Unwed mothers

The woman, whose lover had fathered two children but refused to pay child support, must have felt vindicated when Justice C.S. Karnan ordered him to pay maintenance, in the Madras High Court.

By holding the man liable for the upbringing of his offspring, begat through non-marital sex, the judge has created a more level playing field for single mothers, and relief for children. After all, sex and reproduction is between two people and both should be held responsible for its consequences, regardless of the legal status of their relationship.

Many of us have grown up watching Amitabh Bachchan films in which the eternal mother Nirupa Roy was discarded by husband or lover. In one, she had to bring up two children, one who became a criminal and the other a police officer, both seeking justice from a society which gave so much power to a man, that he could produce children but play no part in their upbringing.

These films narrated the plight of many unwed mothers in India who became second class citizens simply because they had sex without marriage, with or without their consent, were loving and responsible enough not to abandon their children. They ended up economically and socially marginalised.

While national data are not available, a survey conducted by Kerala’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Department found 563 unwed Dalit mothers in the state. The Kerala Women’s Commission puts the actual number at more than 2,000. An investigation led by Deputy Police Inspector-General S Sreejith found that there were more than 1,000 unwed mothers in the tribal areas. According to the KWC, most unwed mothers are 14 to 20 years old and some ended up in prostitution to feed themselves and their children.

Historically and even today, many unwed mothers are Dalit or tribal women, who have been forced by an unequal caste system to be sexually available for upper caste men as their accepted destiny. Their children from such encounters contribute to the cheap labour on which India’s economy runs. The women’s options are foreclosed, as their time and resources are consumed, bringing up the child.

Justice Karnan’s order reflects an empathy with the woman’s plight. India’s culture, as depicted in the Ramayana, Mahabharata, the Puranas and the Upanishads, reflect struggles between various schools of thought, representing what is right from the point of view of the patriarchal upper castes and what is right from the point of view of various Dalit and tribal groups. Laws and codes are written, challenged re-codified in different periods of history.

Rishi Gautama in the Upanishads honours the unwed mother Jabala by taking over the social responsibility of bringing up her son, Satyakam, by giving him 100 cows, unlike Ram who discards Sita in the Tulsi Ramayan when a dhobi questions the paternity of Luv and Kush.

Justice Karman’s order will provide relief to thousands of women, who may want their lovers to share responsibility for bringing up the children of that relationship, but may not want to marry the men in question.

We know that often courts and families trap young women and girls in the prison of oppressive marriages by ordering them to marry their rapists; a remnant of patriarchal thinking that a woman is ‘owned’ by any man who takes her virginity. And many a young woman, faced with a future of bringing up a child single-handedly, succumbs to economic necessity as much as social stigma.

Today, male responsibility in a sexual relationship is, at best, limited to offering room and board via marriage or using a condom. Marriage is considered a reward that men give women for being ‘good.’ It provides women with legal rights to home and property for themselves and their children. For thousands of children and their mothers the link between marriage and legitimacy, both legally and socially, has been so strong that it has become a weapon of control by many men.

Justice Karnan’s order may become a precedent and free women from exercising a self-destructive option by pinning financial liability on fathers, inside or outside marriage. However, as a society we have a long way to go in creating progressive and equal norms for fatherhood. Men need to, not just contribute towards child support monetarily, but participate in child rearing too. If men spend more time in child care – thus developing the universally human qualities of patience, empathy and others necessary to raise children -violence and oppression inside families may decrease.

Very often social change is triggered by legal change. Legal frameworks and laws often end up legitimising or de-legitimising certain segments of society. We know that British laws, which criminalised homosexuality, still leave a whiff of scandal around homosexuals. Thousands of Indian communities that the British named Criminal Tribes, still suffer the stigma of being branded thieves, and are cut off from jobs and education, leading to inter-generational prostitution. We know that women in prostitution consider themselves and are considered by mainstream society to be ‘bad’, while men who exploit them are excused as simply being men. One reason for this is that more women are arrested under the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act for soliciting in a public place than are their pimps and clients. It’s the women who end up with criminal records.

