Mashi

giggles
when I hold her hand up the escalator,
show her where to place her feet.
The amaze of a woman
at this sheer simpleness
who learnt hard,
and early,
that the climb is never easy
that hunger empties you
before emptying your four children
on the city streets
which do not guide you to your
husband’s deathbed.

She
neither schooled
nor knows her age
or, in fact,
even how to spell her name.

She was there
when I was less than a fistful of bud
smearing me with oil, firm,
tucking me in love, soft,
watering me into a lily.
She was there
before my eyes first saw a tree
before my mind then wondered what it could be.

I would nibble on
tales cascading out of her mouth
as if words sat frozen on the edge
of her tongue,
all along, perched there
like a nightingale that cannot sing.

Marriage. It had to, so it happened.
Stuff toys are soft. Marriage is red.
So
silence listened silently to herself when she turned a
widow.

Press your lips gently together, let go, Ma
a wave rolls off your mouth.

She tames a tornado,
holding it by the reins, then
smoothening it into a coil of hair, with ease,
combing it in like
the river combs in the shore, with ease.
White cloth sari tied in deep sea trench knots
still flows freely like
a brave, white flag
around cool, hard skin.
Not a weak, melancholic mourning
but a magnificent truce with death
with custom that does not let woman forget,
a brave, white flag
around cool, hard skin
fluttering
like the river
combing in the shore.

It washed away her mother.
Drowned her niece whose name meant
honey.
Maybe her eyes finally gave way to this
mad rush of water.
Maybe, they didn’t.

Clench your teeth, slightly, shi
you didn’t know your lungs could hiss like that.

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Is Burning Brides in India an excusable method of punishing those who don’t pay dowry?

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Fair. Check. Slim. Check. Can cook. Check. Can clean. Check. Educated. Check. Well-mannered. Check. Virgin. Out of the question. 

Did you know that every hour and forty minutes a woman is lit on fire? Bride Burning is a form of domestic violence practiced in certain countries such as India and Southeast Asia.The man’s family douses the wife with flammable liquid and sets the woman on fire, leading to her fatal death. It usually occurs when her family refuses to pay any additional dowry (material gifts given to the bride by her family at the time of the wedding). Dowry in India is a malpractice which has been occurring since many ages and even more horrific is the malpractice of bride burning which is used to penalise those families who fail to abide by this malpractice and pay the dowry they owe to the boy’s family. Brides are being burned alive everyday by their in-laws for a reason which is not justified: failing to pay dowry. 

Although the  boldly pronounced demarcation between rural India and urban India has been drastically fading out over the years, the ideals, traditions and customs of society are still able to substantiate the position of the collective identity of rural districts as a completely different city with its own whimsical beliefs.

What is marriage? In India it’s a necessity. Especially for every girl. Strange isn’t it, if a boy isn’t married people are understanding. If a girl isn’t married, people grunt and stare. True colours of what I call the human animal. If a marriage is broken, the girl’s at fault or has a drop in her dignity, but the boy escapes all accusations. And of course, the most common story alive across the globe is a girl getting pregnant while the responsible male denies his fault. 

We Indians have taken this to a totally new level, which is as hilarious as it is sickening and disturbing to our country’s psych. Ladies and gentlemen, “The Dowry System”. Now, let me explain this procedure to you carefully. 

This system consists of a marriage, of course. The girl goes to the boy’s side. The girl gives up her house and family for the boy. And then to put the cherry on the top, the girl has to pay a ransom called the dowry. The dowry is increased if his list of demands aren’t fulfilled. Hmmmmppphh. Amusing, yet disgusting, isn’t it?

“Oh, she’s a shade darker than acceptable, son… add a Godrej refrigerator to the list, will you please? Oh, you might not be able to make that adjustment, then I’m afraid we’ll have to find someone else who can. Sorry, huh?”

