Archive | May, 2010

No honour in murder

22 May

AMMU JOSEPH IN THE HINDU

Youngsters in certain parts of India today cannot choose their partners. If they still do and the choice violates arbitrary, extra-legal norms set down by caste panchayats, the consequence can be death. Isn’t it time we built a popular movement against the medieval practice of honour killings.

KHAP PANCHAYAT AND HONOR KILLINGS

KHAP PANCHAYAT AND HONOR KILLINGS

A newly-wed bride and her mother-in-law were killed and the groom seriously injured by the girl’s relatives in the Tarn Taran district of Punjab on May 11. According to the police, 19-year-old Gurleen Kaur’s naked body had deep cuts in the neck area, and her shoulder and fingers had been mutilated. Her father, brothers and uncles obviously thought this was fit punishment for her crime: marrying 25-year-old Amarpreet Singh against their wishes.

Around the same time, an 18-year-old girl, Rajni Sahu, was murdered by her family in Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh) after they discovered she was pregnant. Although her death was initially sought to be passed off as a suicide, her elder brother subsequently confessed that she was killed because she was determined to marry a neighbourhood boy despite her family’s disapproval. He told the media that he killed her “to safeguard the honour of our family.”

These are among the latest in the series of gruesome murders in the name of honour that have been reported from various parts of the country in recent months.

Will such so-called “honour killings” stop if the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 is amended to prohibit marriages within the same gotra? Unlikely. That may be the most publicised of the demands and threats issued by the Khap Mahapanchayat — a congregation of caste Panchayats from Jat strongholds in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan — in Kurukshetra on April 13, and subsequently elsewhere. But it was not the only one. They have also reportedly called for a ban on marriages within the same village and contiguous villages, as well as de-recognition of temple weddings uniting runaway couples.

Landmark judgment

The mythical gotra factor may have come to the fore because the Kurukshetra gathering was clearly triggered by the recent landmark judgment delivered by District and Sessions Judge Vani Gopal Sharma in Karnal (Haryana) in the case of Manoj and Babli Banwala, a young couple belonging to the same caste and gotra, who were murdered in 2007 because they dared to marry each other.

But, as scholar and activist Jagmati Sangwan has pointed out, not all honour killings even within Haryana involve same-gotra couples. According to her, the majority of the marriages condemned by Khap Panchayats are of couples who do not share a gotra.

Besides, even in a small state like Haryana, there are apparently areas and castes that permit intra-village and intra-gotra marriages, and do not have caste or Khap Panchayats. So the self-styled Khap Mahapanchayat cannot legitimately claim to represent all Hindu communities in Haryana, let alone the rest of India.

Most victims of “honour killings” reported from various parts of the country are young people who choose to love or marry outside their caste, sub-caste or religion. Not surprisingly, the socially and economically dominant castes are usually responsible for acts of reprisal against inter-caste relationships.

The bottom line is that, even today, many young lovers are punished — often with death — for having the temerity to fall in love across boundaries of caste or religion. Many caste groups, communities and families in several parts of the country still seem violently opposed to the right of young adults to choose a life partner (even though courts have upheld citizens’ right to select their significant other, including a same-sex partner). In the name of preserving “social order” and saving the “honour” of the community, caste or family, all kinds of justifications are pressed into service. If the same village or gotra obstacle does not apply, there is always something else: a man was killed in Haryana last year for violating the “customary” proscription of marriage between residents of neighbouring villages.

Against individual choice

Opposition to matrimonial autonomy is so endemic in certain areas that in June 2008 Justice K.S. Ahluwalia of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana called for State intervention. While simultaneously hearing several cases relating to couples in the 18-21 age group he observed that the court was “flooded with petitions” seeking judicial confirmation of “the right of life and liberty of married couples,” while the State remained “a mute spectator”. “When shall the State awake from its slumber [and] for how long can Courts provide solace and balm by disposing of such cases?” he asked.

The recent spate of deaths attributed to “honour killing” and the aggressive, unrepentant posturing of Khap leaders seem to have pushed at least some in the government into taking a more decisive stand on the issue than was common in the past (under any political dispensation). However, it is no secret that these caste-based, extra-legal bodies enjoy at least tacit support from a number of political leaders, civil servants, police officers, lawyers and even judges. Already two politicians from Haryana — one supposedly enlightened, the other definitely old school — have publicly sought to make peace with the increasingly combative Khaps, albeit with riders (which ring rather hollow).