The Madras High Court judgment has led to debate on the legitimacy of sex, marriage and paternity and created an opening for India to move towards a more gender equitable society like Sweden where unwed mothers are paid maintenance support and the father, who is required to pay, must reimburse costs paid from public funds for the maintenance support in full or in part.

Potential solution to Caste Problem

The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, Milind Kamble, founder of the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI), and Chandra Bhan Prasad, its mentor, says:

I am at Nariman Point, the heart of corporate, super rich India. At a time when the talk is of inclusive growth, my guests today are two faces of genuinely inclusive growth in India: Milind Kamble, founder of Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI), and Chandra Bhan Prasad, its mentor. Two Dalit leaders, who don’t claim to be victims, who don’t claim victimhood, and who don’t ask for doles, reservations, favours, no complaints. So, are you oddballs? Are you trying to change the script?

CHANDRA BHAN PRASAD: This has been the Dalit tradition—Ambedkar rose on his own, so did Guru Ravidas. There are thousands of such examples in history where Dalits have stood up and risen on their own. So there is nothing unusual about us. What has happened during the past 50 or 60 years is that the state’s welfare measures or methods or reservations got slightly misunderstood and also slightly misused by the “victims”.

Did it work well for the victims or not?

CBP: It worked well, but it has outlived its potential and power, now something else has to happen.

Milindji, you are charting a new course. You are organising Dalit entrepreneurs in this Dalit Chamber. Is there really a large enough number of Dalit entrepreneurs in India?

MILIND KAMBLE: Yes, there are. If I quote from the Census carried out by the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), 10 per cent of MSMEs registered with the Government of India are Dalit-owned, which is about 1,64,000 across the country. Most of us fall within the ambit of MSMEs, there are a few who have grown into large enterprises. That is the situation.

Who are the largest? Tell me about a few.

MK: The largest enterprise that is part of our Chamber is of Rajesh Saraiya, who is from Sitapur district in Uttar Pradesh. He is currently based in Ukraine and his companies are registered in London, Ukraine and six other countries. He has a presence in Mumbai too. He is the biggest Dalit entrepreneur whose businesses have a turnover of Rs 2,000 crore.

That is almost half a billion dollars. Tell me about him.

CBP: He went to Russia on a scholarship to study engineering. When the Soviet Union collapsed, he did odd jobs to continue his education and after completing it, joined (Laxmi Niwas) Mittal’s steel company as a translator. He figured out the tricks of the trade and started dealing with steel, first with the Tatas. Today, he is worth over $400 million, owns four Mercedes Benz cars and is only in his forties. Then there is Kalpana Saroj who worked for Rs 5 a day in Mumbai in 1975 and today she owns Kamani Tubes.

I believe the silencer in the Tata Nano is produced by a Dalit entrepreneur.

MK: Yes, indeed. Not just the silencer, there are other parts as well. The perception that the country has about our community that…

…they are victims, the prey.

MK: There is a view that Dalits are the jamaais (sons-in-law) of the government. This is not true. As you said, there is (a Dalit entrepreneur) who makes silencers for the Nano, one Sushil Kumar in Ghaziabad supplies (motorcycle) stands to Hero, in Pune there is one Gokul Gaikwad who supplies parts for Tata Indigo, in Sangli there is Sadamate Industries which supplies parts to Forbes Marshall, to Bajaj.

CBP: Bajaj Pulsar has three parts supplied by Dalits. If they stop supplies to Bajaj, Hero, Honda, Tata Motors…

…the companies will close down.

CBP: No. The vehicles will stop running for want of parts.

MK: This way, we need to change perceptions.

You wish to change the story of

victimhood.

MK: Yes. Many have emerged from their circumstances and established businesses.

CBP: In Uttar Pradesh alone, 50 big hospitals are being run by Dalit doctors. Some of them were manual labourers in their childhood, during their high school and intermediate days.

The fact is, these Dalits became doctors because of reservations.

CBP: Yes.

So we cannot undermine the value of affirmative action.

CBP: Certainly. Affirmative action has given Dalits a launch pad. A launch pad is a launch pad. You need that to take off. Ambedkar gave you the launch pad. Now don’t run on the launch pad, take off.

So are you saying economic reforms and globalisation have been positive developments for Dalits?

