Human Rights office takes the sacrifice of a slum in Lucknow

Human Rights office takes the sacrifice of a slum in Lucknow

In preparation for the inauguration of the Human Rights Commission Office in Vibhuti Khand, Gomti Nagar, Lucknow by the Governor (behind Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, next to Indian Oil office) on 29 September 2009, the authorities have demolished the Gandhi Nagar Ward slum in which about a hundred families lived.

Most of them were 'dholak' manufacturers from Gonda District and stone cutters from UP. This slum was located on the adjacent piece of land on which the Human Rights Commission Office is supposed to come up. "Was it really necessary to demolish this slum merely because the Governor has to make an appearance momentarily on the adjacent piece of land?" said noted social activist and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee (2002) Dr Sandeep Pandey. Dr Pandey is also the national convener of National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM).


On the other hand these families living in the slum, and thousands still to continue to live this way, are not being accommodated in the much publicised housing schemes for the poor, both central and state. "One wonders who is availing the benefit of these housing schemes - the Basic Services for Urban Poor of central government and the "Kanshiram Shahri Garib Awas Yojana of the state government and what happened to the funds allocated for these schemes?" asks Dr Sandeep Pandey.

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West Bengal authorities put media's credibility at stake

West Bengal authorities put media's credibility at stake

A growing outrage is palpable from the civil society against the abuse of media's credibility to arrest Chhatradhar Mahto, the leader of Lalgarh movement in West Bengal, India.

The West Bengal police and authorities disguised as a fake media representative and with the assistance of a local media personnel, managed to reach Chhatradhar Mahto. Mahto was arrested then.

Dr Vishnu Rajgadia, Secretary of Jharkhand RTI Forum and a noted social activist, took the initiative with support from National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) leaders to begin a signature petition campaign demanding the Prime Minister of India to intervene and stop this trend which is jeopardising the credibility of media in India. Citizens have mobilized individuals to sign a petition against the misuse of media's credibility in West Bengal to arrest Mahto. The signature petition got hundreds of signatures from citizens in a short span of time (signature petition is online here). Prominent among those include the Magsaysay Awardee (2002) Dr Sandeep Pandey, noted Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) activist and adviser to Supreme Court Commissioner on Right to Food Arundhati Dhuru, filmmaker Anand Patwardhan,

"The West Bangal police has misused the credibility of media to arrest a leader of Lalgarh movement, Chhatradhar Mahto on 26 September 2009. This is very objectionable as it is a misuse of the credibility and good name of the media. This is also an encroachment in the autonomy of Media" says Dr Vishnu Rajgadia.

"This will create various problems for the journalists including the threat of their life during reporting in any so-called disturbed area. Therefore, we request you all to consider signing the online petition to protest the misuse by West Bengal police and to support a law to prevent such possibilities" further adds Dr Rajgadia, who began the petition on behalf of several human rights organizations.

It poses serious questions on the way police is functioning in a democratic country. Draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and other such Acts which are rule of the law in other states like Chhattisgarh, have only caused seemingly irreparable damage to social democratic fabric.

When media used disguise to conduct sting operations, the authorities took them to task and hardly any concrete action has come out of the evidence collected thereby in public interest. However authorities shamelessly have used the disguise of media and put media's credibility at risk in West Bengal.

"In a democratic country like India, each and every institution has its own duties as well as each of them have been provided certain space, authority and liberty to execute their responsibility. No institution has any right to encroach the autonomy of other institution" says the petition.

"The media persons are visiting in various remote areas including "Disturbed" fields and they also have to meet with various people including any accused person to collect news and to expose various socio-political-economic conflicts of the society. The media has a credit to keep its sources secret and to not harm somebody during their news gathering process" further states the petition.

"Therefore, the act of West Bengal Government through its CID and Police is totally unethical and unjust. It has created a big threat to the media persons especially for them who are visiting to various remote areas of so-called insurgency. Now, every body will suspect the identity of even the genuine media persons putting them at grave risk" says the petition.

The petition also demands a law in place to prevent any such abuse of media in future. Hope effective measures to safeguard media from any such misuse in future get in place as soon as possible.

[To sign the petition, click here or go to: http://www.petitiononline.com/wbmisuse/petition.html ]

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Extrapulmonary TB: India needs to do more

Extrapulmonary TB: India needs to do more
Bobby Ramakant and Paul Chinnock
Source: TropIKA.net

A call has been made for India to do more to combat the extrapulmonary form of tuberculosis. The Indian branch of Advocacy to Control TB Internationally (ACTION) says the country’s TB control programme is failing to take sufficient action to diagnose cases of the condition.
Figure 1
“Extrapulmonary TB” describes TB of any part of body except the lungs. An estimated 15-25% of TB cases worldwide are extrapulmonary. Patients do not have a cough and so TB infection is often not suspected. Their sputum tests negative for TB bacteria, so this form of the disease is hard to diagnose, often requiring invasive procedures to obtain diagnostic specimens and the use of more sophisticated laboratory techniques. People living with HIV/AIDS face a high risk of developing extrapulmonary TB and the condition has become more common since the advent of HIV.

Diagnosing and treating people with extrapulmonary TB is now internationally recognised as a major public health concern but many countries have yet to accord it a sufficient level of priority in their control efforts. ACTION India says this is the case with India’s Revised National TB Control Programme (RNTCP).

“Diagnosis of extrapulmonary TB is not covered by RNTCP – only treatment of extrapulmonary TB is covered”, says Mamta Jacob, Advocacy Officer, ACTION India. He points out that, “Medical colleges provide diagnosis services for extrapulmonary TB and then patients can be referred to treatment for extra pulmonary TB at RNTCP”. However, about 70-80% of patients in India seek care first from the private sector, where – if available – diagnostic tests for extrapulmonary TB are prohibitively expensive (US$30-120).

The difficulties and costs of diagnosing extrapulmonary TB add to the burdens faced by national TB programmes, particularly in the case of India where there are more people with TB than in any other country. According to India’s country profile in WHO’s latest Global Tuberculosis Control report, 1,296,000 new or relapsed cases were notified during 2007; 17% of new notified cases were of extrapulmonary TB. The rise of drug-resistant forms of TB is amongst the programme’s other challenges.

TB programmes across the world need improved and affordable diagnostic tests for all forms of the disease.

ACTION India
ACTION India says it engages in country-level advocacy efforts to increase funding and demand for TB control programmes and address policy constraints to diagnosis and treatment in India. ACTION India works directly with the Indian government, multilateral agencies including the World Bank and Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria (GFATM), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other technical organizations, and allies including the Stop TB Partnership and Global Health Advocates.

