Articles for March 2007

Bonded labour: A slave for food in fast developing India

bonded worker
By: (vincent desjardins)

I read the shocking plight of Jawahar Manjhi, a farm labourer in Bihar, working for 27 years to reply a loan of about 40 kg of rice for a family wedding. Those 40kgs turned out to be slave food. They agreed that he would work for a day for each kilo. Even for a slave, food is still a necessity. Today, 27 years later, he has needed to borrow more rice, and is still working to repay his loan. The police are currently investigating this story, but if it turns out to be true, it will be another highlight on the huge economic and living conditions gap in the different social classes in India.

Bonded labour was banned in India in 1976 – some 30 years ago, but there have been few prosecutions of violators over the years. Anti Slavery International says that such exploitation is commonplace in India. And it is true isn’t it? Even Child Labour was taken strong action against last year, but how many people were actually caught? How many children were rescued? I have no clue. If anyone knows, I would welcome this information.

All I can see is that there are plenty of children still working on the streets – washing dishes on food stalls, selling newspapers, shining shoes, …….. So what has the law really done? It is not like isolated cases that the police miss. It was a huge thing for a couple of days, and then life was back to normal.

One incident I remember is the story of Palabakam in Tamil Nadu, a village of bonded slaves mostly belonging to the Irula tribe rescued from the rice mills in the year 2004 (I think). The government supported them after activists brought the matter right into their faces and made any other action an embarrassment. Otherwise, they had been happy to ignore the Irula plight and deny that there was any problem.

A more recent shocking incident is the cutting off of the hands of two labourers when they refused to work in brick kilns in Chattisgarh after being contracted to work in Andhra Pradesh.

Somewhere down the line, I think it comes down to all of us as citizens to speak up on the things we see happening as they shouldn’t around us. If we can file reports of every child labourer on the streets that we see, there will be a time when the police will be answerable for the sheer number of reports piled up and their progress against them. This is something we should be making an effort about.

Coping with grief

Yesterday, an unknown, aged housewife in one of the many buildings in Mumbai died. Virtually unknown to many, and the love of a devastated few, this was the typical loving grandmother and charming Indian housewife – the stuff indian dreams are made of. She left behind an aged husband, a son and daughter (both married) and three grand daughters from them in terms of immediate family, and countless more who had been enriched by her cheerful and affectionate presence in their lives. She was my grandmother.

I dedicate this portrait to the countless of beloved grandparents everywhere, and hope that their loved ones manage to tell them how precious they are, before it is too late.

She had led a difficult life. Leading the perpetually nomadic life of an armyman’s wife, and striving to care for her children, she would have settled afte her husband retired, only to be faced with a new adventure in life – her first granddaughter – me. With both parents working shifts, I grew up with my grandmother and was soon joined by my uncle’s daughters and the three of us grew in a world that childhood memories are made of, when its a riot of three kids, being looked after by doting grandparents.

Memories flood our minds as we struggle to comprehend this loss. Her unending enthusiasm for cricket, delight over new clothes and matching accessories she painstakingly managed, “celebrations” in the local restaurant, where all she would eat was the ordinary idlis, an aunt orphaned at an early age she also played mother too, her group of friends in the building she stayed in (ranging from 10 to 70 years of age), evenings spent in the society park, bullying three nauthgy girls to study, ……

My granfather seems lost. His constant companion of over 60 years, mother of his children, grandchildren, devoted wife, and old-age companion is gone. He still hadn’t understood it completely. He is silent most of the time, and when he speaks, he laughs and jokes like nothing has happened.

Yesterday, she was frail and still. Gone. our only satisfaction was that she had met all of her countless loved ones within her last month of life and was very happy.

I miss her, and wish that she had lived more, but that is my selfishness. I would never want her to leave me no matter how long she lived. It was time for her to go, and for us to face the terrible emptiness in the home with that one departure. I hope that the ones left behind find the strength to move on. I hope my grandfather survives this tremendous shock.

Mrs. Nalini Godbole, my beloved grandmother is no more, like the many other grandmothers who are missed desperately. I only hope that the grandmothers still with us know of our love for them and die as fulfilled as she was able to.

The Role of Women in Indian Society

Shy smile of a bride in a Hindu wedding by kunjan detroja

 

Shy smile of a bride in a Hindu wedding by kunjan detroja
Shy smile of a bride in a Hindu wedding by kunjan detroja

As a woman in Indian society, I find that the world is changing a lot in terms of acceptance of the many roles of women as professionals, as bread-earners in families and as independent thinking individuals. The traditional Indian woman has evolved to prove herself equal in many professions as well as proved better suited than men in others. The situation for the changing role of women is improving fast.

On the other hand, female foeticide, dowry deaths and domestic abuse provide a macabre background of primitive barbarism. In the typical Indian Society, you find that there are still expectations and assumptions about women that are not so much relevant to their current status, but a clear hangover from our supressive past. This may be more obvious with traditional women or women in rural societies, but it is extremely prevalent in urban ones as well.

I am speaking of “running the home” kind of stuff. Regardless of how hard the man and woman of the house work, when it comes to women and society, there are certain areas of the home that are the woman’s province in happy times and her nemesis in not so happy times.

“As the woman of the house, you should….” is a familiar refrain for most women in India.” Indian Women’s clothing is another externally imposed recommendation backed by vicious judgments. A pregnant woman is a public drop box for intrusive recommendations. I think, it is high time that we as citizens of modern India took a good hard look at our automatic assumptions and investigated which among these are still applicable today, and which ones we simply need to let go.

Typical situations we see include the woman bringing a cup of hot tea for her man returning from work, or the woman returning home after her husband and heading straight to the kitchen to cook dinner, and so on.

On an average, in any home where women are working, their income is also important to the well-being of the home and the living standards. Where it is not a question of money, it is generally possible to employ someone for the work in the house. So when we speak of a traditional role of a woman being responsible for the efficient running of her home, it is something we need to be aware of as an additional expectation made from her.

The traditional role of a man has been the one of earning the money for the running of the home. This has changed to a great extent. Working women contribute to the expenses of running their homes as well. However, there has been little contribution from men in terms of shouldering some of the responsibilities of women.

One interesting insight I received into this was from a friend. He said, “See, women find the outside world challenging and attractive. They like the freedom it brings to them. So they enter the world. There is no reason for a man to find the women’s traditional role appealing, so he doesn’t. No one has forced the women to step into the man’s role, and no one should force the men to step into a woman’s role”.

[bctt tweet=”There is no reason for a man to find the women’s traditional role appealing, so he doesn’t.”]

On the surface, this seems to strike sense. However, the flaw lies in an assumption of curent roles that are the same as traditional roles and that the women are entering “a man’s territory”. This simply doesn’t hold true in most cases today. Women are educated and often have their careers well before they get married and it is as much their right as the man’s work is his. However, the other part, where the men don’t find the house work appealing enough to invest effort in still holds true.

This is something that needs to be taken an honest assessment of. If we abandon the traditional perspective of division of responsibilities inside and outside the home (since it has already been broken in the outside the home area), we come to a situation where the couple are both inhabiting a home and earning and contrubuting toward its running. What we need to find is a sharing of responsibilities inside the home as well, that allows both some dignity.

This would also help resolve many situations where a man feels threatened by a working woman. Why wouldn’t he. She earns, she spends, she invests, and on top of that, she is independent in terms of being able to manage her own existence completely, including running of her own home.

[bctt tweet=”It does not empower men to be left incapable of managing the home they live in.”]

There is no point pushing the women down. What needs to happen is the removal of the “un-machoness” associated with responsibilities at home and recognise it as the actions of a responsible and independent individual, whether male or female. This would actually add some power to the increasingly “lazy” image of men among women and empower them with some self-respect, while empowering the women with acceptance and support from the one source that matters the most.

Please not that I am not speaking of every man out here. There are many couples who are already on this journey and find themselves comfortable both inside and outside the home, and the mutual respect and closeness can be seen a mile off in such couples.

I sincerely think that this is an important adaption that is the need of today’s times.

Foundling wheel in India?

Indira (Nancy), Greenfields SOS
By: J P Davidson

Female foeticide is a saddening problem in India. Infant girls are among the most vulnerable citizens of India. While many modern and educated families don’t really care about the sex of their children, rural families want boys. Girls are an unwelcome strain on the family finances for the dowry in their weddings, as well as incapable of physically standing up to the strain of labour intensive occupations like farming, which is the mainstay of India.

It is easy for us to sit in the cities and preach what should be, but to a poor, illiterate farmer (or stubborn orthodox family) it is the male child that matters. Whether it is for bringing in money as dowry, or staying in the home to care for parents in the old age, manage labour intensive occupations, carry on the family name, or just out of plain prejudice, but the fact remains that our words cannot change preferences of people.

It is extremely unethical to abort a child for being female. On the other hand, for a person without the understanding of ratios of males to females or even plain old fairness to their own progeny, it is something that is to be framed and worshipped, but not done.

I found the Indian government’s initiative toward adopting the unwanted girl children noteworthy. Here is something that can save some of those lives lost to orthodox preferences, but the one stumbling block in this that I see, is that very few people will be comfortable approaching someone to hand over their daughter and say that they don’t want her, even if it is true. This will be perceived as heartlessness, in a society where sin is not sin if it remains hidden from the world.

I read this article on how the ancient system of foundling wheels, where mothers could leave their babies in convents has been adopted by a hospital in Rome to help collect babies their mothers plan to abandon.

ROME, Feb. 27 — In the Middle Ages, new mothers in Rome could abandon their unwanted babies in a “foundling wheel” — a revolving wooden barrel lodged in a wall, often in a convent, that allowed women to deposit their offspring without being seen.

Now a Rome hospital, the Casilino Polyclinic, has introduced a technologically advanced version of the foundling wheel — not at all a wheel but very much like an A.T.M. booth. For the first time a new mother left her baby there on Saturday night, and on Monday the child, a boy about 3 months old, was doing well, said Dr. Piermichele Paolillo, who directs the neonatal unit at the hospital.

This is only a very small part of the article and I recommend all to read the whole thing.

This set me thinking. We have very strong plans in India to encourage adoption of female children to combat female foeticide. This would also enable parents who later had a change of heart to reclaim their daughters. A truly inspiring initiative. The government plans to adopt these girls in order to give them a life.

I remember thinking when this was announced about who would openly give up their girl children to orphanages. Surely, this itself would mean a social stigma, and the foeticide would only marginally be affected.

Could this system from ancient Rome be put to good use in this programme in India?

It would have several benifits. The anonimity would encourage people to use the facility without fearing social criticism, saving the lives of many unborn girls. The government would probably find larger support of its adoption scheme from rural organizations and people. The girls would get a life, rather than an abortion for fear of being saddled with a female child.

It would become far more easy to crack down on providers of illegal abortions, and providers who may be doing so under local pressure/demand would be able to advise their clients of this more acceptable alternative.

Based on records of dates of the child being left and DNA tests, parents who change their mind and want to claim their daughters would still be able to identify them.

I suspect, though I may be wrong, that the refusal of sex determination tests, with this option as the plan of action would allow the family to form an emotional bond with the unborn child rather than thinking of it as genetic currency, and perhaps, just perhaps, they would love her even after she was born, and would not want her to grow up an orphan.

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