Category Archives: India

The Indian village where child sexual exploitation is the norm

women photoIndian advocacy group Jan Sahas believes there are an estimated 100,000 women and girls in caste and gender slavery. Photograph: Rebecca Conway

By Michael Safi

Many families in India still mourn the birth of a girl. But   when Leena was born, people celebrated.

Sagar Gram, her village in central India, is unique that way. Girls outnumber boys. When a woman marries, it is the groom’s family that pays the dowry. Women are Sagar Gram’s breadwinners. When they are deemed old enough, perhaps at the age of 11, most are expected to start doing sex work.

India officially abolished caste discrimination almost 70 years ago. But millennia of tradition is not easily erased. For most Indians, caste still has a defining influence on who they marry and what they eat. It also traps millions in abusive work. The exploited and trafficked children of Sagar
Gram, and dozens of other villages across India’s hinterland, are one of its most disturbing manifestations.

“It is caste and gender slavery,” says Ashif Shaikh of Jan Sahas, an advocacy group that works with members of India’s lowest castes, communities that used to be called “untouchables”.

“We estimate there are 100,000 women and girls in this situation. But there are likely more we haven’t identified. It’s an invisible issue.”

Girls in Sagar Gram grow up hearing a story. Sometime in the misty past of Hindu myth, a king fell in love with a dancer. His enraged queen issued the woman with a challenge: if she could walk a tightrope across a river, she could join the royal family, and permanently raise the status of her caste.

As the woman neared the opposite bank of the river, a step from success, the queen suddenly cut the rope. “Up until now, we lured your men through dancing,” the woman told the queen. “From now on, we will take your men from you with our bodies.”

Leena, 22, remembers learning about the woman. She remembers the awe she felt when the older girls from her caste, the Bacchara, suddenly had enough money for makeup and nice clothing. She remembers what the adults in her village told her when she was 15, and her family was having money problems.

“Your parents are going through such a hard time,” they told her. “How can you go to school? You need to be working.”

That was when she started. “The rest of the girls in my village were doing it, so I felt like I had to do it as well,” she says. “It was my responsibility.”

Girls in Sagar Gram, which lies next to a highway, are groomed for this life virtually from birth. Parents decide which of their daughters will fetch the best price. Older girls teach them how to attract customers from passing trucks and cars. The younger ones sometimes stow under beds, observing the others at work.

Sex was nonetheless a mystery to Leena. “When I was young, the most important thing was seeing the money the customer was offering,” she says. “I didn’t understand what they were doing to me. I only saw that money was coming in.”

Her virginity was prized. She made 5,000 rupees (£55) on the first night. Her price declined after that. Another Bacchara woman, aged 29, says the most she can make for an encounter is 200 rupees. She might see five or six men in a day.

India’s preference for male children has created a deep gender imbalance. Among the Baccharas of Sagar Gram village, however, the problem cuts the other way: there are 3,595 women in the district compared with 2,770 men, according to the most recent census.

Yet, visiting the village at dusk, few women or girls can be seen. “They’ve all gone to hotels or to stop cars,” an older man says, gesturing at the nearby highway. Every few hundred metres along the road, girls are reclined on rope beds, waving at any vehicle that slows.

The legal age of consent in India is 18. Madhya Pradesh, the state in which Sagar Gram is situated, recently passed the death penalty for anyone who rapes a child under 12, also increasing jail terms for adults who have sex with someone under 18. Police say seven people were arrested for child
sexual exploitation offences in Sagar Gram in the past year, five of them women who sold their underage daughters. The law is clear, but does little to sway social custom and economic distress.

“It’s a traditional business,” says deputy superintendent Nagendra Singh Sikarwar, at the nearby Jeeran police station. “Even girls we try to rehabilitate come back to it. The main issue is we don’t have alternative jobs for them. And so their families are keen that they continue the work.”

Most Bacchara men do not work. Only the lowest paid or most degrading jobs are available to them anyway. So they rely on their children. They wait on their porches with the rest of the family while their daughters are inside with customers.