Bobby Ramakant and Paul Chinnock
Source: TropIKA.net

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Globally-acclaimed Surgeon Prof Rama Kant now on SRNT Treatment Committee

Globally-acclaimed Surgeon Prof Rama Kant now on SRNT Treatment Committee

One of the most-credible International agencies for tobacco research – SRNT - has inducted Lucknow-based Internationally-acclaimed Surgeon and tobacco control crusader - Professor (Dr) Rama Kant - in its Treatment Committee. Prof Rama Kant began the first Tobacco Cessation Clinic (TCC) in late 1990s and was also the first Indian General and Cardio-thoracic Surgeon to be conferred upon the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General's International award in recognition of his lifetime contribution to tobacco control in the year 2005. India is one on the list of (Asia, Africa, Oceana Caribbean and Latin America) AAOLA membership countries. Dr Mira Aghi represents the whole of AAOLA on the SRNT Board of Directors.

Presently Prof Rama Kant heads the Department of Surgery at Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University (CSMMU - upgraded King George's Medical College) and is also the Director of the CSMMU Tobacco Cessation Clinic (TCC).

The Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT), head-quartered in the United States of America, encourages scientific research on public health efforts for the prevention and treatment of cigarette and tobacco use. Dr Jean-Francois Etter, Faculty of Medicine, University of Geneva, Switzerland, who is the co-chair of SRNT Treatment Committee, welcomed Prof Rama Kant to the SRNT Treatment Committee.

"Scientific evidence has unequivocally established that tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke causes death, disease and disability. There is clear scientific evidence that prenatal exposure to tobacco smoke causes adverse health and developmental conditions for children. Secondhand smoke exposure causes heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults. Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their heart disease risk by 25–30% and their lung cancer risk by 20–30%.There is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure. We can use the existing vast healthcare network of our country in tobacco control, simply by better management and utilization of the existing healthcare staff, at no extra cost. Involvement of health care workers in managing tobacco cessation programmes is a major tool in curbing the tobacco epidemic" says Prof Rama Kant.

"About 10 lakh tobacco-related deaths occur in India alone. 2500 Indians lose their lives each day because of tobacco use. India has the highest number of oral cancer cases in the world and 90% of all oral cancers are tobacco related and 40% of all cancers in India are due to tobacco use. Those who use tobacco should quit tobacco use before it is too late" says Prof Rama Kant.

Prof Rama Kant is the President-elect of the Association of Surgeons of India (ASI), UP, and also heads the Lucknow College of Surgeons (LCS). He is also the recepient of the National award from Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of Government of India (1997), Anushansa Puruskar of UP State government of India (for the years 1998 and 2000) and Birbal Sahini Award (1995).

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2009 UNICEF ICBD Regional Award winner children in media spotlight

2009 UNICEF ICBD Regional Award winner children in media spotlight
Kulsum Mustafa

LUCKNOW: September 25, 2009: They trooped in with an air of confidence. There were 20 of them. From ages six to 14. Proud winners of the UNICEF Regional Award for International Children's Day of Broadcasting (ICDB). The All India Radio (AIR) children's programme team was accompanied by their mentor and senior AIR programme producer, Ms Archana Prasad. The radio team which had recently won international laurels had been invited to the UP Press Club with the media fraternity at the bi-monthly "Media for Children," programme jointly hosted by Media Nest and UNICEF, the former a forum of media professionals.

Also present were the UNICEF communication specialist, Augustine Veliath, and one of the resource person for the radio programme that won the award, Dr Nautiyal, a scientist. The children, expert at handling the microphone, shared their experiences about the making of this special radio programme that had won them this prestigious international award and brought honour and recognition to the radio station.


ICDB is a day set aside each year to celebrate children's broadcasting and encourages young people to get involved in television and radio broadcasting. The 2009 ICDB theme was, "Unite for Children: Tune in to Kids
."

The ICDB award was instituted 19 years ago. This is for the first time that AIR Lucknow has won it. A grand award ceremony is slated for 10 November 2009, in New York, where the regional award winners will be honoured and out of these regional awards one international winner will be declared as the global winner.


Besides India the other regional winners in the race for this international honour are Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Germany, Ghana, Kenya, Malaysia, South Africa, Suriname, Togo and

Ukraine.

The US based jury judged the entries between June and August 2009. The entries were evaluated by teams of broadcasters, radio and television experts and communications specialists. The judges looked at content, execution and year-round youth participation.


AIR Lucknow’s entire two hour programme broadcast on March 1, had been conceptualized, prepared and presented by children for this special broadcasting day. Later an edited version of 30 minutes was prepared which was send as an entry for the competition to New York.


It was an email message of Stephen Cassidy, Chief of UNICEF's Internet, Broadcast and Image Section, to Ms Prasad that carried the happy news. It read, "We are thrilled with broadcasters’ dedication to the ICDB and children's programming. We are inspired by the diversity and creativity these broadcasters exhibit in celebrating UNICEF's mission to involve young people in the media-making process. Children around the world reap the benefits of their commitment."


The mail went on to say how the ICDB was launched in 1991 to encourage broadcasters worldwide to create awareness for children's issues and takes place the first Sunday in March. On that day, youth write, report, produce and present programs that allow them to reach a wide audience with their thoughts on the issues that affect them. The next ICDB will take place on 7 March 2010.


"We put in our best but we never even dreamt that we would be getting this award," said an elated Tuhina, the anchor kid for the radio programme.


"It was lovely to face the media, get ourselves photographed and interviewed," said Gauri, Children's programme anchor. Tuhina said that all the while they had been conducting the interviews; this was for the first time that they were interviewed.


"It was a great feeling when my friends and teachers called up after reading the news and seeing our pictures in the newspaper. The news sunk in then," said Anshuma who is a student of class ninth. Wanting to become a software engineer for him radio will remain a part of his life no matter what he does in life.


"The quality of the programme speaks volume for the talent of the children. AIR never won an award simply because it never participated in the competition before. They made a good programme and forgot about it. They entered the competition for the first time and won,” said Mr Veliath who persuaded the programme team to send in their entry for the competition.

Expressing happiness at this great honor Ms Archana Prasad who will go to US to receive the award on behalf of the team gave full credit for this award to the children who had put in a lot of labour.


"I think it were the two interviews that the children had done with the slum children and with Dr Nautiyal for 'our planet Earth' that must have impressed the jury," said Ms Prasad when asked about the highlights of the programme sent for the competition.


Wrapping up the programme Ms Kulsum Talha, senior journalist and secretary general Media Nest said, "Media Nest and entire media fraternity applauds the great achievement of these bright kids and wishes them more success in life."


Kulsum Mustafa
(The author is a senior journalist and Secretary-General of Media Nest)

India Court of Women on dowry and violence

India Court of Women on dowry and violence

Women. Dowry. Violence and abuse – associated by default. Almost always. Irrespective of socio-economic 'status'. Urban or rural, north, south, east or west. Heart-rending stories evidence it. And horrific statistics confirm it.