“Haww… she’ll work post-marriage! Buddhiji have you gone mad? If you would have told us this we wouldn’t have wasted our time coming here…hmmmph. “

“Ohooooo… if the girl’s eight years younger, so what? She’s not too fat, too naive to object, and the dowry is perfect. Now, I can watch my ‘saas bahu’ serial in HD with the new Tata Sky TV Connection, ohh.. and… and… I can get myself one Meenu Sari, the red one was sooo pretty!! Now, Anitabai can’t insult me…haha. A new carpet, air conditioners and of course a gold jewellery set to match with my sparkling eyes! Uff.. marry her! Why wait?”

“Okay, Bhattacharyaji, after a lot of thinking we decided that Meera can come to our house since she is cultured, caring and pretty.”

The lines are above outline the typical thought process of a typical mother-in-law in a typical Indian household. Follow my blog, to read more about why there is so much injustice embedded in the social thinking of rural Indian areas and their beliefs of what is right, such as burning brides because they do not pay dowry before marriage.

Prostitution in Kolkata (A Report)

ImageLook out of your car window when you pass by the Kalighat Bridge or Bowbazaar and you will see disgustingly fake faces covered in superfluous make-up staring at you. But even if you look carefully you won’t see the repressed feelings of depression behind those plastered red smiles and the many forms of coercion which forced them into the job. 
Report: Chapter 2 (‘Half The Sky’ by Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn)
Region: Kolkata, India
When Nicholas D. Kristof visited the border separating Nepal and India, a police inspector shared his sick perspective on trafficking with him; apparently it was a good way of keeping harmony in society since poor girls were sacrificed to keep the rich, respected girls safe. So another factor to be observed is that the victims are always perceived as a lower rank of humans. Two methods of putting an end to sex slavery have been practiced: (I) the legalise-and-regulate model (2) the big stick approach. In the first method, health workers can distribute condoms and there would be constant government regulations through police forces to check for trafficked girls. But this never works in countries where the police accept bribes themselves (Iran) and where governance is poor. Hence, police attitudes have to be twisted and enforcing laws should be as vital as passing them. The second method uses crackdowns which are effective in an indirect way. They tend to make the police forces nervous, leading to an increasing demand for higher bribes and decreasing profits for the pimps. This ripple effect ultimately lowers the money available to pay for trafficked girls.  Many feminists argue against this, since it drives brothels underground instead of eliminating prostitution. Sweden and Netherlands lucidly outline the difference in both procedures. In Netherlands, prostitution was legalised and regulated for condom use,whereas the Swedish government declared the act of purchasing sex to be illegal. So the customer was the criminal and the prostitute was equivalent to the victim. Prostitutes in Sweden dropped by 41 percent and the price of sex fell along with them, thus reducing the number of trafficked girls. In Holland, although the legalize-and-regulate model facilitated health check ups, the number of illegal prostitutes increased, since Amsterdam was established as a center for sex tourism. Congress (USA) took an effective decision by launching the Trafficking In Persons Report (TIP) that forced U.S. embassies to accumulate data and diplomats to hold discussions with foreign ministry counterparts. Due to heavy criticizing in the TIP report and social embarrassment, the police had to crack down in Svay Pak, a Cambodian village, also a wonderland for traffickers where seven year old girls were put on sale. Now, it is difficult to find a virgin in its brothels. It has been concluded that Europe should also highlight the trafficking issue to the Eastern European countries (Turkey) wishing to enter the EU. The big stick approach needs to be specifically applied to the sale of virgins. In Asia, if some of the rich Chinese who make up most of the market for virgins are arrested , the demand will diminish and pimps will shift to other lines of profitable business. Surrendering to widespread sexual slavery in such circumstances would definitely be a foolish idea.