MK: We welcome it. It has been a very positive development in India’s economic growth story. Earlier, there were only few companies that used to make cars, two-wheelers and spares, because only they had the licence. As the licence raj was dismantled, new players entered the market. The existing firms had their vendor-base fixed, and the dealings used to happen only with them. As new players entered, there was a need for new vendors, new suppliers, a new supply chain and that is how more entrepreneurs got an opportunity.

CBP: Also, earlier there was a notion of one product under one roof. Because of economic reforms, globalisation, you can’t produce everything under one roof. You will have to outsource work. Most of the Dalit entrepreneurs of today are beneficiaries of outsourcing.

Outsourcing of manufacturing.

CBP: Yes. Along with globalisation came Adam Smith to challenge Manu. So that’s why for the first time, money has become bigger than caste.

So markets have become bigger than caste, bigger than Marx.

Yes. Bigger than caste, bigger than Marx, bigger than everybody because in this marketplace, only your ability is respected.

Chandra Bhanji, you say that money has challenged caste and Marx, and you spent your youth as a gun-toting Naxalite.

CBP: Yes…I think I was a fool.

You were an actual Naxalite, a part of the underground. Tell us that story.

CBP: I was a young man then, studying in JNU and I thought we must change India. Then, somebody said the gun is the best thing to overthrow the system, and I said I will be part of it.

And JNU is a place where the CPM is considered a dangerous right-wing party.

CBP: Yes…and I went in the field and saw violence is no way to change society. It is now outdated to have a view that a weapon or a people’s army can overthrow the present regime and trigger a revolution. So I got disillusioned and I thought everybody makes mistakes, and I too made a mistake.

You came back from there and made a complete turnaround?

CBP: Yes. Earlier, I completely went by ideas and thoughts that I was told. Later, I started thinking and saw changes. When I saw a Dalit in Bahadurgarh manufacturing cranes with a polytechnic training, I thought India is changing. When I saw a Dalit in Khurja running the biggest sweet shop and people buying sweets from him, while knowing he is Dalit, I thought India is changing. Now Dalits in several parts of India are running good restaurants. People are eating there. So I thought India is changing. So I thought let us go with the change.

Milindji, you came to the city, to Pune, started your venture. Were people still reminding you of your caste? Or were they ignoring your caste?

MK: In Maharashtra, your surname often gives away your caste. Look at my name: Milind Kamble. Kamble is a known Dalit surname. In the business I work in, construction…

…you have a turnover of Rs 80 crore.

MK: Yes, across all the businesses I am engaged in…So in the construction sector, over 80 per cent of the labour force belongs to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The work involves hard labour, which is possible only by us, which is why, we did not see discrimination.

…And you were an engineer, an added qualification.

MK: Yes.

Let me put this metaphorically. If market is a better equaliser than Marx, is the market a better equaliser than Mayawati?

CBP: Most certainly. So far, we held a belief that only an individual can liberate society. Now we see that there is an economic process, that capitalism is changing caste much faster than any human being. Therefore, in capitalism versus caste, there is a battle going on and Dalits should look at capitalism as a crusader against caste.

…As a force multiplier.

CBP: Yes. Dalits don’t succeed in villages. Dalits don’t succeed in traditional trades where you have a wide gadda and a white pillow. That’s why we say bring in FDI in retail and destroy this traditional system where Dalits can’t even step in.

This caste-denominated monopoly over money and over transactional benefits…

CBP: Yes. That is why I say, what man failed to do, capitalism is doing. Let us go with capitalism that is changing caste faster than your reforms.

Milindji, you speak of empowerment and that June 6, the day on which we are recording this, is going to be a turning point in the history of Dalit evolution. Why do you say so?

MK: Today, we are launching our own venture capital fund of Rs 500 crore and it will be an alternative fund registered with SEBI. This is India’s first social impact fund that will cater exclusively to enterprises run by Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. We, the entrepreneurs from the community, are endeavouring to make a mark on the business landscape—and many are making a mark. Today is a day when we are making a mark on the country’s capital markets.

Your slogan is, Dalits should become job givers, not job seekers.

MK: Yes.

CBP: And every follower of Bhimrao Ambedkar should become job givers, not job seekers.