"We hope you will support our fight for justice," said some of the victims. And the mothers, fathers and sisters left behind to suffer the loss of some others. Tears flowed as they spoke. Sometimes mine too. Sighs and shock all around. And applause and appreciation also. At their courage and commitment. To stand up and speak for themselves and others.

All this and much more happened at the India Court of Women on Dowry and Related Forms of Violence against Women at the Christ University and Dharmaram Vidyashram from Jul-27 to Jul-29 organized by Bangalore based Vimochana, the Asian Women and Human Rights Council (AWHRC) and El Taller International in collaboration with over 40 other Indian and international community based organizations and women’s rights groups. This Court was part of the larger global movement of the Courts of Women which were initiated by the AWHRC in 1991 in the Asia Pacific region and have hence moved through El Taller into Africa, West Asia, the Mediterranean, Central and South America. Since then, some of the participating organizations had been with Vimochana and El Taller International in creating and holding over 35 Courts of Women worldwide and particularly in the global south. Focusing on violence against women due to diverse issues like poverty, culture, racism, war, etc., the courts are public hearings of individual testimonies of survival and resistance that invite us to revisit the existing problems and collectively seek new paradigms of justice.

The India court began through a preparatory workshop organized by Vimochana and AWHRC India in Bangalore from January 9-11, 2008 where participants debated and framed key issues and formed the core group whose members took forward the processes of the Court in their locations. This unfolded over a period of 18 months through activities organized by primary partners (including news media) of the Court in their towns/states/regions, along with women’s and human rights organizations, students, trade unions and other civil society organizations thus retaining the perspective and methodology of the Courts of Women of making the Court a process and not an independent event.

This Court centred on bringing the seemingly normal and routine phenomena of dowry and associated violence within the institution of marriage back to the centre of public consciousness and conscience. However, it also delved deeper into some related issues in the overall context of development, consumerism, commoditization and globalization including:

- Sex-selection, declining sex ratios and new reproductive technologies.
- Trafficking and forced prostitution

- Rapes and sexual violence caused by declining sex ratios
- Issues of property rights
- Child marriages and denial of education
- Desertion and bigamy
- Depression and other forms of mental harassment apart from physical violence causing death
- Increasing vulnerability of women in the context of emerging issues as that of farmer’s suicides
- Legal responses

The first day of the finale saw over 200 participants engaging in 6 coordinated and well researched round table discussions on various topics like the impact of growing economic and cultural fundamentalism and globalization on dowry, marriage and abuse of women; media reconstruction of violence and autonomy; government policies, legislation and alternative forms of justice responding to dowry related violence against women; and the role of science and medical technology in femicide (female foeticide, infanticide, etc.). There was also an interesting exchange titled "Resistance: The Conference of the Birds with stories, poetry and sharing of experiences of resistance" aptly held at the Birds Park.

Calling of the Court through the Song of the Cike by Chitra Iyer and team started the second day. A welcome address by representatives of the organizing groups and a performance titled Sva Kranti, Women Seekers of Truth by the renowned performer and activist Mallika Sarabhai from the Darpana Academy followed. The special guests were acknowledged, lamps of memory were lit, the jury was introduced and the legendary Justice (retd.) V.R. Krishna Iyer, a former judge of the Supreme Court opened and blessed the Women’s court. Expert witnesses like social workers/activists, academicians, medical and legal practitioners introduced sessions meaningfully titled Daughters of Fire, Daughters of Despair, Daughters: Displaced and Dispossessed, Daughters of Lost Wisdoms on themes ranging from the changing forms of dowry violence and murders and dowry in the context of globalization and emerging traditions. The concluding ones were Daughters of Hope and Daughters of Dreamtime highlighting instances of resistance and hope. Each topic had 5-7 poignant testimonies heard by the jury and audience – some stories I heard and insights I gained follow.

"I am a woman, I once was a mother" began Poonam Kathuria of SWATI, Gujarat as she talked about how the original practice of girls from wealthy families receiving money and expensive articles as wedding gifts ‘evolved’ into dowry. She described the Satta Patta tradition prevalent in Gujarat and Rajasthan where a girl forms a part of her brother’s wedding gifts given to his bride’s family. Regardless of her age she is forced to marry a brother or male relative of her sister-in-law. If one marriage breaks down, the other is annulled irrespective of either couple’s wishes. According to her, the naari adalat/panchayat functioning in some Indian states question only excess dowry and the women’s problems emerging from it rather than the practice of dowry giving itself. Dowry prevention officers rarely register cases of violation of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA, 2005) or those pertinent to violence or death due to dowry as they are often occupied with training and other official tasks. Further, abuse victims and their families rarely report fearing taboos and repercussion.

She also talked about how dowry and other patriarchal and regressive mindsets and traditions continue to objectify and devalue girls and women resulting in trafficking and child marriage. Advancement in science, particularly medicine has aided in increasing sex selective abortions (estimated at 2 million foetuses annually) and skewed gender ratios especially in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi (with a national average of only 933 girls for 1000 boys in 2001 as per the official Census of India website) despite the and Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Regulation and Prevention of Misuse (PC & PNDT) Act, 1994. Even if allowed to be born, girls are those who often suffer/die from malnutrition and gastrointestinal and other diseases as boys’ health and well being is prioritized over theirs’.

“Love was wonderful but marriage was hell”, said a bleary eyed Nina, a student of social work with a flair for poetry, from Madhya Pradesh currently working with an NGO and living with her parents and son as she awaits legal separation. She painfully narrated how she faced physical and emotional harassment for dowry in her marital home in spite of all the pre-nuptial assurances and agreements with my husband and his family.

Lakshmi who was sold as a girl for dowry was barely able to relate her traumatic experiences while Kamala revealed how she was forced to be a child bride to minimize wedding expenses. The former is now supported by the Gramya Resource Centre for Women, Hyderabad which runs a home for abandoned girls and the latter is studying in a school. Zeenat Jahan from Kerala sighed in anguish as she was physically and mentally tortured without food by her husband and his family for insufficient dowry and bearing girls. Parvati Bai who was trafficked into prostitution in Mumbai from Andhra Pradesh when she was unconscious after her food was drugged by her husband repeatedly thanked her rescuers.

Through a video clip, Dr. Jaya, from the National Capital Region (NCR) shared the horrifying details of how she was forced to undergo foetal sex determination and the violence she and her baby were subjected to after she dared to have a daughter. Encouragingly, she sought legal assistance and agreed to speak out although she fears for her safety.

