14

Walking down the street near the old Ajmera School in Borivli West today, I came across this:

Dog at leaking water connection

In case the picture isn’t clear, this is a dog drinking at a leaking water connection. Take a close look:

Dog licking the tap all around

I couldn’t get a better picture. It got scared and ran away. Actually, when I saw it, there were two dogs drinking there, mouth to mouth. It actually was looking very pretty, like a pose for a photo. Unfortunately, the minute I showed even a little attention, this one got wary and the other one plain ran away. So I had only one model to shoot.

I find a couple of things very disturbing about this. One is the attention given to leaking taps. In a country, rather world, where drinking water is an issue, this connection was leaking like a regular tap left on. I wonder how many of these are in Mumbai, and how much of the water crisis could be solved by simply getting them repaired. In an area that looks pretty parched from the summer, the gutter next to it had about 3-4 inches of water in it, which dried out about 5 meters or so, on both sides from the tap. Obviously this little oasis was from the tap.

The other thing I find disturbing is that a bunch of street dogs are drinking straight from the water connection that probably comes to my home too. How’s that for maintaining the purity of drinking water? Hardly anyone in Mumbai boils or filters drinking water, as it is generally very safe to drink. Could freak accident epidemics be happening from incidences like this?

If I make a complaint, I dare say a standard complacent reply will be issued with someone assuring me that it will be repaired – eventually – one fine day. If I speak about contamination and stuff, they will bring to my notice that water is flowing out, not into the system, so the chances of contamination are low. Government departments are well practiced in the art of deflecting anything that would mean actually taking prompt action. It is very comfortable to continue on auto pilot.

But I will still be making that complaint and following up on it personally till the problem is solved. It’s the least I can do about the water problems we are facing.

Also disturbing to me, is the fact that if I can walk around for half an hour almost anywhere in Mumbai, I’m likely to find a broken/damaged/leaking public tap, connection or pipe or similar. How much water we as a city are really wasting? WHY?

And the thing that gives me the creeps is that my home is quite far from any main water supply of the city. How many such “compromised” points lie between the purification unit and main tanks and the water that reached my tap? Should I really be drinking this water at all? And, in a developing country, with a reputation for most of the public not having access to drinking water, is the little public that is supposed to have it, also not really getting it?

How much quality can be added to existing water supply facilities simply by including careful maintenance and strict hygiene?

I hope anyone reading this makes it a point to promote awareness of this among people they know. We as a people can report every single point we find that wastes water and opens the main supply for contamination and insist on action.

For a long time, Kashmir has been a thrown in the sides of India, Pakistan and Kashmir. Countless men losing their lives, exhorbitant amounts of money spent, arguments, claims, hopes and anger. Its been pver 50 years. The issue is still on.

The world watches with bated breath as the two nuclear armed rivals try and figure life out and hope that the nuclear part of it remains in firmly in the capability rather than the use. It seemed hopeless for a long time. 3 wars, numerous hot moments and endless peace efforts later, no one really sees hope.

I remember being on a discussion forum, where the people of India and Pakistan were arguing desperately about how Kashmir belongs to them. Each side with strong versions of the "truth" and every option under the sky being pulled out for an airing.

I remember a comment I made that got me very strong hatred from my compatriots. I had said, "If it was within my power, and if it would bring peace, I would happily gift Kashmir to Pakistan." Regardless of the history, regardless of what is right, my heart bleeds for the people of the land who have forgotten what a normal llife is all about. Its ages since they have been able to trust strangers, seen a society without soldiers, or felt truly safe in their own land. But even if I could gift it, I couldn't bring happiness. There are people who want to be with India, there are those who would like to join Pakistan and then there are those who want independence. All of them can't be happy with my "gift".

It is true attrocities have been committed by both countries. By militants or by armed forces. It is true that Hindus and Muslims have both known a lot of fear and pain and death in this place. But that has already happened. We can choose to harp on about it, or to move on ensuring that it will not happen again.

