating awareness on labour rights, implementing welfare schemes to help them and their families to come out of poverty, and ensuring that their children were sent to school, said Maria Sathya R., national programme manager of the ILO’s “Decent Work for All”.

Supporting it in this endeavour are the State and Central governments and the joint action forum of Central trade unions, including the CITU, the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), and the Labour Progressive Federation (LPF). Among the stakeholders were the district administration and the employers’ associations, she added.

The initiative would explore the possibility of replacing the present advance payment system with new transparent systems of recruitment and payment of uniform wages. Workplace improvement was another focus area. The workers would be trained and organised in unions so that they gain knowledge in holding negotiations with employers and arriving at settlements on their demands. Apart from enrolling them with the Tamil Nadu Construction Workers Welfare Board, they would be covered under the Life Insurance Corporation of India’s Janashree Bima Yojana scheme and steps would be taken to enable them to get jobs under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) when they return to their villages during the off season.

A survey conducted by the ILO in Kattangolathur block last year led to the re-enrolment of 174 out-of-school children in regular schools. Besides, 948 children were sent to 39 tuition centres at the workplaces. The honorarium for the teacher-volunteer at these centres, at the rate of Rs.2,000 per person, is borne by the employers. Apart from this, the government runs 20 summer education centres under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) for three months at the workplaces. This year, a total of 460 children are attending the classes at the venues, where the noon meal is provided by the employers’ association and the cost of study materials and payment for SSA volunteers’ training is met by the ILO and the government. As and when these children returned to their villages, they would be enrolled in regular schools, Maria Sathya said.

T.R.S. Mani, State secretary of the AITUC, is not sure about the success of the ILO initiative. He said: “Though the trade unions have taken the plunge, along with the ILO and the government agencies, it remains to be seen what impact the programme has on the lives of thousands of migrant brick workers.”

http://www.frontline.in/stories/20090717261408500.htm

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