One villager, Balram Chauhan, should be a rich man. He has five daughters. But he is struggling: Chauhan, 52, is the only father in the village who refuses to force his children into sex work.

“To be exposed to such violence and mental and physical abuse,” he mutters. “How could any parent willingly send them off?”

His mother was a prostitute. Despite his efforts, so were four of his sisters. “From the moment I understood what they were doing I tried to stop them,” he says. “But my parents were against me. They said it was a culture that had been going on for years. Who was I to stop it?”

Trying to break this cycle has been a lifelong struggle. His parents sabotaged his efforts to train as a health worker, Chauhan says. When he married off his two daughters to spare them from a life of prostitution, his family cut him off.

He cannot move his family outside of a Bacchara village: nobody would rent property to someone from his caste. The “higher” caste communities nearby consider his very presence polluting. So he has opened a small shop in Sagar Gram selling biscuits and confectionery, trying to eke out enough to pay for his daughters’ education.

“A lot of people here bad-mouth my daughters,” he says. “If they see them speaking on a cellphone, 10 people come to my shop and tell me: ‘Your daughter is chatting to so-and-so.’ They try to say they have loose characters.

“If I had one daughter, I could handle it. But when there are five …” he trails off. “It’s a difficult thing.”

https://www.theguardian.com/global- development/2019/jan/14/indian-village-where-child-sexual- exploitation-is-the-norm-sagar-gram-jan-sahas

India’s lower house passes citizenship bill that excludes Muslims

Legislators approve bill that will grant citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants amid protests in northeastern Assam.

indian photoProtesters set fire to effigies of the prime minister and vandalised two BJP offices [Biju Boro/ AFP]

India’s lower house of parliament has approved a bill that would grant residency and citizenship rights to non-Muslim immigrants, sparking protests that brought the country’s populous northeast to a near standstill.

The legislation, which still needs the approval of the upper house, seeks to grant rights to Hindus, Jains, Parsis and several other non-Muslim religious groups who migrated illegally from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“They have no place to go except India,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh told parliament on Tuesday. “The beneficiaries of the bill can reside in any state of the country.”

Critics have called the proposal, contained in the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, blatantly anti-Muslim and an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to boost its Hindu voter base ahead of a general election due by May.

The bill sparked a second day of protests in the northeastern state of Assam, where nearly 4 million people, accused of being foreigners, were effectively stripped of their citizenship last year.

Protesters there are angry not because the bill excludes Muslims, but because it would grant citizenship to undocumented Hindus who failed to prove their citizenship and hence were excluded from the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) published last July.

The final NRC list is due to be published on June 30.

suhas Chakma, director of the New Delhi-based Rights and Risks Analysis Group, said the citizenship bill was “absolutely unconstitutional as it targets specific groups”.

The bill is unlikely to pass the upper house of parliament, he told Al Jazeera, because the chamber is not controlled by the ruling party.

“This is going to backfire on the BJP,” he said, pointing to the anger in Assam.

Protests in Assam

In Tuesday’s protest, demonstrators set up blockades with burning tyres and vandalised two BJP offices, disrupting traffic and business from early in the morning to late afternoon.

They also burned effigies of the prime minister.

Mukesh Agarwal, Assam police spokesperson, said more than 700 demonstrators were arrested. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Samujjal Bhattacharya, leader of the All Assam Students Union, said that providing residency and citizenship rights to undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh, with which Assam state shares a long border, would threaten indigenous communities.

“Already, we have a whole lot of Muslim migrants from Bangladesh who entered Assam illegally over the years. Now, the government is trying to make a law seeking to confer citizenship to Hindus from Bangladesh. We want all illegal migrants to be detected and deported, irrespective of their religion,” Bhattacharya said.

The issue of immigration from Bangladesh has spurred periodic public uprisings in Assam since the Indian government granted rights to Bangladeshis who entered the country before 1971 – the year Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan.