Sangwan’s statement that “A legislature with little political will and a pliant executive will have to be made responsive under pressure of a mass movement” brings to mind a recent book by the woman who was largely responsible for catalysing a popular movement against honour killings in Jordan, one of the many countries where a life — especially a woman’s life — appears to be worth less than “honour.”

Award-winning Jordanian journalist Rana Husseini’s Murder in the Name of Honouris a passionate, powerful, provocative but remarkably positive and eminently readable book about the struggle against “honour killings” in her West Asian nation and the prevalence of the crime in several other countries, including the U.S., the U.K. and Europe. Drawing on her personal and professional experience, it vividly tells the fascinating story of her engagement with the subject from the day she followed up on a four-line report about a 16-year-old girl killed by her brother in one of Amman’s poorer areas. Like the “kitchen accident” briefs in the Indian press in the 1970s that turned out to be about dowry-related murders, such reports were common in the Arabic press. As a cub crime reporter with The Jordan Times, Husseini felt the need to further investigate such deaths.

Relentless coverage

Each terrible tale she uncovered (described in chilling detail in the book) strengthened her determination to become the voice of women murdered by their own relatives and to make so-called honour killings into a national issue. Her relentless reporting of every case she came across from mid-1994 onwards attracted public support as well as opposition — even threats of violence. In 1998 she received the Reebok Human Rights Award for her reporting and activism on the issue. The international spotlight generated a national debate which, in turn, led to a citizens’ movement aiming to not only raise local awareness about the horror of “honour crimes” but also demand changes in the law as well as tougher punishment for perpetrators.

Of the many interesting and inspiring aspects of the Jordanian struggle against “honour killings,” the one that impressed me most was the organisers’ attempts to involve different sections of society, including the economically and educationally disadvantaged in both urban and rural areas, in the effort to eliminate such crimes.

According to Husseini, “We used every method we could think of to collect as many signatures as possible — the Internet, faxes, free and paid ads in newspapers, as well as TV and radio interviews. It was tremendously exciting; we carried the petitions with us wherever we went and whatever we did, and we always caused a stir… I frequently went with my friends…to restaurants where we approached diners…and many gladly signed as we chatted. Then we asked the waiters, waitresses, cooks, cleaners and managers. Outside one restaurant I bumped into a garbage collector who asked me what I was doing. Once I explained, he said, ‘Of course I will sign. This is against our religion’.” Husseini’s mother, a librarian, asked everyone she came across wherever she went to sign the petition. In less than six months, the campaigners managed to collect 15,300 signatures from the general public (55 per cent male, 45 per cent female).

Of course, as she points out, the struggle against “honour killings” has to be home-grown because the nature and manifestation of the crime, the social, cultural, political and economic factors involved, and the legal context, are often distinct in the various places where it occurs, calling for different approaches in different societies. For example, in Jordan — and many other countries — “honour killings” are almost invariably crimes against women and girls. In India, although women are the primary targets, young men who ‘ dare’ to transgress prescribed social boundaries are often not spared either.

Striking similarities

But there are similarities, too. According to Husseini, some influential and powerful people in Jordan, such as parliamentarians, judges, lawyers and policemen, believe that perpetrators of “honour killings” deserve leniency because everyone has the right to protect their family’s honour. In India, Sushma (Tiwari) Nochil has had to seek a review of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to commute to life imprisonment the death penalty awarded to her brother and his associates, who had murdered her husband and most members of his family. The judgment seemed to suggest that the patriarchal and casteist factors motivating the killers could be considered mitigating circumstances.

Likewise, if we have the Khap Mahapanchayat, they have the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. If they have their conservative deputies, we have our regressive members of Parliament and, unfortunately, we both face “a great deal of apathy and laissez-faire from various parliamentarians.”

