Recipe for self-reliance

Sex workers in Kolkata’s Watgunj area are shifting to alternative livelihoods after undergoing culinary training from professional chefs

She was all of 21 when her husband dumped her and her brother-in-law sold her to a pimp in the red light area of Watgunj in south Kolkata. Forcefully pushed into the sex trade, battered and bruised for almost 13 years, Piyu, now aged 34, is expecting to start life afresh.

Piyu is not alone. Called ‘Sonar Bangla’ — the self empowerment group (SEG) comprising 10 sex workers from the red light area of Watgunj — is set to receive culinary skills from the chefs of the premium city-based Kenilworth Hotel. Supported by the NGO Apne Aap Women Worldwide, some of the other sex workers from the area are organising themselves into SEGs to explore possibilities of alternative and sustainable livelihood options, including stitching of ladies outfits and making jute and paper bags.

“I was pushed into this trade by my brother-in-law. Initially, I used to earn good money but now that I am growing old, no client prefers me. I do not have any income and my landlord is forcing me to vacate the house. I have four kids aged 12, 11, 10 and five. But they cannot stay with me because of the poor living conditions I am in at present,” Piyu said. She is now pinning her hopes on the cooking lessons for earning a decent living.

Since 2008, the Sonar Banglagroup has been cooking mid-day meals for some schools in the locality. The women have also taken orders from some factories and offices in the nearby areas, said Anupam Das, state coordinator for Apne Aap in West Bengal.

While there was initially a lot of stigma attached to it, over the years things have been improving, he said.

According to Ruchira Gupta, founder and president of Apne Aap, the training support by a premium hotel chain will help the women run their business in a professional way — from standardising their food products, to pricing and marketing them.

“Though we have been cooking for the last few years, the sales are dependent on the kind of orders we get. There are days when we earn Rs. 500-1,000, but there are also days when our hands are empty. We want to get a regular source of income so that we can support our children and eventually move out of this place,” 35-year-old Pratima Mondal said.

Apart from imparting cooking lessons to the sex workers, Kenilworth Hotel will also facilitate setting up of food joints in various parts of the city to help market the food cooked by the women. “We are looking at setting up food joints on trolleys for them. Initially we plan to set up five-six such trolleys in various parts of the city. Each trolley will entail an investment of about Rs. 40,000. This apart, we will also provide working capital support of about Rs. 10,000 to start their venture,” said Raju Bharat, chairman and managing director of the Kenilworth.

Based on the success of the venture, the hotel will look at scaling up the project. “Once we are confident about their management skills and are ensured about the quality and hygiene of food, we might consider branding these food joints. But that will require us to have day-to-day control over operations to ensure quality,” he added.

According to Mr. Das, there are over 1,000 women engaged in sex trade in the red light area of Watgunj and another 10,000-odd in the Sonagachi red light locality of Kolkata. Apne Aap has managed to rehabilitate 350-400 odd women and girls in both these areas put together either by linking them to schools, helping them to earn alternative livelihood or by facilitating entitlement of government subsidies and low-cost housing, he said.

Countrywide, nearly 15,000 women and girls have been linked to alternative livelihoods, Ms. Gupta said. “Some women have started tea shops and small grocery stores, while others have got jobs as gas station attendants or as security guards in Westside,” she added.

 

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Dowry deaths: One woman dies every hour

NEW DELHI: One woman dies every hour due to dowry related reasons on an average in the country, which has seen a steady rise in such cases between 2007 and 2011, according to official data.

National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures state that 8,233 dowry deaths were reported in 2012 from various states. The statistics work out to one death per hour.

The number of deaths under this category of crime against women were 8,618 in 2011 but the overall conviction rate was 35.8 per cent, slightly above the 32 per cent conviction rate recorded in the latest data for 2012.

The number of dowry deaths in the country has seen a steady growth during the period between 2007 and 2011. While in 2007, 8,093 such deaths were reported, the numbers rose to 8,172 and 8,383 in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

In 2010, 8,391 such deaths were reported, according to the NCRB.

