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12

Funny, naughty and irrepressible girls having a great time on a top berth of a train

In a world of speed and luxury, I had forgotten the charming sloce of India - long distance travel in Sleeper Class on Indian Railways.

This time, I was attending the HID Forum's Group Relations conference on Leadership in a Gendered World in Bangalore which was based on the Tavistock model of sensing unconscious group processes, which is a different story. I decided to travel the way I used to travel with my family in my childhood - Sleeper Class.

So here I am on the Udyan Express that left at 8:05am sharp. This Indian Railways experience of mine is complete as I booked a waitlisted ticket days in advance and then tracked its progress eagerly, until it became RAC - Reservation against Cancellation.

Itsdifferent being a kid travelling with a family and the compartment my playground to be an adult female travelling alone, with an unconfirmed ticket and responsible for securing her own seat. Not that I hadn't travelled by train since then, but Air conditioned compartments are just not the same thing.

I arrived early (being anxious to check my seating status) and ended up entering the train as one of the first passengers in our compartment when it was unlocked.

My first sensation was the smell - its a dingy, ammonia laden horrible smell that is particular to a sleeper class compartments with closed windows and unventilated for some time standing in a busy long distance train terminus with all its implied toilets contributing in turns towards nurturing that particular stink.

I few passengers coughed and opened windows, which brought my attention to a group of four handsome young boys a few seats down. They were watching me with equal interest - the beginnings of long distance train intrigue. More windows opened, more passengers came in, and the smell changed. It was now a complex hybrid of our original smell, perfume, hair oil, sweat, different kinds of food being opened and that typical train smell..... quite overwhelming and kind of nasty but intriguing.

The train took off and things settled down. The smells grew less intense, movement of people stilled, sounds lowered. I had claimed a top berth on entry as usual, intending to sleep my way through the otherwise monotonous journey. Plus, I felt that I had better get some sleep done while the owner of the berth sat below, as I didn't have a confirmed berth for the night.

Lous tea vendors woke me next and I looked hazily around to see that most top berths were occupied by sleeping passengers - I guess everyone had woken up early to be on the train.

Honestly, I slept for most of the journey, but what I do remember is the sheer diversity of people. All kinds of colours, clothes, languages, foods, ages...... the informal friendliness that needs no introductions..... and three mischief making girls sitting on a top berth near me - they were partt of a large family group going to visit their village temple. Take a look

2

This is a memory from a long time ago. Way before I figured out the internet beyond checking mail. This is a time when I was a nomadic horsewoman in the Himalaya.
I was living in the high pastures of the Kullu valley with my herd of horses. We were in the pastures below the Hampta Pass - about a 6 hour walk from Manali. The winter had been rough, and we were just camping out in the high altitude pastures where we leave them for the summers, supplementing their diet with some grain, to help them catch on on their health a bit faster.

What a place to be in! We were camped in the meadows at Juara. Alpine meadows - the air is crisp, the water is crystal clear and flows right through the pasture. A few empty stone structures that would later become nomadic tea stalls plus camps of herb gatherers dotted the scene, with sheer black cliffs rising on both sides in stark contrast with the lush comfort of the place. A place straight from some fantasy tale. Once could believe some nature spirits living here, particularly on moonlit nights, when the scene goes black and white, with the moonlight strong enough in places to register come colour. What a life - the horses living free around me, prancing with their improving condition. Pye, my bitch, by my side and the sounds of the stream for company.

The days were pretty idle. Feeding the horses a couple of times a day was no pain - they used to come happily enough for the treat. Beyond that.... not much to do. Cooking, enjoying the paradise I was living in, early to bed, early to rise. Perhaps an occasional visit to Sethan - the last village on this route, and the only fully Buddhist village in the entire Kullu valley, where my god-family lived. A timeless idyll.

Occupation came in an unexpected way. A gaddi camp was passing by, planning to camp a little higher than the pasture we were in. I recognised the shepherd, and invited him for a cup of tea. When he saw me, he decided to camp near our camp itself.