But here’s an advantage they have that we don’t. According to Husseini, several members of the Jordanian royal family signed the campaign petition; King Abdullah and Queen Raina have spoken out against so-called crimes of honour; Queen Noor has consistently fought to end violence against women in general and honour crimes in particular; the late King Hussein made a passionate plea in Parliament for an end to violence against women, besides pushing for changes in the laws offering leniency to perpetrators of honour killings; his brother, Prince Hassan, was one of the first royals to address the issue in the mid-1990s; two days after the legislative battle was lost in Parliament in 1999, Prince Ali (King Abdullah’s brother) called for a public march to Parliament in protest against the deputies’ decision to vote against the proposed amendments — and led it himself.

Monarchy may be passé in India but we have no dearth of modern-day royals in a number of fields such as politics, cinema, sports and business. Will they step up and speak out on an issue like murder in the name of honour?

Horrifying numbers

Honour killing is a somewhat misleading term for a ritualised form of murder precipitated by the aggressor’s perceived loss of “honour.” The perpetrators are generally male and the victims most often female. Some sections of society consider such crimes understandable, if not justifiable.

There is no nationwide data on the prevalence of honour killing in India; the National Crime Records Bureau does not collect separate data on the crime since it is not yet separately classified under Indian law. However, according to the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) there were 103 cases of honour killings in Haryana alone within a period of four months in 2007. If that figure can be extrapolated to assume that the annual toll in the state is about 300, the total across the three states reporting the largest number of cases at the time (Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh) would be 900 per annum. If another 100-300 are added for the rest of the country, the figure for India would be about the same as estimates for Pakistan, which some researchers suggest has the highest per capita incidence of honour killings in the world.

Global phenomenon

This form of violence is a global phenomenon, prevalent in a number of countries. Ten years ago the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated the annual world-wide number of “honour killing” victims at 5,000. But that is probably an underestimate since many cases go unreported, while many more are disguised as suicides, accidents and disappearances. Between 2000 and 2004 the UN General Assembly adopted three resolutions reflecting international commitment to working towards the elimination of crimes against women committed in the name of honour, with the third acknowledging that girls, too, are victims of such crimes.

Ancient claims

Gotra is a term applied to a clan, a group of families, or a lineage — exogamous and patrilineal — whose members trace their descent from a common male ancestor, usually a sage of ancient times. Believed to have begun to consolidate around 10-8 Century B.C., the present-day gotra classification is supposed to have been created from a core of eight rishis. Same-gotra marriages were declared legally valid by the Bombay High Court as far back as in 1945 in the Madhavrao vs. Raghavendrarao case involving a Deshastha Brahmin couple. Two reputed judges — Harilal Kania (who became the first Chief Justice of independent India) and P.B. Gajendragadkar (who went on to become the Chief Justice of India in the 1960s) — examined several court verdicts, consulted the writings of leading experts and quoted from Hindu scriptures in their ruling on whether a ‘sagotra’ (same-gotra) marriage was valid under Hindu law/custom. They concluded that it was.

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Outside the law

18 May

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI IN THE FRONTLINE

Khap panchayats want the Hindu Marriage Act amended to prevent same-gotra marriages.

ON May 9, Naveen Jindal, the young and highly educated Member of Parliament from Kurukshetra in Haryana, was in a dilemma over having to take a stand on the issue of same- gotra marriages after khap panchayats, or caste councils, threatened to lay siege to his residence. The next day, in order to avoid an impending political embarrassment, he attended a meeting of the sarva khap panchayat at Kaithal district as if to extend support to their demands. That ruffled a few feathers.

Of late, khap panchayats have been demanding an amendment to certain sections of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, in order to prohibit same- gotra marriages. The immediate context is the March 30 verdict in the sensational two-and-a-half-year-old Manoj-Babli murder case in which a Karnal court awarded the death sentence to five persons. The court also sentenced to life imprisonment two others, one of whom was a khap panchayat leader of the Barwala gotra. Manoj and Babli, both Jats, had apparently violated the norms of village and gotra exogamy and were brutally done to death. A dominant khap in the area had ordered that the couple be killed.

Ever since the judgment, khap panchayats have been on the offensive, perhaps fearing similar verdicts in other cases of honour killing. On April 13, representatives of over 20 khaps met at Kurukshetra and demanded a ban on same- gotra marriages.

