Category Archives: India

India’s ‘Solar Man’ lights path out of poverty with clean power

Santipada Gon Chaudhuri in his office at the NB Institute of Rural Technology, Kolkata, India, in 2019. HANDOUT/Courtesy of NBIRT

KOLKATA, India, – Since he was a child, Santipada Gon Chaudhuri had sought ways to help India’s rural poor, so when the electrical engineer was invited to visit a co-worker’s home in the Himalayan village of Herma in the early 1980s, he saw his chance.

“I was appalled to see how local communities were living in darkness after sunset,” remembered Chaudhuri, 71, who then worked for the government in the northeastern state of Tripura.

“Some used kerosene lamps, but even kerosene was not always easy to get. Since I had both the skill and position to try and provide power to them, it made me act,” he said.

The villages of Tripura are located on tough, hilly terrain, where Chaudhuri realised it would be hard to put up power lines.

“But they had solar energy in abundance,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

In 1983, he used government funding to install solar panels for 70 homes, as well as running a community television and water pump – the first time anyone in the hamlet had seen electric light.

That small project sparked a career dedicated to bringing energy to people in impoverished, remote communities, a mission that earned Chaudhuri the moniker of India’s “Solar Man”.

Today, more than 100 homes and businesses in Herma are lit by an updated solar energy system, allowing villagers to be more productive while reducing their use of expensive, polluting fuels like kerosene.

“Life in the village would come to a complete standstill after sunset. But with light in our homes now, our children are studying until night,” said villager Sumoti Riyang, 33.

“Shops and business establishments remain open in the evening. We can work more. All this is generating more income for us,” she said.

In his Kolkata office, adorned with awards he has won since his first project nearly 40 years ago, Chaudhuri said he gets “great satisfaction” from seeing how solar power has changed lives in Herma, connecting residents to the modern world.

CAREER OF FIRSTS

Herma was the first tribal village in the country to gain access to solar power, and by 1989 Chaudhuri had led the installation of solar technology in nearly 40 villages across India’s northeastern states.

Four years later, he developed India’s first centralised solar power station with a distribution network on Sagar Island in the Sundarbans, home to one of the world’s largest mangrove forests, supplying 100 households through power lines.

The project was considered a breakthrough at a time when solar technology “was largely confined to laboratories and prototypes”, said Samrat Sengupta of the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a nonprofit think-tank.

By 2000, more than 400,000 people in villages around the Sundarbans national park were using solar power, through a mix of mini-grids and domestic solar-power systems.

At the time, the area had the highest per-capita consumption of solar power in the world, Chaudhuri noted.

The project earned him an Ashden Award, known as the “Green Oscars”, and the Euro Solar Award from Germany.

In 2006, it also inspired India’s then-President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to invite Chaudhuri to design a captive solar unit for the presidential palace.

“Chaudhuri’s work is a classic example of empowerment of indigenous communities through solar power,” said Arun Tripathi, director general of the National Institute of Solar Energy, an autonomous body under the renewable energy ministry.

In 2009, Chaudhuri installed the country’s first grid-connected solar plant in West Bengal’s Jamuria village, a 2-megawatt (MW) project serving 5,000 families.

This was lauded as an “environmental breakthrough” because, until then, solar power had been limited to remote areas without access to electricity, said CSE’s Sengupta.

Jamuria was the first location to use solar to replace coal power in the grid, bringing clean energy into the mainstream, he said, noting it cut the amount of coal burned locally by 2,000 kg (4,400 pounds) per hour and decreased carbon emissions.

FLOATING SOLAR

Sengupta and others said Chaudhuri’s work helped pave the way for India’s National Solar Mission, launched in 2010.

The initiative, on which Chaudhuri consulted, had an initial target of producing 20 gigawatts (GW) of solar power by 2022.

Having already nearly doubled that ahead of time, India has set a new goal of 100GW.

But as its solar power expansion has gained pace, a growing population and increasing urbanisation have made finding enough land for big projects more difficult.

In response, Chaudhuri came up with India’s first floating solar power station.

In 2014, after joining the nonprofit NB Institute for Rural Technology, which he now heads, he led construction of an experimental 10-kilowatt government-funded floating solar panel on a lake in Kolkata’s New Town.

“Designing the floating structure of the panel and anchoring it in the water body were major challenges,” he said.

That project grew into a national programme that now generates more than 1,700MW of solar power from floating panels in various coastal states around the country.

