Thirty million people are slaves, half in India

LONDON: Some 30 million people are enslaved worldwide, trafficked into brothels, forced into manual labour, victims of debt bondage or even born into servitude, a global index on modern slavery showed on Thursday.

Almost half are in India, where slavery ranges from bonded labour in quarries and kilns to commercial sex exploitation, although the scourge exists in all 162 countries surveyed by Walk Free, an Australian-based rights group.

Its estimate of 29.8 million slaves worldwide is higher than other attempts to quantify modern slavery. The International Labour Organisationestimates that almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour.

“Today some people are still being born into hereditary slavery, a staggering but harsh reality, particularly in parts of West Africa andSouth Asia,” the report said.

“Other victims are captured or kidnapped before being sold or kept for exploitation, whether through ‘marriage’, unpaid labour on fishing boats, or as domestic workers. Others are tricked and lured into situations they cannot escape, with false promises of a good job or an education.”

The Global Slavery Index 2013 defines slavery as the possession or control of people to deny freedom and exploit them for profit or sex, usually through violence, coercion or deception. The definition includes indentured servitude, forced marriage and the abduction of children to serve in wars.

According to the index, 10 countries alone account for three quarters of the world’s slaves.

After India, China has the most with 2.9 million, followed by Pakistan (2.1 million), Nigeria (701,000), Ethiopia (651,000), Russia (516,000), Thailand (473,000), Democratic Republic of Congo (462,000), Myanmar (384,000) and Bangladesh (343,000).

The index also ranks nations by prevalence of slavery per head of population. By this measure,Mauritania is worst, with almost 4 percent of its 3.8 million people enslaved. Estimates by other organisations put the level at up to 20 percent.

Chattel slavery is common in Mauritania, meaning that slave status is passed down through generations. “Owners” buy, sell, rent out or give away their slaves as gifts.

After Mauritania, slavery is most prevalent by population in Haiti, where a system of child labour known as “restavek” encourages poor families to send their children to wealthier acquaintances, where many end up exploited and abused.

Pakistan, India, Nepal, Moldova, Benin, Ivory Coast, Gambia and Gabon have the next highest prevalence rates.

At the other end of the scale, Iceland has the lowest estimated prevalence with fewer than 100 slaves.

Next best are Ireland, Britain, New Zealand, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Finlandand Denmark, although researchers said slave numbers in such wealthy countries were higher than previously thought.

“They’ve been allocating resources against this crime according to the tiny handful of cases that they’ve been aware of,” said Kevin Bales, lead researcher and a professor at the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation at Hull University.

“Our estimates are telling them that the numbers of people in slavery – whether it’s in Great Britain or Finland or wherever – in these richer countries actually tends to be about six to 10 times higher than they think it is.”

Walk Free CEO Nick Grono said the annual index would serve as an important baseline for governments and activists in the anti-slavery fight.

“This kind of data hasn’t been out there before,” he said. “It’s a multi-year effort, and next year we’ll have a much better picture of where slavery is and what changes there are. If you can’t measure it, you can’t devise policy to address it.”

Countries with highest absolute numbers of slaves Country Estimated slaves India 13.9 million China 2.9 million Pakistan 2.1 million Nigeria 701,000 Ethiopia 651,000 Russia 516,000 Thailand 473,000 D.R. Congo 462,000 Myanmar 384,000 Bangladesh 343,000 Ranking by prevalence of modern slavery per head of population Rank Country Estimated slaves Population 1 Mauritania 151,000 3.8 million 2 Haiti 209,000 10.2 million 3 Pakistan 2.1 million 179.2 million 4 India 13.9 million 1.2 billion 5 Nepal 259,000 27.5 million 6 Moldova 33,000 3.6 million 7 Benin 80,000 10.1 million 8 Ivory Coast 157,000 19.8 million 9 Gambia 14,000 1.8 million 10 Gabon 14,000 1.6 million Source: Global Slavery Index 2013, Walk Free

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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.

 

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.”

Evil of forced marriages

A charity advises women and young girls to set off airport metal detectors to give them more time to seek help from the authorities

A number of women and girls in the U.K. at risk of forced marriage have avoided going abroad by concealing spoons in their underwear at airport security, according to a campaign group.

Karma Nirvana, a Derby-based charity that supports victims of forced marriage, advises people who ring its helpline to hide a spoon in order to set off metal detectors at British airports. The group says its advice has prevented some women from being spirited overseas.

Last week Ministers warned that young people were at the highest risk of being taken abroad for a forced marriage during the school holidays. The government’s forced marriage unit received 400 reports between June and August last year, out of an annual total of 1,500.

No one knows for sure how many Britons are forced into marriage each year. Estimates range from 1,500 to 5,000. More than a third of those affected are thought to be aged under 16.

Speaking to the AFP news agency, Natasha Rattu, Karma Nirvana’s operations manager, said that when worried youngsters ring the charity’s helpline, “if they don’t know exactly when it may happen or if it’s going to happen, we advise them to put a spoon in their underwear.