Section 29 of the Hindu Marriage Act validates same- gotra marriages. The section, titled “Savings”, says that “a marriage solemnised between Hindus before the commencement of this Act, which is otherwise valid, shall not be deemed to be invalid or ever to have been invalid by reason only of the fact that the parties thereto belonged to the same gotra or pravara or belonged to different religions, castes or subdivisions of the same caste”. Though the Act lists degrees of prohibited relationships, it accepts that under customary law certain marriages are valid. For instance, in certain parts of South India, marriages between cousins (children of a brother and sister) and between a man and his sister’s daughter are common and valid by custom.

Also, recognising the plurality of customs in the country, Section 5 (Sub-section 4) of the Act says that a marriage between two Hindus can be solemnised if the parties are not sapindas (meaning, of the same body) of each other, unless the custom or usage governing each of them permits of a marriage between the two. The sapinda relationship with reference to any person extends as far as the third generation in the line of ascent through the mother and fifth in the line of ascent through the father. Khap panchayats want the Act to be amended to disallow same- gotra marriages and it is in this context that they met their elected representative.

A cornered Jindal, in a letter to the khap representatives, acknowledged the existence of khap panchayats since the time of rulers such as Asoka and Harshavardhana and said they had always given a “new direction” to society. He declared his support to them by saying that the panchayats had been rendering yeoman service to society by resolving people’s problems even before the present-day legal system came into existence. As if to balance his unqualified support of their undemocratic diktats, he urged them to take up issues such as female foeticide and dowry.

The young MP made certain pronouncements that indirectly supported the actions of such panchayats. What is shocking in the entire episode is that while khap panchayats have been known to impose their cruel writ on young couples going for inter-caste, inter- gotra or even inter-religious marriages, enforce social and economic boycotts and humiliate families – more so if they happened to be poor as well – this was the first time that an elected representative was bulldozed into taking a position on same- gotra marriages.

Significantly, no one in the Congress party to which Jindal belongs condemned or protested when the khap panchayats threatened to lay siege to his house. It was as if Jindal had to fight his own battle.

However, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda broke his silence a few days later, clarifying that khaps would not be allowed to take the law into their own hands. But he remained non-committal on the issue of same- gotra marriages.

The central leadership of the Congress took a more radical view of the matter and broke its silence when confronted with Jindal’s stance. It claimed that his statements were an “expression of opinion by an honourable Member of Parliament” and that there was no change in the party’s stand on the matter, which, according to party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi, was that “no customary law or practice can be excused or condoned in any manner if it involves killing of any kind in the name of honour, tradition or heritage”.

The Union Law Ministry has refrained from taking a head-on position regarding the banning of khap panchayats. But, in what seems to a progressive move, in line with what women’s organisations have been demanding for long, the Ministry appears to be seriously contemplating to do away with the 30-day notice period required to register marriages, including inter-caste, inter-community and inter-religious ones, solemnised under the Special Marriage Act, 1954.

The one-month time was often used to track down and harass couples. Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily has overruled the question of making any change to the Hindu Marriage Act, and indicated that a strong deterrent against khaps issuing death diktats would be set in place. However, khap panchayats have been aggressive in their demand to amend the Act. The representatives of 20 khaps who met at Kurukshetra on April 13 challenged the Karnal court judgment and declared that they would collect money on behalf of those who had been sentenced to death and life imprisonment.

Observers feel that the forthcoming panchayat and municipal elections are one reason for the sudden caste-based mobilisation. On May 2, khap panchayats, in a meeting held at Pai in Kaithal district, gave all elected representatives in the State a month’s notice to support their demand.

On May 4, Satbir Chahal, the organiser of the Akhil Bharatiya Jat Swabhimaan Sangathan and the Sarvajatiya Committee (all-caste committee), said that if the demand to amend the Act was not met, tough decisions would be taken at the all-caste panchayat meeting at Jind on May 23. He also announced that the panchayat would not allow the hanging of those who had been sentenced to death in the Manoj-Babli case. According to newspaper reports, representatives from 84 khaps attended the meeting.

The organisation also expressed annoyance with the Congress leadership for labelling Jindal’s views as personal. It has asked the Congress to clarify its position on same- gotra marriages.

Not surprisingly, former Chief Minister and Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chautala has taken up the issue. He not only supported the demand for amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act but opined that such marriages were not right “medically or scientifically”. His stand is surprising as his own village, Chautala, has witnessed such marriages.

Om Prakash Chautala also said that he would bring up a proposal in the Assembly regarding the same. He has found an ally in Congress Rajya Sabha member Shadilal Batra, who has supported the demand for an amendment to the Act.

