Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Make strong foundation for BRICS

don't waste him

Rahul joins me for a pint of beer on Holi- the Indian festival of colours. He jokes and tells me that his life is not colourful. “ I want to go back to my home town to Darjeeling- I don’t like Delhi.” His friend Prabhakar agrees with him. They both work for Adidas as salesman.

Priya (name changed), a beautiful girl, also from Darjeeling works in a beauty parlour in South Delhi.  She probably has other sources of income, which she doesn’t want to divulge at this stage. She loves clubs and going out at weekends, but life is Delhi is tough.  She says, “ I have to stand the whole day,  and sometimes I am abused by the customers.  I don’t want to live here, but I need to earn. I want to educate my 9-year-old brother. I will do everything for him”.

Every year thousands of young boys and girls make their way to Delhi from the picturesque hills of the Darjeeling and also the north –east of India  hoping to get decent jobs.

Thanks to globalization: India’s booming retail industry and glitzy malls have given employment to many of them. “ We have the looks”, says Sanchita (name changed), who looks extremely smart in her mini-outfits.  “ We might be uneducated, but we know how to carry ourselves. We are easily employable. ” Sanchita’s bother is disabled, father is blind and her mom is often sick. At 22 she has to look for ways to support her family.

Darjeeling is known as the Queen of hills and is the home to one of the world’s most expensive tea, which contributes greatly to India’s exports. But unfortunately, the locals have benefited little from it. The tea is auctioned in Kolkata and drained out of the region much to annoyance of the local population. The locals have been asking for a separate state- Gurkhaland. The political demands have had fallouts- frequent strikes and bandhs have crippled the local economy. Tourism has been hit and the posh Anglo- Indian boarding schools no longer attract students from the rest of the country.

On a wider context, the suffering of the locals and lack of unemployment in some of India’s most scenic regions shows how exclusive India’s economic growth has been.

In many ways, the rising prosperity of India’s cities has given rise to a host of serious social problems- human trafficking is one of them. Hundreds and thousands of girls from India’s troubled north-east are directly or indirectly into prostitution in Delhi alone.

As BRICS leaders cobble up in Durban to discuss the possibilities of setting up a BRICS bank to help sustain infrastructure and human development, we hope that such initiative will be duly accompanied by a vision to economically boost some of the backward regions and communities in each of the BRICS countries.

For India, the priority should be to look at human development issues, creating more economic opportunities across the country and improve its defunct infrastructure. Above all it needs to fight corruption to say the least.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Meet great women on Women's day

One of the best ways to celebrate international women’s day is to remember the great women we meet in our daily lives.

Nisha, the biker
Shabnam is just 16. She is friendly and loves books. She says: “ all I need is an opportunity. I want to go out of Haryana. I want to be a lawyer, so that I can fight and bring justice to the girls who suffer like me.”

Seven months back she was brutally gang raped by a group of  “upper caste” boys in her village near Hissar.  A week later, when her father learnt about the incident, he committed suicide. She refused to bury him, until police found the culprits.

The family received death threats and was offered money to drop the case by the politically influential families of the culprits. They had to flee the village. Her education jolted; she had to start afresh in Hissar, where she now lives under police protection. She says: “ I will not give up. I want to inspire other victims like me and tell them that it is not the end of life."

In another village near Rothak in highly conservative Haryana, we met two college going girls: Laxmi and Gunjan. They have to balance their studies with tedious household work. They both want to become teachers. They acknowledge that there are many things that are wrong in their society but are hopeful that things will change.

The girls tell us: "we will be killed if were to fall in love with someone in the village outside our caste, but this has to stop. Inter –caste marriages are good for our country. It will help us to understand other cultures and make our nation strong.”

When asked about the dikat issued by the Khap panchyatas (a group of unconstitutional law makers comprising of elderly people) not to wear jeans and carry mobile phones, the girls laugh: “we listen to our parents and no one else. Do you think all the girls in the West are bad? How can you judge a person’s character by clothes? This is non-sense. Wearing Western clothes alone is not a sign of modernity.”

In rural north India, Indian women are the backbone of the economy, though they face worst form of gender discrimination at home.

In a recent visit to Rajasthan I noticed women, who work hard in the fields, look after the children and take care of all household chores whilst men vibe their time gambling and drinking.  A village elder told me: “every morning we get up and go on a bike ride. Politics and smoking hookah is our passion. We are men” 

women working the fields
Also, in Dausa in Rajasthan we meet Nisha, who has barged into a high -risk 'man's world'.  She is a biker; gambles with her life everyday by performing breathtaking  incredible stunts with her bike. Her two sons were murdered. She allowed us to film her. All she wanted in return was a copy of her photos! 

I cannot stop admiring my building sweeper and her teenage daughter: they work relentlessly to keep my neighbourhood clean. This self-respecting family, run purely by women, doesn’t even know what social security means. They have no education, but their refined manners and strong work ethics have a lot to teach others about leading a honest life. Shikha, the daughter, is learning English and embroidery. She loves fashion and is determined to be an independent woman.

On the Valentine’s Day, we interviewed several couples from various backgrounds. Some of them told us that their families are their biggest impediment to their relationship. We meet Nur and Ranjan, a Muslim girl and a Hindu boy.  They tell us: “We do everything, go out for movies, meet in a mall, in the park, but we do it secretly.” Whilst Ranjan’ s parents have some hint about his relationship, Nur is waiting for the right opportunity to break the news.  “What ever is the consequence, I am ready to face”: Nur tells me with her face gleaming with joy.

In a gloomy slum next to one of the richest colonies in New Delhi, I meet Geeta Negi, who works as program co-ordinator for a NGO, Faith Foundation. Eloquently dressed, Geeta has taken the challenging task of running a school with little financial means.  Their aim is to educate the slum children and provide lunch to them free of cost.

Geeta Negi
She says: “ it is not an easy task. I have to go and convince parents to send their children to school. Once when we distributed free clothes to children, the entire population of the slum was here demanding clothes for their children. I had to make them understand that the uniforms were meant for children who studies here.” Geeta also works hard to raise funds for the charity.

Finally, my own BBC correspondent Natalia Antelava: she was heavily pregnant when I travelled with her for filming a documentary on human trafficking. It was a daunting project and involved a great deal of travelling to some of the far- flung areas. Natalia’s spirit was simply inspiring.   What else, after reporting on the miserable state of women that are victims of trafficking, she herself was blessed with a lovely daughter.

Women are both the source of joy and strength. The international women’s day should be used to send a message to liberal minded people to liberate millions of women from subjugation and oppression. It is not a question of celebrating freedom for women but it is a fight against changing the attitude towards women in a much wider context.