Nalini Nayak from the Self Employed Women’s Association Union, Kerala started the hearing on the influence of globalization and rapid economic liberalization on the Indian ‘marriage market’ with the words “I am a woman whose wisdom was once priceless”. News and popular media’s repeated coverage/portrayal of ostentatious wedding ceremonies all over India add to the economic burden of low and ‘educated’ middle income families of daughters. She has observed that the parents are often pressurized to organize lavish rituals and celebrations apart from dowry and gifts to the grooms’ family and guests. Women from the increasingly impoverished fishing and farming communities are forced to migrate to earn for their families and more importantly to accumulate savings for their own dowry or their daughters’. They are exploited by the unregulated garment, electronics and other industries particularly in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in the name of progressive development of women.

The Sumangali Thittam in Tamil Nadu binds young unmarried women to employers who promise financial assistance for wedding expenses at the end of their 2-3 year contract. Malar, Ramya and their families have been following up for many months but have barely received a part of the promised sum though they toiled in inhuman conditions.

Jameela, a single mother and migrant worker from Kerala recounted her struggle to support her family and give dowry for the marriage of her three daughters. Meenu and Asha Rani from New Delhi told their tales of the loss of livelihood and shelter arising from displacement and the subsequent indebtedness due to the burden of dowry and increased wedding expenditure.

Vimochana’s study and campaign initiated in Bangalore in 1997 found that of the 1133 cases of unnatural deaths of women here, only 157 were treated as murder while 546 were classified as suicides and 430 as accidents. Further, among the 550 cases reported between January and September 1997, 71% were routinely closed as kitchen/cooking accidents and stove-bursts. Currently, at least 3 women are killed or driven to suicide daily - clinically terming them as “unnatural deaths of women in marriage”.

After the hearings ended, the jury aired its responses and views. On the final day, those present reflected on the entire process of the court, sharing their opinions, learning and a broad action plan. Among the anticipated outcomes of the court, I believe that the following are critical:

- A catalytic and creative process spreading awareness that dowry related violence against women is a crime against humanity and that dowry is the most extreme form of commoditizing women
- A growing community of strong empowered women who would refuse to barter their dignity for an ephemeral security through dowry; women and men who would reject dowry related demands and raise their voices against all forms of violence and discrimination
- Policy changes that enhance opportunities and ensure sustainable security for women affirming and acknowledging their inherent strengths and wisdom.

Some names, locations and occupations were changed to protect identity

References: Vimochana

Pushpa Achanta
(The author is a freelance writer, a Fellow of Citizen News Service (CNS) Writers' Bureau, and a community volunteer based in Bangalore, India)

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Indian Government continues secret FTA negotiations

Indian Government continues secret FTA negotiations
5th round of negotiations with EFTA to take place on 22-23 September in Delhi

22 September 2009, Delhi: India is secretly negotiating more than 15 economic agreements with other countries or blocks of countries. Despite strong protests against the controversial signing of an agreement on trade in goods between the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and India (also called ASEAN-India FTA) last August, the Government of India continues negotiating more FTAs, including with developed countries.

India is presently negotiating one such FTAs with a group of four European countries called the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The EFTA comprises the countries of Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstien. On 22nd and 23rd September 2009, the 5th round of negotiations for a FTA between India and EFTA is taking place in Delhi.

There is little public awareness on the content of the negotiations, despite these being underway since January 2008. Neither the Parliament nor State Governments have been informed of the contents or of the possible impacts of this FTA.

EFTA countries are highly specialised and their FTAs with other countries indicate the key sectors likely to be affected:

Finance: Because of the importance of the financial sector for its economy and intense corporate lobbying, Switzerland in particular pushes for the liberalisation of the financial and insurance sector. This would reduce India's flexibility to respond to financial crises, like the one we just experienced. Stiffer competition through further liberalisation of the banking sector will lead to smaller domestic banks being squeezed out of business. This is of significant concern as these banks give access to credit in rural areas.

Stronger Intellectual Property Protection: Members of EFTA, particularly Switzerland, echoing companies like Sandoz, Roche, Novartis have strong interests in far reaching Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection regulations, which includes data exclusivity and extended patent terms. Both of these go beyond India's commitments under the TRIPS Agreement and would delay the introduction of generic drugs. This would undermine India's public health policy and, since India is a major exporter of generic drugs, have a negative effect for people in need of these medicines around the world. Swiss biotech giants like Syngenta also have a vested interest in stronger IP protection over seeds and agrichemicals.

Fisheries: Both Norway and Iceland, with sizeable fishing industries, have interests in India's fish stock and liberalization of investments in this sector. This FTA would facilitate the entry of foreign fishing fleets into Indian waters with the same conditions as Indian fishing fleets. The Norwegian commercial fleet is the 6th largest in the world today, equipped with superior technology. This will mean that the Indian fishing community would have to compete with larger and more mechanized vessels for their livelihood.

The same would also apply for companies providing deep-sea petrol exploration, tourism, directly overstepping on the fishing community right to natural resources, by restricting their access to the seas. Conflicts with fishing communities have already taken place as a 10 km range around an exploring platform in Mumbai has been demarcated and is now inaccessible to fish workers. Norwegian companies specialized in superior technology and know-how in the area of deep-sea drilling and hydro-electric power plants, like Aker Kvaerner and NCC, are already operating in India and are interested in regulations facilitating their operations in the country.

Finally, the entry of highly organized retail chains facilitated by 'investments' provisions in the FTA would affect women fish sellers' capacity to access local markets, along with hawkers and small retailers.

Forum Against FTAs is a loose network of trade unions, people's movements, civil society organizations and academia working on issues related to agriculture, food security, livelihoods, fisheries, health, etc. The Forum is calling for greater transparency in FTA negotiations and for genuine public participation and consultation.

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Muslim women are oppressed in India: says minority social activist

Muslim women are oppressed in India: says minority social activist
Alka Pande

It is in India and neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, alone, where Muslim women are oppressed, rest of the Muslim dominated nations give equal status and rights to women. This is how the Muslim minorities feel in this Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. These Muslim minorities also feel that the government schemes do not reach them. "There are welfare schemes relating to education, health, employment and so on but even the Muslim Concentrated Districts (MCDs) remain ignorant about them where it the implementation of these schemes is mandatory, what to say of districts which have sporadic population of minorities," said Aftab Alam, a social activist who is working in one such MCD –Bahraich – in Uttar Pradesh.

The issue cropped up during a consultation meet on Mid Term Appraisal of XI Five year Plan, which was held in the state capital Lucknow, last week. The meeting focused on "listening to the voices from the field" and was organised by the Planning Commission, Government of India with support of UNIFEM, UNICEF, UNFPA, Voluntary Health Association of India and National Alliance of Women. The issues which were covered in the day-long brain storming sessions included minorities, health, women and children.