Despite its progress, India’s solar push has some limitations including high capital costs, scarcity of land and the need for sunny weather, said Partha S. Bhattacharyya, former chairman of Coal India Limited, the world’s largest coal producer which is also investing in solar energy projects.

“Thermal (coal) power is reliable and consistent, due to greater grid stability,” he added.

Chaudhuri and his team are currently experimenting with solar-powered pumps that push water up to a higher storage reservoir that can then generate hydro-electricity using micro turbines, supplying villages when needed.

“The very concept of solar power has changed from simply providing lights to controlling carbon emissions,” Chaudhuri said. “It is time that we seriously think about how to leave behind a more livable world for future generations.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20210416022435-cbymh/

Yearning eyes: the plight of the migrants in India

(Unsplash/Arturo Madrid)
(Unsplash/Arturo Madrid)

The blank look on his face … a look of hopelessness … helplessness … perplexed … it wasn’t a silent face at all. The look on his wrinkled, aged face spoke aloud, as he stood passively before the vehicle that was about to leave the slum. He had remained absolutely silent all through our interactions with the people and now his look was disturbing. It yearned for something!

We had organized food distribution for stranded migrants in one of the slums in Mumbai due to the lockdown. This slum area of migrants is not unlike other migrant living areas elsewhere in India. They live in subhuman, pathetic conditions, lacking decent housing facilities, potable water, sanitation facilities and other amenities, and are exposed to inclement weather and a hazardous atmosphere. They work for long hours, sometimes risking their health and lives, and yet are paid less than they are entitled to.

The sad eyes of this aged man seemed to express his resignation to his fate, and I wondered if it reflected the feelings of the rest of the migrant population, who also seem to have accepted their present plight helplessly. This resignation might also arise due to the insecurity, uncertainty and unpredictability of their lives.

As they lack financial and health security and have little or no social support from a caste- and class-ridden society, they are unsure of what they can or cannot control in their lives. This leads to a certain passivity, and they feel locked down deep within, unable to rise above. All that they can do is to sigh, become resigned to their “fate,” accepting life events as bound to happen, and feel helpless to change them.

In my experience, their helplessness also leads to a feeling of alienation, of being severed from the mainstream, no longer deemed worthy of love, care or support. Unable to cope with the dynamics and politics of modern-day society, they experience themselves as deficient, limited and powerless.

Even though they aren’t behind prison walls, the structures of society imprison them and they are forced to face physical and emotional captivity. Their helplessness leads them to feel exposed and vulnerable, like a bird grounded by a broken wing.

As I looked at the yearning eyes of the aged man, it seemed to me that he gazed not at the vehicle which was preparing to leave, but at the complacency of those who were more privileged than he. I think that this complacent attitude towards the plight of the migrants in India stems from ignorance about the real extent of the migrants’ situation, or the migrants’ internalized attitude of “resigning to their fate.” Are we so mired in our complacency that we have become blind to their reality? Have we etched more deeply in them the feeling that they have to be resigned to their fate?

Has our craving for power stripped them naked of their own inner strength and dignity, thus making them powerless and limited?

For me, the recent low point of this societal complacency has been the passivity of a few privileged people in India as they watched the unending trail of desperate migrants, within the city and interstate, trying to reach home to be with their loved ones. The migrants took any means — cycles, motorbikes, or container trucks. Some of them even made treacherous journeys on foot, sometimes walking hundreds of kilometers.

Social media projected photographs of women carrying their children in their arms, and their personal belongings on their heads. In such foot journeys, a few of them even lost their lives before reaching home, due to exhaustion, all because they wanted to escape dying of hunger as they tried to save themselves from the coronavirus. These are India’s nameless, faceless migrants who were unjustly denied time and transport to return home, due to the sudden and dramatic announcement of the lockdown — which was, ironically, to save lives.

But who cares for the lives of the poor?

The yearning eyes hit hard at my complacency and I realized that it is this complacency that continues to enslave them. The eyes that are “resigned to fate,” internalizing helplessness, are knocking hard at hearts filled with complacency. These eyes look into the hard-heartedness of those who wallow in the little charity that they offer and think of it as “great generosity,” but which does little to raise the self-worth and dignity of the neglected poor. The yearning eyes long for freedom and dignity, and they continue to pierce into complacent hearts, seeking a response from me and from you.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/social-justice/column/yearning-eyes-plight-migrants-india

Indian climate activist gets bail in sedition case over farm stir

Ravi's arrest stoked criticism of repression of dissent by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government [Disha Ravi/Twitter]
Ravi’s arrest stoked criticism of repression of dissent by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government [Disha Ravi/Twitter]

A court in the Indian capital has granted bail to a 22-year-old climate activist, saying there was “scanty and sketchy evidence” of sedition in her efforts to help farmers protest in a case that has drawn global attention.