Tell me, how did the two of you meet? Chandrabhanji is from a backward region in Uttar Pradesh—Azamgarh—and Milindji is from Maharashtra.

CBP: I went to him and saw that he had formed DICCI and is uniting Dalit entrepreneurs nationwide. His interest was that there should be business advocacy among Dalits. I have only one interest: to survey Dalit entrepreneurs and calculate the tax they pay the government and show that the taxes they pay are far greater than the money the government spends on the welfare of the Dalits. I asked him, can I join you? And I joined him.

When I heard you say that—as I also have my mind conditioned by stereotypes—I thought you were about to say that all the tax Dalit entrepreneurs pay the government, should be spent back on Dalits.

CBP: We are saying that Dalit entrepreneurs are giving more in taxes to the state than what the state is spending on Dalits. We want to prove this. I am not a businessman, I am a writer. That’s how we came together. Our interests match. The nation should know that Dalits are not only takers, they are givers.

Did people laugh at you when you started this (DICCI)?

MK: Yes. When we began this, people felt that he is out of his mind. What is this SC/ST chamber of commerce and industry? Can there be anything like that? Can people from our community become businessmen? This was the mindset then and people laughed at me. During the period 2003-2005, we formed DICCI. In 2010, we organised our first trade fair in Pune. It was then that we got the attention of the media and word spread nation-wide that Dalit entrepreneurs have formed a forum. Last year, we organised a trade fair in Mumbai, at the Bandra-Kurla Complex.

For non-Mumbaikars, BKC is the new banking district of India.

MK: Yes. We organised a trade fair in which 150 Dalit businessmen from all over the country exhibited. Adi Godrej was present at the inauguration and among the visitors were Ratan Tata, Sushilkumar Shinde and Sharad Pawar and many others. After that, those who laughed at me and doubted my endeavour, even the Dalit entrepreneurs who used to hide their caste until then, when they saw that DICCI had forged an alliance with Corporate India—50 corporates came there—the hesitation ended and today it has become a platform throughout the country. There are DICCI chapters in 17 states, and our membership has swelled to 3,000.

Chandra Bhanji, you are a traveller, an analyst, a writer, a scholar. Do you see Dalits and even tribals changing as you go through the countryside?

CBP: Yes, the biggest change that has occurred and which I thought would never happen in this country—that food sources have become common for Dalits and upper castes. Earlier, Dalits mainly ate millets…

…what is called coarse grain

CBP: That was a low social marker—this is Dalit food or cattle feed. Now Dalits and upper castes and OBCs have common sources of food—wheat and rice. And jeans and T-shirts have become new weapons of emancipation. I see in villages Dalit youth sporting jeans and T-shirts. Something is happening in the countryside. Dressing well, eating well. They are also migrating from the countryside to cities like Mumbai and Aurangabad and Ahmedabad and elsewhere. Something new is going to happen in a month or two. A big Indian company is going to form a joint venture with a Dalit entrepreneur to produce a common product. This will shake the old consciousness. This would show how India is integrating, how a new process has started.

…And how capitalism is achieving what Marx and Mayawati could not?

CBP: Yes. Capitalism cannot survive without finishing feudalism and destroying caste. It is in the interest of capitalism to destroy caste, and that is happening, whether we like it or not.

You keep saying that the ideological mentor of DICCI is Montek Singh Ahluwalia. That will alarm many people because he is supposed to be a man of the Washington Consensus—anti-poverty, anti-poor, etc.

CBP: Montek is a friend of Adam Smith and Adam Smith is an enemy of Manu, so therefore, Montek is our friend.

Enemy’s enemy is your friend. What happens to this discourse on poverty—that you need a direct attack on poverty, that poverty is the problem, poverty is there forever, poverty has not come down…?

CBP: People who are working on poverty have a better life than people like us, because if you work on poverty, then you fly. You work on poverty, you live in five-star hotels. If you work on poverty, you are in touch with big foreign funding agencies. So, talking poverty makes you strong, makes you rich.

I say sometimes in my cynical moments that we Indians have invented a new ideology, it’s called povertarianism. And then central principle of that ideology is that poverty is my birth right and I shall make sure you have it.

CBP: The benefits are enormous. The fellow who sells poverty himself leads a rich life.