Over a cup of tea, I realized why.

A filly of his, had been attacked by a bear a week ago, and had been hurt badly. Originally, believing that she would die anyway, he hadn't taken her to a vet. But she hadn't yet died. She was in a bad way, with her wounds infected, and was struggling to keep up with the moving camp, to follow her mother. This was creating a problem, as the mare used to keep waiting for her, and slowing the caravan.

I had already gained a solid reputation as an animal lover, and my animals were often a point of interet for local livestock owners for the glowing condition I used to maintain them in. Plus, I was gaining a reputation as an enthusiastic "unofficial vet" from the knowledge of animal medicine I used to gather for the well-being of my horses in a land where vets were not easily available, and often very far from the place of need.

He wanted me to take a look at the filly and see if there was any hope for her, as well as see if she could be put down, if there wasn't. I refused flat out to put her down, as I am not of the opinion that animals should be killed when they are fighting to recover. Plus I lacked the kind of knowledge and equipment it would take to put her down. I agreed to take a look and see what I could do for her.

We went out into the pasture and unloaded his horses to set up camp and then look for the filly. She was in a bad way. She was sleeping, exhausted at the end of the pasture without even coming to join the herd, once she saw that they had halted.

We got her up and brought her up to my tent and tied her in front of it. I started to take a good look at her and see what it was that I was up against.

She was a beautiful, black filly. Three months old, lovely conformation - she would have made a fine mare when she grew up, if she survived this scenario. Her rump and neck was covered with deep gashes from the bear's claws, and a week of neglect had allowed infection to settle in. Most of the gashes had developed pus, and a couple had maggots in them - icky as that is, it is better, because the wound is cleaner - except for the maggots of course. You will not find pus and maggots in the same wound, unless it is really bad and the maggots haven't done their job yet. Except that you want them out now that they have done their bit. My whole being recoiled at the thought of having to clean up this mess.

If I had to save this filly, I had to do it, no matter how repulsive it was. I felt a surge of anger at the shepherd for neglecting her treatment like that, and vented my fury in choice words, yelling at him and his wife for being callous to the very animals that made their livelihood possible.

The filly stood there shivering from the early morning air and her exhaustion.

I made the couple promise to rest in the pasture for at least a week, before I would touch the filly - it was pointless to begin something, if it wouldn't be sustained. As an incentive, I praised the quality of the filly, and asserted that she would become a very valuable animal and bring him good money and work very well, if she was helped to recover. This seemed to strike a note of interest.

I had some anitbiotic injections in my animal first-aid kit. I gave her a shot. She hardly noticed. Then I knew, that I had to get over my nausea and actually deal with those wounds, and took a look at my medical supplies. They were minimal. The anti-septic I had, would hardly deal with half the wounds she had before running out. The same with the creams. Now what? I shoved the supplies back into my sack, and kept only the bottle of phenyl. The rest would have to be home remedies (which was what I preferred in any case).

I made a strong solution of tea in a huge pot and used that to clean the wounds. Yes, I just plunged in, and cleaned them all thoroughly, pus, maggots and all, till the flesh showed clean. Some of the deeper wounds still harboured maggots - of that, I was sure, so I used some gauze soaked in phenyle on them to dress them. On the rest, I applied a light film of honey and stuffed them full with crushed garlic.

All done, I walked away from the tent area and puked.

The evening saw a repeat performance. On the next day, the maggot wounds were clean too, and they received the honey and garlic treatment, and by that evening, some of the lighter cuts had begun to heal, and the filly was acting more interested in life, and giving me trouble to catch for treatment 🙂 But she seemed to understand that I was trying to help, so she flinched and nudged with her nose, if it hurt, but never tried to kick at me or hurt me in any way.

After that, I taught the couple how to do what I was doing, and told them that they would have to repeat this till ALL the wounds were healed, and that the filly could probably begin walking in a day or two.

They seemed to have got the point, and the two days were uneventful - so to say (not counting one of my fillies who seemed to be jealous of all the attention this one was getting)

The time was up, and the gaddi camp moved on, and the filly became another memory, until a few years later, when I ran across the same gaddi again. There was a beautiful mare in his herd - the one I had treated. I recognised her instantly and was happy for her. The couple put camp once more, to spend some time with me, and that evening, I was invited to a special dinner, where they thanked me with tears in their eyes for saving their beautiful mare.

Their animals also looked better cared for, since the last time. I was happy, that things had worked out well, and that they had developed some love and concern for the living factors in their "business"

4

The camps were soon over, and the Mumbai gang was gone, leaving me behind in this new place of my choosing. I planned to do my basic mountaineering course. The girls batch is in June, so it kind of connected in terms of timing as well. I left most of my luggage with the local family Nitin used to live with, and went for my mountaineering course.

I don’t know what I had expected. Some glorious climbing, no doubt. What transpired, was something so simple, I still don’t know what I learnt from it. The course takes place over a duration of 28 days. With all the participants female and most of them from cities with little, if any experience in the outdoors, the physical challenge levels of the course were something that didn’t really register o­n me.

We were issued equipment and spent the first 10 days learning the basics of rock climbing near Manali. This was really basic climbing, and after teaching for a couple of years before I thought of this course, there wasn’t really any challenge in it. I did it, because it was syllabus, and got into trouble with instructors for my restless demands, which usually meant that I had stones put into my sack for the morning jogging sessions.

Now, I’ve never really liked running in any form, so jogging, while not particularly difficult was something I disliked intensely. But well, it couldn’t last long, and I used to attack the food with added enthusiasm o­n my return. This became a pattern over those 10 days. Morning jog, food, easy climbing, food, easy climbing, food and some nice lectures/films in the evening about mountaineering and food again. I put o­n 3 kilos o­n this course. That should say a lot o­n how demanding it was.

The next phase of the course was more interesting, where we reached our familiar Solang Nallah and then proceeded to Dhundi and Bakhartaj – all places I was well acquainted with, thanks to the previous stint as an instructor in the summer. It felt like coming home. The training here was also something I enjoyed. Not because it was difficult, but snow and ice craft is exotic for someone who comes from Mumbai – where the lowest the mercury falls is still above 20 degrees celcius. I had a blast.

There were some nice memories from here. o­ne night, we had a storm, and o­ne side of the tent collapsed, and the girls inside were terrified. I went out and did what damage control I could, and went in, o­nly to have it collapse again. The ground was too soggy to hold the pegs. I’d need to make it more secure, but that was tough for a single person, and no o­ne in our tent was willing to come out into the storm. I am a picky person when it comes to personal comfort, and the last thing I was planning o­n allowing was for my sleeping bag and clothes to get wet, so out I went again.

This time, I saw that the tent next to mine had collapsed from o­ne side as well, and there was another sole girl struggling against it. I had company. I helped her secure her tent, and then she helped me, and we crashed back into our tents and dry sleeping bags at the end of this escapade. After this, the two of us became some kind of heroes, though what we did hadn’t particularly been brave or selfless.

The other interesting incident is from something called the survival night. At the end of the high altitude stay, when we all have put our luggage o­n the ponies, we are taken for a session for some instruction or the other until very late, and told to fend for ourselves over night, with all camp and our personal luggage gone back to Solang Nallah already.

That was fun. I took along the girls who were with me and went to a local shepherd’s shop I knew and had a lovely time eating drinking and making merry, until the instructors landed there. They had come for the same reason, and we were kicked out and told to survive, not sit in a shop in luxury. I wonder why survival means that we should be in discomfort. Isn’t it my capability for survival if I can use my local knowledge to my advantage in an emergency? I guess not.

Anyway, we simply moved to a cave and lit a nice fire and slept o­n a scratcy pile of pine needles until the morning, when we were told to return to Solang Nallah. That was good fun.