The presentations emphasised on lack of quality education as far as Muslim population of India is concerned. "The government policy has the provision for 25 percent enrolment of Muslim girls but hardly 5 percent girls are enrolled in government schools," the representatives of minority group pointed out. The group included social activists working for the uplift of Muslims, from different parts of the state. The state of madarsas is more or less the same. "The condition of the madarsas, which get the government aids, has improved a bit as now they teach subjects like computer and English. But such madarsas are very few in numbers. Majority of madarsas are still in pathetic shape and imparting not so relevant education in terms of employment," said Aftab Alam.

Talking of employment, the minority representatives pointed out that a large section of Muslim community comprises craftsmen but the government does not provide them any opportunity to excel and promote their crafts. "On the contrary, capitalists and industrialists are taking over various traditional crafts and arts and the artisans and craftsmen are becoming labourers who are working for these industrialists," said Shaista Amber, a woman social activist and the president of All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board.

The group representing the minorities sounded united when they claimed that a major portion of Muslim population was unaware of the government welfare schemes. Besides, the schemes, which the minorities knew of, were hardly reaching the beneficiaries.

"The overall objective of the whole exercise was to obtain communities' perspective towards various programmes and schemes and their effectiveness," said Manju Agarwal, the founder director of Path – the Lucknow based organisation, who was facilitating this consultation. Such consultations are being conducted at state and regional level (clusters of five to six states) to assess the communities’ participation in the central government programmes. "The exercise would also assess the level of knowledge of the community on various components of the national level schemes designed for them," said Manju Agarwal.

The group of minorities gave a few recommendations as well:
- Include minority representatives in the policy making.
- Propagate the government schemes through madarsas.
- Scholarships should go directly to the account of the students so that there is no mediator to exploit the students.
- Sachchar Committee report should be given the status of a legal document so that it has a binding on governments for the implement of its recommendations.
- Special protection/shelter homes for single women who become homeless after their talaq (divorce), or who after their husbands’ death or due to jahez (dowry) are thrown out of their in-laws houses.


Alka Pande
(The author is a senior journalist)

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India needs new prevention technologies for HIV, other STIs and unwanted pregnancies

India needs new prevention technologies for HIV, other STIs and unwanted pregnancies

"India needs the [new prevention] technologies for meeting all the three important [sexual and reproductive health] needs of an individual as well as for the country – i.e. prevention of unwanted pregnancies, prevention of non-HIV sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as HIV" said the Dr Badri N Saxena, President-elect of Microbicides Society of India (MSI).


The Microbicides refers to a new type of product being developed that people could use vaginally or rectally to protect themselves from HIV and possibly other sexually transmitted infections. A microbicide could be produced in many forms, including gels, creams, suppositories, films, or as a sponge or ring that releases the active ingredient over time. They are still being researched upon around the world and not available over the counter (for more information on microbicides, go to: www.global-campaign.org).

"According to the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) in India, unsafe sex is the highest risk factor for HIV transmission in the country. About 86 percent HIV incidence in the country is from unprotected sex. Globally too, unsafe sex is recognized as one of the highest risk factors for disability and deaths worldwide. More people acquire curable sexually transmitted infections (STIs) other than HIV, than HIV globally. The data is shocking: every year, about 34 crore people (340 million) get infected with at least one of the four primary curable STIs: Neisseria gonorrhoeae (NG), Chlamydia trachomatis (CT), Trichomonas vaginalis (TV), and syphilis, and just under 30 lakhs (3 million) become infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It is evident from clinical experiences in India, that a large number of people acquire chronic infections with pathogens such as the herpes simplex virus (HSV), a cause of genital ulcers, and the human papilloma virus (HPV), responsible for cervical cancer. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recent research estimates of 2005, over 200 million women in developing countries have an unmet need for effective contraception. Every life is invaluable so we need to advocate for prevention of HIV, non-HIV STIs, and effective contraception as well" further explains Dr Badri N Saxena.

Dr Saxena is an internationally acclaimed medical doctor in the field of reproductive health research. He has worked in India with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for 21 years. Dr. Saxena had been primarily responsible for developing multi-faceted national programmes for research in human reproduction and nutrition and introduced the concept of Task Force Approach in India for biomedical research activities. To reduce the regional imbalances in a diverse country like India for the national research efforts, Dr. Saxena established a network of collaborating centres in the medical colleges in the different parts of the country - called as Human Reproduction Research Centres (HRRCs).

"Despite considerable evidence of causal relationship between HIV and other STIs, there is – no oral or topical HIV prevention product, at present, which has yet produced clinical evidence of efficacy against non-HIV STIs, nor any new products under investigations which are highly HIV-specific, are expected to do so. Except for physical barrier methods like male or female condoms, which provide dual protection i.e. certain degrees of pregnancy protection besides HIV and non-HIV STIs protection when used correctly and consistently, none of the chemical microbicides investigated so far have shown any degree of acceptable pregnancy protection" says Dr Saxena.

"India needs the technologies for meeting all the three important needs of an individual as well as for the country – i.e. prevention of unwanted pregnancies, prevention of non-HIV STIs as well as HIV. It may be scientifically difficult to have one single product possessing all the pharmacological properties to meet the requirements effectively, for all the three preventive needs. However, it may be possible to develop combination products having only two of the preventive properties and use newer drug delivery systems to combine the remaining third preventive pharmacological product, so that all these different products could be delivered concurrently, at the same time. The Microbicides Society of India (MSI) would make efforts with the national and international agencies to focus their efforts and provide the required funds as well to develop interactive/ collaborative programs with the Indian scientists. If required, the MSI would develop the facilitatory mechanisms/ promote networking between the national and international scientists/ institutions" said Dr Saxena.

"The Microbicides Society of India (MSI) would advocate for the development of multipurpose technologies which would protect the individual from several or all of the health risks i.e. unwanted pregnancy, non-HIV STIs/ RTIs and HIV. The availability of such a product would be both user friendly as well as provider friendly, with improved accessibility" explains Dr Saxena.

Dr Badri Saxena has immensely contributed to the field of microbicides research over the past years. He has used his earlier reproductive health research experiences – both national and international ones, to promote the research in the field of microbicides in India as well as initiate international collaborative activities. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has now got an Expert's Group on the Microbicides Research and Development (R & D) programmes, as well as the ICMR-CONRAD MoU for Microbicides Research. There is also a joint ICMR – Department of Bio-Technology (DBT) Programme as well as DBT-CONRAD MoU for Microbicides/ Reproductive Health Research.

