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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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.”

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”.

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.

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.

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.

Want to Sell Banned Drugs – Come to India

Source: BBC News

India has more than 10,500 drug makers with a domestic turnover of nearly $9bn.

Yet, something is rotten with the way drugs are tested and sold in the country.

A parliamentary panel investigation has found serious issues with the way approvals for foreign drugs are given and clinical trials are being carried out. Here are some of the startling findings:

  • Of the 42 drugs picked up randomly for scrutiny by the panel, the health ministry could not provide any documents on three drugs – pefloxacin, lomefloxacin and sparfloxacin. Reason: their files were untraceable. The documents related to sponsors, clinical trials, overseas regulatory status, names of experts consulted and post-marketing safety reports. “All these drugs had been approved on different dates and different years creating doubt if disappearance was accidental,” says the report, adding that all these were “controversial” drugs: one was never marketed in the US, Canada, Britain, Australia and other countries, while the other two were discontinued. All three drugs are being sold in India.
  • Of the 39 drugs on which information was available, the panel found that in the case of 18 drugs, adequate clinical trials had not been conducted – many of the drugs had been tested on fewer patients and in fewer hospitals than what is legally mandated.
  • There are 13 drugs which were not sold in much of the developed world, and the report said none of these drugs “have any special or specific relevance to the medical needs of India”.
  • In the case of 25 drugs, the opinion of medically qualified experts was not obtained before approval.
  • A total of 31 new drugs, by the health ministry’s own admission, were approved between January 2008 and October 2010 without conducting clinical trials on Indian patients. The ministry says that the authorities have the power to approve drugs without clinical trials in the public interest. “No explanation,” the report says, “is available as to what constitutes public interest.”
  • Every month, on average, the authorities say, one drug is approved in India without trials.
  • A review of expert opinion on various drugs showed that an “overwhelming majority are recommendations based on personal perception without giving any hard scientific evidence or data”. More shockingly, the panel found adequate evidence to conclude that “many opinions were actually written by the invisible hands of drug manufacturers and experts merely obliged by putting their signatures”.
  • The panel believes that there is “sufficient evidence to conclude that there is collusive nexus” between drug makers, authorities and some medical experts.

This is not all. The panel expresses concern over the continued sale of potentially harmful drugs in India years after such products were banned or withdrawn in developed countries and the prevalence of “sub-standard” – 7-8% of total sales – in the market. Is India condemned to becoming a dumping ground for drugs?

PS: The government has now announced an investigation into the workings of India’s main drug regulator, days after the panel’s report. Three experts have been appointed to “look at the scientific basis of approving new drugs without clinical trials” and recommend ways of improving the way the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSO) works. One report says that global drug makers could also face new US scrutiny following this damning 78-page report.

Success Story of May: A village in Rajasthan

In an atmosphere where every morning, our newspapers greet us with stories of girls being tormented, raped, killed or treated like a doormat in one way or another, trust India’s “village republics” to bring in some good news from time to time.

One such village in southern Rajasthan’s Rajsamand district is quietly practicing its own, homegrown brand of Eco-feminism and achieving spectacular results.

For the last several years, Piplantri village panchayat has been saving girl children and increasing the green cover in and around it at the same time.

Here, villagers plant 111 trees every time a girl is born and the community ensures these trees survive, attaining fruition as the girls grow up.

Over the last six years, people here have managed to plant over a quarter million trees on the village’s grazing commons- inlcuding neem, sheesham, mango, Amla among others.

On an average 60 girls are born here every year, according to the village’s former sarpanch Shyam Sundar Paliwal, who was instrumental in starting this initiative in the memory of his daughter Kiran, who died a few years ago.

In about half these cases, parents are reluctant to accept the girl children, he says.

Such families are identified by a village committee comprising the village school principal along with panchayat and Anganwadi members.

Rs. 21,000 are collected from the village residents and Rs.10,000 from the girl’s father and this sum of Rs. 31,000 is made into a fixed deposit for the girl, with a maturity period of 20 years.

But here’s the best part.

“We make these parents sign an affidavit promising that they would not marry her off before the legal age, send her to school regularly and take care of the trees planted in her name,” says Mr. Paliwal.

People also plant 11 trees whenever a family member dies.

But this village of 8,000 did not just stop at planting trees and greening their commons. To prevent these trees from being infested with termite, the residents planted over two and a half million Aloevera plants around them.

Now these trees, especially the Aloevera, are a source of livelihood for several residents.

“Gradually, we realized that aloevera could be processed and marketed in a variety of ways. So we invited some experts and asked them to train our women. Now residents make and market aloevera products like juice, gel, pickle etc,” he says.

The village panchayat, which has a studio-recorded anthem and a website of its own, has completely banned alcohol, open grazing of animals and cutting of trees.

Villagers claim there has not been any police case here for the last 7-8 years.

Mr. Paliwal recalls the visit of social activist Anna Hazare, who was very happy with the progress made by the village, he says.

“But Rajasthan is quite backward in terms of village development compared to panchayats in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra etc. So we need to work hard towards creating more and more empowered villages,” says the former sarpanch, hoping the government listens to him.