After returning, life was good for the rest of the course, right until it was time for the final ceremony. So much for a tough mountaineering course. To date, when people ask me about what to expect o­n the course, I have no answer that seems suitably thrilling to give.

2

Construction must stop to save endangered sea turtles

April 05, 2008

Gahirmatha's
seas are one of the world's largest breeding areas for the Olive Ridley
Turtle. The Dhamra port could signal the end of this habitat forever.


Delhi, India — A coalition of Indian conservationists, comprising
Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), the Wildlife Society of
Orissa (WSO) and Greenpeace India, has called on TATAs to reconsider
their Dhamra Deepwater Port [1] in Orissa, citing the threat it poses
to endangered sea turtles and two important Protected Areas.
Construction on the Port is proceeding in the absence of a
comprehensive Environment Impact Analysis and with disregard to the
Precautionary Principle, which TATA Steel professes to adhere to as a
member of The Global Compact [2].

Speaking
to the media, Belinda Wright, Executive Director of WPSI, said “The
olive ridley turtle is a species that enjoys the same legal protection
as the tiger. Yet despite its ecological significance, the Dhamra area
was purposely excluded from Bhitarkanika and Gahirmatha Sanctuaries to
facilitate the Dhamra Port [3]. It is amazing that while trawling is
rightly banned to protect the turtles, the Orissa state government is
bending over backwards to assist a huge industrial project in the same
area, which will probably drive away the turtles for good.”

The
Dhamra Port is coming up less than 5 km from Bhitarkanika Sanctuary and
less than 15 km from Gahirmatha’s beaches, one of the largest mass
nesting sites for the olive ridley turtle in the world.
Conservationists highlighted the Port’s potential environmental impacts
when it was first proposed in the 1990s. In April 2004, the Supreme
Court appointed Central Empowered Committee had recommended that the
Dhamra Port be relocated.

Over 100 leading
scientists from India and across the world have also called on TATA
Steel, the joint promoters of the Dhamra Port, to halt the project in
light of potential impacts on sea turtles and the environment, through
a petition campaign [4] hosted by a coalition of conservation groups
[5]. The list includes over 20 scientists from the Marine Turtle
Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of the IUCN,
besides other renowned conservationists and researchers. The petition
also urges the Orissa state government to protect the Dhamra area.

Conservationists
charge that in the absence of a credible Environment Impact Analysis
and baseline ecological data, no mitigation plan, even if prepared by
the best experts, will be an adequate safeguard. Significantly, there
has been no mass nesting at Gahirmatha this season. In the past, even
minor disturbances have been enough to prevent turtles nesting, so the
influence of ongoing dredging for port construction cannot be ruled
out.

“There are alternatives to Dhamra that
TATAs must explore. A study commissioned by the Government of Orissa
and conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, has
identified several potential port sites [6]” said Biswajit Mohanty,
Secretary of WSO “The ongoing expansion of Paradip Port will also
provides the state with sufficient cargo capacity. If TATAs are as
environment friendly as they claim, they must make the effort to shift
to another location further away from the turtle nesting grounds,
rather than seeking to hide behind mitigation plans that can never be a
proper safeguard against the impacts”, he added.

In
2007, a survey commissioned by Greenpeace and conducted by Dr. S.K.
Dutta of the North Orissa University established the presence of rare
species of amphibians and reptiles at the port site [7]. The study also
revealed the presence of over 2,000 turtle carcasses on and near the
area. TATA is yet to respond to these findings, despite earlier
committing to reconsider their role in the project if evidence of
ecological significance was presented.

The pressure on TATA is mounting, with Greenpeace’s cyber campaign (www.greenpeace.org/india/turtles)
providing a platform for the public to voice their concerns on this
issue. Over 9,000 people have already written to Ratan Tata within
three days of its launch.

“The scientific
community is advising against this port, fishermen have opposed it [8],
science has shown the presence of rare species in the area, and now the
public is adding its voice to the conservation community. What more
does Mr. Ratan Tata need? As a global corporation with a growing
presence overseas, TATA needs to show that its commitment to the
environment goes beyond mere lip service, by halting work on the port
immediately”, said Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace
India.

For more information, contact:

Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace, 99801 99380 ashish.fernandes@greenpeace.org
Belinda Wright, Wildlife Protection Society of India, 98111 90690 belinda@wpsi-india.org
Biswajit Mohanty, Wildlife Society of Orissa, 94370 24265 kachhapa@gmail.com
Saumya Tripathy, Greenpeace Communications, 93438 62212 stripath@in.greenpeace.org

1

A Day Charged with Humanism

The Leadership Training Camp for Dalits that was being organised in
Suryapet town (14 and
15 July ’07, Andhra
Pradesh
, India
) through the International Humanist and Ethical
Union's support was going on full-speed. Mr. Veeraswami the leader of Spoorthi, the local implementing organization,
and Mr. V.B. Rawat, Director of the Social Development Foundation,
the event's sponsor were participating as resource persons along with Hyderabad-based
Dalit women's rights campaigner, the sociologist Sujatha. There were
a hundred Dalit youth, men and women, eager to learn about modern science,
about the situation of Dalits and that of women in the country, about
superstitions, and about the plight of untouchables worldwide. 

 

It was a day charged with Humanism, which the newspapers would report
later as being the only alternative for Dalits. Amongst the participants there
was a keen sense of involvement and a burning desire to change their lot - this
was the first time I saw that participants stayed on in the meeting hall till
well past midnight discussing and sharing information. Of course, during the
day they had heard many ideas challenging long-held views. We had questioned
whether they really thought they were Hindus, whether they needed to be part of
the caste system, whether affirmative action was really benefiting them or
diverting them from the real issue of emancipating themselves culturally and
socially. This was also the first Humanist event in
India where participants after their
self-service lunch washed their own plates. It feels good to spend a
few days amongst those who speak of the dignity of labor and who also practice it.

 

 

 

 

 

New Resolve

When
at the end of a full day of discussions and lectures, Chandraiah the
miracle-exposure activist that we had invited concluded his demonstration, many
of the Dalit youth, several of them superstitious themselves, had a change of
orientation. Some of them declared that they were now inspired to work against
superstition in their community as they understood the tricks being played
on them by charlatans, and as they now realised the harm it does to their
fellow Dalits. Some others informed us that they heard of plans in their village
to kill a suspected witchcraft practitioner, and that following the day's training
they were now determined to prevent it by educating the villagers and also
informing the local authorities. Veeraswami then clarified to us that the
reason the next day's miracle-exposure programme was going to be held in Pasunur
village of Tungathurthi Administrative region was because the Dalits in the village were
traumatised and terrified - there has been talk of human sacrifice for some
time there. 

 

Killing of witches? Human sacrifice?

 

As
what we heard sank in, I could feel goose pimples of disgust and horror all
over me. We were just 6-hours away by car from
Hyderabad - one of India's Hi-tech show piece cities - and how time
rolls back a thousand years in this short distance!

 

Because the Gods Want it

"In
the 60s whenever a rice mill or a new industrial unit was to be inaugurated in
the region, one of the workers or a villager would mysteriously die in the
factory premises. Everyone remained silent, but all knew that the gods wanted a
sacrifice and they were now satisfied; the victim's family would get ten
thousand rupees and all was forgotten,” Chandraiah was talking to me and to V.B.
Rawat about his experiences as a child who grew up in the region. In the other
car were Veeraswami and other Dalit leaders from the region, along with a
reporter from ETV, (one of most important TV channels in
South India), who we woke up at 5.00 am to take with us. We had to urgently intervene.

  

On
the way the situation was explained to us: the government had constructed an
impressive school building at the expense of 3.5 million rupees, with wide,
spacious and well-ventillated rooms: it was the pride of the region, yet, because
the building was awaiting a sacrifice, no classes were being conducted one
month into the new school year. It was the practice that goats or chicken were
sacrificed at the time of a house warming, but this was a special case: a man ‘possessed
by God’ had declared that the school building demanded 'aarambham' of 6 children before it could be inaugurated safely. Aarambham is the local code for human
sacrifice.