Disha Ravi was arrested in the southern city of Bengaluru on February 13 and charged with sedition for her alleged role in the creation of an online toolkit that police said contained action plans used to foment violence during the farmers’ protest.

Tens of thousands have been camped out on the outskirts of New Delhi in the bitter cold since December to protest new agricultural laws they say will hurt them and benefit of large corporations. The government says the reforms will bring new investment in the vast and antiquated produce markets.

Judge Dharmender Rana on Tuesday said there was little to hold Ravi, a founder of the local chapter of Swedish climate crusader Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement, in custody any longer and criticised the authorities for detaining anyone who differed with government policy.

“Considering the scanty and sketchy evidence available on record, I do not find any palpable reasons to breach the general rule of ‘Bail’ against a 22-year-old young lady, with absolutely blemish free criminal antecedents and having firm roots in the society, and send her to jail,” Rana said in a written order.

Ravi’s arrest stoked criticism of repression of dissent by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government which has been trying for months to end the farmers’ protest.

Ravi’s lawyers had said there was nothing in the toolkit to attract the charge of sedition, which carries a life term.

“Perusal of the said ‘Toolkit’ reveals that any call for any kind of violence is conspicuously absent,” the judge said in a written order.

The protests present one of the biggest challenges to Modi’s rule. Several rounds of talks between the farmers and his government have failed, and Modi has faced criticism for using heavy handed tactics to curb the movement.

Police had alleged that the toolkit was authored by Ravi and two others and had the backing of supporters of a Canadian-based group called the Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF).

They also said Ravi had shared the toolkit with Thunberg, who is one of several international celebrities who have lent public support to the farmers’ cause.

The judge said he did not find Ravi’s link to the toolkit or PJF objectionable.

“We didn’t assemble the toolkit in question, although links to our materials were included in that document,” PJF founder Mo Dhaliwal told the Reuters news agency.

Dhaliwal also countered the police’s claim that the PJF was a group which held separatist views.

“We have only created space for open debate and dialogue,” he said, alleging it was under fire because Modi’s government was “fostering a culture of fear where dissent is equated with sedition”.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/2/24/indian-climate-activist-gets-bail-in-sedition-case-over-farm-stir

Holy Spirit sister who survived COVID-19 donates plasma to save others

Holy Spirit Sr. Sneha Joseph donates her plasma at the government-managed Nair Hospital in Mumbai, capital of the western Indian state Maharashtra. (Provided photo)
Holy Spirit Sr. Sneha Joseph donates her plasma at the government-managed Nair Hospital in Mumbai, capital of the western Indian state Maharashtra. (Provided photo

MUMBAI, INDIA — Though she is a hospital administrator and nurse in western India who once trained nurses in the South Sudan during ethnic fighting, a Catholic nun’s worst fear about getting COVID-19 was going on a ventilator.

“I was certain that once I was put on the ventilator I would not survive. I would visualize how I was going to die,” said Holy Spirit Sr. Sneha Joseph, remembering a harrowing incident waking up after her appendectomy years earlier, intubated and gasping for breath.

But when she caught the virus, she not only escaped the ventilator, she survived after 18 days of treatment and ended up donating convalescent plasma to try to save the lives of coronavirus patients. “There was an inner voice that urged me to donate plasma,” she said.

Joseph was honored Nov. 1, 2020, as a COVID-19 Warrior by the governor of Maharashtra state at his residence in Mumbai, the state capital.

“I am proud of you. Thank you for your selfless service to society,” Gov. Bhagat Singh Koshyari told Joseph while presenting the member of the Missionary Sisters, Servants of the Holy Spirit a letter recognizing her “exemplary service.”

The governor, who is the Indian president’s representative in the state, pointed out that Joseph has inspired many COVID-19 survivors to donate blood to treat other patients.

The Warrior award program was organized by Spandan (heartbeat) Arts, a local nongovernmental organization, along with Ashish Shelar, a legislator in the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party.

Joseph donated her blood for the fifth time Dec. 9, in what news reports called a first for a female donor. “I still want to donate [blood], however, doctors advised me to wait,” the 57-year-old nun told Global Sisters Report in November after her fourth donation.

Joseph, who has a master’s degree in nursing, is currently the chief executive officer of the Holy Spirit Hospital, a multispecialty tertiary care institution her congregation manages at Andheri, a suburb of Mumbai.

The nun donates plasma only to poor COVID-19 patients in Nair Hospital and Medical College, a government-managed institution in Mumbai.

Ramesh S. Waghmare, a doctor and associate professor of the blood bank at Nair Hospital who facilitated Joseph’s blood donation, defines plasma therapy as a medical procedure that uses the blood of a recovered patient to create antibodies in those infected.

As part of the procedure, plasma, the fluid part of blood containing antibodies, is separated and transfused into a COVID-19 patient’s body. “This procedure has not been officially approved as an effective measure to treat COVID-19 patients. But it has shown positive results in our hospital,” Waghmare told GSR over the phone.

The doctor said his hospital conducts “guided plasma therapy” on COVID-19 victims with convalescent plasma from recovered patients such as Joseph as part of a clinical trial.

“We transfuse two units of 200 milliliters [6.76 ounces] each on a patient in two successive days and our results so far have been successful,” Waghmare explained.

The doctor lauded Joseph for donating plasma multiple times when other survivors have been reluctant to support the trial even once.

The Catholic nun, he added, has expressed willingness to assist them in the trial by giving her plasma unconditionally. “We are all indebted to her,” he said.

Joseph, however, believes that it was God’s plan to let her contract the disease so that she could gain new insights into her religious life and her desire to serve impoverished people.

She had her fears when she became ill, as the disease is so new.

“When I knew that I had contracted the virus, I was scared and thought my end had come,” Joseph recalled.

The nun said she had mentally prepared to die, if that was God’s will. She battled for life in the hospital for 18 days in May. A week after recovery, she was back on duty.

“Now I realize that God had a special purpose in letting me contract COVID-19. Initially, I was disappointed, as people keep away from COVID-19 patients even after they are healed,” she said.

Ursulines of Mary Immaculate Sr. Beena Devassia Madhavath, who heads the Sister Doctors Forum in India, appreciates Joseph’s “courage and generosity.”

Many people have fears and misconceptions about donating plasma, but Joseph had no problem, says Madhavath, who is also the medical superintendent of Mumbai’s Holy Family Hospital. “It is really a humanitarian work,” she told GSR.

Madhavath points out that not everyone can donate plasma. “A woman is eligible only if she has not conceived. Pregnancy leads to cross-reactive antibodies that can cause harm,” she said. (Tests used in Western nations to determine antibody safety in women are largely unavailable in India.)

“It takes at least three hours for donating the blood, and it needs a lot of courage and commitment,” the doctor nun explained. What she admires about Joseph is that the Holy Spirit nun could “spare so much time from her hectic work schedule in her hospital where she does double jobs as an administrator and a nurse.”

Madhavath said all sisters in the country are “really proud that one of us has done a marvelous work for the humanity.”

Joseph credits her religious vocation for paving the way. “If I was not a nun, I would not have been able to donate my plasma. I believe my religious vocation has a special purpose,” she said.

Even though she had heard about plasma therapy, she had no idea how to go about it. One of her colleagues, Pravin Nair, encouraged her to donate.

Joseph fulfills all requirements of a plasma donor. “Generally, one needs an antibody [level] greater than three for donating plasma, but mine was greater than 10,” she said. “My serum protein level also was on the higher side, a good indication for donation.”

Nair hails Joseph as a self-driven person who is committed to helping the poor. “When I informed her about the opportunity and importance of donating plasma, she identified the government hospital and started donation,” said Nair, the head of the microbiology department and infection control at Holy Spirit Hospital.

He added that Joseph always maintains that her mission in life is to serve others, especially poor people in a time of pandemic. She ignored offers from private hospitals and chose the government hospital since poorer patients flock there, he explained.

Some studies say plasma therapy is not useful to treat COVID-19, Nair said, but “treating a virus with antibodies is an effective mechanism in medical science and we believe plasma therapy is useful to treat pandemic virus.”