“When they go through security, it will highlight this object in a private area and, if 16 or over, they will be taken to a safe space where they have that one last opportunity to disclose they’re being forced to marry.” The government wants teachers, doctors and airport staff to be conscious of the issue of forced marriages over the summer break.

Campaigners fear official statistics on the number of forced marriages of U.K. citizens are just the tip of the iceberg, partly because children do not want to report their parents to the authorities or have little idea where to go for help.

Aneeta Prem, founder and president of Freedom Charity, said: “Nobody knows what the true figure is because so many young victims are terrified of coming forward. But it is definitely much, much higher than what is reported.”

Freedom Charity has produced an app for potential victims of forced marriage or other abuse. It is also aimed at friends of those women who may be at risk and professionals such as teachers. Since the app was launched in March, more than 1,000 people have contacted Freedom Charity using the technology.

The Karma Nirvana charity usually fields 6,500 calls a year from around Britain. This year, it has already reached that number.

Success Story of August: A colony to stare at

Visitors to Gurunanak Colony are welcomed by tidy roads, greenery, and serenity

Many new colonies have come up on the Ring Road in the city, but Gurunanak Colony has crated a niche for itself. There is no name for the road from Ramesh Hospital junction to Autonagar, but people tend to call it Gurunanak Road.

A Gurudwara at the very entrance of the colony provides a pleasant ambience. The neat and tidy roads, greenery, and serenity not only enthral the visitors but also evoke a thought that they too should have a house in a colony like this.

Eye-catching

The humble Punjabis don’t claim credit for the eye-catching development. Despite being one of the posh areas of the city, strikingly, it doesn’t have a private security.

“Development is possible just because of the cooperation from the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation (VMC), the police, and the State government. We would not have achieved it had there been no cooperation from officials. The colony doesn’t require any security, as the police vigil is enough,” the residents say.

Gurudwara president Kanwaljit Singh recalls that the residents’ welfare society has earmarked half-acre for a swimming pool, which is presently maintained by the VMC. They have plans to develop it further and bring it under society management.

With a vision

The society also has plans to prohibit smoking in the colony, he says. The foundation for the colony was laid way back in 1980s. Sikh leaders had a vision that every member of the community in the city should have a roof over their head. The leaders, however, were not narrow in their plans. They provided an opportunity for others too such as Sindhis and Marwaris. Their broadmindedness was not limited to it. They even earmarked a place for construction of a temple in the colony.

While the Gurudwara situated at the entrance welcomes the visitors, the Ramalayam at the other end of the road marks the boundary of the colony. There are 65 plots in the colony and, barring a few open plots, most of them have dazzling houses.

An APP that can save women from assaults.

The next time you are stepping out late you can keep your loved one informed about your location with a single tap on your phone. Help Me, an Android platform-based mobile application offers two services — I am here: regular updates about the location of the person and I need help: panic messages. The regular updates about the location and the panic messages reach a maximum of five persons listed as parents, family members or guardians by the user.

In view of the increasing number of crimes against women and senior citizens living away from their children, OnMobile, a mobile value-added services company, has created an app that will come in handy to women, parents and senior citizens.

“Parents who wish to keep track of where their kids are can install the app on the phone and keep it turned on to receive updates from their children,” explained Archana Anand, director – information and entertainment services, OnMobile. The app can be customised to change the distress messages it sends to the parents or family members. A senior citizen who requires medical attention can tweak the message such that the app sends out a message calling for medical attention and the like.

I am here service sends frequent location updates every 10 minutes and the message will contain an address which will pinpoint location up to the street level and a link to Google Maps with the location.

I need help button also raises a loud alarm which has no effect of volume or profile of the device. It also sends out SMSes to the selected CUG (Closed User Group) – “Help me. I am in danger”. And the mobile will constantly try to call the number of the first guardian saved on the app. This app can also be customised to send different messages by the users. For eg: the elderly in need of medical attention can change the message to “Need medical attention”.

Forgotten..

Almost all the 3,500-odd sex workers confined to the 96 brothels in the Capital’s red-light area on Shraddhanand Marg — earlier referred to as G.B. Road — have a tale of exploitation and human rights abuses to narrate.

The government and the police are far from taking action against brothel owners. The sex workers say they are “treated as the Capital’s shame — brushed under the carpet, only to be remembered when required”.

“Poverty and the promise of a decent life for our children keeps us here,” says Savitri at a government-aided health care centre in Lahori Gate.

She and a group of other workers came to the centre at 4.30 p.m., previously an impossible time for the women to be out of the brothels.

“Four o’ clock onwards clients start coming in, but these days the steep price rise has hit the business hard. This is the first time in 10 years that I haven’t had a customer in four days,” says a nervous-looking Mamta (36). She came to Delhi from Andhra Pradesh a decade ago and has three daughters and elderly parents to support back home.

“I am a mother of three young girls who I have left behind in Andhra Pradesh with my old parents. I know how ruthless life can be. Life here on G.B. Road is only about making money,” she says.

Lata came to Delhi when she was only five years old and was pushed into the flesh trade at the young age of 11. She has no hope of things changing for the better any time soon. “During elections, politicians and parties of all colour and shape come to meet us promising the world and more. We are forgotten immediately after the circus is over,” quips the 48-year-old.