Now your alma mater, JNU, is the Dalal Street of poverty, rather povertarianism.

CBP: JNU creates people who see every human being incapable of rising on his own. That is JNU’s DNA.

Milindji, If JNU is the Dalal Street of poverty, you are now aiming for this (the real) Dalal Street. Where does the inspiration come from?

MK: The inspiration behind DICCI is the economic thought of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. The second is the black capitalism in America.

It says so in your mission statement.

MK: Yes. I asked my friend how was it possible that Barack Obama could be President of the United States? A black man in the White House! So he told me, there are thousands of “business Obamas”, that is why you have one Obama in the White House. There are thousands of black entrepreneurs in the United States who have made their presence felt on Wall Street. Till the day Dalit entrepreneurs make their presence felt on Dalal Street, let growth be how much ever it is, it won’t be sustainable.

Nobody could have put it better than that. Milindji, thank you very much, it has been so inspirational to have this conversation with you. Chandra Bhanji, you are a wonderful mentor. Fortunately, you picked the right cause. Had you stayed on with Naxalites, you might have been a bigger problem there.

IT Hub with the highest child labour

Even as the Union government has passed legislations and implemented special programmes to tackle child labour, the tentative Child Labour Survey Report 2011-2012 reveals that child labour is rampant in the State with over 51,108 children working in the State in both hazardous and non-hazardous sectors.

Successive governments have vowed to eliminate child labour by setting several deadlines, all in vain.

Interestingly, the report, which has the estimates of children working between the age group 9 and 14 years, states that the largest number of child labourers in the State are in the State capital — Bangalore (Urban) — with as many as 11,277 children working in the city. The districts with the least number of child labourers are Shimoga, Udupi, Hassan, Chickmagalur and Dakshin Kannada, all reporting less than 50 child labourers each.

NOT YET APPROVED

Except for Uttara Kannada and Kodagu, the survey was done by the Labour Department with the help of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The survey however, is yet to be approved by respective district collectors / deputy commissioners.

A Labour Department source attributed the concentration of child labour in Bangalore (Urban) to employment opportunities available in the hotels and dhabas in the city. The source also said children of migrant labourers, who come to Bangalore from other parts of the State, also end up working in the city. “Due to surprise raids by the Labour Department and increased awareness about child labour legislations, child labour [has] become invisible, making it harder to trace. Cases of child labour employed in households for domestic work are particularly difficult to trace.”

The official also pointed out that sometimes it was difficult to establish the relationship between employers and employees as children don’t work full time or work along with family members.

Success story for June: Veg-Pack for Rs 99

District officials have launched a unique scheme of providing nine vegetables at Rs.99. This was done to provide some solace to the customers from the rising prices of vegetables. Get a bagful of vegetables for Rs.99 only is the catch phrase.

The bag will contain nine varieties of vegetables – one kg of potatoes, one kg of tomatoes, one kg of onions, one kg of water gourd, half-a-kg of ladies finger, half-a-kg of ivy gourd, quarter-kg of chillies, drumsticks and an assortment of leafy vegetables and all for ‘Just’ Rs.99.

Launching the offer, Vijayawada Central Congress MLA Malladi Vishnu said that this was initiated with the help of farmers to control the rising prices of vegetables and to stabilise the situation. “It was first initiated in Hyderabad on Tuesday and launched today over here,” he said. An officer from the Rythu Bazar said that this would not have been possible without the cooperation of the farmers. “We have entered into a pact with the farmers to supply us the vegetables at Rs.2 less from the board price to bring price rise situation under control,” he said.

According to the bazaar board price, the assortment of nine vegetables in tune with the quantity would cost Rs.125 and the farmers are supplying at Rs. 99. The variation is set to be between Rs.18 and 25.

Big hit

The offer will initially be for 15 days, and they will extend it depending on the market scenario, said the MLA. The offer appears to be a big hit, as the farmers at the Swaraj Maidan Rythu Bazar sold over 200 bags in the very first hour of business, on the day of the launch.

Violence against women on the rise

Report from Washington, DC –

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during her tenure at the department of State, made world economics, democracy and empowerment of women and girls a focus of her approach for achieving progress and prosperity in the world. Together, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, through his foreign policy agenda, and Secretary Clinton, through her emphatic speeches all across the globe, have made a difference in raising the status of women and girls worldwide.