Another admirer of Joseph is Auxiliary Bishop Allwyn D’Silva of Bombay. “She had a very bad attack and suffered a lot,” said the prelate, who shot a video of the sister donating plasma to encourage others to follow her example.

“It is very rare for a woman to take such a step, but she realized the pain and suffering of COVID-19 patents and that helped her walk the extra mile,” D’Silva told GSR.

The prelate said he has found Joseph to be “a very humble” person. “She does it not for any fame,” he said.

Many others work in Catholic hospitals, but Joseph has become an example not only for Christians but others, too, D’Silva said. “Her life gives us a clear message: What we get, we need to give back.”

Joseph, the youngest among six children in a Catholic family of Kerala, a southwestern Indian state, wonders why her donations have drawn so much attention.

“As a child I had a passion to serve the poor and I grabbed the opportunity to give my plasma for their treatment,” she said. “I want to help only the poor who will not be able to pay for the treatment.”

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/news/holy-spirit-sister-who-survived-covid-19-donates-plasma-save-others

‘Madman’ digs for decades to bring water to dry Indian village

Laungi Bhuiya is now being hailed as the 'Water Man' and 'River Man' [Courtesy of Jai Prakash/Al Jazeera]
Laungi Bhuiya is now being hailed as the ‘Water Man’ and ‘River Man’ [Courtesy of Jai Prakash/Al Jazeera]

Gaya, Bihar – For nearly 30 years, Ramrati Devi had called her husband Laungi Bhuiya “mad” and tried everything, even denying him food, to get him to focus more on supporting their children and less on what seemed like an impossible dream.

The other villagers in Kothilwa, a parched and poor hamlet in a remote corner of India’s eastern state of Bihar, dismissed Bhuiya when he said he would bring water to them one day.

Kothilwa is about 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Gaya, the closest major city, and is home to nearly 750 people – most of them Dalits – who live in mud huts.

Dalits, formerly referred to as the “untouchables”, fall at the bottom of India’s complex caste hierarchy and have historically faced social marginalisation and discrimination.

A narrow unpaved road off a highway is the only way to reach Kothilwa, a village tucked into a barren landscape, rocks dotting its red earth, on which nothing except maize and some hardy pulses that need little water grew.

Bhuiya, who owns a small piece of land, always reckoned that if he could dig a canal to redirect the streams running up in the hills to his village – which only had a couple of wells for drinking water that were not enough for irrigation – he and others would be able to grow vegetables and wheat and support themselves.

Therefore, oblivious to his wife’s reprimands and the villagers’ taunts, Bhuiya, now 70, would head up into the nearby Bangetha Hills to dig.

He says he kept at it for nearly three decades, with rudimentary tools and a dogged determination.

“I was always angry with him for not caring about the children. There was never any money, never enough food,” his wife Devi told Al Jazeera.

Soon, Bhuiya came to be known in the village as the “madman” possessed by a dream of bringing water to the village. His son Brahmdeo said the family even took him to the village healers to exorcise him. Three of his four sons had migrated to other cities to find work.

But a determined Bhuiya kept digging. He knew water from the monsoon rains filled the many streams in the Bangetha Hills and that they could be diverted to the village.

For years, Bhuiya headed out for the hills to dig every day – a feat reminiscent of the epic efforts of Dashrath Manjhi, another Dalit from Gaya, decades ago.

After 22 years of cutting through Gaya’s Gehlour Hills using only a hammer and chisel, Manjhi in 1982 shortened the distance between his village and the nearest town from 55 to 15 kilometres (from 34 to 9 miles).

Manjhi’s feat earned him the sobriquet “Mountain Man”. The government released a postage stamp featuring him and Bollywood produced a biopic about him in 2016.

“I had heard about him and I thought if he can do it, why can’t I?” Bhuiya told Al Jazeera. “They all thought I was mad.”

‘We used to think he is possessed’

Last month, local journalist Jai Prakash had gone to the village to cover a story about the villagers building their own road to the village when Bhuiya came up to him and asked if he could show him a canal he had dug.

“He had dug a minor canal for irrigation. He said it took him nearly 30 years, so we went on my motorcycle to see it,” Prakash told Al Jazeera.

“In the monsoons, the water had come to the little dam the water department had constructed last year… Laungi Dam.”

As soon as Prakash’s story was published in a local Hindi newspaper on September 3, Kothilwa became a hotspot as journalists, political leaders, social workers and activists began flocking to the village to meet Bhuiya.