Speaking about some possible challenges he foresees in coming years as microbicides research goes ahead, Dr Badri Saxena says "there would be regulatory challenges for the multipurpose technologies for providing the dual protection. Which means good basic science researches which would include better insights for vaginal and rectal physiologies, better biomarkers and in-vivo/ in-vitro testing methods as well as animal models. Better clinical trials would need to be designed to provide the answers rapidly and reliably. We must also realize that these technologies will not by themselves, achieve all the desired goals. It would be essential that these newer technologies need to be introduced with due care, and backed up by well-designed educational programs as well as community involvement with their grass roots leaderships."

Suggesting some ways to address the foreseeable challenges in microbicides research and advocacy in India, Dr Saxena opines "apart from promoting the basic and clinical researches as mentioned above, public health and socio-behavioural researches would be other areas for the MSI to be promoted equally well."

NEED FOR INTEGRATION OF SRH and HIV SERVICES
"Despite the recent efforts by the Government of India and their respective state counterparts, sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and HIV/AIDS services are still functioning independently, in most of places. The need for service integration remains an important programmatic challenge for sexual and reproductive health and HIV care services. Eventually, new multi-purpose technologies will need to be delivered under the existing primary health care delivery system. Therefore, it would be necessary to use the multiple marketing and distribution channels from both public and private sectors, for existing and new methods. The innovative social science and market researches on optimal introduction and development of appropriate strategies for the positioning of the microbicidal products would be the important areas for the R & D activities, in India" says Dr Saxena.

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Why is extra-pulmonary TB not a public health priority in India?

Why is extra-pulmonary TB not a public health priority in India?

Tuberculosis (TB) is among the biggest killers of people living with HIV (PLHIV) even in the era of increased access to anti-retroviral therapy (ART). TB incidence and recurrence rates, even if reduced by ART, remain high in PLHIV. The risk of developing active TB disease in PLHIV with latent infection increases up to
15% annually, in contrast to a life time risk of 10% among HIV negatives. PLHIV have significant increases in the incidence of smear-negative pulmonary and extra-pulmonary TB, which are difficult to diagnose and have inferior treatment outcomes, including excessive early mortality.

Extra-pulmonary TB is TB of any other part of body except lungs (TB in lungs is referred to as pulmonary TB). For public health reasons, governments want to find all cases of pulmonary TB as they are spreading TB through cough (infectious) – but cases of extra-pulmonary TB don't spread TB by coughing, and is not easy to transmit. Apparently pulmonary TB gains more public health priority from the governments. However, PLHIV are at an increased risk of developing extra-pulmonary TB - for instance, lymph node TB is common among PLHIV. To reduce TB related mortality in PLHIV, preventing, diagnosing and treating extra-pulmonary TB is as much a public health priority as pulmonary TB is.

According to the data of Revised National TB Control Programme (RNTCP) in India, out of the total new TB cases in first two quarters of 2008, 18% were of extra-pulmonary TB. Since 2004, cases of extra-pulmonary TB have increased by 3% in 2008, as per RNTCP data. Out of these extra-pulmonary TB, 30% were of pleural effusion, 10% abdominal TB, 8% bone TB, 47% lymph node TB, 2% TB meningitis and 3% TB elsewhere in body except lungs. More than 11,000 people had died due to extra-pulmonary TB (2005-07) in India alone.

If we box ourselves into single-disease control (TB control), then PLHIV are not epidemiologically significant as they are more prone to sputum-negative and extra-pulmonary TB - which is apparently not a public health priority for governments. If we think out-of-the-box about social justice, then is death of PLHIV from sputum-negative and extra-pulmonary TB not epidemiologically significant?

Still, RNTCP doesn't directly include diagnosis of extra-pulmonary TB in their programmes. "Diagnosis of extra-pulmonary TB is not covered by RNTCP - only treatment of extra-pulmonary TB is covered" says Mamta Jacob, Advocacy Officer, ACTION India (Advocacy to Control Tuberculosis Internationally). "Medical colleges provide diagnosis services for extra-pulmonary TB and then patients can be referred to treatment for extra pulmonary TB at RNTCP" informs Mamta. However, about 70-80% of patients go to private sector in India at the first symptom. Medical colleges are mostly in public sector and provide tertiary level super speciality care. It is clearly not the best way to early diagnose PLHIV with extra-pulmonary TB and provide treatment and cure. The cost of diagnosis of extra pulmonary TB in private sector is quite prohibitive: it varies from Rs 1500-6000 (USD 30 to USD 120).

ACTION India is located in the offices of Indian Network of People living with HIV (INP+) - rightly so - affected communities have realized the public health outcomes of TB and HIV collaborative activities and integrated their programmes but the government of India's RNTCP and National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) are yet to work so collaboratively at all levels.

As commitment for scaling up TB and HIV collaborative activities go ahead at all levels, one wonders when will RNTCP include diagnosis of extra-pulmonary TB in its programmes across the country! PLHIV communities have been striving for ensuring access to affordable essential medicines, and with increased risk of developing extra-pulmonary TB among PLHIV, they should be prioritising advocacy for affordable diagnosis and treatment of extra-pulmonary TB.

"It is important to always think of extra-pulmonary TB, and not just pulmonary TB amongst PLHIV" wrote Taline Haytayan, the Key Correspondent Team coordinator at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, in one of her lead on-site articles from the recently concluded 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) - read the full text of her article online at: http://healthdev.net/site/post.php?s=5806

About ACTION India:
ACTION India engages in country-level advocacy efforts to increase funding and demand for TB control programs and address policy constraints to diagnosis and treatment in India. ACTION India works directly with the Indian government, multilateral agencies including the World Bank and Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria (GFATM), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other technical organizations. ACTION India is part of an international partnership of advocates working to mobilize resources to treat and prevent the spread of TB. ACTION's underlying premise is that more rapid progress can be made against the global TB epidemic by building increased support for resources for effective TB control among key policymakers and other opinion leaders in both high TB burden countries (HBCs) and donor countries. The ACTION project, currently funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other donors, uses cutting-edge advocacy strategies to support country-specific and global solutions for the control of TB. For more information on ACTION, go to: www.action.org

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Regional Award to AIR broadcast on dreams of rag-pickers and homeless children

Regional Award to AIR broadcast on dreams of rag-pickers and homeless children

NEW DELHI, 18 September 2009 – A broadcast on the hopes and dreams of rag-pickers and homeless children by All India Radio (AIR) Lucknow has won the International Children's Day of Broadcasting (ICDB) Regional Award.

ICDB is a day set aside each year to celebrate children’s broadcasting and encourages young people to get involved in television and radio broadcasting. The 2009 ICDB theme, "Unite for Children: Tune in to Kids," asked children to explore what they care about and what are their values, fears and dreams.

"I am very happy. I am speechless," said Archana Prasad, the chief producer of the Lucknow program called "Kids Tune in to Us." Other broadcasts included programs on classical singing and "Our Planet Earth." The children have worked so hard."