For a long time I have even avoided thinking about Kashmir because of the helplessness I feel. I feel frustrated to see politicians sitting safely in Delhi and Islamabad and deciding the moves on the fates of those living the problem. Frustrated, because I haven't seen any result that will ease the situation of the Kashmiris.

Finally, I found a thread of hope. I came across this news article about Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan's visit to India and the progress made in the talks. For the first time, I found a no nonsense willingness to leave aside age old perceptions and assumptions and actually take things as they come from across the border. There is a trust that moves me with hope. I only hope that the Indian Government live up to this trust, and both countries build up on it to move toward a resolution on this festering sore.

I'm quoting the article here, Its worth a read:

ISLAMABAD: Faced with a volley of questions by an accusing Pakistan media over his reported statements during a visit to India, Kashmiri leader Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan stuck to his guns, saying the truth about cross-border militant training camps could not be hidden, nor could anyone find fault with his desire for peace in Kashmir, and that the United Nations resolutions were "obsolete."

Returning from New Delhi on Thursday, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir drove straight to meet the media in the capital, presumably to clear the air over his statements that have been slammed by Kashmiri Opposition parties here.

The ageing leader, also known as the First Mujahid, said it was "a fact that there were training camps [for militants] in Pakistan and in Azad Kashmir [Pakistan Occupied Kashmir]."

"Speak the truth"

"It was in the open. We cannot keep something like this under wraps. The Americans can give you all the details about these camps. These things cannot be kept hidden in this day and age. We should speak the truth, or we will be exposed as liars," Mr. Khan said.

But, the Kashmiri leader said, he had been misreported as saying these were "terrorist" training camps, while he had stressed the camps were for "freedom fighters."

He said he had also pointed out that President Pervez Musharraf had closed down the training camps and that there was no more infiltration into India. His purpose in India was to attend an intra-Kashmir "hear-to-heart" dialogue, where he asked for free movement of Kashmiris, intra-Kashmir trade and peace, Mr. Khan said.

"We have wasted 50 years in discussing a final solution, and got nothing in return but bloodshed and suffering for Kashmiris. There should be no more discussion on this. Rather we should focus on tackling the situation on the ground in Kashmir, where people are dying. If we focus on the process, improve the atmosphere, it will lead to the solution by itself," Mr. Khan said. "No one can disagree with my point-by-point demands for free movement, trade and peace."

Asked about Indian "inflexibility" to Gen. Musharraf's famous four-point proposals, Mr. Khan shot back, "They gave me a visa even though they considered me as enemy number one. Is this is not flexibility?"

Mr. Khan praised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and said he was on the right track towards finding a solution to the Kashmir issue. "My impression is that a good environment is being created for a solution to Kashmir, and to take the peace process forward, and the Indian Prime Minister is making all efforts. The round table conference discussed all the issues, and I think they are serious. They are working on demilitarisation, on opening of routes, so these are within the parameters suggested by President Musharraf," he said.

The APHC should have attended the New Delhi roundtable because no Kashmiri should refuse the opportunity to present his point of view, Mr. Khan said.

The U.N. resolutions on Kashmir were "obsolete." He pointed out they were only recommendations. "Do you want to keep harping about them until the last Kashmiri is killed?" he asked a reporter who questioned him on this.

When the reporters pressed him about India's "unyielding" stand, Mr. Khan urged Pakistanis to stop thinking of India "as a municipal committee" which had "not done this or that." Describing India as "10 times a bigger country," he said it would have to keep its "own commitments" in mind before taking any step and could not be pushed around.

He said there was no question of India "trapping" Pakistan in a peace process. "We fail ourselves on many occasions, and blame India for nothing."

In a country where watching films without vulgar dances is incomplete, we are quick to take offense at public figures. Richard Gere and Shilpa Shetty in the recent limelight are an example.

What happens to caring about the AIDS and HIV campaign they were pushing? Well, a kiss happened. Right on stage, in the middle of the public eye, Richard Gere did a move similar to one from his film "Shall we Dance"? Ok, so the Indian crowds may not have seen the film, and thought it was all real. They got offended - of course! Being offended comes easy to our public and its easy.

Its easier than spending brain time and effort about the subject of why Gere and Shetty were on stage in the first place. In a country threatened by HIV, where the government is coming out of its own modesty to encourage frankness and promoting condoms openly, the real sum total of this particular effort went down the drain with all focus shifted to one impulsive action.

They both apologized. Shilpa Shetty herself was taken aback. Gere went to the extent of saying that she was not to blame and he did it impulsively. An apology is an apology. He apologized to the public for exposing them to something that hurt their sentiments. What is the country still harping about?

Gere is not an Indian. What he did, to him was a simple impulsive action. It was on stage and it was a copy of an action he had done in a film of his. I can see our stars doing all sorts of things on stage, publicly, and so on in public shows. Does he have to take part in a Bollywood film for him to get away with this?

Suddenly all these righteous people whose most notable achievement seems to be criticism, forget the good he is doing. The man is a regular visitor to India for years. A follower of the Dalai Lama. He is interested not only in his enjoyment in our country as a tourist, but is taking part in initiatives to help our society for the better in many ways. He donates to charities working here. Even when he got this severe reaction for his action, he was working to create awareness about HIV and AIDS among the citizens of this very country that is yelling for him to be arrested.

The tolerance we Indians claim to be so proud of is just parrot talk. We yell at the Liz Hurley wedding, we make a noise about an inter-religious love marriage, we have an issue with Mandira Bedi having a religious symbol tatoo...... where is our tolerance for people simply living their lives and not harming another person? How does it matter to us what ceremony a person marries with, if that is what s/he wants? How does it matter to us if two people are in love and want to marry but are not from the same religion? How does it matter to us if someone finds a religious symbol beautiful and worthy of a place on her body? And how does it matter at all to a country bred on regular vulgarity in films, if one star kisses another on stage? What IS the harm coming to us or the society from this?

Where are the morality guys, when tiny kids regularly perform dances loaded with sexual innuendo (like the originals) on dance shows? Or is it ok if its kids doing it? Or is it just about kisses? Or is it just about a foreigner kissing an Indian woman publicly? I have no issue with those either. I only find it strange that we expect a foreigner to be aware of and follow our morality even in impulsive actions, when we are otherwise completely ok with it. This reminds me of the fatwa against Pakistani Tourism Minister for hugging her sky diving instructor. Is that the route we want to go as a country?

Both Shilpa Shetty and Gere are naturally upset with this turn of events. It is rather scary to stick your neck out hoping to create some useful awareness in the viewers, and another to get pulled to bits by the same people over some impulsive mistake.

In any case, it makes no sense to be more offended by displays of affection than violence - something the moral zealots usually are fine with.

9

The transgendered community is a world of its own, intersecting with the "normal" in a garish parody of revulsion and macabre fascination that leaves no room for them to be anything other than objects to project society's prejudices on.

Who in India hasn't encountered these clapping, lewd "female" looking presumably males? Indian hijras are a right menace in most public areas, traffic signals, parks, even homes, if they catch wind of celebrations happening. What is this scene really? Who are these people?

Obviously, they are men, dressed as women, but what is behind that obvious first experience?

Eunuchs have traditionally been guardians of harems, in the times of kings, as I recall from some ancient books. So they seem to have existed for a long time. Many people believe blessings and curses from castrated hijras to be particularly potent, so that gives them a chance to make a living out on the streets in a glorified form of begging, peddling their good wishes and threatening with curses to get money from people passing. Others get together as a group with musical instruments and fancy clothes and perform song and dance routines at weddings and other auspicious occasions and earn slightly better. Still others work as prostitutes.

Until I had the fortune to meet some really interesting people among them, I really hadn't spared them a thought beyond fury if they tried to get pushy with me. Then I met Geeta, and recently, Anjali and Sunita. I came to know the people behind these threatening personalities. They work toward bringing reform in the lives of the transgender community, as they like to refer to themselves with respect.