Bhuiya was able to dig a canal 3km (1.86 miles) long but hadn’t been able to bring it all the way uphill to Kothilwa, and was forced to stop digging a kilometre away from the village.

As news of his efforts spread, Bihar state’s Water Minister Sanjay Jha came to know about it and ordered the extension of the canal till Bhuiya’s village.

The day Al Jazeera visited Kothilwa, a man from a neighbouring village had walked into Bhuiya’s courtyard and was making a speech about the failures of the government.

A placard with an enlarged image of a cheque for 100,000 rupees ($1,365) presented to him by Mankind Pharma, an Indian pharmaceutical company, hung outside the door of his house.

On the same day, Bihar’s former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi visited the village and promised Bhuiya he would be recognised by the Indian president. Villagers present asked Manjhi for a hospital and a road to be built and named after Bhuiya.

That evening, Bhuyia, resplendent in a white kurta and dhoti with flowers in his hand, went to an auto showroom in Gaya where a tractor decorated gaily with balloons stood waiting for him.

It was a gift from Anand Mahindra, chairman of the auto giant Mahindra Group, who had heard through a local journalist’s tweets that Bhuiya was now dreaming of owning a tractor after having dug the irrigation canal.

“We used to think he is possessed,” his son Brahmdeo said.  “Things have changed now. We have some money we got because of his work.”

Bramhdeo says he now wants a fan, and maybe some clothes and good food too.

Meanwhile, Bhuiya’s wife Ramrati Devi watched as her husband, now being hailed as the “Water Man” and “River Man”, had been whisked away by a crowd of cheering villagers.

They had a good reason to be happy. This year, the village of Kothilwa was able to grow wheat.

https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2020/10/30/mad-man-digs-for-20-years-to-make-canal-in-remote-india-village

Girls from India’s villages ‘break gender barrier’ with football

Thanks to an initiative by local NGO MJAS, football has helped girls from Ajmer district in Rajasthan state overcome societal taboos [Valay Singh/Al Jazeera]
Thanks to an initiative by local NGO MJAS, football has helped girls from Ajmer district in Rajasthan state overcome societal taboos [Valay Singh/Al Jazeera]

Ajmer, India – In a small football ground outside a remote village in India’s Rajasthan state, dozens of girls are busy practising, with shouts for passes ringing out as the sun set behind the small hills.

It was unheard of that girls from Hasiyawas and neighbouring villages in Ajmer district, about 400km (248 miles) from India’s capital, New Delhi, would play outdoor sports. The region is known for widespread child marriages and its lack of public space for women.

According to UNICEF, there are 223 million child brides in India, with nearly 15 million of them in the western state of Rajasthan.

Now, an initiative by a local NGO is using football to help girls from Ajmer overcome social taboos and give them a chance to strive for their dreams.

The Mahila Jan Adhikar Samiti (MJAS), which loosely translates to Women’s Rights Committee, introduced football to female pupils in four villages in Ajmer district with the aim of empowering them. Since 2016, the Football for Girls programme has trained more than 400 girls in the four villages.

“We wanted to use sports and particularly football because it is considered a man’s sport, to break the gender barrier,” Indira Pancholi of MJAS told Al Jazeera.

“Football clubs have also helped us curb child marriage in these communities because girls became aware of their rights through our workshops. Earlier, they would have just went along if their parents tried to marry them but not now, they have the strength to say no.”

While girls are married off as children, they are sent to the husband’s house – in a ritual known as “gauna” – only when they reach the legal age for marriage, which is 18 for women and 21 for men.

According to government data, at least half of all child marriages in Ajmer took place in its villages.

About 30km (18 miles) from Ajmer, in Hasiyawas village, Mamata Gujjar, 16, recalls how it was tough to convince her parents to let her play football. “My father refused, saying it is a boy’s game, and he won’t let me wear shorts. I said, ‘All right, let me play in salwar kameez [a long tunic-like shirt and baggy trousers] then’,” Mamata told Al Jazeera.

Hasiyawas is a small village of about 150 families, most of them belonging to the Gujjar community, an agricultural and pastoral community with poor socio-economic conditions. The village is also home to a few Dalit families, who are at the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy, once known as “untouchables”. Football, a contact sport, is now helping to bridge age-old social distancing among various caste groups.

After the match was over, 18-year old Suman Gujjar from Hasiyawas told Al Jazeera that, “earlier Dalits, especially women, were not allowed to sit in front of Gujjars, if they did sit, it was on the floor. Till I joined the football club I too thought that we were of ‘higher birth’ and Dalits were unclean and ‘lower’. I have realised how wrong I was because of the workshops I attended during training.” This year, Suman is among a handful of girls to gain entrance to college and will pursue humanities at a government college in Ajmer.

Nisha Parihar, who joined the football club in nearby Chachiyawas village four years ago, says the boys of her village objected to girls playing football and tried to disrupt their matches and pass offensive comments.

“They would puncture the ball, occupy the ground and refuse to make space for us to play. We had to fight them off sometimes. Finally, we complained to the village council who then asked boys to play at a separate time,” the 13-year-old said, with a smile which seemed to reflect pride.

Sapna, 17, the captain of the team, echoed her friend’s sentiments. “Till we started playing, boys were never seen in the sports field. Just to prevent us from playing, they too started coming to the field,” she said evoking giggles from other girls.

Before football entered their lives, like most girls in rural Rajasthan and many other states of India, their daily routine was restricted to cooking, cleaning, milking cattle and other housework.

“We are mostly at home doing household chores and sometimes watch TV. But boys are free to stay out and go wherever they want. We didn’t have the courage to even ask our parents to let us go to play. We couldn’t think we could do things boys do,” said Monica Gujjar, a striker from Hasiyawas.

https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2020/10/2/rajasthan-football-story

Indian nuns aid migrant laborers stranded on way home during lockdown

Mothers and children wait at Kaushambi Bus Terminal on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border to go to their villages in eastern India hundreds of kilometers away. (Jessy Joseph)

New Delhi — Sr. Sujata Jena could not sleep after seeing a picture of a young girl with a heavy load on her head in a WhatsApp message. “Her stained face, wet with tears, haunted me,” the member of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary told Global Sisters Report.

The photo was being circulated to illustrate the plight of hundreds of thousands of people who hit India’s highways following a nationwide lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

As Jena saw on social media platforms pictures and videos from around India, the 38-year-old lawyer and nun set out to help migrants reach home. One video clip showed 10 workers crammed into a room in Kerala, a southwestern Indian state. The men said their employer had locked them up and that they desperately needed help to reach their villages in Odisha, more than 1,000 miles northeast.

As the lockdown confined her to her convent in the Odisha capital of Bhubaneswar, Jena on May 17 joined a social media network that helps the stranded migrants.

By June 24, more than 300 migrants, including the 10, stranded in southern Indian states reached their native villages in states such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and West Bengal in eastern India, thanks to Jena’s efforts.

Jena is among hundreds of Catholic nuns who are on the front lines as the church reaches out to migrant laborers affected by the initial 21-day lockdown Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed on India’s 1.3 billion people from midnight of March 25 with only four hours’ notice.

The lockdown, considered the world’s largest and toughest attempt to contain the pandemic, has been extended five times with varying degrees of relaxation until July 31.

The lockdown suddenly rendered jobless millions of migrant laborers in cities.

“As they lost the job, they had no place to stay, no income and no security,” says Salesian Fr. Joe Mannath, national secretary of the Conference of Religious India, the association of men and women religious major superiors in the country.

As the lockdown halted India’s public transport system, migrant laborers in cities swarmed highways and roads within a few days. Most walked and some cycled to their native villages, hundreds of miles away.

Mannath says the fear of starvation and contracting the coronavirus led to a “chaotic exodus” of workers from cities.

Church groups are among those trying to help these workers.

On June 6, Caritas India, the Indian bishops’ aid agency, informed a webinar that the church reached more than 11 million people during the lockdown period, including many migrant workers.

Mannath, who coordinates India’s more than 130,000 religious, including nearly 100,000 women, claims the bulk of that service was carried out by the religious.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/news/indian-nuns-aid-migrant-laborers-stranded-way-home-during-lockdown

Catholic aid groups provide relief to those affected by Cyclone Amphan

Residents survey damage left by Cyclone Amphan in Gobardanga, West Bengal, India, May 21, 2020. Credit: Boby Ortain/Shutterstock.

CNA Staff, – Catholic Relief Services is among the agencies providing aid to those impacted by Cyclone Amphan in Bangladesh and eastern India. The storm killed at least 96, millions were evacuated, and Kolkata was devastated.

The cyclone made landfall in India May 20, and it dissipated the following day. It brought winds of as much at 160 mph, and waves up to 15 feet.