Lata is angry that the violence and torture sex workers are subjected to and the lives they are forced to lead go unnoticed. “The sex workers and their children here have no rights. Be it access to nutritious and assured supply of food, security (financial/physical), education and health care facilities, crèche for our children, schools or playground, none is available. There are no fixed working hours and social interaction with the outside world is almost non-existent. We are discriminated against on the grounds of our profession.”

“We are confined to our rooms for years at a stretch. We are not allowed to step out even to see a doctor. It is only when the brothel owners are sure that we have nowhere else to go that they allow us out. Where have the law, politicians and police been all these years?” Lata asks.

Today she lives on the streets after being thrown out by her brothel owner. “I am old now and don’t bring in any business,” she says. “Now I have no rights as a worker or as a human being. Worse, I have no social security. Sex trade is a reality and because it is not legalised we are exploited at all levels.”

Sex workers across the country have long been demanding that their trade be legalised so that the women can have better quality of life.

Khairati Lal Bhola (85) of the Bhartiya Patita Uddhar Sabha, a non-government organisation that works with sex workers across the country, says: “There are 1,100 red light areas in India and 23 lakh sex workers with 54 lakh children living there. The income of these sex workers is shared bykothamalins, touts, police and others in the system. The sex worker gets only 25 per cent of her income and that too is often spent on medical treatment and rations. Almost all of them lead a hand-to-mouth existence. If sex trade is legalised, then there can be a greater chance for these women to earn more.”

Previously, the Supreme Court constituted a committee of legal experts to look into the cause of sex trade and suggest ways to bring this population into the national mainstream. “So far there has been no concrete outcome from this group,” Mr. Bhola says.

He says commercial sexual exploitation today is not purely brothel-based but has spread everywhere – residential areas, hotels and clubs. “With the advancement of technologies and changing global scenario, sex trade has emerged in diverse forms.”

Rishi Kant of non-government organisation Shakti Vahini, which works in the area of anti-trafficking, said: “The steep rise in human trafficking is because of several social factors including poverty, illiteracy, natural calamities and rapid globalisation. Human trafficking works strictly on demand and supply and is a basket of crime which violates several laws and rights. Currently there is no authentic database for human trafficking and it continues to be difficult to ascertain how many women are affected. Also corruption and strong inter-State/country network of suppliers and demand makes the circle very vicious and unbreakable for women.”

With the Delhi High Court stepping in earlier this week and seeking “information on the number of rescue operations undertaken, the total number of girls rescued and how many FIRs have been lodged so far,” many believe things will change while others remain sceptical. Mamta says: “I truly hope that the direction to the Delhi Police to also take action against those not registering FIRs following rescue of girls would bring about a real change.”

Success Story of July: Electricity from stored water

Yes, says Chalasani Veerabhadra Rao, a resident of Nuzvid

Can electricity be generated from impounded (stored) water? Yes, says Chalasani Veerabhadra Rao, a resident of Nuzvid in Krishna district. He is not an engineer, but he says that the mechanical efficiency of a turbine can be made more then 100 per cent using the Archimedes principle of levers. Add Bernoulli’s principle to the pot and you have a turbine that acts like a “perpetual motion machine” (PMM) type III.

In layman’s terms, once Mr. Rao’s turbine reaches an optimum speed it produces more electricity than what is required to pump the water to keep it running. Water stored in a tank is pumped at a very high speed until the turbine reaches the optimum speed. After the optimum speed is reached the turbine produces power enough to run the pump and even more. The excess power is power generated and can be transmitted.

According to the Law of Thermodynamics, a percentage of energy is lost whenever energy changes form. In hydel power generation potential energy (water pressure) is converted to kinetic energy (electricity). So the mechanical efficiency is never 100 per cent as per the law.

Large modern water turbines operate at mechanical efficiency of greater than 90 per cent, but never greater than 100 per cent as Mr. Rao is claiming. K L University Department of Mechanical Engineering professor Shyam Prasad told The Hindu that man has used water turbines for various purposes, but the principals of Archimedes and Bernoulli have not been used to improve their efficiency.

In the absence of mathematical proof, experiments have to be conducted for ratifying the theory. The big impediment for Mr. Rao to prove his theory experimentally is the prohibitive cost. The heavy duty pumps required to achieve the high velocities are very expensive, with the cost running to nearly Rs. one crore.

If Mr. Rao’s invention works the world will be a different place. Every village can have its own power plant and there will be no question of transmission losses. Ironically, all efforts to get his theory ratified by scientific institutions have failed. There has been no reply to letters he wrote to other organisations to check his theory. He has written to Sam Pitroda too, but there has been no reply, but just an acknowledgement.

Pending application

An application for the patenting of the invention is pending for over a few years. “The government spends so much money on research. A couple of crores is nothing considering the impact of the experiment,” Prof. Shyam Prasad says. The Tech Brief ‘Create the Future Design Contest’ conducted by the publishers of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine has, however, listed Mr. Rao’s invention for all to see and follow up.

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.