Archive for the ‘Reportage’ Category

Mangla Ram being carried on a stretcher by volunteers of the Dalit Atyachar Nivaran Samiti in Barmer, Rajasthan.

(First published in Governance Now, issue dated September 1, 2011)

Three magic wands–Right to Information, social audits and the Lokpal–have been offered as the means to fight corruption in the largely urban middle-class discourse. However, the question is, have these solutions worked for Mangla Ram?

Now who is this Mangla Ram and why does he matter to the anti-corruption discourse? He is the face of the invisible poor in India. He is one of those millions who wage everyday battles against the corrupt for securing their entitlements. He is a 37-year-old truck driver from the dusty village of Bamnor in Barmer, Rajasthan. He hails from the Scheduled Caste Meghwal community whose members have traditionally worked as labourers in the farm fields of the rich Muslim landlords here.

An overnight train journey from the national capital, Barmer has acquired fame of late for the rich oil fields that were discovered here. But not even a fraction of that wealth has reached its far-flung villages. Bamnor, which falls on the National Highway 15, is relatively nondescript, distinguished only by the undulating sand dunes that greet one’s eyes en route. Most of the poor residents of the village are forced to migrate to neighbouring Gujarat in search of better jobs.

Mangla was eligible for a below poverty line (BPL) ration card and funds under the Indira Awas Yojana but was struggling to get both. People in his village were also irked with the anganwadi that rarely functioned, the high school where one teacher managed 300 students and the rural development schemes in which they hardly ever were employed.

So, to set the things right, Mangla decided to exercise his right to information.


Read Full Post »

[First published in Frontline magazine in October 2007]

Thousands of teenaged girls are exploited for labour in the textile mills of Tamil Nadu

sumangali scheme

Picture credit: Somo.nl

“Earn Rs.40,000. Work as an apprentice for three years,” said the bold print in Tamil on the colour pamphlet. This was “a unique opportunity for young women”, it said. There were other attractions mentioned: “We also give tasty food and comfortable accommodation in the hostel. Daily stipend Rs.50.” Lakshmi, 15, who hails from Kambam in Theni district, did not want to miss this opportunity. It would mean the end of drudgery for her family of agricultural labourers; the “modern facilities” and “kulu kulu vasadhi” (air-conditioning) were a bonus.

The agent advertising job opportunities in a Tirupur-based textile mill found one more potential recruit in Lakshmi. He showed her the pamphlet and suggested that the amount she would get after three years could take care of her marriage expenses. Lakshmi and her parents were convinced, and she set out to Tirupur. The three-year-period ended recently, but Lakshmi is yet to get the promised amount. And with every passing day she is losing hope.

In at least 17 districts in Tamil Nadu thousands of teenage girls have been lured by agents to work in private textile mills, which are estimated to number over 1,600, under what they call the “sumangali” scheme.


Read Full Post »

kuppusamyKuppusamy Andal is 84 and can no longer recollect the heady days of the Second World War when she and her husband dug trenches and hid in them while the Japanese hurled bombs targeting their house.

A native of Sivakasi, she migrated with her husband to Singapore soon after marriage in 1940. Along with thousands of other migrant Indians, the couple were caught in the crossfire when Japan occupied the country. In a bombing incident, they lost their first child Balakrishnan. In 1943, the couple joined the Indian National Army and fought the British for Indian independence, under the leadership of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Ms. Andal was a member of the INA’s Rani of Jhansi regiment. As a prisoner of war in the Bidadari camp, they suffered several atrocities at the hands of the British.

But, age has withered her memory. The freedom fighter now languishes in a tiny one-room apartment in Kolathur in north Chennai with her only son Sivadas. Mr. Sivadas narrated to this reporter the life of his parents, pieced together from the anecdotes he had heard from them. “There was a time when my father contributed $100 to the Indian Independence Movement Fund. Today, we need a government pension to make ends meet,” he said.

Fortune eluded the family after Kuppusamy returned to his birth place, Puliangudi in Tirunelveli district, in 1947. He died in 1981 without any recognition whatsoever for his role in the freedom struggle, Mr. Sivadas said.

In 1985 Ms. Andal was certified as a “genuine freedom fighter” by the All India INA Committee in Delhi. The oath she took as a member of the Azad Hind Sangh’s Syonan Shakh remains a testimony to this. In 1986, almost 10 years after Kuppusamy and Ms. Andal applied for the State government-sponsored freedom fighter’s pension, she received a call for interview from the screening committee at the Tirunelveli Collectorate. She was found eligible and has been receiving a State government pension since then.

However, 23 years have passed since she first applied for the Central government-sponsored Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension, which has not been cleared yet.

(Originally published in The Hindu, From the South page, dated July 16, 2008)

Read Full Post »

migrantsThe last time Vishnu Tavudu went to the polling booth was 26 years ago. He vividly recalls the days when Telugu Desam leader N.T. Rama Rao held sway over the people in his village on the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa border.

This 86-year-old has not cast his vote since, as his family took up construction work in various cities for survival.

He is one among several thousand migrant labourers living in makeshift camps along Chennai’s famed IT Expressway, who are most likely to be left out of the electoral process.

“Even if we want to go back home and vote, getting leave is difficult,” says Sharath Kumar, a migrant from Kendrapara district in Orissa. An ardent supporter of the Biju Janata Dal, he says he cannot afford a train journey now. “It takes Rs.1,000 to go on a trip to my town and come back. It takes me five days of toiling in the sun to earn it back,” he says.


Read Full Post »

law collegeThe recent clash between groups of students at the Dr.Ambedkar Government Law College has brought campus politics under a shadow of disapproval. Facts that have emerged thus far reveal that caste-based political mobilisation was taking place inside the campus for a long time.

Ahead of the Thevar Jayanthi celebrations on October 30, students belonging to the Mukkulathor Student’s Forum, youth wing of the Thevar Peravai, had put up posters inside the campus to publicise the event. That they had omitted ‘Dr.Ambedkar’ from the name of the college in the posters is said to have angered Dalit students and triggered the clash on November 12.

However, such violence stemming from politics on campus is not new and the institution has remained a hotbed of political activity for several years now. In 2002, similar violence involving students occurred in the Law College hostel and a commission of inquiry, led by retired Madras High Court judge K. S. Bakthavatsalam was appointed by the State government. Back then, the police action in response to student violence had come under criticism.


Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »