Tuesday, December 16, 2008
IFPEC has been organised by the Indian Community Welfare Organisation (ICWO), an NGO based in Vallalar Nagar, Anna Nagar West, Chennai. The collective primarily educates FSWs on safe sex and AIDS prevention. It also works as an advocacy group for FSWs, cares for their children, encourages savings schemes among them and even spreads awareness and rescues girls lured into the flesh trade. Pheroze L. Vincent reports…
(Pheroze L. Vincent ) PV: When did you become an FSW?
(B. Baby) BB: When I was 20 years old. I had a love marriage at 13. My husband was a drunkard. I had a friend whom, I didn’t know, was an FSW. One night my friend took me to her house when my husband had beaten me up very badly. She initiated me to the profession.
PV: What problems have you faced as an FSW?
BB: Customers have taken me to unknown locations and have not paid after the night was over. Some have left me off at unknown places. The decent ones give the bus fare for going home. Some get drunk and threaten us with knives. They hold us for more than a night and make us have sex with groups of 5 or 6.
PV: Have you ever been arrested?
BB: I was in a remand home in Bangalore for 6 months. In the home, we were taught Kannada, basket weaving and incense-stick making. The food was bad. We would get kanji (rice soup) and sometimes get eggs. I was bailed out by the owner of the lodge I worked in. Even after my released I faced many raids.
PV: Was there any torture?
BB: Police used to beat up repeated offenders in lock ups. We would pay the fine and get released. After they have been sensitized the torture has stopped for the past two years.
PV: Did you try any other profession after being released?
BB: I remained an FSW. I didn’t know about HIV. Once an FSW, we are stigmatized and we can’t find rented accommodation or jobs. Wherever we went we ended up in the same profession.
PV: When did you leave the profession?
BB: I got in touch with ICWO 12 years ago. We FSWs understand the plight of other FSWs. Another FSW talked me into joining. It has been 5 years since I left the profession.
PV: How do you recruit?
(Kalaivani) K: Our field volunteers distribute condoms to FSWs, free of charge, at soliciting sites, daily. We spread awareness about HIV and even demonstrated how condoms are used. Initially members are enrolled in a thrift society. We even conduct street plays.
BB: We have divided the city into 10 zones for operation. Volunteers and zone leaders need to submit regular reports and are even subject to audits. (She shows this writer, folders of audits and hand written reports.)
PV: What employment is available to former FSWs?
K: We train them in tailoring, driving, flower vending, candle making, running Idli shopsand so on. They also find jobs as domestic helps and security guards.
PV: How many FSWs are there in Chennai?
K: A survey in 2004 listed 6500 FSWs. They are centred mainly around the film production areas of Kodambakkam. When leaders of these zones get information of a procurer bringing girls into the trade, we go rescue them. They victims come here for jobs, especially in the cine field.
PV: Don’t you face opposition from those who run the business?
K: We counsel procurers and pimps too and sensitise them against this trade. We attend public hearings regarding sex workers so we are known to the authorities. We also bail out peer educators, who inevitably get arrested in raids.
PV: Do you face harassment of any sort?
BB: No, we do not operate in the areas we used to practice. The police know we belong to IFPEC. Some of us haven’t revealed our involvement in the trade to even our own children. We tell the landlords that we work for an NGO.
PV: Do you know of any FSW’s children born in prison?
K: No, we do not practice when we are pregnant. But, the atmosphere at home isn’t always good. Most of us, who are in the trade, are there because of irresponsible husbands. When FSWs are arrested we have cluster mothers who take care of them. We also have mentors who see that they get an education. The children often educate their parents.
BB: My daughter is in Class 12 now. She will go to college next year.
PV: What goals have you set for IFPEC?
K: We are now active in Chennai, Tiruvallur, Kanchipuram, Villupuram and Madurai districts. We want to spread our mission all over Tamil Nadu.
ICWO and IFPEC partner with the Tamil Nadu Aids Initiative- Voluntary Health Service (TAI-VHS) and Chennai Corporation AIDS Prevention and Control Society (CAPACS) and have even conducted workshops for the Tamil Nadu Police. The organization is headed by Mr. Hariharan. Information about their activities can be accessed at www.icwoindia.org.
(With inputs and translation from Devasitham, who is doing a Masters in Social Work- Community Development student at Madras Christian College and interning at ICWO.)
This recent interview of Prabhakaran takes the steam out of protests led by parties like the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), whose leader V. Gopalaswamy alias Vaiko, is now in jail for making speeches in support of the LTTE, and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK).
Prabhakaran, in his interview, has chosen to praise Karunanidhi, whom pro-LTTE groups, like the MDMK, VCK and the Tamil National Movement, have condemned for allegedly paying lip-service to the Eelam cause while continuing to be a part of the United Progressive Alliance at the Centre. Karunanidhi has also withdrawn his threat to pull out of the Union Government after External Affairs Minster Pranab Mukherjee recently called on him, in Chennai.
When asked how the MDMK felt on losing the glory of supporting Eelam, to the DMK, party spokesperson Mr. Nanmaran said, “We are not a narrow-minded party. Karunanidhi is talking about the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils only now, whereas we have been constantly supporting the (Eelam) cause for a long time. It is with generosity, that Prabhakaran has given this statement praising Karunanidhi for his relief efforts.”
The current wave of protests, in Tamil Nadu, against the alleged atrocities on Sri Lankan Tamils was started off on October 2, with the Communist Party of India (CPI) holding a public fast. The DMK, later, took up the issue with the Centre, and convened an all-party meeting that called for the resignation of Tamil MPs from parliament. The Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) leader Vijaykanth has accused the DMK of hijacking the issue from the CPI.
Com. Mahendran, Assistant Secretary of the CPI, Tamil Nadu, speaking to this reporter, said that after the October 2 fast, the whole state recognizes that the CPI is completely committed to the well-being of Sri Lankan Tamils. “Our All India Party Congress, in Hyderabad, had decided that there has to only be a political solution for the self-determination of Sri Lankan Tamils within a united Sri Lanka. Instead of an Indian federal setup, we support the Quebec model for Lanka.”
On being asked about whether the CPI’s decisions were coordinated with the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, which is a part of the ruling coalition there, Com. Mahendran said that they too want an end to atrocities on Tamils.” Being the Tamil Nadu branch of the CPI, we have to consider the sentiments of the Tamil people first. Every communist party acts according to how it assesses the national condition.” This year’s May Day rallies in Sri Lanka echoed a strong anti-war sentiment.
The bulk of the LTTE’s support in India comes Dalit youth, who, rightly or wrongly, look upon the LTTE as an ideal movement for Dalit emancipation. Dalit parties like the VCK are the militant in their support for Eelam. Bala, a young Bahujan Samaj Party worker in Nungambakkam, who was formerly a supporter of the VCK, spoke to this reporter. “Our CM has fulfilled his responsibility by organizing aid for Sri Lankan Tamils. The MDMK and VCK have taken money from the LTTE, hence they are doing this propaganda.”
The credibility of Tamil nationalist groups is in doubt as political exigencies have caused them to swing between the ADMK and DMK, threatening to erode their core base of Tamil nationalists and Dalits.
Chennai, Dec 3: A Class 8 schoolboy named Mani from Chromepet demonstrated today in support of Dalits involved in the violence at Dr. Ambedkar Law College on Novemeber 12.
“We have to defend ourselves from upper caste thugs from outside (of Chennai) if we have to study in college,” he said as he joined around 70 supporters of the Revolutionary Students’ Youth Front (RSYF) held in front of Memorial Hall at Park Town here today.
The speakers at the event accused the media of sensationalism and not investigating the root cause of the violence which, they claimed, was discrimination against Dalits.
Veeraswami of the Peoples Art & Literary Association (PALA) said upper caste students would not eat with Dalits and mocked them when they received the SC/ST scholarships.
“They pass comments like, ‘You coolies who live off gruel we give you in villages don’t wear slippers there, yet you show off with shoes here.’ Dalits were attacked during exams. Finally when the three main sub-castes of Dalits jointly resolved to hit back, this violence broke out,” said Veeraswami.
D. Ganesan, joint secretary, RSYF Chennai, said that with the closure of the hostel and canteen, the Rs.1000 SC/ST scholarship is too little to survive. Ganesan suspects a conspiracy by politicians, police and the media, to project a bad image of students, so that students lose the sympathy of the public.
“By tainting students as rowdies, police action to crush student struggles becomes easier and the government can continue to neglect reform in education,” he said.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
George Town is a Mecca for die-hard shoppers, weary migrant labourers and all those interested in experiencing old Chennai. It is also home to a number of lodges, mansions, hostels, shipping corporations and trade unions, law firms and financial institutions. The buildings of George Town never fail to enchant those who choose to explore the narrow streets and their hidden treasures.
In the labyrinth of these crumbling towers of history, this writer discovered an excellent Malayalee restaurant, which has no name or signboard. Its patrons attract new customers by telling their friends about it. It is located in a sinister looking, soot-caked, old colonial building on Armenian Street and one has to figure out a maze of staircase to locate it. The hallucinating aroma of frying curry leaves, guides the hungry through this maze. GPRS mobile phone maps will not work here. It is the smell of coconut oil and the sound of ladle striking wok, which serves as a beacon. It is popularly known as ‘Mallu Mess.’ The proprietors are reluctant to talk to reporters as their eatery is not properly registered. The eatery is a hit with the residents of the hostels and lodges. Hostel residents of Madras Medical College (MMC ) and the Catholic Centre are its loyal clientele.
The walls are painted with a very bright shade of blue enamel. It is coated with a jagged finish of soot, dust and grease. There is a large exhaust fan, which looks as if it has been salvaged from an oil slick. Cardboards squares decorate the edges of the fan. It is very relaxing to have long conversations in the constant whirr of this fan. The mess is managed by a trio who are known to everyone as Dinesh, Master and Cashier. The old patriarch, Master has a terrific sense of humour. His sarcastic humour is a balm that soothes our fatigue. The mess serves Puttu- Kadala on Sunday mornings. This attracts a large number of Malayalees who live, work or study in the area. The mess’ speciality is the Parotta-Beef, which this writer found to be the best he had come across. Dishes are very reasonably priced and an enormous quantity of rice is served for a meal, available for Rs. 20/-. This eatery works from 8 AM to 10 PM, everyday of the week. It has a seating capacity of eight.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
There’s a usually a fight during the finals of the annual Mini International Football Tournament in Madras Christian College (MCC), Tambaram- especially when the teams are neck-to-neck. This year, however, was different.
The tournament is believed to have begun in the latter half of the 1990s. This year it was held from 10–29 Novemeber. The name is a misnomer as most teams are domestic. Yet, nationalist sentiments were visible. At this year’s tournament from November 10-29, Tibetan supporters proudly displayed their national colours of red and dark blue. Mizo supporters sang the Zotlang Ram Nuam (the Mizo national anthem) to cheer their teams.
The tournament was started by Thai and Tibetan youth of Chennai, and they gave the ‘international’ name. Later, other teams, like the Chennai Mizo Welfare Association (CMWA) and the Naga Students Union-Chennai (NSUC), were invited. “The tournament today, is largely a forum for interaction for youth of Mongoloid races, in Chennai,” says Asun, Sports Secretary, NSUC. Northeastern and Tibetan youth, living in Chennai come out in full strength to cheer their teams. Most of them come here to study or work in the IT sector.
The tournament is a jamboree for these people for whom football is an important part of life. This year too, the spirit of the players and the 150 spectators was in no way dampened by the rain. A kind soul passed around whisky in an army liquor flask to warm up the drenched fans. Tibetan fan Dorje said, that the previous day trains only ran from Kodambakkam. Trains usually start from Beach, but could not as the tracks were flooded by the rain. Teams and fans spent at least Rs.100 per auto to get to the railway station. Asked why they chose to play in Tamabaram, on the outskirts of Chennai, Mizo player Samuel said that the MCC grounds are one of the best in Chennai. “It is also convenient as most players are resident students in MCC,” said Samuel. NSUC’s Asung added that the MCC grounds are free of cost and it is a lot easier to book them than other grounds like Loyola College.
Ten teams participated this year. They were: Tibetan Students Association-Madras (TSAM)- 2 teams; CMWA- 2 teams; NSUC; Manipur; Andaman & Nicobar Islands; Arunachal Pradesh; Stars of Africa and United Tribes (a mixed bag of players from different states and countries). No Thai team has appeared for a couple of years due to a lack of players. This year, CMWA- Team ‘A’ and NSUC made it to the finals, while CMWA- Team ‘B’ and TSAM- Team ‘A’ battled for the third place on Saturday, 29 November on the MCC Football Grounds. The third place match saw some wonderful football. The players fought it out in the slush, seemingly tireless even as the game progressed to the second half. Tibetan captain Dorje Tsering led the team to a 2-1 victory against the Mizos.
The final match between CMWA and NSUC saw tensions run high, as the CMWA aimed to win the tournament for the third consecutive time. The previous champions were the NSUC in early 2006. This year the Mizos fielded former Indian Bank forward Lalchhauchhuah. NSUC’s Asung described the 2006 win as his most memorable moment as the match was a tough contest and his team scored the wining at the last moment. He has been playing since 2003. This year the teams were equally good and were equal at 2-2, when the match ended.
There were tense moments of the field and scuffles were averted by timely pacification by Mizo captain Michael, an MCC student. The referees and linesmen worked hard to keep spectators off the field during the match. The Mizos won in the penalty shootout 3-0 and with it the Mini International.
Mizo supporters cried and leaped in ecstasy when the winning goal was scored. Fireworks were lit and players huddled around on the ground for a thanksgiving prayer. A crestfallen Asung said that they are hope to break the Mizo jinx next year. A lot of good youngsters are expected next year, he said. On why female support for the Mizos was more than the other teams, captain Michael said it was because of “girl-magnet goalkeeper Lalhmangaizuala.” The female fans were not willing to comment.
T. Narendra Rao, General Secretary of the Water Transport Workers’ Federation of India and member of the Communist Party of India- Marxist (CPM), says that his party is taking this issue to voters in their campaign through street corner meetings and public meetings.
According to Rao, the Left’s constant opposition to Foreign Direct Investment has partially insulated India from the full impact of recession. “Only the Left had foreseen this. No other party can take credit for it,” says Rao.
According to L. F. Vincent, General Manager, Carborundum Universal, the recession has reduced the bargaining power of workers. Increments to blue-collar workers are largely made according to their bargaining power rather than their performance on the company’s profits. “Workers are groomed to follow might-is-right tactics. But with the recession, even their strikes against sacking are ineffective because factories don’t need their services as production has been cut.” says Vincent.
Vincent adds that the worst hit, are workers who were due for wage negotiation. They have lost their jobs instead of getting increments. Industries like Steel, which enjoyed a boom in the last three years are now passing off the entire burden of the recession on to their workers. Public Sector Undertakings and companies with strong trade unions are not laying off though.
This worries union leaders like Rao. Only 7% of workers are in the organised sector, says Rao. “Strikes are useless as temporary replacements are easily found. We are now trying our best to organise in the IT and the unorganized sector.”
Advocate V. Krishna Ananth says the law in this matter clear. “For instance, where the management decides to layoff a section of its workmen for a particular period of time, such workmen are entitled for a layoff compensation amounting to half the sum of the Basic Salary and Dearness Allowance and this will be applicable for a period of 45 days,” Ananth explains.
Prof. D. A. O. Abel Rajan, an Economist in Madras Christian College, says that companies are known to make unofficial payments to authorities to find a way around the law. Ananth and Vincent agree. Rajan believes that we need a right balance of economics and spirituality. “Here MNCs dictate terms to the State. This problem is of our own doing. What we need is self sufficiency. We need to re-plan our economy to avoid importing,” says Rajan.
He says that IT professionals are over paid and must be willing to suffer wage cuts. Their conspicuous consumption has contributed to inflation. “The Government needs to control the boom in real estate and regulate the IT sector.”
M. V. Krishna Prakasam, an employee of Cognizant, an IT giant says that there were fears of lay offs after Satyam Computers pink-slipped 4500 employees. Cognizant has assured job security, he says. “We recently won an outsourced contract of Pepsi, which took away 1500 American jobs. We have to contact these sacked employees to ask them about the project. It is very sad talking to them.”
“My teacher used to beat me up in my old school, so I stopped going to school,” says Atiya before she and her classmate Ammu act out how her teacher used to beat her. 8-year-old Atiya of Foreshore Estate, now studies at the Transit School in the Government Primary School building, Patinapakkam. She is one of many children that have been brought back to school by the Montfort Community Development Society (MCDS), Shastri Nagar. MCDS, which runs seven such schools with 74 students this academic year, is one among 14 NGOs in the city that work in partnership with the Corporation of Chennai (CC), in running these Transit Schools.
Transit Schools are one-year schooling programmes for school dropouts and child labourers, before they are admitted to regular schools. They are unable to join regular schools for the lack of a Transfer Certificate. Most of their parents are illiterate and do not collect a Transfer Certificate before migrating. On completing the course the students write entrance exams for regular schools and are admitted in the class that suits their ability. The Transfer Certificates, which are universally valid, are issued by the Corporation
“We admit children of ages 6 to 16. For each academic year we work in collaboration with either the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) or the National Child Labour Project (NCLP),” says Mr. Arul, Senior Coordinator of the MCDS. The Cardinal Leger Foundation of Canada also supports this project. This academic year is funded by the SSA. An academic year runs from August to May. In the months of June and July prospective students are identified by surveying the slums of Chennai.
Surveys are a dangerous job. “Sometimes sundry missiles have been thrown at the surveyors. We have to face abusive parents and employers, but we are able to counsel them into agreeing to let the children learn,” says Mr. Bosco, Coordinator of MCDS’ Transit School programme. Head teachers of neighbourhood schools help MCDS locate these children by giving them a list of dropouts. They are also involved in readmitting children in regular schools.
“We even get help from local political leaders. We have also been inviting police officials to our Child Rights Awareness programmes,” says an enthusiastic Mr. Bosco, who despite ill health, braved the rain to organize the Child Rights and Sports Day for the Government Primary School, Patinapakkam. The MCDS keeps in touch with its alumni by inviting them once a year for a get-together. Apart from sponsoring books, bags and uniforms for the children, the organisation also guides them to community colleges.
In the last 12 years MCDS has put 1860 children through these schools. “42 of these children are now toppers in regular schools,” says Bro. Patrick, Director- MCDS. MCDS also runs a programme for women from slums.
Bro. Patrick explains that when women get involved in Self Help Groups, they come in contact with other women who have children in schools and colleges. This motivates them to sacrifice the income derived from their working children, to send them to school. However, he says, it is next to impossible to convince drunken fathers to send their children to school. “We can use legal remedies but practically we can do nothing if the father of the child doesn’t want to send him to school,” woes Bro. Patrick, who has been with the MCDS for eight years.
Last year the MCDS ran a program for children of migrant cane craftsmen from Gujarat. With the Transfer Certificates obtained, they can now join schools anywhere they migrate to. In Transit Schools on Avvai Shanmugam Salai and Thousand Lights, many of the children were addicts and involved in petty crime. Yet, they are now in school, thanks to the lure of noon meals and a regular school life. The children are taught using the “activity based learning” method. The government specially trains the teachers for this purpose.
Each school is run by one teacher. They are assisted by Social Work students and helpers. The MCDS gives incentives of Rs 500 to teachers and Rs 1000 to helpers over above their salaries of Rs 1500 and Rs 800, respectively, which is paid by the government. Says Rachana, a volunteer from St. Joseph’s College, Kovur, “Though I have a language problem (she is Telugu and is not fluent in Tamil), I am able to take English classes. I am happy with the work I do here.” Those interested in volunteering or making monetary contributions to the MCDS can visit their website www.mcdschennai.org.
The children of Transit Schools
1. Besant Nagar- Gram vendors of Elliots Beach
2. N. S. Garden- Cane workers
3. Patinapakkam- Domestic helpers
4. Avvai Shanmugam Salai- Addicts/ anti-socials from the Cemetry nearby
5. Varadharajapuram- Waste electric wire workers
6. Thousand Lights- Addicts from slums along the Kuvam
7. Teynampet- Utensil tinkers
The Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) has accused Dubai Ports World’s Chennai subsidiary of fudging its books, in his Compliance Audit Report no. 2 of 2008. The report has reprimanded the Chennai Port Trust (ChPT) and the Chennai Container Terminal Pvt. Ltd. (CCTL)- DP World’s subsidiary, for “Improper compliance of agreement for privatization of the container terminal operations.” The CAG found “no proper system to ensure the veracity of the royalty paid by the operator as well of the achievement of “non-transshipment” traffic reported by the operator.”
Though clauses 3.08(A)(i)(g) and 3.08(A)(vii) of the agreement provide for the auditing of CCTL’s books by ChPT, the auditors were blocked by CCTL from doing so. The auditors had to rely on the Terminal Despatch Reports which did not contain complete data on various types of containers handled.
As per the agreement between CCTL and ChPT in August 2001, CCTL had agreed to develop Chennai as a hub port and increase non-transshipment traffic to at least 30 percent of total traffic in four years. Non-transshipment refers to direct traffic to Chennai as different from the use of Chennai Port as an intermediate destination for shipment of goods. The CAG found “a large variation” between the number of containers reported by CCTL and the number actually recorded by the Chennai Customs based on the Bills of Entry (BE). The difference between the percentage of non-transshipment containers of total traffic, as reported by CCTL and as worked out based on BE is 22.74 percent for Dec 2003-Nov 2004 and 35.19 percent for Dec 2004-Nov 2005. The net revenue earned by Ch PT from container operation in the terminal during 2002-03 to 2005-06 worked out to Rs. 322.52 crore including the royalty and land lease charges of Rs. 265.88 crore received from CCTL.
The agreement had specified that non-transshipment meant containers not shipped from Colombo, Singapore, Port Klang, Dubai and Salalah. Yet, the CCTL has included containers shipped from these ports too. In this regard the CAG summarises that “ChPT failed to ensure the fulfillment of the agreement conditions regarding non-transshipment traffic resulting in loss of compensation equivalent to the amount of royalty payable on shortfall in non-transshipment traffic.”
Labour union Leaders like T. Narendra Rao, General Secretary of Water Transport Workers’ Federation of India (WTWFI) have been highlighting these financial irregularities. “MNCs must follow Indian Laws. Even the P&O-DPW merger was not communicated to the government. Now, these people are not even allowing government auditors in.”
The CCTL is now wholly owned by Dubai Ports World (DPW), a State run port services company of the United Arab Emirates. It is the third largest global port operator. DPW bought P&O in March 2006 but did not take the permission of the various port authorities in India, which had agreements with P&O, before taking over the assets of the latter. ChPT and the Gujarat Maritime Board had objected to this violation but the Union Minister for Commerce and Industry, Kamal Nath had then assured the UAE of smooth transfer, during his Dubai visit. WTWFI had then demanded the Monopolies & Restrictive Trade Practices (MRTP) Act be invoked as the merger foreboded the emergence of monopoly in container port service.
The CAG has also found that CCTL violated Article 3.08(A)(v) of the agreement by not informing ChPT of the life of all new equipment purchase. No clarifications have been received from DPWorld or ChPT, at the time this report was filed.
In the CAG’s Report no. 4 of 2004 (Civil): Autonomous bodies, it was revealed that the ChPT had lost Rs. 3.2 crore due to negligence in its Split coal dredging operations and had wasted Rs. 1.87 crore by availing an Asian Development Bank loan, despite the availability of adequate resources internally. The privatization of Chennai Container Terminal has cost 752 jobs. Despite the fact that the amount of Cargo handled by Indian ports has increased by 128% in the last 12 years, more than 30,000 jobs have been lost since.