Monday, September 23, 2019

Poverty, Malnutrition, Disease Stalk Weavers Of Benaras

Poverty, Malnutrition, Disease Stalk Weavers Of Benaras
It is estimated that over 50 percent of weavers' children are malnourished. Many weavers cannot even afford basic medical care for their children, much less themselves. They fall sick easily, and suffer from several diseases, including tuberculosis.

Working for 7-8 hours a day in dimly-lit, poorly ventilated rooms and with no nasal masks to filter away the lint dust, weavers of Benaras, who create the most beautiful silk and brocade sarees, suffer from poverty, malnutrition and disease.
With the weaving industry experiencing significant decline and demand for the sari stagnating in the face of increased competition from cheaper alternatives, and shifting consumer taste among other issues, the situation of most weavers has deteriorated into a pitiful state. Most weavers face increased poverty due to reduction of wages, hunger, health issues and inability to provide for their families, says the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, an Indian non-governmental organisation.

It is estimated that over 50 percent of weavers' children are malnourished. Many weavers cannot even afford basic medical care for their children, much less themselves. They fall sick easily, and suffer from diseases like tuberculosis, Pneumoconiosis, swelling of limbs, stomach ailments, backache, anaemia, weakness and debility, etc. Some weavers have become so despondent as to take their own lives.  Since 2002, 175 weavers have committed suicide.
One of the main problems is that weavers are generally classified as males, while women are not given that status even though they participate in sari-making in many important ways, including in the finishing, and work as many hours. This is a major disadvantage, since the women are deprived of several health scheme benefits for weavers. 

Women often spin and cut thread and perform other important tasks that are labelled as secondary or menial. Performing these repetitive tasks is taxing, and involves sitting and working in uncomfortable positions seven hours at a go.  The women suffer from backache and poor eyesight and are anaemic. When they fall ill they have to provide money for their own treatment.
Women and children are frequently exploited in the Varanasi weaving industry.  They are an important part of household production units, but their informal role largely remains invisible and unpaid, says PVCHR.
Children also often help family members make saris, having to work for long hours in very tiring conditions while suffering from malnourishment. Children are usually employed for pattern making and other small jobs, helping to speed up the whole production process. Children sometimes work at different jobs to pay for their own meals or to help repay family loans.
Children of the weavers’ community are affected the most. With parents busy working at the looms throughout the day, the children are left unattended. They are also deprived of any proper learning environment.
PVCHR, that fights for the rights of marginalised people in several north-Indian states, especially Varanasi, has suggested several measures to better the lot of the weavers, including setting up of crèches and educational/nutritional facilities for the children to ensure their participation and proper care.
It has also suggested that Mobile Crèches which have experience of working with the children of the unorganised sector could be contacted for training/ or running of these creches.
PVCHR suggested adoption of a multi-layered and multi-dimensional programme against hunger and malnutrition among weavers. These include identification of families of weavers suffering from hunger and malnutrition; providing emergency support to such families and to analyse the effectiveness of the social welfare and food security schemes. It has suggested launching of people-centric advocacy on the basis of “hunger alert” at the administration, state and central Government and the UN level.
It has also advocated further understanding the needs of women weavers and creation of special enabling mechanisms to help facilitate their role in the weaving industry. These could include designing special looms built with their needs in mind, and a special fund for women weavers to help them become economically independent.
It has stressed that concentrated efforts are needed from multi-stakeholders, including civil society organisations, government, trade unions, media, corporate sector and others in order to strengthen the weavers community and improve the lot of unorganized sector workers, especially women.
Following persistent efforts, the government approved a health insurance plan for weavers in 2005-2006.  Under this scheme, the health expenses of weavers and their families, including the husband, wife and up to two children, are covered in public hospitals as well as designated private hospitals. 
Among other measures, PVCHR has suggested waiving the electricity debt and bill of handloom weavers, and a comprehensive and integrated welfare and food security scheme for weavers.
It has recommended the setting up of one dedicated hospital in Lucknow and Varanasi, to cure the ailments afflicting the weavers. Occupational diseases such as byssinosis, numbness in the limbs, deterioration of eyesight etc. need special attention, which is not available in general hospitals. It suggested specialised hospitals, on the lines of the Sambhavana Trust Hospital in Bhopal, established to give specialised medical care to gas victims in the aftermath of the Bhopal Gas Disaster.
Other measures to improve their livelihood include setting up middleman-free cooperatives, direct selling shops, haats, local museums etc.
(The author Lenin Raghuvanshi is Founder,PVCHR

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Focus On Adolescent Girls, Kitchen Gardens Helping Musahar, Nut Communities in Varanasi

Focus On Adolescent Girls, Kitchen Gardens Helping Musahar, Nut Communities in Varanasi
In 2017, the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), with the support of Child Rights and You (CRY), adopted 50 villages and a couple of slums to work on the issue of child survival (maternal, neonatal health and nourishment) in the most marginalised communities in four blocks of Varanasi district.
Kotali Nut lives in Aura block of Varanasi district in Uttar Pradesh. Kotali and her husband Mannu Nut have a monthly income of around Rs 3,000 which is very difficult to fulfill basic needs. Ever since they were introduced to kitchen gardening last year, they are able to include nutritious vegetables in their meal which has had a positive effect on their health.
There was a vacant plot behind Kotali’s house, in Nonari nut ghetto, Phuwarikhurd of Aura block, where she did kitchen gardening, sowing different types of seasonal seeds like sponge gourd, squash, pumpkin, snake gourd, bitter gourd, ridge gourd. She began her kitchen garden in July 2018, thanks to the efforts of People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), and is happy with the result.
“Before we used to eat rice, roti with salt. But now we have a lot of green vegetables with our meals after we began kitchen gardening. It effects our health as well,” she said. Kotali produced around 54 kg of different types of vegetables -- like 15 kg of sponge gourd, 32 kg of squash, 4 kg of pumpkin, 2 kg of ridge gourd and 1 kg bitter gourd.

The story is the same with Jarina Nut, wife of Bholai Nut, whose monthly income is around just Rs 2,000-3-000. Like Kotali, Jarina also took to kitchen gardening and is sowing different types of seasonal vegetables. Jarina says she produced 39 kg of green vegetables. “We had enough fresh vegetables everyday for our meals. It is very tasty and healthy,” she said.
Kabutara Nut, wife of Nandu Nut, has a kitchen garden where they grow different types of seasonal vegetables. They have also a hen coop in their home. Initially they were scared thinking the hens would damage the sown seeds, but PVCHR workers informed them about how to protect their land by covering it with bamboo fencing.
Nandu’s son Rajiv helps him to protect the land and in weeding and sorting. Regular follow-up by PVCHR helped to sustain their enthusiasm. They produced 29 kg of vegetables.
In the Musahar ghetto of Phuwarikhurd, Aura block of Varanasi, Sanju and her husband Sushil grow vegetables according to their taste. Sanju says her husband helps with the kitchen garden, sowing seeds, in manuring, weeding, sorting and also protects the land.  “When the garden started producing vegetables, we had different types of veggies daily in our meals. We never bought any vegetables earlier because we can’t afford it.  Now we share vegetables with our relatives and friends,” said Sushil.
There are 13 Musahar families in the Musahar ghetto, Aayer Village, Harauwa block of Varanasi district. They work as labour. Six men work as a carriers in a hardware shop, some others ride tractors and one family works in a brick factory. A woman also works as a daily wage labourer. They sow crops and graze in other lands for money. They don’t have their own land,  but they have some land near their homes where they started kitchen gardening with different types of seasonal vegetable seeds.
In 2017, the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), with the support of Child Rights and You (CRY), adopted 50 villages and a couple of slums to work on the issue of child survival (maternal, neonatal health and nourishment) in the most marginalized communities in four blocks of Varanasi district. The Right to Survival is one of the four child right categories in the United Nation Convention on the Rights of Children. Survival Rights include the child’s right to life and to fulfilling the needs of a child to lead a happy life. These include nutrition, shelter, adequate living standards, and access to health services for a healthy and happy childhood.
After entering the village, PVCHR did a baseline survey and focused on group discussion to understand the Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) of the community. Based on the KAP mapping, they prepared strategies based on their interest and influence. The PVCHR team explained how the major problems identified in the baseline surveys were stereotypical thinking, superstition, and lack of trust in the government-sponsored healthcare schemes. The below-par presence of the health Sub Centres, Primary Healthcare Centres, Community Healthcare centres is the main hurdle in the realization of health services for pregnant women and their children.
These communities faced apathy from the village heads and did not get access to various government schemes. Due to lack of knowledge and resources, adolescent girls use dirty cloth during periods instead of sanitary pads. The adolescent girls have no source to obtain information regarding the biological changes in the body and were left to follow longstanding and illogical concepts.

The changes and developments in the bodies of adolescents also affects their health. Adolescents mainly suffer from anaemia and weight loss or low weight. Lack of information is the primary reason behind that. During the analysis of the sample survey conducted across 20 villages in Varanasi, we found that, due to ill-treatment and negligence in the government hospitals, 19 families out of 20 were facing a severe debt crisis.
PVCHR organized a meeting with marginalized people and encouraged them to utilize the vacant plots of land near their homes. They were informed about the importance and process of kitchen gardening.
A Girl Adolescence and Nutrition Fair was organized by PVCHR with the support of New Zealand High Commission in Harauwa Block level in October. The main purpose of the fair was to inform people about various issues related to adolescence such as Reproduction Health, Menstruation, Infection, Personal hygiene and Nutrition.
 In the fair for adolescences, issue-based posters were displayed. Posters created on the basis of issues came from meetings and folk schools with girls and their family’s members. Adolescents were aware about the reproduction process, menstruation process, personal hygiene, health, reproductive health and nutrition. The main slogan of the programme through the posters was information to adolescent girls,  about reproductive health, nutrition and love. Also, they were told they must care about their health and wear sanitary pads during menstruation. Girls should increase their iron intake by eating green vegetables. The adolescent girls were encouraged to  freely speak on menstruation. The girl  focused on the slogan, the messages, information and posters and also discussed among each other.

Friday, August 9, 2019

“Police ruined the life of my brother and made him a criminal”

My name is Rifat Jahan, aged 30 years and daughter of Mohd Allauddin. I have studied till B.A. We are 4 brothers and 4 sisters. My elder sister is married and I am 2nd of the siblings. My 3rd sister is 25 years, 4th sister Jainab 24 years, brothers Samir (22), Salman (21), Aman (19) and Abdullah alias Guddu (14). We belong to a middle class family and have to earn daily for livelihood. In the name of property, we only have a house, which is also eyed by land mafia. We are still bearing its consequences.

I am a native of CK 50/43, Hakak Tola, police station Chowk, tehsil Sadar, Varanasi district. In our family, my father, brother Samir and I work to sustain the family and to bear the court expenses. For the past about 2 years, the police has robbed us of our peace.

On September 10, 2018, police ‘again’ came knocking at our doors to target my 14 year old brother. It was 11 am and I was in the bathroom, while my brother Guddu was sleeping. On answering the knocks, I saw police outpost in charge Bhadauria and constables namely Chandrika Singh and Surendra Yadav at our door. They darted inside to catch my younger brother, who got scared and rushed to my mother. The cops tried to forcibly take him away, however, my mother, who was that time nursing a broken rib and wearing a supporting belt, tried to protect him frantically. However, Bhadauria thrust a gun in her mouth and used foul language, saying my mother was trying to act like a ‘gunda’. My mother is a heart patient.

The police had overpowered my entire family. Three policemen had caught hold of my father. They searched my house, although they were not accompanied by any woman cop. We only pled as to why they were acting in such brazen manner and that my brother was still too young. What did my 2 brothers do that the police was running their lives is all we have been seeking to know. At this, Bhadauria snatched at my sister Rahat, which chaffed her skin. They also threatened me that they would slap section 216 against me for sheltering a criminal, and ruin my life.

After half an hour, they called woman cops and took away my sister and brother to the police outpost at gun point. The entire neighbourhood watched this scene in silence.

I was pained to see that the police was taking away a student of class 9 as if he was a big criminal. When someone dared to ask them why they were taking him away, the cops yelled that he too should be rounded up along with my brother. Thereafter, none could gather the courage to question them. At the outpost, he was severely beaten up by Bhadauria with a baton. He kept screaming in pain, but the police showed no mercy on my brother. I could see him being beaten up, but was helpless to do anything. Police kept my brother at the outpost from 11:30 in the morning till 7:30 in the evening. Later, he was freed.

