SOCIETY
 


Victims for no fault of theirs
Fatima Chowdhury on landmine explosions in the border villages of Rajasthan which leave a trail of deaths and injuries
Ghunnar looks a typical Rajasthan village with its agricultural fields and modest houses. The only difference is it happens to be on the India-Pakistan border. Though not as tense as the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir, the border in Rajasthan is a mined area.

Hundreds of innocent lives are lost worldwide due to landmine blasts 

Hundreds of innocent lives are lost worldwide due to landmine blasts

Ruth ManoramaShe champions the cause of Dalit women
Ruth Manorama, winner of the Right Livelihood prize, talks to Jangveer Singh in Bangalore about her work for destitute women

T
his
is one Dalit woman who did not face persecution as a child. She escaped the caste system per se as her parents converted into Christianity even though she says the move did not remove the Dalit tag from them. She studied in a convent school and post-graduated in social work from Stella Maris College in Chennai.

Indian designers woo NRIs
Kul Bhushan

I
’m
calling from Los Angeles and I would like to buy the saree you advertised in the latest issue of this magazine," said a refined NRI voice in a telephone call to the salon of a leading fashion designer in New Delhi. An equally sophisticated voice responded and the exact colour was decided in a few minutes.





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Victims for no fault of theirs

Fatima Chowdhury on landmine explosions in the border villages of Rajasthan which leave a trail of deaths and injuries

Ghunnar looks a typical Rajasthan village with its agricultural fields and modest houses. The only difference is it happens to be on the India-Pakistan border. Though not as tense as the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir, the border in Rajasthan is a mined area.

An unsuspecting Savitri Devi, 31, walked onto one such mine on January 5, 2004. There was an instant explosion, and she lost her left foot. She was taken to the district hospital at Sriganganagar, 18 miles away, for treatment. Savitri could count herself fortunate that she survived. But her quiet, normal life was shattered forever. Says a family member: "We’ve become victims without any fault of ours."

And that is the universal story of a majority of mine victims. They happen to be civilians. And it is women and children who are more vulnerable in mine explosions. In August 2002, it was 12-year-old Kiran Deep of Karanpur village on the India-Pakistan border who stepped on a mine, and lost her right foot. Three months later, it was 10-year-old Hetram, from the same village, who walked on a mine when he took his goats across a field. He lost his right leg.

It is not just the hapless villagers who are at a loss to deal with the exigencies of mine explosions. Even the panchayats — the elected village councils — do not know how to deal with the situation except to rush the victims to the nearest government hospital for treatment. But the distances from the far-flung villages on the border in the desert region are daunting. Immediate medical attention is of vital importance in the case of mine victims, and precious time is lost due to inadequate road and transport links.

In several cases, blood loss is a major concern and there is an extensive need for blood transfusion, which is often not readily available. It is often the case that victims die even before they can be taken to a distant hospital. And as for trauma counselling, there is none available.

A major problem with regard to mines in India is the high illiteracy rates in rural India, which make it difficult for people to recognise the warning boards that are set up in some of the mined areas. The women and children, and even the men, cannot read the signboards asking them to keep off the area.

Figures are not easy to come by. The Landmine Monitor Report 2006 for India states: "There were at least 306 casualties from mines and improvised explosive devices in 2005, and 271 from January to May, 2006."

In India, it is not the civilians alone who fall prey to mine explosions. Security forces personnel suffer as much. According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines-India (ICBL-India) report (2004), government forces suffered as many as 1,776 casualties due to mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). Thousands of families were displaced and areas turned into waiting death traps.

India is certainly not an explosive minefield country like the war-torn Angola and Cambodia, but the figures are quite high in absolute terms. The 2004 Landmine Monitor Report pointed out that extensive laying of mines was undertaken by the Army along its 2,880-km northern and western border with Pakistan between December 2001 and July 2002 during Operation Parakram.

According to Dr Balakirshna Kurvey, coordinator of ICBL-India: "There are a million mines planted, of which five per cent to 10 per cent are untraceable."

There is a further complication. He says that while mined areas are demarcated by fencing, there is a shift and drift due to changing climatic conditions. Rains, melting snow, shifting sands and even rodents displace landmines. As a result they are moved to other areas. The danger zone shifts, and it makes the situation so much more difficult.

The most essential part that needs to be addressed on the issue of landmines is the plight of the victims. As amputees, they are seen as a burden to their families and are often abandoned. In children, the psychological scars run deeper.

And women who are mine victims face problems that arise from gender disadvantages. Adopt-A Minefield, a UN-supported American organisation devoted to combating the menace of landmines, emphasises broadly that while both men and women are victims of landmines, studies show that women suffer more due to inadequate medical attention, resulting in a higher fatality rate of 43 per cent than the males (at 29 per cent).

As victims, married women are often divorced by their husbands while the marriage prospects of single women are gloomy. In contrast, disabled men can depend on their wives for support.

The lack of funds in India also mean women are less likely to get adequate medical attention, access to prostheses and a better guidance to rehabilitation. Where men are victims, women’s lives are also affected as caretakers. It not only takes an emotional toll on their well-being but also in many cases gives them the additional burden of being the sole earning member of their family.

Landmines — is a burning issue because simple lives are blighted forever with each explosion. The Savitri Devis in Rajasthan and elsewhere on the India-Pakistan border will continue to pay with their lives unless it is brought into the public domain as a matter of serious concern. —WFS

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She champions the cause of Dalit women

Ruth Manorama, winner of the Right Livelihood prize, talks to Jangveer Singh in Bangalore about her work for destitute women

This is one Dalit woman who did not face persecution as a child. She escaped the caste system per se as her parents converted into Christianity even though she says the move did not remove the Dalit tag from them. She studied in a convent school and post-graduated in social work from Stella Maris College in Chennai.