The US has taken a leading role in protecting human rights here and abroad and more and more women who were marginalized previously in agrarian societies have come forward and taken on the responsibility of empowering themselves and their own societies. Empowerment is an all-inclusive term which signifies empowering women economically, socially, academically and politically.

The shooting by the Taliban in October, 2012 of Malala Yousafzai, a 15 year old Pakistani girl, in retaliation for her advocation of education for girls in Pakistan, led a Hollywood actress, Angelina Jolie, a special envoy for the United Nations refugee population, to donate money for the creation of ‘Malala’s Fund’ for educating 40 girls in Pakistan. One act of activism led to another act of kindness, courage and empowerment. There are now street schools in Pakistan, India and many other countries where previously young girls and boys did not have access to education.

You may remember the movie Veer Zaara where Preity Zinta speaks to Amitabh Bachan, who is explaining to her that he opened a school for boys in his village so that they do not have to travel far to go to school. She remarks very politely, saying, “Bau ji, that is not fair, because if you have opportunities for girls as well, perhaps one day there will be a girl officer beside your own son Colonel Veer Pratap Singh.” That led to the creation of a school for girls in the movie.

In many impoverished countries where the families are large and literacy rates are low, women are not able to pursue education because parents want to get them married early so that the parents don’t have the responsibility of taking care of them. These young women, living in many remote villages, are then stuck with raising families or working in the fields to support them, which does not give them the opportunity to develop intellectually.

Last year’s speaker at a women’s empowerment seminar, George Mason University Science Professor Jagadish Shukla, narrated his motivation to empower girls of his own native village Mirdha, which is in the Ballia district of Uttar Pradesh, India, by opening a women’s college. The village had no electricity, roads, or transportation, yet education had still remained a dream for a very long time. He opened this college and for several years has been giving his own personal savings to run the administration of the school. He wants the girls and women of the village to get an education in the village and not have to travel far for schooling. This is a great example of empowerment.

In December, 2012, a young woman in New Delhi, India, who had been a victim of a gang rape and died of her injuries, expressed before dying a desire for better criminal law, stricter penalties for perpetrators and better police administration. She did not die in vain. There was an outpouring of support worldwide and she was honored posthumously by US Secretary of State John Kerry with the Women of Courage Award of ‘Nirbhaya’ (courage) in March, 2013, on the International Day of Women.

Bollywood movie stars Amir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan and Sharukh Khan have come forward and articulated the need for reform, a change in public attitude, the reporting of assault, and speedy court proceedings to punish the perpetrators. Amir Khan donated 5 crores of rupees (Approx. one million dollars) to open a women’s shelter in Ahmednagar so that abused women could stay and avail the resources.

Vice President Joe Biden honored New Delhi brothers Ravi, Rishi and Nishi Kant at the Kennedy Center in April of this year, awarding them the “Solidarity Award of Vital Voices.” The award was created by Hillary Clinton in 1997. Biden said that through their establishment of the non-profit Shakti Vahini, the brothers have fought hard for a decade to have India acknowledge the plight of women who have been abused, neglected, trafficked and enslaved.

A new organization named MARD (Men against Rape and Discrimination) was launched in March, 2013 by Bollywood actor and director, Farhan Akhtar. Akhtar conceived MARD after an incident in August 2012, where Pallavi Purkayastha, a Mumbai lawyer, was sexually assaulted and then killed by her home watchman.

The many incidences of violence against women in India has led to fears of women working at night and traveling in public transportation in urban areas. Many women fear that the police may not be of any help to them due to rampant corruption, less stringent criminal laws and limited resources.

The American news media has carried stories of violence against women, leading western media to question whether India is a safe location for tourists to visit.

There are still grave problems regarding violence against women, child marriage, choosing male over female infants, prostitution, and sex trafficking. In the red light areas in Mumbai and Kolkata, large numbers of girls enter prostitution every day against their will.

Nonprofit organizations have come forward to work with less fortunate women and children and empower them with educational and financial opportunities. We, living outside India, cannot look the other way and must speak for those who cannot and explore how societies can be helped.