Feminists often fight for the legalize-and-regulate model to empower commercial sex workers and relate their success to the Sonagachi Project. Sonagachi ( golden tree) is a vast red light district situated on the narrow alleyways of Kolkata, constituting of hundreds of multistory brothels which shelter over 6000 prostitutes. The main action was to fund a sex worker union, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) which would in turn prevent trafficking and prevent AIDS by establishing condom use. DMSC became media-friendly and offered tours around Sonagachi. But it was only until Ruchira Gupta and Urmi Basu, two anti-trafficking activists acquainted the outside world to Geeta Ghosh that the true colors of the union were exposed. She arrived in Kolkata after fleeing from her abusive parents in Bangladesh, where she was sexually enslaved by a friends ‘aunt’ in Sonagachi. At twelve years of age, she was locked up with an Arab customer who raped her for a month and made her sleep naked beside him. Geeta saw no sign of DMSC, she couldn’t step outside, was paid no money and was regularly beaten. The DMSC campaign was merely a clever illusion that boasted  about how not even a single girl was trafficked. When Anup Patel, a hindi-speaking Yale medical student took one of DMSC’s tours, he found that they didn’t include ‘Neel Kamal’, a brothel which was rumored to keep trafficked girls. But when the DMSC official was threatened by Anup who said he could ‘make the appropriate phone calls’, he was taken in there and found five pimps guarding the gate and dozens of small girls scurrying about the place. Almost naked. The price was negotiated between brothel owner and customer, and most disgusting of all was that a customer could pay extra money to avoid the use of a condom. 

Although the legalize-and-regulate model was successful in preventing AIDS through use of condoms, the number of prostitutes remained the same. On the contrary, the big stick approach in Mumbai caused the number to fall from 35,000 to 6,000, but it is also true that it drove many brothels underground. But the crackdown led to a fall in profits made by pimps who paid less for trafficked girls. So trafficking decreased in Mumbai and young female flesh was shipped to Kolkata instead.

Girl Education in Cambodia (A Report)

Is education for girls an important means by which sex trafficking can diminish over the decades? 

REGION: Pailin, Cambodia
Once a girl is broken and terrified, all hope squeezed out of her, force may no longer be necessary to control her.

ImageThis chapter focuses on educating girls as a means of cutting down on trafficking. Many a time the efforts of those who wish to empower the girl child have backfired. In 1993, Tom harkin issued a legislation that forbade imports produced by children under fourteen. Girls were fired, and most of them trafficked as someone ‘promises them a great job selling fruit in a distant city’. Although Frank Grijalva, principal of The Overlake School ( Washington ) which consisted of 450 students belonging to well off families, followed the idea generated in Bernard Krisher’s ‘ Rural School Project’ that targeted poverty in Cambodia. It encouraged families to keep girls in school as a method to counter sex trafficking. Girls Be Ambitious was an American Assistance program which granted families $10 for perfect attendance as a bribe in disguise. Grijalva got his students to sponsor a school in Pailin, a town on the Thai border and a prosperous trafficking route. In a place where males received 2.6 years of education and women only 1.7, a school was definitely a miracle. Children read and wrote and learned how to use the Internet. It also allowed rich children to be aware of the poverty issue a s tackle problems with maturity.

THE STORY
Kun Sokkea, a girl of thirteen, was the first to graduate from elementary school from her family, that lived in conditions where poverty thrived. There was no electricity and she didn’t even drink milk. But the middle school was distant and due to the harassing men on the streets she was reluctant to go. Overlake students gave her a bicycle which was taken away from an elder woman and sold. The distance and deadly risks forced Kun to drop out of school and the students realized the difficulty of routing poverty.

The Flesh Trade

Report: Sex Trafficking Case 1.

Capitalisation created new markets for rice and potatoes, but also for female flesh. 

Chapter 1: Brief Report

(‘Half The Sky’ by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn)