She chose to do social work thereafter as since childhood she had been haunted by the collective experience of Dalits in India. The woman – Ruth Manorama – who went on to form peoples’ organisations to fight systematic discrimination and denial of rights has been awarded the 2006 Right Livelihood prize along with a cash award of $91,667.

Fiftyfour-year-old Ruth is virtually a one-woman army addressing meetings and rallies and managing organisations which she runs in makeshift offices in various parts of Bangalore. Half of her rented home also forms her Spartan office where she sits behind two tables placed together (to hold a conference if needed), receiving and making calls and giving directions to the nearby staff seated behind a partition.

"I grew up in an area called Chetpet in Chennai which was an old village in which members of our community lived together," says Ruth in an exclusive interview. "I knew I was a Scheduled Caste but never faced persecution because of the manner in which I was brought up by my parents. My father served in the Royal Navy in Burma before working in the Postal Department and had great ideas for us. My mother was a teacher. The conversion to Christianity gave them pride and enabled us to grow up with dignity. The entire family escaped the caste system."

Ruth’s parents were involved in social work and the young girl’s first struggle alongside her father was to get pattas (ownership documents) for the area in which their community had been living for generations.

Even though Ruth wanted to become a doctor initially and even graduated with a BSc degree, she decided to engage herself in social work after working in slums. She then shifted to Bangalore to work as a non-formal education and community development specialist.

In Bangalore, Ruth looked into the condition of slum-dwellers. She formed an organisation with the aim to change their situation. "We decided we would fight to ensure a roof over their heads and demand an improvement in the basic amenities being provided to them." This, however, was against the prevailing government policy of dealing with slums, which translated into uprooting them and making them settle down far from the city. Ruth led a struggle against a major eviction programme in 1987, the case against which went up to the Supreme Court. Though the people were granted a blanket stay order and the evictions stopped, the case is still pending.

Ruth says she chose to champion the cause of Dalit women because she realised that 70 per cent of the casual as well as agricultural labourers were women and it was this section whose human rights were being violated the most. So was born the NGO — Voice of Women.

Domestic women workers — another abiding interest of Ruth — got a forum of its own when the Bangalore Gruhakarmikara Sangha was formed. As a result of this forum, minimum wages have been fixed for domestic workers in Bangalore.

When asked if she had faced any problems being a Dalit social worker, Ruth says she faced problems in highlighting issues of Dalit women. "I was constantly told by academicians not to highlight problems of only Dalit women. My answer to them was: why are only Dalit women paraded naked? Why does the devdasi and bonded labour tradition exist among Dalits only? Why are thousands of Dalit women prostitutes? Many felt I was dividing the women movement but I have constantly stressed that Dalit women come from a divided community and need special attention."

Ruth’s next project will be setting up of a women’s resource centre in Bangalore on the land owned by her NGO — Karnataka State Slum Dwellers Organisation. This will come about from the award money being given to her. The centre will run as training-cum-teaching centre for women besides functioning as a refuge for abused women.

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Indian designers woo NRIs
Kul Bhushan

I’m calling from Los Angeles and I would like to buy the saree you advertised in the latest issue of this magazine," said a refined NRI voice in a telephone call to the salon of a leading fashion designer in New Delhi. An equally sophisticated voice responded and the exact colour was decided in a few minutes.

"You will get the payment and please courier the saree soon," said the client.

Indian fashion designers go out of their way to cater to the NRI market — NRIs provide more than half of their turnover. Indian films have influenced NRIs to prefer Indian ethnic wear for their Indian wedding ceremony, while western wear is favoured for the formal wedding vows at the registrar’s office. So the bride must have a designer lehnga-choli, sometimes daringly backless.

This can set you back by a cool $5,000-9,000. So what? Then there are a couple of sarees for the reception and other ceremonies plus the tunics for the music parties before the event. Ah, but you must get the designer to create the matching jewellery for all these outfits. "A budget of at least $20,000 for the darling bride, if you want to make any impact." The groom cannot be left behind. He must also be dressed up like a maharaja.

This means a sherwani or a long-buttoned coat in some silver or gold material and some silk kurtas or traditional shirts — all with lavish embroidery. A silk shawl over the long coat adds a royal touch. An elaborate turban set off with pearls can top it off. Of course, a Nehru suit with high collars buttoned at the neck is mandatory for the reception. Add a few more outfits for the pre-nuptial ceremonies, and you are done with a reasonable outlay of around $4,000-8,000.

Then the parents and close family must also look good and they, too, must have ethnic designer wear.

Of course, the budget keeps ballooning but it’s a fraction of the total outlay on the wedding. When you tally what it costs to host 300-400 guests for cocktails and dinner in Los Angeles or London in a five-star hotel, this is petty cash.

Back to basics — the wedding wear — the question arises: how do NRIs get these designers for their garments? For a start, those who have the money know the names of the famous designers who matter and visit their sites.

Here you can select the design, the fabric, the colour and key in your measurements and pay by credit card.
Since the designers also want NRI clients, they go where they can contact them and organise fashion shows in summer and autumn in Britain, the US, Canada and West Asia well before the ‘wedding season’ is in full swing.

Fashion magazines from India are popular with NRI buyers so the designers advertise lavishly in these with lengthy advertorials extolling the virtues of their creations. These make a big impact on the prospective buyers who find the designers just a phone call away. — IANS

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