I learned about the difficulties their lives are faced with all the time. Particularly touching was once, when Noorie said that when in a rickshaw with a girl she preferred to be dropped home first, as if she got molested, no one would come to her help, and even the cops might molest her for complaining.

Another was when Sowmya spoke of the love she has for her sister and family that she is unable to express and be close with them, because society drives prejudices in the way. Aarti remembers being harassed even as a child, for being "delicate". Stories pour out of shattered hearts when they find someone who cares. As though the telling and being heard itself allows them to be human in that moment. Horrifying tales of abuse, exploitation, betrayal, abandonment... are the norm. I have yet to meet one who wasn't traumatized. Who bore the weight of being herself like an extra limb inserting itself between her and the world.

This seems to be a common factor. Some times in their teenage years, they discovered that they weren't really interested in girls as much as in boys, and identified with women better than with men. Acting on these impulses, and even becoming aware of them, intensified them, and they soon started seeming obviously "different". Soon, there remained little choice but to leave their homes and join trans-gender communities and be among people like them, because others rarely would accept them.

In rare cases, their genitals are not "properly male" and in others, pursuing a profession like prostitution makes them undesirable. They are then castrated in some "home treatment" fashion, rarely in a hygienic manner, or with the benefit of anesthetic. The idea is to look as female as they can. Not all hijaras are castrated, though many are. This also creates other hormonal imbalances that they need medical help with. Few doctors are willing to entertain them.

Transgenders face a whole load of problems in their lives - from practical respect and acceptance problems, to finding accommodation and occupations beyond begging and prostitution. In a world where forms give you options of male and female, they have no box to tick. Ration cards and passports are problems. Claiming justice is a problem. Self-esteem and assertiveness is a problem for all their loud body language. Health care and AIDS is a huge problem. The bottom line is money and survival.

A touching look at the legal, social and religious aspects of being a hijra can be cound in this article

If we want less of "these hijras" harrassing us on the streets, we also need to be willing to be ok with them in other areas when they are working honestly. Who cares if a web designer is male or female or transgender? Or someone working in an office, or a reception person, or a tailor? It is silly inhibitions and a fear of the unknown that keeps us from even sparing them a second glance. We keep our distance with our contempt and hide our fear behind our aloof masks.

Some interesting means of employment and income are slowly creeping into public consciousness. Films employ transgenders to do their usual lewd routines, which earns them decent money, but is hated by many as an insensitive showcase of their plight, and reinforcing their image in the mainstream society as not particularly appealing individuals. Using their song and dance routines to collect over due taxes from defaulters follows the same lines, but firmly projects them as people working on the side of "the good" and seems to be getting interesting results as seen here.

Still, it is occupation rooted in the revulsion society feels for them. Most people pay to be rid of them. The insult is soul searing. For the sole crime of being different. Depression and addictions as escape are common. As are clients who may love them for years but never walk down a street with them, let alone marry.

What we all are - humans is wrapped in so many layers of prejudice and bigotry that there is no awareness of them as people with lives and feelings. There is a need to see them for who they are, to employ and engage them for their skills and qualities rather than perversion. Perhaps, once we are able to see them as constructive workers, we might be able to offer them work beyond embarrassing people into paying money.

Luckily, there are organizations working with them. Some have even been started by educated transgender professionals to reach out to others like them. I suggest that we as people make that special effort not to cringe and turn away, but to deal with them as normally as we can, and see if we really like or dislike them, like we do with any other person. Not all of them are charming, and not all of them are bad. Can we look at the people more than their appearances?

*names changed to respect privacy

Edit: As routine maintenance of this site, I sometimes check to see what people are searching for, when they land up here. Many visitors from Europe land up here searching for conditions of this community, or information on what they are. The most popular search from India is "photo boy castrated India". I find it sad that the leading interest in them is still morbid sexual curiosity. Very few searches from India actually have words that are asking about the people very few Indians really know. It is a long and uphill struggle.

8

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.

10

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.