The winner of the 2009 ICDB Awards will be announced at an awards ceremony dinner at The Modern on 10 November 2009 in New York. The awards are given by UNICEF for outstanding commitment to the ICDB by television and radio broadcasters.

"We are thrilled with broadcasters' dedication to the ICDB and children's programming," says Stephen Cassidy, Chief of UNICEF's Internet, Broadcast and Image Section. "We are inspired by the diversity and creativity these broadcasters exhibit in celebrating UNICEF's mission to involve young people in the media-making process. Children around the world reap the benefits of their commitment."

The nominees each won a regional competition and now go on to compete for global honors. This year's nominees come from Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Germany, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malaysia, South Africa, Suriname, Togo and Ukraine and represent the best work produced in 2009.

Regional judging took place between June and August and entries were evaluated by teams of broadcasters, radio and television experts and communications specialists. The judges looked at content, execution and year-round youth participation.

The ICDB was launched in 1991 to encourage broadcasters worldwide to create awareness for children’s issues and takes place the first Sunday in March. On that day, youth write, report, produce and present programs that allow them to reach a wide audience with their thoughts on the issues that affect them.

Other winners included ATN Bangla (Bangladesh, "Voice of Children"), Cambodia National Television (CNT) ("Youth Today"), Citizen TV (Kenya, "Angel's Cafe"), Surinaamse Televisie Journaal (STVS) (Suriname, "10 minuten Jeugd Journal," created and produced by The Backlot), Télévision Togolaise (TVT) (Togo, "A Nous la Planete) and Studio 'Razom' (Ukraine, "Big Secrets").

The ICDB Regional Prizes for radio went to Rádio Justiça (Brazil, "Sintonize as Crianças na Rádio Justiça"), EUCHIRA (Germany, "Kids from Germany Meet Kids from the Balkans"), Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (Ghana, "UNIIQ Curious Minds / Gems of our Time"), TRAXXfm, Radio Televisyen Malaysia ("Tune in to Kids") and Maputaland Community Radio Station (South Africa, "Zisize Children’s Radio Project").

The 2008 ICDB Award for Television went to China Central Television (CCTV) for their program "On the Road." The 2008 ICDB Award for Radio went to Ghana Broadcasting Corporation for their program "Curious Minds."

The next ICDB will take place on 7 March 2010 with the theme "All Children All Rights."

Photo Credits and captions:
Photo 1: Tuhina the ten year old was among those who took over the Lucknow Radio Station on the International Children's Day of Broadcasting. (Photo credit: AIR, Lucknow)

Photo 2: Some of the ICDB participants with their mentor and guide Archana Prasad (6th from left) a senior programmer with AIR Lucknow. ( Photo credit: AIR, Lucknow)


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Reality Check for XIth Five-Year Plan: People evaluate women & child development schemes

Reality Check for XIth Five-Year Plan:
People evaluate women & child development schemes


People of Uttar Pradesh (UP) participated in the "mid-term appraisal" consultation geared to harness their perspectives on the eleventh five-year plan of the Government of India. The meeting "Listening to Voices from the field" was organized for the Planning Commission in the state capital of UP, with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), in collaboration with the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), Path and national Alliance of Women (NAWO).

The objective of the exercise was to obtain the community’s perspective and gauge the effectiveness of the various Women and Child Development schemes launched by the Central government of India. The participants discussed in-depth on the different schemes, their visibility, effectiveness, implementation and identified the road blocks for their optimal implementation.

The eleventh Five Year Plan aims on "inclusive growth." As a midterm appraisal of the plan is being scheduled this year, it is prudent to feed in the perceptions from the poor and the marginalized social groups regarding delivery of different schemes which are specifically targeted to improve their quality of life. In this context, it is critical to listen directly to intended beneficiaries of these schemes in the social sector with special reference to access and quality in delivery schemes.

"The community members are the ones to whom the benefits of the plans, programmes and the schemes should ultimately reach and thus it is important that their opinion is duly taken and passed on to the planners of schemes," said JP Sharma, Director, Uttar Pradesh Voluntary Health Association (UPVHA). He termed the meeting as one of the masses.

Referring to the meeting as a "reality check and recommendation attempt", Dr Manju Agarwal, one of the organizers of the event said that through such reality checks, the common citizens will get a chance to get their point of view on the subject across to the Planning Commission and an opportunity to inform the recommendations for the 12th Five Year Plan.

For this meeting in UP, the participants were divided in five groups based on their expertise. These groups were women, children, minority, HIV/AIDS and other diseases, and health. Each group, comprising about ten participants was given a reality check list. The discussion was divided in two parts- ground realities and recommendations. Each groups reported back to the plenary which led to the open house.

It is shocking to acknowledge the low levels of awareness about these Central government schemes in the masses. While the group representing the minority put this as a planned strategy to under serve the community, the other groups felt there were different reasons for purposely holding back information related to development schemes.

Intentionally there was no representation from the government at this meeting so that the draft recommendations remain unbiased and participants from the civil society feel comfortable to conduct an honest appraisal of these schemes. The final shape to the appraisal and recommendation document will be given at a forthcoming meeting in Chandigarh on 23-24 September 2009.

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Queer Habba: A festival of fun and understanding

Queer Habba: A festival of fun and understanding

Background
After last year’s colourful and vibrant queer parade, various groups and individuals under the banner of Campaign for Sex-workers and Sexual Minorities’ Rights (CSMR) and its supporters successfully organized the Karnataka Queer Habba from Jun-21 to Jun-28. Starting with a cricket match, the celebrations included inter-group dialogues, public discussions and cultural performances that culminated in the Pride march.

Queer Pride’s significance dates back to the night of June 28, 1969, when drag queens (men dressed in women’s clothes) and others resisted armed police who raided the Stonewall Inn, a New York city pub, humiliating and arresting people. This was the first time that LGBT people defended their rights. In India, LGBT people face harassment from the police, organized rackets and even their own families, sometimes driving them to suicide. Same sex couples who have been partners for years cannot buy a house together, have a joint bank account or will their property to each other without being challenged by their families.

Accordingly, the sexual minorities and sex workers have been demanding:
1. Amendment of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code decriminalizing homosexuality and sex work. This is currently under parliamentary review.
2. Preventive steps from the state government against police/goonda violence towards sexual minorities and sex workers and effective measures to punish offenders.
3. The state’s legal recognition of trans-genders and subsidization of the cost of sex assignment surgery, irrespective of whether they can afford the surgery or not.
4. Addressing forced marriage of lesbian women and legal support from the state government when they face violence and threats from their families.
5. Special measures by the state government for the welfare of hijras and transsexuals (the most marginalized section of sexual minorities) like education, employment, savings-credit facilities, housing, skill development, etc.
6. Guaranteed provision of all entitlements by the state and central governments including voter id., ration card, passport, driving licence, housing, education, employment, savings and credit facilities, insurance, old age pension and shelter homes with no discrimination.