BJP’s alliance partner in Assam, the Asom Gana Parishad or Assam People’s Party, quit the coalition government on Tuesday in protest against the new bill.

“We have always opposed the entry and presence of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Our party was formed in 1985 with this promise of freeing Assam from illegal migrants from Bangladesh,” AGP president Atul Bora said.

“We, therefore, cannot remain an ally of the BJP after this move by the Modi government.”
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/india-house-passes-citizenship-bill-excludes-muslims-190108145755215.html

Two Indian women enter Sabarimala temple in Kerala amid protests

India photo
The temple was briefly shut down for a ‘purification ritual’  following the announcement of the women entering [File: Sivaram V/Reuters]

by Zeenat Saberin

New Delhi, India – Two women in India’s southern Kerala state
have breached a centuries-old ban on entering an ancient Hindu
temple, despite strong protests by right-wing conservative
groups.

Bindu and Kanakadurga, who were in their forties, walked into
the Sabarimala Temple at 3:45am on Wednesday, according to the
ANI news agency.

The temple had been closed off to women of menstruating age
until India’s Supreme Court overturned the ban in September.
However, opponents of the ruling continued to block women
between the ages of 10 and 50 from entering the shrine.

“Today, two women entered Sabarimala Temple. We had issued
standing orders to police to provide all possible protection
to any woman who wants to enter the temple,” Chief Minister
Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters in Kerala’s capital city,
Trivandrum.

A video posted online by ANI showed the two women, clothed in
black, hurriedly walking into the temple. They offered prayers
there, ANI said.

The temple was briefly shut down following the move for a
“purification ritual” by priests.

According to the Sabarimala temple’s website, women of
menstruating age were not allowed to enter the shrine because
its deity, Lord Ayyappa, was celibate.

Since the top court’s verdict, Hindu hardliners, opposed to
the decision, have attacked female pilgrims, threatened
journalists and pelted police with stones.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of women in Kerala formed a 620
-km human chain “in support of gender equality” from Kasargod
in the north to the capital, Trivandrum.

Manithi Selvi, who attempted to enter Sabarimala last month
but had to back down after being hounded by violent
protesters, hailed the two women’s entry to Sabarimala as a
“brave feat”.

“This is a massive victory for the women of India. These two
women have protected India’s constitutional rights and smashed
the walls of patriarchy. But this is only the first step, we
need to guard our rights in the family, in the home, in the
workplace,” Selvi told Al Jazeera.

“Those who have tried to purify the temple today after the
women entered are standing against the constitution of this
country. We have to reject these ideas,” she added.

Bindu, one of the women who entered the temple on Wednesday,
was threatened by right-wing protesters earlier and her house
was vandalised, according to Selvi.

Conservative Hindu groups said they will continue to oppose
women entering the temple.

“The temple has now been closed for cleaning ritual following
this incident where the women forcefully entered the temple.
We will definitely go back to the top court to fight this
battle out. It’s not over yet and we will win,” Rahul Easwar,
president of the Ayyappa Dharma Sena (Ayyappa Religious Army),
that claims to protect the interests of the Lord Ayyappa told
Al Jazeera.

KK Shailaja, minister for social justice in Kerala, said her
government stands for “gender equality”. She had also
participated in the “women’s human wall” on Tuesday.

“We are upholding the top court orders and our government here
will continue to strongly back all women. We stand for gender
equality. Those saying that women are impure should be ashamed
of themselves. How can they say women are impure in front of
God?” Shailaja said.

“There is no logical reason to stop women from entering any
temple,” she said.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has backed
the anti-women protesters despite the court order, in what
critics say is a move to fan Hindu religious sentiment to make
inroads into the region.

Menstruation is rarely discussed openly in India and menstrual
blood is considered impure by many communities.

Across cities and towns, menstruating girls and women are not
allowed to prepare food, enter a temple or touch an idol.

An estimated one million Hindu pilgrims travel to the
Sabarimala temple in the southern state of Kerala annually.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS