Archive | March, 2010


24 Mar

Women for equality

Interview: Brinda Karat

Interview: Sharad Yadav

Unequal burden

Left in the lurch

Health & hopes

Stilled in the womb

Doubly deprived

Cut off by caste

Interview: Malini Bhattacharya

Power to resist

Armed Forces
Women’s victory


Entertainers or sex slaves? DISTURBING TRENDS FROM PUNJAB

14 Mar

Many young Punjabi girls are being forced into prostitution in the garb of working as dancers or entertainers, reports Riva IN THE TRIBUNE CHANDIGARH

Her dark gloomy eyes reflect her shadowy past, unable to hide her shame and pain. Sitting in a corner of a dark room, Rashmi (name changed) prefers this darkness of a dingy room to bright neon lights and posh hotel rooms. At the young age of 17, Rashmi has already experienced the seamier side of life that lies behind this glam world. Her nightmarish journey into this murky world began in cultured, air-conditioned rooms of five-star hotels and culminated into this innocent teenager becoming as a prostitute.

Women’s trafficking in Punjab is not unheard of. While many young girls from other parts are sneaked into the state to be employed as sex slaves, a large number of Punjabi girls, in the garb of working as performers, are being herded across the borders to do the same job in metropolitan cities of India and Gulf countries like Dubai.

Investigations revealed that many of the musical groups operational in Punjab act as mediators in whisking off young women to Arab countries and other Indian cities for dancing, a euphuism for prostitution.

Trafficking on the rise in Punjab

Trafficking on the rise in Punjab

More than one lakh women are a part of around 5,000 orchestra groups operating in Punjab, though all of them are not involved in prostitution (The faces of the girls have been blurred to protect their identities)

“I had joined a musical group a year back and was promised Rs 500 per show. We performed at music shows, at marriages and other parties, mostly during late evenings. Two months into the job, my employer started asking me to stay back at her house to help her with household chores. Then came a time when I was prohibited to go out or meet my parents without her or her husband’s permission.

“Show or no show, I couldn’t go home. They always had an excuse. One day, they asked me to join them on a three-month tour to Bangalore for a series of Punjabi cultural shows. They offered Rs 15,000 per month for the job. Forced by poor financial circumstances, my parents agreed and I, too, went reluctantly. Only after reaching there did I realise what was my actual work. I was hired by a hotel on Bangalore’s posh MG Road for pleasing its customers for a period of three months. They had signed a contract to this effect with my employer. I was in trouble in a strange land not knowing its language,” narrates Rashmi, while giving details of her harrowing tale.

Rashmi, a good-looking girl of 17, is a resident of Basti Danishmandan in Jalandhar. She left studies after completing Class X and started working with a musical group in the city to supplement her family’s income. After joining the group, she was forced to do menial jobs at the house of her employer and was frequently subjected to torture and abuse for not giving in to their unjust demands. She was also underpaid on the pretext that money had been spent on buying make-up and dress material for her.

Trafficking on the rise in Punjab

Trafficking on the rise in Punjab

But her real nightmare began once she landed in Bangalore. She found herself one among the 50 women present there to pander to the demands of the male customers of the hotel. “The guests, as we called them, would take us out for a movie or shopping They would give us gifts and in return expected to be treated like boyfriends. They could talk anything and we were not supposed to spoil their mood, whatever the provocation,” discloses Rashmi. The 50 women in the hotel had come from different parts of the country and even from as far as Nepal.

Though she hesitates to speak clearly, Rashmi confesses that she was pressurised to do what she obliquely refers to as ‘wrong things’. “We were five girls in that hotel from Jalandhar and I learnt that many more from the city were into the same business in other hotels of Bangalore. In fact, Hindi-speaking girls were at a premium there,” she adds. Anjali Sinha, an activist with NGO Stree Adhikar Sangathan, reveals that there is an inter-state nexus between such ‘gangs’ that recruit innocent girls under the garb of dancing and later push them into prostitution.

“India is in the process of widespread economic and social restructuring because of capitalisation and globalisation, which have changed the social fabric of our society. Everything today is driven by capital. Women and children are increasingly becoming commodities to be bought, sold and consumed by tourists, military personnel, organised crime rings, traffickers, and men seeking sexual entertainment without responsibility,” adds Anjali Sinha.

Though Rashmi has since quit the troupe, many of her friends are still into it and are doing a tour of Dubai at present. When The Tribune spoke to one such girl in Dubai, she confessed that they were actually working as sex slaves, providing entertainment to their ‘guests’ for money and material goods.

“I dance in a hotel bar. In three months, I earn about Rs 2.5 lakh. I dance for about six hours a day, from 6 pm to 12 am. During this time, forget eating, I cannot even drink water without my customer’s permission. If he wants me to drink while dancing, I have to do it`85 I had an inkling about the nature of work here while I was in Bangalore, but still went ahead`85 due to certain compulsions,” discloses Alisha.

Alisha has signed a three-month contract with the hotel. She cannot step out unless her customer pays a stipulated amount to the hotel management. “It is like being literally enslaved`85 trapped in this vicious circle of prostitution and moral degeneration`85 I cannot escape since I am the only bread-winner for my family, back in India`85” she sobs.

“Once trapped in the quagmire of flesh trade, escape is very unlikely. It’s like a never-ending, widening gyre whose stigma lives with you like a ghost…” she adds.

But, why join such professions in the first place? “At 16, I married against my parents’ wishes. The guy turned out to be a drug-addict. After three years of marriage and two children to feed, I walked out of this abusive relationship. But my parents refused to help me. So, I got a job as a domestic helper with an NRI family in Deep Singh Nagar, Bathinda. I was given a room, too. But the owner started demanding sexual favours and I decided to quit the job to work in an orchestra, run by a neighbour’s relative. Good looks were my passport to the job. But, I soon realised that it was not all about dancing,” confides Madhu (name changed).

“Penury, betrayal, illiteracy and abuse are classic ingredients of our lives. Everybody talks about izzat, but izzat isn’t going to feed my family, is it? You need money to survive, and I had no other options,” adds Madhu. In August last year, the Bathinda police had rounded up several girls who were involved in flesh trade in the guise of orchestra business.

According to a report by the Central Bureau of Investigation reports, the global human trafficking industry affects an estimated six to eight million people annually and is worth $ 9 billion. A survey conducted by the National Commission for Women estimates that 378 districts (62 per cent) of India are affected by trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation.

“Women, the world over, are vulnerable to sexual exploitation, especially, when they are migrants or refugees and when they are suffering from poverty or affected by racism and caste structure. Women and children are forced into the industry by violence, lack of economic alternatives, deception, debt bondage and financial enslavement. It is a human rights disaster. It is high time the government seriously tackled the menace that has assumed alarming proportions,” says Jai Singh, who runs the Volunteers for Social Justice, an NGO.

Most of the girls are either forced into the profession by parents, or are victims of poverty and unemployment. Minal (34), a resident of Guru Nanakpura, Bathinda, has been dancing since she was 17, earning anything between Rs 8,000 and Rs 12,000 a month. After she failed in Class X, her widowed mother married her off. But as luck would have it, her moments of joy were short-lived. Just three months into the marriage, her drunkard husband started forcing her to sleep with other men to earn some money.

“I was young and good looking. One day, a customer asked me to join a western orchestra group then operational in the town. Sometimes you need to pay with your soul to earn a livelihood. I then started to work as a prostitute, disguised as a dancer,” she sobs. “I have been to Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore on ‘business’ tours,” she adds. There are around 5,000 orchestra groups in Punjab, involving more than one lakh women.

Although common, such cases don’t usually come to the notice of the police. “Rarely do we come across such cases. Given our society’s attitude towards the victim, girls and their families prefer to keep mum. The police, society and the politicians should work in tandem to curb this menace,” says Manjeet Kaur, in-charge, Women’s Cell, Jalandhar.

President of the Lok Bhalai Party, Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, says that while his party had not received any written or formal complaint hitherto, such incidents are quite common in Punjab. “Faced with unemployment and compelling family needs, young beautiful girls, sometimes even well-educated ones, are forced into this dirty business for the want of money. They do not choose it by preference, but out of sheer necessity, often after broken marriages or being disowned by families,” he adds. But president of the Punjab Orchestra Association Vijay Sahota dubs these reports as false, saying: “Though incidents of pushing dancers or orchestra singers into prostitution had come to light in Bathinda in the late 1990s, after our association was formed in 2000, no such case has been reported.” “Artistes are poor, not immoral. If the organisers play foul, the girls should complain to us. Our association will definitely come to their rescue and help them get due respect,” he concludes.

Khap terror

9 Mar


ON February 12, Meham town in Rohtak district, Haryana, saw a citizens’ convention that was unusual in more than one sense. First, it was being held from the ramparts of the Meham Chaubisi Chabootara, a platform reserved for members of the Meham panchayat (a conglomeration of 24 villages, better known as the Meham Chaubisi). Second, the meeting was not dominated by any one caste. Third, it was a congregation of secular and democratic groups, and a good number of women participated in it. (Women had never attended meetings at that venue since all caste and khap panchayats are male-dominated.) Fourth, it was a meeting where caste and khap panchayats and their undemocratic ways were roundly criticised. People from neighbouring villages also attended the meeting and expressed their opposition to the illegal acts of the panchayats.

The meeting reflected a growing anger against the actions of self-styled khap panchayats. In early February itself, there were at least three reported cases of panchayats ordering the expulsion of married couples for having allegedly violated one community norm or the other. Meham shot into notoriety 20 years ago following complaints of poll-rigging and booth-capturing in an Assembly byelection. The election had to be countermanded twice because of large-scale violence and the murder of an independent candidate. The Meham Chaubisi has historically played a crucial role in elections.

Bhaichaara victims

On January 31, Kavita and Satish, a young couple from Kheri Meham with a nine-month-old child, were told by the khap panchayat that their marriage three years ago was in violation of the gotra norm of bhaichaara, or brotherhood. Kavita belongs to the Beniwal gotra and Satish to the Berwal gotra, and their marriage had seemingly not violated any caste or gotra norm. However, according to the bhaichaara norm, girls belonging to a village’s dominant gotra could be accepted in that village only as sisters, and not as wives. Of late, this has been used to harass couples who either married out of their own choice or whose marriages were arranged by their families.

Twenty-one members of the Beniwal gotra convened a meeting and decided to expel Kavita and Satish from the village. Kavita could not stay in the village as the wife of Satish, but the child could live with Satish’s father, Azad Singh, the meeting decreed.

As a punishment for allowing the marriage to take place, the 65-year-old Azad Singh was paraded around the village with a shoe shoved into his mouth. Azad Singh’s family is among the poorer ones in the village and belongs to a minority gotra. “We were told that we could stay on in the village if we donated whatever land we possessed to the village dera (a village shelter used by mendicants). As per the ruling, Satish would become his own child’s uncle while I have to pay Rs.3 lakh for the upkeep of my grandchild. How will I procure all the money for this after giving away my land?” said Azad Singh.

Anil Rao, Senior Superintendent of Police, Rohtak, told Frontline that the couple was now staying in Bhiwani district and that he had sent word to the police authorities there to provide them security.

Kavita had, with support from her parents, who live in Bhiwani district, approached the SSP with a detailed complaint, naming the people who had convened the panchayat and humiliated her father-in-law. She demanded action against the 21 gotra members involved in the act. But the police registered a first information report (FIR) without mentioning any names – reportedly owing to pressure from influential people. Frontline learnt that at least two revenue department employees and one panchayat samiti member were involved in the humiliation of Azad Singh and in the decision to expel the couple.