The agency is the central nodal department to collect and process crime statistics at the national level.

Suman Nalwa, additional deputy commissioner of Delhi Police (Special Unit for Women and Children), said the problem is not only limited to the lower or middle class.

“Higher socio-economic strata is equally involved in such practices. Even the highly educated class of our society do not say no to dowry. It runs deep into our social system,” she said.

The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, prohibits the request, payment or acceptance of a dowry, “as consideration for the marriage” and dowry here is defined as a gift demanded or given as a pre-condition for a marriage.

“The existing law has certain loopholes and needs to be made stricter. Despite the amendments made to the Dowry Act in 1983, good results are still desired to be achieved,” Nalwa said.

However, Kamini Jaiswal, a senior Supreme Court lawyer, says improper investigations by the police at the initial stage of a case slow down the process of judicial proceedings.

“We need quick conviction in such cases. Our judicial procedure has become very slow, police does not record a case at initial stage,” she said.

Andhra Pradesh, and not Gujarat, leads in eliminating poverty

Success Story of September

Even as Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, hard sells his “poverty mitigating development agenda,” Andhra Pradesh has silently out beaten his State by dramatically halving the number of poor over the last two years from 176 lakh to 80 lakh, the latest National Sample Survey Organisation data has revealed. Not just Gujarat, no other Indian State comes close to this rate of poverty reduction from 21.1 per cent to 9.37 per cent during the period 2009-10 and 2011-12. If it looks quite surprising for a short two-year period, the figures for the longer seven-year term, from 2004-05 to 2011-12, are equally impressive with poverty rate dropping by about 20 percentage points, against the Indian average of 15 percentage points.

And if one goes beyond and looks at the last 20 years, poverty is down by a significant 35 percentage points.

Two other States that come second and third to AP are Tamil Nadu and Gujarat but both these States took seven years to halve and nearly halve the number of poor. Some experts now compare the AP’s poverty rates to those of China, stated to have lifted more people out of poverty in the last 30 years than any country in history.

Divergent views

How did AP achieve this feat? Is it because of poverty alleviation programmes? Or is it owing to schemes like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme or agriculture growth? Economists however have extremely differing views both over the figures put out by the NSSO and the manner of achieving poverty reduction.

For eminent economist and former member of the Planning Commission, C. H. Hanumantha Rao, the reduction in poverty in Andhra Pradesh was to be expected. “I am not surprised at all, given the way rural income has grown with wages being pushed up significantly from schemes like MGNREGA and agriculture growth rate. The 4 per cent growth in agriculture may still be elusive but in some years it was close to 3 per cent.”

This growth was satisfactory over the years and the welcome feature was that it came from crop diversification, Prof. Rao said. Wages in rural areas have gone up to such an extent that farmers were complaining of shortage of farm hands, though it is debatable whether payment of wages has led to creation of productive assets. Income levels have gone up also because farmers diversified into sectors such as dairying. Migration to urban areas is now not so much of distress- driven but for better opportunities and living conditions. Äll these factors appear to have contributed to reduction in poverty, he explained. He found the NSSO data credible.

But for another economist, Dr. Vamsi Vakulabharanam of University of Hyderabad, the NSSO finding is to be taken with a pinch of salt. “A dramatic reduction of poor by 90 lakh in two years is usually to be treated with great scepticism. There are serious problems in comparing data of 2009-10 with 2011-12, as the former was quinquennial survey on more than 100,000 households where as the latter was based on small sample of annual survey which may have significant sample bias. Drawing inference from such small survey is seriously problematic.”

Moreover poverty line used in these computations was totally arbitrary based on Tendulkar Committee recommendations that have become controversial for using money value of the indexed urban poverty line in 2004-05 to calculate rural poverty, he said. The current poverty line based on this committee has no basis in any real consumption requirements of the poor, calorific or otherwise. “This entire exercise seems like a publicity stunt on the part of the government and the Planning Commission.”