VICTIM: MEENA HASINA
REGION: BIHAR
Although prostitution is larger in China, when compared to India, the number of girls who have been trafficked and forced into the sex trade is higher in India. A survey held in 2008 concluded that only women aged above twenty were probably voluntarily in the job. On the contrary, trafficking seems to bloom in nations which hold the sexually conservative mindset such as india, Iran and Pakistan. Men can then fulfill their lustful ‘needs’ in brothels as they seldom sleep with their partners. The awareness of sex trafficking is a major concern in itself as many American citizens are not acquainted with its potential existence. Globalization facilitated the business as the goods (the girls) could be trafficked using improved transport links. The collapse of communism and ascent of capitalization along with the epidemic of Aids gave way to an accelerated demand for virgins, making them as good as pure gold.
In the state of Bihar, nestled right beside the Nepalese border is an ironically insignificant village, Forbesgunge (as it is a sex trafficking hub). At about eight years of age, Meena Hasina, a poor Nepalese girl was sold away to the low caste Nutt tribe which supervises the local sex trade and breeds prostitution as a hereditary practice. The main mistress Ainul Bibi had prostituted her two very own daughters.Shattering a girl’s spirits has always been the initial step in every brothel.Methods can constitute of eating dog droppings, but Ainul’s brothel used effective techniques of beating with belts, sticks and iron rods. Meena was beaten on average 5 days a week since she resisted and disobeyed strongly. But then, she was drugged and raped. After seven working days and serving ten or more customers daily she was given no money. No condoms were allowed and crying was forbidden.Meena’s pregnancy was used to raise a new victim and both Naina and Vivek (her children) were held captive to keep her from escaping. Once she helped 13 girls flee but stayed behind herself. She then ran and pleaded the police for help to save her and her children, but they refused as their conscience was twisted with free sex and cheap bribes. So she ran far away in fear of being assassinated, and married a man who sympathized with her troubles. After many years, being enslaved into sex herself, Naina passed a tip (given to her by a customer) to Vivek who fled and approached Meena. Meena, with the assistance of Ruchira Gupta of Apne Aap Women Worldwide launched a police raid on the brothel and saved her daughter. At first, the brainwashed Naina refused to recognize Meena as her mother but then she realised the truth. Scorned by society today, who throws threats at her every now and then, Meena walks in public, smiling freely with high spirits.

English: A Therapeutic Medicine

English Therapy Workshop: “Hamari Identity”
Strength: 7 (Riya, Ranjita, Kabita, Rupa, Bipasha, Susmita and Sumitra)
The Experience in my own words : Vasvi Kejriwal (16 yrs)

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Hamaari Muskan; English; English workshop

Hamari Muskan works with children of prostituted women aged between 3 and 16 years in the red light area of Bowbazar (Central Kolkata).

 

 

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When the girls first came to me, I felt slightly nervous at first because of the fact that three of them were my age, 16. Although their level of English would be lower I felt the need to treat them as my equal. First, I needed to evaluate their position along the steep path of learning the language.

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Although they were in 5th or 6th grade, none of them could speak a sentence without a single grammatical error. Hence, I was in a dilemma. I didn’t know whether I should focus more on the creative writing or on the grammar. Since grammar is a vital tool when expressing oneself I thought out of 10-11 days I could easily devote 2 days to grammar. So, I tried to brush up their knowledge and revise once again. Since it was an ‘English Therapy’ Workshop it was necessary for me to add creative ingredients that stimulate their own original thinking skills and ideas. But the real task that impeded all of the aims of the workshop was the confidence to speak the language itself. All of the children weren’t able to open up and speak in English because they couldn’t part with Bengali throughout the workshop. But, I feel I really did stir up the confidence in them, which gave me a sense of pride, in its purest and cleanest form. Those girls who used to shy away from saying a single word when they entered my house on the first day, managed to confidently speak in front of a video camera and the rest of the class in English. Yes, I’m not saying they spoke the language impeccably. All I am saying is that I managed to drive and incite the courage within them. I feel I have at least placed them on the right path on which they have a long, long way to reach their destination. Each of them had exercise books and folders filled with colorful worksheets. This was the first time they had actually written their thoughts in English themselves and read it out, they told me. And I knew they all felt proud. Seven faces that had walked into my door, with blank expressions that innocently tried to conceal their fear and mental block for learning the language, had now become seven faces with joyous eyes, uplifted cheeks, well drawn out lips and smiling chests. That moment, as I sat beneath the perfectly warm winter sun, I felt a different sense of satisfaction. So complete and content. I realized how looking at each one of them made me feel ecstatic. I realized that making others lives better by just using my own energy as the instrument was the best thing that could ever have happened to me.

The girls had all showed eagerness to learn. Those ten days, that studio room, surrounded by glass, a doze of sunny warmth, an uproar of laughter here an there and seven pairs of curious and amazed eyes that stared at me along with the vulnerable and fearful voices of girls trying to speak an English word trapped the room with an aura of magical realism.