That leaders of the two mainstream parties in the State have taken a stand favouring khap panchayats is a matter of concern. This will have repercussions in neighbouring States such as Rajasthan and Punjab and in western Uttar Pradesh, where Jats as a caste group are dominant.

“It is ridiculous. If couples in love are willing to give up their lives to get married, they will find ways of marrying one way or the other, including outside the Hindu Marriage Act. I don’t know what these groups and political parties are trying to prove,” said Inderjit Singh, State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), adding that the current trajectory of caste identity politics was worrisome.

Parallel system

It maybe recalled that soon after the infamous Mirchpur incident on April 21, where 18 Dalit homes were torched and a physically challenged girl and her father killed, khaps rallied in support of those arrested in the arson. Many quarters view with concern the attempt to create a parallel law and order system that goes beyond honour killings.

“After a long history of struggles, the Special Marriage Act was amended to allow for inter-caste, inter-religious and inter-community marriages. Under the Hindu Marriage Act too, the consent of a person to get married became essential and gotra marriages were not included within the degrees of relationships that were prohibited. It was recognised that a gotra involved a large number of people – their numbers running into lakhs – who were not necessarily direct or indirect relations of each other. Section 29 of the Act specifically provided that marriages between persons of the same gotra or pravara would not be invalidated,” said Kirti Singh, senior lawyer in the Supreme Court of India.

Formerly a member of the Law Commission of India, Kirti Singh said that the issues at stake included the rights of young people to get married according to their choice and to decide when they should get married. Khaps, she said, wanted the Act amended in order to justify their violent acts against young couples in the name of protecting custom and tradition.

http://www.flonnet.com/stories/20100604271111800.htm

Audit shock

18 May

PURNIMA S. TRIPATHI IN THE FRONTLINE

A social audit on the working of the ban on child labour in the domestic and hospitality sectors reveals a sorry state of affairs.

LIKE any normal child, Illyas from Varanasi, a 13-year-old, wanted to go to a regular school and become an important man some day. But poverty forced him to start working at an eatery for Rs.200 a day so that he could feed his younger siblings. He, however, continues his studies as well and is in class V. But his naive question stupefies all who hear it: “Shouldn’t the government help children like us to go to a school without working?”

Sanjay from Kursela, Bihar, has not been so lucky. Almost the same age as Illyas, he had to give up studies after class IV, when his father took ill, to take care of his three younger siblings. He earns Rs.900 a month, gets free food and supports his two younger brothers’ education.

Fifteen-year-old Nagaraju from Alware village, Nalgonda, Andhra Pradesh, works as a cleaner at a hotel for Rs.1,500 a month plus abuses and beatings. This poor boy supports the education of his elder sister, who has completed her intermediate and is planning to go for higher studies. His sister’s education, he hopes, will one day end his troubles.

Pooja, 13, from Lohanipur, Patna, cooks for a living and earns Rs.800 a month. Her three siblings work for food. She supports her mother, who turned mentally unstable after her husband abandoned her.

These heart-wrenching tales of real children were narrated at a public hearing on the working of the ban on child labour in the domestic sector and in the hospitality industry, which has been in force since October 2006. The public hearing, which was held in New Delhi on April 30, was the culmination of a nationwide social audit.

Looking at the sorry state of affairs in the country as far as child rights are concerned, one can see why there is an anguished cry for justice for children. The social audit, carried out by the Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL) and the Campaign Against Child Trafficking (CACT) in association with over 30 non-governmental organisations working for child rights, covered 12 States – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Goa, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. It brought out a mind-boggling, countrywide tale of apathy, insensitivity and indifference.

Quoting official sources such as the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India, the social audit report puts the number of children employed in the domestic sector at 1.86 lakh and in the hospitality industry at 70, 934. In all, over 2.56 lakh children work in the domestic and hospitality sectors. Unofficial sources, however, put the figure at around 20 million.