 

Pasunur Village Dalit Colony

At the Dalit colony a welcome party was waiting; meeting banners were
set up, and a man with a drum went around the village summoning everyone
for the morning meeting. Quite agitated in mind, I asked the village president
about this matter of aarambham.
He denied it. When we asked the other villagers they denied any knowledge of the
matter. V.B. Rawat said children always tell the truth - so we had a talk with
the children and asked them why they were not going to school. When the
children spoke, and this time to the TV cameras, the adults had no choice but
to acknowledge that they were in fact terrified that their children might be
sacrificed for the school inauguration and that was why they were not sending
them to school. After all, who heard of upper caste children being sacrificed?
If it were to happen, it would be theirs that would be the victims.

 

We soon realized that it was a ‘skeptical’ crowd that had gathered to
listen to us, and to the local elected official. One woman loudly whispered
"Are you going to give us money for coming to this meeting? Because of you
our men are not going out today to work". It was a Sunday, but in the
Dalit colony life is on a day-to-day basis and everyday one has to work to get
some money – after all in this period of India's vertiginous but jobless
growth, the National Employment Guarantee Programme provides employment
support for a mere 100 days per year per household - did not Charles,
from the Dalit Social Forum tell us the previous day that Globalization
was of no real use to the common, hungry, downtrodden Indian? When I was
speaking, one of them shouted "You tell us what you know and we will tell
you what we know". She, and her fellow villagers knew a lot about ghosts,
and how they possess people. They were aware of how spirits kept a cloth dipped
in water from becoming wet - their local godman had already demonstrated this.
They knew about spontaneous roof fires, and they knew about getting healed
through mantras or magical
incantations.

 

Now, Chandraiah proceeded to create fire by pouring water on sand. He
cut a lemon which dripped blood-red juice. He dipped a piece of cloth in
water and it came out dry. He broke a coconut and out came blood-red water. He
performed every feat the local charlatans performed, and then also explained
the tricks behind what he had done. He over-turned a glass full of water but
the water did not spill fall, supported by a paper - some said it was not
science and tried to do it themselves. They soon got the trick - it was not a
spirit that was holding the water up, it was atmospheric pressure. As the
interaction continued, and when Chandraiah first played with a piece of burning
camphor and then swallowed it and claimed it was tasty, the mood relaxed. When
he made the children do the same, there was much excitement.

 

It
was a quick thaw for a group of villagers who were till then
terrified that their children might be sacrificed for the inauguration of
the school building, and for those who feared that ghosts lived in the shadows
and in the trees. The show continued to work its magic - and soon the children
were shouting with Chandraiah "There are no ghosts! There are no miracles!
We are not superstitious". Sujatha was mingling with the children and
asking them about the talisman they were wearing and explaining how hygiene,
rather than the talisman, was a better cure for diarrhea. Meanwhile, Chandraiah
made an old woman feed milk to a statue of Ganesha, in imitation of a shameful
hoax that fooled
India for two full days over a decade ago.

 

Soon,
some of the men came to us to say that they agreed with us, but that they still
had some doubts. So I made bold and asked, "How many of you are ready to
tackle the rascal who said that the new school building asked for human
sacrifice and caused you so much of suffering?".

 

We Will Defend Ourselves

Several children came forward, as well as some ten men. Because it was
not an entirely safe activity and as we had no security with us, we set out
with just a few children and the adults. As we walked through the slush of the
recent rains to confront Devudu Chandraiah the goat herd who claimed to receive
divine messages (no relation to our own Chandraiah!) we encountered many who
were going to the temple where Chandraiah was – they were going to seek his
blessings to cure infertility or to cure sick children. His weekly earnings
were estimated to be about Rs. 10,000.

 

But word that we were coming reached him before we did, and he was
nowhere to be seen. We had an altercation with his sister at the temple who we
questioned about her brother's desire to see human blood. She denied it, but
both children and adults who were witnesses to his pronouncements said they had
heard him say this. There were angry confrontations and we threatened that we
would get them all arrested. I cannot forget that the woman said to me that if
people die at the time of an inauguration they are not responsible. She asked
whether coconuts are not broken at a function? She did not dare say more, but
we all understood the dangerous mindset of the people.

 

It
was disgusting and alarming, but this was a good day for the TV reporter who
could capture what was happening and turn it into a good news item and also turn
it into a Crimewatch-style story.

 

The Relevance of the Humanist Approach

We
went back to the village, determined to spread the word that a group of Dalits
from the village decided to confront the charlatan who came from a higher caste
and that he fled the scene or did not dare to come to the temple that he regularly
haunted, because of us. We agreed that we would at the appropriate time print
posters of the charlatan and display them widely so that his humiliation would
be complete and the self-assertion of the Dalits would be announced to the
world. Spoorthi also intends to file
a police complaint for incitement to murder against him if they hear the mad
ravings of this blood thirsty charlatan again. But it will be some time before
he will recover from the disgrace. And we had to balance the educational
elements and the confrontational elements of our campaign in the area.

 

We
then moved to the school building itself where the reporter wanted to do a
special interview. There we met with representatives of the well-known M.V.
Foundation which was organizing a training program for literacy workers. We
were cordially invited to join them, and to tell them about our work. But soon
we were disappointed to find out that the idiom they were going to use to
encourage the people to become literate was a religious one, and that their
mobilization of the people would be on the lines of and in the context of Bonalu, a festival where animal
sacrifice is called for, and where people swoon and get ‘possessed’ and  speak on behalf of God. The MV Foundation
officials are of course against superstition and animal sacrifice, and expect
that literacy will drive away the bad practices – they seem to ignore the counter
evidence of the number of educated fools in the country who patronize cheats in
religious garb and are willing to perform similar animal sacrifices. Sujatha
found the use of the religious idiom inappropriate – and specially this
particular one - after all, the original demand for sacrifice of human lives
was voiced during a bonalu like festival!

 

Reviewing
the events of the past two days we found that this was one of the most
satisfying of our activities in recent times. While the preparation and organization
for putting in place these training and demonstration events took a few weeks,
the Dalit leaders found what they were looking for – a route out of the
traditional religious thinking, and a forum where they could discuss these
ideas as equals. They found a new determination and resolve to take their lives
into their own hands.

 

And
in one single magical morning from amongst a group of cowering, frightened and
terrorized villagers we found enough number of people who were willing to
challenge superstition and confront the source of their terror and deal with
the problem. They do not need outsiders to defend themselves anymore, because
most satisfyingly, they have found amongst their own colony members the
resources and the strength to help themselves. At least in that area there will
not be anymore witches or witch killings; and enough noise has been created to
be sure that none will speak of human sacrifice or suggest it in that little
pocket of Andhra Pradesh as the police and the local elected officials are all now
alert to this danger. The disinfecting power of reason and the light of science
and scientific temper made its first entry even if only through a narrow crack.

 

We
will now have to nurture the new desire and ability to think critically which
we kindled, so that a permanent defense can be created in their minds against
medieval and barbaric practices and pave the way for a society of equals where
modern values will prevail.

 

Photo Captions:

Picture 1: Veeraswami of Spoorthi welcomes the Dalit Youth

Picture 2: Training Session in progress

Picture 3: The abandoned School building

Picture 4: The children speak to the television cameras. Sujatha looks
on.

Picture 5: The villagers watch the demonstration

Picture 6: Chandraiah shows a trick to an old woman

Picture 7 and 8: The expedition to confront the charlatan

Picture 9: An argument with the magic man’s sister

 

 

Babu Gogineni

International Director

International
Humanist and Ethical
Union

www.iheu.org