In this context, discussions on the current socio-cultural, legal and religious frameworks impacting sexual minorities and sex workers were part of the Queer Habba. While some of the conversations were in Kannada, those in English, Tamil or Telugu were translated into Kannada simultaneously. Here is a peek into some of them.

Dalits, Sex Workers and Sexual Minorities: A Dialogue
Jun-22-09 2-4 pm, ISI


In a first of its kind dialogue in Karnataka, each group shared its concerns and struggles initially and then identified the common and unique issues. Everyone agreed that they needed to understand each other’s problems better and work jointly for their rights and sensitizing the general public, the police and other authorities. Manohar Elavarthi, a tireless worker on minority issues who moderated the interaction and other participants felt that such exchanges should be regular and longer.

Some of the primary challenges facing Dalits (D) and Sexual Minorities (SM):

EDUCATION
o D: Discrimination continues in government schools (despite majority being Dalits) in the form of separate noon meal utensils, segregated seating, etc. as in Anekal taluk
o SM: Humiliation by teachers and peers who question their behaviour and compel them to change forcing them to dropout resulting in minimal education.

EMPLOYMENT
o D: Despite the SC/ST quota for government jobs, vacancies exist due to fewer qualified people and lesser awareness. Even in private firms, where employees need not reveal their caste, subtle and indirect discrimination persists.
o D: NREGA benefits haven’t reached them although crores are allotted to them like in Anekal taluk. Rice at Rs. 25/kg (and more) is too expensive for the paltry daily wage.
o SM: In the private sector, colleagues, management et al view them as ‘abnormal’ in fundamental aspects like using restrooms, specifying gender, despite inclusive labour and organizational policies thus discouraging from revealing their alternate sexuality. Further,
o SM: Unable to find or retain steady jobs, Kothis and Hijras take to the streets for survival and become easy victims of sex seekers. Employers, land/house owners and others abuse and exploit them.

GOVERNANCE
o D: No implementation and monitoring of the 17-18% reserved posts at the Gram Panchayat level.
o D: Land, especially agricultural is encroached/reclaimed by the government and others but with minimal or no compensation as in Teni district.

SOCIO-CULTURAL
o D: Temples still discriminate against Dalits while accepting offerings or distributing prashad
o D: Similar sub-castes are classified differently in various states. For eg., Lambanis are BC in Maharashtra while they are ST in Andhra and SC in Karnataka causing inconsistencies.
o D: Caste determination and/or stereotyping often based on culinary preferences and personal habits persists
o SM: Parents who discover the altered sexual orientation of their adult children pressurize them to revert to normal behaviour. They classify them as mentally unstable and subject them to psychological counseling, heterosexual marriage, etc. They sometimes refuse to give them a share of their assets.

SUPPORT
o D: Non-Dalits assume that Dalits have better family, social, legal support and umpteen benefits like job quotas, reservations in educational institutions, etc.
o SM: English news media (visual and print) highlights their problems more than the vernacular versions.
o SM: Obtaining financial and other support for them is tough except for HIV/AIDS related issues
o SM: They have no recognizable representatives like Dr. Ambedkar for Dalits

OTHER
o SM: Suicide rates (especially among lesbians who are least understood and accepted) are high – highest in Kerala but mainstream media rarely reports it.
o SM: Many alternate sexual persons migrate to cities hoping for better acceptance.
o SM: They continue to experience discrimination in public transport, common spaces, etc. Some have countered this stating that they are also human beings deserving fundamental rights!

Religion and Sexuality: An Interactive Discussion
Jun-22-09 4-7 pm, UTC


Over a 100 people including students and the general public from different religious and socio-cultural backgrounds participated in this interactive discussion. “I am overwhelmed by the response”, said Shubha Chacko, a long time champion for the rights of sexual minorities, as she initiated the proceedings. Researchers, sexual minorities and grassroots social workers shared instances of the prevalent patriarchal interpretation of sex work and alternate sexuality in various faiths and society at large. Encouragingly, they all mentioned that education and awareness through sustained campaigns and public debate are changing attitudes, although very gradually.

Meera Baindur, a researcher on eco feminism mentioned that some Hindu that narratives/ myths equate bhoomi (the earth), with umpteen male rulers to a woman with multiple husbands, like a Devdasi, Jogini or prostitute who is ‘unclean’ and ‘illegitimate’. According to Evangeline Rajkumar a faculty member at Bangalore’s United Theological College (UTC), in the history of Christianity, there has been a negation of the body as against the soul, and further denial by looking at the female body, sex and sexuality as that which stands for sin (assigning everything a negative connotation). The root of the problem therefore is this linking of sin, sex, sexuality with the female body. Any change/transformation within the system cannot overlook the importance and urgency of affirmation of the body, sex and sexuality as a gift from God which we need to use responsibly.

Dr. Ali Khwaja, a social scientist and grassroots counselor at the Banjara Academy, (http://www.banjaraacademy.org/index.php) finds some parents shocked and confused on their adolescent daughters and sons seeking information and indulging in sexual acts. He notices parents condemning the former strongly while just admonishing the latter. And he continues to be surprised that in this ‘modern’ day, urban girls and boys who have been childhood friends are sometimes suddenly discouraged from even interacting from early teenage.

Father Cyriac, a Catholic priest who works with the “young at risk”, especially street children through BOSCO (http://boscoban.org/web/home/home.htm) revealed that although they are sexually active from early teenage, these children declared that they prefer to avoid it at least until marriage. As per Edwina Pereira, training director at the International Services Association, India (http://insa-india.org.in/) even NGO’s stigmatize HIV/AIDS training and religious groups reluctantly agree to proactive counseling only due to the high prevalence of this disease.

Dr. Surendra, an ophthalmology professor cum practitioner and a member MahaBodhi society of India quoted The Buddha’s humane approach to all life with a healthy mind respecting the laws of nature as the means to healthy living. While sharing the influence of Islam and Hinduism on the existing socio-cultural traditions and religious rituals, Revathi, director, Sangama (http://sangama.org/), a hijra and former sex worker reiterated that the community is very secular and genuinely respects all faiths.

For someone who received the ‘badhai’ (blessing) from a ‘hijra’ group as a newborn in Hyderabad, hearing and writing this has not only been insightful and enriching but also personally bonding.

Pushpa Achanta
(The author is a freelance writer, a Fellow of Citizen News Service (CNS) Writers' Bureau, and a community volunteer based in Bangalore, India)