Compared with the enormity of the problem, the response of the authorities to the social audit was poor, even hostile, the report says. This is evident from the figures given of the number of children rescued in various States since the ban came into effect. Andhra Pradesh, which was more forthcoming with information than other States, rescued five children in 2006, 97 in 2007, 242 in 2008 and 62 in 2009. Bihar, which gave the figures for 2008 and 2009 only, rescued 474 and 1,404 children respectively. Delhi, where roughly 50,000 child workers are engaged in these two sectors, four children were rescued in 2006, 91 in 2007, 33 in 2008, and no figures are available for 2009. In Jharkhand, only 12 children from domestic sector and 15 from the hotel industry have been rescued since 2006. Madhya Pradesh simply gave no information. It was discovered by those carrying out the audit that either the States did not have the information or they did not want to divulge it and, therefore, kept shunting the auditors from one department to another.

On the basis of the meagre information received from the States (only 10 out of 12 responded), the auditors figured out that out of a total of 5,096 children rescued since October 2006, only 3.04 per cent of the children were reported to be from the domestic sector and the rest were from dhabas and roadside eateries\hotels. The figures for the number of children rehabilitated are equally dismal. “This speaks volumes about the attention being paid to the problem by our law-enforcement agencies,” one of the auditors said.

The public hearing once again threw light on the stark realities of an apathetic society, a callous government machinery and toothless laws, which have resulted in the social malaise called child labour. This is rampant across the country, in homes and in innumerable eateries, dhabas and hotels, though such employment has been banned by law.

The jury at the public hearing comprised Syeda Hameed, Member, Planning Commission; R.K. Raghavan, former Director, Central Bureau of Investigation; Vimala Ramachandran, educationist; Ashok Arora, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court; and Arvind Kejriwal, Right to Information (RTI) activist and Magsaysay Award winner. Its unanimous verdict on the functioning of the ban on child labour in the domestic and hospitality sectors: “A failure.”

The public hearing was attended by eminent citizens, senior members from the media, senior government officials and child rights activists; 68 children were present, and 20 of them deposed before the jury. The jury noted: “It was clear that many children were forced into employment because of extremely adverse economic conditions at home. Some were orphans and some had only a single parent. The majority wanted to pursue education but had no option but to work to earn and support the rest of the family.… What was galling was the physical treatment meted out to some of them in a domestic environment. Those who perpetrated violence on the child workers included a software engineer and a banker. This indicates the gravity of the problem. Even those who are educated and are well employed are insensitive to child rights and the latter’s need to be treated with kindness and extreme care.”

With regard to the poor implementation of child rights laws, the jury observed: “The enforcement of existing laws has been tardy. For example, there are about 50,000 child workers in Delhi; only 23 of them are known to have been rescued. The need of the hour is to sensitise the enforcement machinery in order to make sure that the existing laws and provisions are well implemented in letter and spirit. At present, there is little accountability for implementation. The Ministry of Labour should devise means for bringing in this accountability.”

Stating that the existing laws on child rights were ineffective even in the rare circumstances when they were implemented, the jury noted that these could be made stringent so that they acted as a deterrent. It recommended making offences under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, cognisable and emphasised the need to sensitise the community at large on issues relating to child rights.

“Aren’t we all guilty? When we haggle with the autorickshaw driver and pay him Rs.2 less, or when we pay our maid a few hundred rupees less, aren’t we forcing them to send their children out for work?” asked Kejriwal. According to him, we are all directly or indirectly responsible for the current sorry state of children in India, and unless the attitude of society changes, child labour will continue to be prevalent. Added to this is the obfuscation of laws, which makes even existing provisions almost ineffective. “The law should be made more effective, offences under child labour laws should be made non-bailable, and the law-enforcing agencies should be made more accountable for their implementation,” he said.

The problem is compounded by the fact that there is little clarity about its real nature. Should it be treated as a labour issue or as a child rights and protection issue? “Child labourers are children in need of care and protection… but the Labour Ministry continues to deal with the issue of child labour by way of regulating it in some sectors and limiting its role to the rescue of children from hazardous sectors only, whereas the need of the hour is to address the problem in a holistic manner as an issue of children’s right to protection,” said Rajmangal Prasad, national convener, CACT. Moreover, he said, recognising the criminality of the offence would also lead to a shift in the attitude of the authorities and civil society at large, and that would happen only by making it a cognisable offence.

Another aspect that needs to be taken care of is the rehabilitation of children who are taken off work. “Most of the children employed in the domestic and hospitality sectors are there because of adverse financial conditions at home, so rehabilitation should be a key component of any programme aimed at such children,” said Rajmangal Prasad. The report says that rehabilitation programmes for children rescued from work are extremely inadequate, resulting in children falling back into the same trap after being rescued. The audit report cites the annual report of the Ministry of Labour, which itself says that under the National Child Labour Project (NCLP), catering to children rescued from hazardous sectors, the 9,000 schools being run for them have an enrolment of only 0.45 million children, and only 0.48 million have been mainstreamed since the NCLP was initiated in 1998. This gives rise to the big question: “Where is all the money being put into such programmes going? Who are the children benefiting from such projects?” The social auditors of the CACL and the CACT got no answer from the authorities, nor do government reports say anything about it.

“Revamping the existing child labour elimination programmes and investing adequately in new and holistic and need-based interventions is the need of the hour,” the audit report says.

But, as Kejriwal puts it, are we not all, as members of a responsible civil society, responsible for the sorry state of many such children? Unless the attitude of society as well as the law-enforcing agencies changes, nothing will change for these Illyases, Sanjays, Nagarajus and Poojas.

They slog and slave, yet get a pittance

5 May

They slog and slave, yet get a pittance

They slog and slave, yet get a pittance

MEERA RAMESH IN THE HINDU

We have a housemaid. She is less than 45 years of age. But she is already a grandmother. She would be barely reaching five feet at her highest and tipping the scale at maybe 50 kg. She lives in a single-room tenement on the fifth floor of one of the apartment complexes constructed by the previous governments with so much fanfare, but now sadly lacking in maintenance and is a source of worry for all the inhabitants as to when suddenly the whole structure might come down.

Lifts are unheard of in tenements, so she has to climb up and down the five flights of stairs at least three or four times a day. She was married once. But her husband turned out to be a great devotee of liquor shops, where he blew the family income. She left him. Her daughter and her granddaughter stay with her. Her son-in-law followed in his father-in-law’s footsteps and turned out to be another ardent devotee of liquor. She rises at 4.30 in the morning so that she can supply milk sachets to about 30 households. This is an everyday chore whether it rains or shines or she feels sick. Excuses could mean her losing a client and income. She manages to earn about Rs 1,500 a month on this enterprise. When she completes the delivery of milk, she will have some time to have her morning meal of rice soaked in water along with salt, chillies, onion and, maybe, coconut chutney. If she is lucky, she would have something a little more nutritious, depending on the generosity of the women in whose households she works.

She works in four households where she has to sweep and swab the floor, and wash dirty dishes and used clothes. In the mornings and quite often in the evenings too. It does not leave her with much time to eat in peace or rest. Or do any of her own chores. She manages to earn about Rs. 3,000 from these jobs as a maid. In the present day and age, a sum of Rs. 4,500 is not enough to make both ends meet. So irrespective of how tired she is, to supplement her income, she visits the wholesale market for flowers to supply households and make some extra cash.

She has no leave. No holidays. No medical benefits. No PF or gratuity. She ekes out a living as long as she has good health. But this woman brings comfort to four households and makes a qualitative difference to them. They are spick and span. They escape the drudgery of menial chores. They have time to do their own work. To be neat and tidy, and to enjoy themselves. All because of one overworked, underfed and underpaid woman! There are thousands and thousands of such persons bringing comfort and ease to millions of households. In the evenings, I watch the IPL matches with my husband. It is a battle between the ball and the bat. The ball is a white, round leather object. And the bat is a piece of wood with a handle. The wielders of the bat and the ball are paid humungous amounts of money. For a pursuit, an exercise which in no way has any qualitative impact on the lives of me or the other millions of households. Apart from being a spectacle, it has no relevance to or impact on our day-to-day life. My question is why a person like my maidservant, or an auto driver, a bus driver, conductor, and many others who bring comfort to us and make our lives so much easier get such meagre earnings. While a useless pursuit like throwing around a leather object or hitting the object with a wooden implement should be rewarded so exorbitantly. Mind you, if there is no IPL it would make no difference to our lives, But without the maid and the others I mentioned, life would be miserable. Is this injustice god-made or man-made? If it is god-made, then god has a weird sense of justice. If man-made, then it is time something is done about it. Is it any wonder that radical philosophies have so many takers?

http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/article419466.ece

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