The SSP said that the police were doing everything possible to help the couple and claimed that police intervention had forced the Meham Chaubisi to reverse its judgment. A joint meeting of the Berwal and Beniwal khaps resolved that the couple could live as man and wife but outside their village. The Chaubisi also condemned the humiliation of Azad Singh.

At Azad Singh’s house, emotions run high. “They have done their worst. What more can they do?” said Azad Singh, referring to his humiliation. While he and his wife Lakshmi are relieved to have police protection against further assaults by members of the dominant gotra, they are scared to say openly that they will bring their daughter-in-law home. “What would you do if you are surrounded by the village toughs? But how can a man and his wife reconvert as brother and sister?” wondered an elderly relative of Azad Singh. However, she said that the panchayat was right in its decision but others had influenced it wrongly. Lakshmi wondered what would be the nature of her relationship with her grandson, Raunaq, if her son and daughter-in-law were to see each other as brother and sister.

It was shocking that none of the influential Berwal gotra members was ready to stand by the family. Dharamraj, a former sarpanch of Kheri village, said that the khaps’ decision, taken at a joint meeting of the two khaps, was final. The role of an elected sarpanch, as has been seen in most cases relating to such issues, is marginal. An older citizen of the village told Frontline that an elected sarpanch was of use only if he was influential and “strong”.

The police maintained a studious silence regarding the couple’s desire to live together in their own village of Kheri. “Mindsets have to change, and then there is the issue of bhaichaara that cannot be disturbed,” said a police officer.

It is significant that the Punjab and Haryana High Court took suo motu notice of the issue and asked the Haryana government to file a reply. The Director-General of Police told the court that the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, does not cover the activities of khap panchayats. Equally significant is the fact that apart from the Left parties and the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), which took up the cudgels on Kavita’s behalf, several individuals, including veteran Congress leader Shamsher Singh Surjewala, and organisations such as the All India Lawyers’ Union, the All India Kisan Sabha and a few youth organisations, denounced the undemocratic diktats of the caste panchayat.

Apart from the Kheri incident, three other cases of caste panchayat atrocities were reported in the recent past. A couple in Jind district came under immense pressure to call off their engagement after a section of residents of the boy’s village, Budalkhera, claimed that the gotras of the groom and the bride had brotherly relations. The Budalkhera panchayat declared that the marriage could not take place in the village. The families of the couple resisted and finally, on February 6, the panchayat reversed its order. But it ensured that the wedding took place outside the village.

Similarly, on November 1 last year, a joint panchayat of the Garhi Ballam and Sundana villages ordered a couple to leave the village for violating gotra norms. The couple quietly left. No complaint was lodged.

Curiously, on February 3, in a village in Hisar district, members of the Scheduled Caste Dhanak community objected to a wedding and banished the boy from the village, alleging gotra violations. That was perhaps the first time that the Dhanak community had targeted one of its own. Until then, only a section of the Jat community was found raising vocal and violent objections on the grounds of gotra violations. It was because of the intervention of some Left and democratic organisations and the determination of the boy’s mother, a widow who threatened to commit suicide, that the panchayat finally relented.

The Bhupinder Singh Hooda government’s record in taking on illegal actions of caste groups is less than satisfactory. Such incidents are as common as they were before, but many of them go unreported.

“There are so many more important issues – such as dowry, domestic violence and livelihood issues. But we spend most of our energy and time fighting the unconstitutional fiats of these self-styled panchayats,” said Jagmati Sangwan, president of the State unit of AIDWA.

She pointed out that though the government had promised to set up shelters for couples who were being targeted by khap panchayats, to date not a single one had come up.

The Rohtak SSP told Frontline that harassed couples could stay in the police lines, sharing accommodation with other families until the government shelters came up. “We can’t provide independent accommodation for 2,000 couples overnight,” he said.

Her struggle for justice against honour killing

8 Mar

Divya Gandhi in THE HINDU

Sushma’s brother murdered her husband, three others to avenge their marriage

Bangalore: As the Women’s Reservation Bill rings in the centennial year of Women’s Day on a celebratory note, 25-year-old Sushma Tiwari’s story tells of an inspirational fight-back against a brutal form of patriarchy and caste oppression.



It has been a six-year legal battle for Sushma against the horrific ‘honour killing’ by her brother of almost her entire marital family: husband Prabhu Nochil, her father-in-law and two minors in their home near Mumbai, all to avenge her marriage into a family of a ‘lower’ caste. Sushma is from a Brahmin family of UP, and Prabhu, an Ezhava from Kerala.

Although the fast track sessions court in Maharashtra, and later the Bombay High Court, awarded the death penalty to Sushma’s brother Dilip Tiwari and his accomplices, the Supreme Court in December 2009 reduced the sentence to 25-year imprisonment.

This February, Sushma filed a review petition questioning the decision to let off the perpetrators of this heinous crime.

In 2004, seven months after the couple got married, Dilip and his associates massacred four members of the Nochil family, and grievously injured two others. A pregnant Sushma luckily escaped as she was visiting a relative.

The Supreme Court, explaining its decision to revoke the death sentence, said: “It is a common experience that when the younger sister commits something unusual and in this case it was an inter-caste, intercommunity marriage out of [a] secret love affair, then in society it is the elder brother who justifiably or otherwise is held responsible for not stopping such [an] affair.”

It added: “If he became the victim of his wrong but genuine caste considerations, it would not justify the death sentence… The vicious grip of the caste, community, religion, though totally unjustified, is a stark reality.”

“Totally illegal”

Sushma has challenged this reasoning, stating this perception “is wrong and totally illegal under our Constitution and various laws of the land like the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989” and “can never be made a ground for lessening a sentence. In fact, these feelings of caste hatred are themselves criminal…”

Her petition states: “In fact, mass killings based on the concept of ‘honour’ must be viewed by this Hon’ble Court as murders which must be given the highest deterrent sentence.”

In Bangalore recently to attend the National Young Women’s convention organised by the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), this resolute young woman told The Hindu that by reducing the sentence, the highest court of the land has sent out a wrong message to all those who wished to marry out of caste. “Even if not for my own safety or that of my five-year-old daughter Trishna, the death sentence must be upheld for the sake of humanity.”


7 Mar

Killed, aborted or neglected, at least 100m girls have disappeared—and the number is rising

Mar 4th 2010 | From The Economist print edition

IMAGINE you are one half of a young couple expecting your first child in a fast-growing, poor country. You are part of the new middle class; your income is rising; you want a small family. But traditional mores hold sway around you, most important in the preference for sons over daughters. Perhaps hard physical labour is still needed for the family to make its living. Perhaps only sons may inherit land. Perhaps a daughter is deemed to join another family on marriage and you want someone to care for you when you are old. Perhaps she needs a dowry.

Killed, aborted or neglected, at least 100m girls have disappeared—and the number is rising

Killed, aborted or neglected, at least 100m girls have disappeared—and the number is rising

Now imagine that you have had an ultrasound scan; it costs $12, but you can afford that. The scan says the unborn child is a girl. You yourself would prefer a boy; the rest of your family clamours for one. You would never dream of killing a baby daughter, as they do out in the villages. But an abortion seems different. What do you do?

For millions of couples, the answer is: abort the daughter, try for a son. In China and northern India more than 120 boys are being born for every 100 girls. Nature dictates that slightly more males are born than females to offset boys’ greater susceptibility to infant disease. But nothing on this scale.

For those who oppose abortion, this is mass murder. For those such as this newspaper, who think abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” (to use Bill Clinton’s phrase), a lot depends on the circumstances, but the cumulative consequence for societies of such individual actions is catastrophic. China alone stands to have as many unmarried young men—“bare branches”, as they are known—as the entire population of young men in America. In any country rootless young males spell trouble; in Asian societies, where marriage and children are the recognised routes into society, single men are almost like outlaws. Crime rates, bride trafficking, sexual violence, even female suicide rates are all rising and will rise further as the lopsided generations reach their maturity (see article).

It is no exaggeration to call this gendercide. Women are missing in their millions—aborted, killed, neglected to death. In 1990 an Indian economist, Amartya Sen, put the number at 100m; the toll is higher now. The crumb of comfort is that countries can mitigate the hurt, and that one, South Korea, has shown the worst can be avoided. Others need to learn from it if they are to stop the carnage.

The dearth and death of little sisters

Most people know China and northern India have unnaturally large numbers of boys. But few appreciate how bad the problem is, or that it is rising. In China the imbalance between the sexes was 108 boys to 100 girls for the generation born in the late 1980s; for the generation of the early 2000s, it was 124 to 100. In some Chinese provinces the ratio is an unprecedented 130 to 100. The destruction is worst in China but has spread far beyond. Other East Asian countries, including Taiwan and Singapore, former communist states in the western Balkans and the Caucasus, and even sections of America’s population (Chinese- and Japanese-Americans, for example): all these have distorted sex ratios. Gendercide exists on almost every continent. It affects rich and poor; educated and illiterate; Hindu, Muslim, Confucian and Christian alike.

Wealth does not stop it. Taiwan and Singapore have open, rich economies. Within China and India the areas with the worst sex ratios are the richest, best-educated ones. And China’s one-child policy can only be part of the problem, given that so many other countries are affected.

In fact the destruction of baby girls is a product of three forces: the ancient preference for sons; a modern desire for smaller families; and ultrasound scanning and other technologies that identify the sex of a fetus. In societies where four or six children were common, a boy would almost certainly come along eventually; son preference did not need to exist at the expense of daughters. But now couples want two children—or, as in China, are allowed only one—they will sacrifice unborn daughters to their pursuit of a son. That is why sex ratios are most distorted in the modern, open parts of China and India. It is also why ratios are more skewed after the first child: parents may accept a daughter first time round but will do anything to ensure their next—and probably last—child is a boy. The boy-girl ratio is above 200 for a third child in some places.

How to stop half the sky crashing down

Baby girls are thus victims of a malign combination of ancient prejudice and modern preferences for small families. Only one country has managed to change this pattern. In the 1990s South Korea had a sex ratio almost as skewed as China’s. Now, it is heading towards normality. It has achieved this not deliberately, but because the culture changed. Female education, anti-discrimination suits and equal-rights rulings made son preference seem old-fashioned and unnecessary. The forces of modernity first exacerbated prejudice—then overwhelmed it.

But this happened when South Korea was rich. If China or India—with incomes one-quarter and one-tenth Korea’s levels—wait until they are as wealthy, many generations will pass. To speed up change, they need to take actions that are in their own interests anyway. Most obviously China should scrap the one-child policy. The country’s leaders will resist this because they fear population growth; they also dismiss Western concerns about human rights. But the one-child limit is no longer needed to reduce fertility (if it ever was: other East Asian countries reduced the pressure on the population as much as China). And it massively distorts the country’s sex ratio, with devastating results. President Hu Jintao says that creating “a harmonious society” is his guiding principle; it cannot be achieved while a policy so profoundly perverts family life.

And all countries need to raise the value of girls. They should encourage female education; abolish laws and customs that prevent daughters inheriting property; make examples of hospitals and clinics with impossible sex ratios; get women engaged in public life—using everything from television newsreaders to women traffic police. Mao Zedong said “women hold up half the sky.” The world needs to do more to prevent a gendercide that will have the sky crashing down.|IPoltis

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