Kolkata, a city of 4.5 million, was without power for at least 14 hours, and its roads were flooded.

“Initially they were not willing to evacuate, because they were weighing between the risk of the cyclone and the invisible risk of Covid-19,” Snigdha Chakroborty, CRS’ Bangladesh country director, told PBS NewsHour May 20 of local residents.

“They do not have income, they do not have homes, they also lost their crops in the field. So basically it a devastating and painful situation that they will have to live with now.”

CRS and Caritas have indicated there are immediate needs for shelter, potable water, sanitation, and hygiene.

Ahead of the storm, the groups indicated they had “pre-positioned emergency supplies” and were “supporting efforts to clean evacuation centers and procure critically needed supplies in local markets.”

Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Calcutta has asked Church officials to open their facilities to those rendered homeless by the cyclone, according to UCA News. The “top priority is to arrange food for so many people who have lost everything,” he told the independent Catholic news source.

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/catholic-aid-groups-provide-relief-to-those-affected-by-cyclone-amphan-78538

Indian court backs slavery survivors in compensation fight

Screenshot_2020-03-17 Indian court backs slavery survivors in compensation fight
ARCHIVE PHOTO: A survivor of slavery who wished to remain anonymous poses for a picture in New Delhi, India March 7, 2018. Picture taken March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

CHENNAI, India,- An Indian court has ordered the state of West Bengal to give trafficking survivors the full compensation they are entitled to without pre-conditions, a ruling lawyers said could help other victims access the money they need to rebuild their lives.

In a first, the Calcutta High Court last week quashed West Bengal’s policy of forcing survivors to put their victim compensation money in a 10-year bank scheme, and only allowing them access to the monthly interest payments.

In it’s ruling, the court said that the amount of money awarded to victims by the government was already “meager and ought not to be further fettered”, while calling on state authorities to end their “big brother” approach.

“The court has empowered survivors,” said policy advocate Kaushik Gupta, who represented the victims in court.

“The state had a very patriarchal and parental approach towards an adult citizen. Survivors should be given financial guidance but their money should not be controlled.”

India reported 3,000 cases of trafficking in 2017, with the victims largely being poor women and children being lured with better jobs and pushed into slavery by traffickers.

West Bengal has traditionally had very high trafficking numbers and has struggled to successfully rehabilitate survivors, anti-trafficking campaigners said.

Currently, less than 1% of India’s trafficking survivors win victim compensation – which is funded by the central government but distributed by states.

Such compensation awards are hindered by low awareness of the schemes and the high burden of proof it takes to succeed, studies have shown.

Every state has its own version of the scheme, with compensation running from 100,000 rupees ($1,400) to 1,000,000 rupees with pre-conditions attached.

 

 

 

https://news.trust.org/item/20200317094948-oega9/

 

India PM Modi hands over his social media accounts for Women’s Day

Screenshot_2020-03-05 India PM Modi hands over social media accounts for Women's Day
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets the media prior to the BRICS summit in Brasilia, Brazil November 14, 2019. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS

NEW DELHI, – India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hand over his social media accounts on Sunday to celebrate inspiring women on International Women’s Day, months after facing criticism over a series of high-profile rape cases.

With more than 50 million followers on Twitter, Modi, 69, has one of the biggest followings on social media among world leaders.

“This Women’s Day, I will give away my social media accounts to women whose life & work inspire us. This will help them ignite motivation in millions,” Modi said in a tweet on Tuesday.

He asked people to share entries of such women using the hashtag #SheInspiresUs, which became the top trending topic on Twitter about an hour after he posted his tweet.

His support for the March 8 event came after he faced flak for failing to check violence against women following a series of rape cases late last year that triggered mass protests.

In November, a 27-year-old vet was raped, suffocated and her dead body set alight on the outskirts of the southern city of Hyderabad.

Another rape victim was set on fire and killed by a gang of men, including her alleged rapists, in December.

In the same month, a court sentenced a former lawmaker from Modi’s ruling party to life imprisonment for raping a teenager.

These cases highlighted India’s grim record of sexual violence against women despite enacting some of the world’s toughest laws after the gang rape of a Delhi student on a bus in December 2012, which sparked global outrage.

One woman reported a rape every 15 minutes on average in India in 2018, according to government data released in January.

 

 

 

https://news.trust.org/item/20200303094604-h0hgs/