 Due to these cops, my 2 brother spent several months in jail. We have been running around police stations and courts for the past 2 years. I can never forget that fateful day ever, which continues to haunt me at times.

On February 3, 2016, the police outpost in charge and a constable had for the first time came to our house at 2:30 in the night. There were 3 sisters in the house then, but cops vandalized several items. We had become so scared of the police that we decided to send our brothers and sisters to our relatives’ place.

On the 3rd day, we read in the newspaper that my brother Aman and Salman were branded shooters by the police. This stigmatized my family’s honour. My brothers were implicated in a false case by Nai Sadak coporator Arshad that they had tried to shoot another corprorator, Vikky Khan, although the latter is himself a history sheeter. For this, my brothers Aman (17) and Salman (19) had to spent 5 months in jail. They were booked under Gangster Act and section 307 of IPC. The Gangster Act charges were slapped after 2 months, for which we got the bail from the high court.

 After 6 months, a trader Sunil Nigam, who is Vikky’s friend, lodged an FIR against unknown persons for seeking extortion money and shooting in the air. Later, my brother’s name was added during probe. Gangster Act was again invoked citing the new case. We again sought bail for him. This was getting too much for us and to get rid of this routine affair, we took a house on rent at Mind House, Nadesar. However, our hope of getting some peace was soon dashed.

 On August 19, 2017, crime branch in charge Omnarayan Singh of crime branch and police outpost in chare Ramesh Chandra Mishra came in civil dress asking for Aman, who was home. They started assaulting him and took him away for interrogation. They had not disclosed their identity till then.

 My elder brother Samir had also arrived from shop then. When he asked, they simply took away Rs 50,000 he was carrying apart from our mobile phones, without telling anything. When, we went to the Cantonment police station, they said goons must have abducted my brother. This made us even more worried. When we returned home, our neighbour Vijay Jaiswal informed that the crime branch sleuths had rounded him up for interrogation.

 In desperation, we dialed 100, registered complaint on the CM portal, went to the newspaper offices and the SSP. Later, we got to know that he was booked under Gangster Act and my brother Aman was kept at the police lines. For interrogation, he was given electric shock on hands and limbs, which had gotten swollen.

We were still not getting any information and we continued to run helter-skelter. We feared of getting any bad news. My brother was made to call several numbers from the police lines.

My brothers were later booked over a fake encounter occurring on August 22, 2017 in Shivpur. The recovery of an SUV (Bolera) was also shown by police. They were also booked for firing on the police and recovery of stolen mobile phones. They were taken for treatment and sent to jail under arms act.

The police have completely ruined the life of my brother. He wanted to complete B. Tech and lead a respectful life, but police made him a criminal. Salman and Aman got bail in November and December respectively. We got our mobiles on the direction of the court on the basis of our mobile bills.

He was in police custody on August 22, when Durgesh Kumar Patwa was threatened for Rs 2 lakh extortion money. Interestingly, the police had come searching for Aman in the same case on July 5, although he was not home. We got to know from the police outpost that it was one year old case.

The person who was threatened for extortion did not know Aman and he had only complaint under the pressure from police, which has conspired to implicate my 2 brothers. They used to pick up my brothers from home, but show their arrests from elsewhere. Now, they are targetting my 3rd brother. What have we done to them to deserve this?

Today, we are so terrified of police that we can’t sleep at night and always apprehend that cops would come knocking anytime asking for another brother. Now, even our relatives and neighbours do not want to engage with us. People allege that to fight poverty, our brothers were indulging in unlawful activities. This pains us immensely.

My family is enduring this trauma. We sometimes go hungry for days together, while our parents regret this situation. I am the eldest, so I run around for fighting their cases. However, even I am threatened by cops for implication. I always think about the destiny of my family in such circumstances. I just pray to god seeking strength to stand up for the safety of my family.

I just want to know from the police, at whose instigation, they are targetting my family and ruining our careers. I just want that my family lives in peace.

Those who have implicated my brothers in false cases and exploited my family so much, must be taken to task for causing enormous mental and physical trauma to us. They must get severe punishment and we be allowed to live with dignity.

Interviewer      Chhaya Kumari

Victim             Rifat Jahan

Translated by Mr. Ashish Awasthi

“Police told accused that they would beat me till their baton breaks”

My name is Rajkumar Gond, aged 34 years and son of Bachnu Gond. I belong to the scheduled caste. I am married and have 2 kids. I run a small betel shop for livelihood. I am a native of village Chauka Bhusaula under Cholapur police station in Varanasi district.

 On February 22, 2018, a few miscreants including Santosh Maurya son of late Dayaram Maurya, Sunil Maurya son of late Tribhuvan Maurya, Ramvachal Pal son of late Bhangi Pal, Vijay Lal Yadav son of Kanhaiya Lal Yadav and Gautam Kumar son of late Basantu tried to encroach upon my house. When I resisted, they started beating me.

 I sought police help by dialing 100. By the time, 2 cops came by four-wheeler, the miscreants had already fled. They informed the local police station and station house officer (SHO) Lalji Yadav called us to the police outpost. The miscreants were already present there, when I reached. The police officer immediately slapped me multiple times, used expletives and caste slur, saying I was trying to act like a toughie. The SHO threatened that he would beat me severely, so that I would be ashamed of showing my face to anybody. Due to his severe assault, two of my front teeth broke off. I could only cry in pain, while seeking to know the reason of his assault. I am still anguished recalling those tough moments.

The cops told the accused that they would beat me till their baton did not break. They continued to rain batons on my buttocks till it actually broke. I was writhing in pain and they were still beating me. At this, my family members begged for mercy and promised to do as directed. However, we were made to stay till 5 pm. I could not even sit. My trousers got torn from behind due to the assault. The cops threatened me that if we complained elsewhere, they would implicate us in fabricated cases and put behind bars. They asked us to do as told. We were forced to write that our land had been divided. Our signatures were taken with coerce although cops did not sign it. I felt helpless and lacked the courage to oppose. I can never forget the day. That perception of police has implanted in my mind forever. Somehow, my family took me to hospital for treatment.

When I returned home, my wife started crying. That day, we did not cook food and there was total despair. I was bed ridden for many days. I had never been part of any police case in my life before. Reminiscing that dreadful day still makes me gloomy. Due to police excesses, we were shaken to the core and got scared to go anywhere for justice.

However, my father could not bear this and he complained to the SSP, but no action was taken against the guilty cops. My wife clicked the photographs of the blue mark on my back due to serious internal injuries. The incident has bred a strange sense of desolation and insecurity in me.

Since then, the accused keep a watch on us. They have become emboldened owing to police inaction in the case. We fear for our life now. The police had kept us confined in the police station till the miscreants did not erect their boundary wall on our land. The local police did not help us. Now, I am worried for my family. I cannot sleep, now do I not feel like going out except for work. The police acted in the interest of the accused. I am wandering for justice. But, I trust the almighty for getting justice. I have still not given up and will fight for justice.

I want action against those who harassed my family. Penal action should be taken against them, so that I get justice.

Interviewer      Farhat Shaba Khanam

Victim             Rajkumar Gond

Translated by Mr. Ashish Awasthi

“Forced to sleep under open sky due to local toughies”

My name is Jeera Devi, aged 33 and wife of Mahendra. I have two sons and a daughter. I am a native of village Ganeshpur under Chakia police station, Chandauli district. We worked as stone breaking and crushing labour for livelihood. Since, this incident occurred to our family, we are forced to leave our native place. Our locality is surrounded by people of the Bind community, who are influential.

On March 22, 2019, I was sleeping in my shanty, while my husband was asleep in another charpoy. Around 10 pm, local toughies Kallu Bind, son of late Baghe Bind, and Jitendra Bind, son of unknown, entered my house and started pulling off my sari. I woke up immediately and shouted. My husband also got awake and resisted their attempt. However, they pulled my husband outside with his hair and brutally assaulted him. He started to bleed from the mouth, nose and ears. I began to yell frantically. Soon my husband fainted. When the miscreants were leaving, they warned me not to report the incident to anyone else we would be eliminated.

My husband was in a very bad condition and bleeding profusely. I panicked. There was no one I could have turned to since it was a Bind dominated locality. I wailed and wept the entire night worrying for my husband.

In the morning, I went to the village head for help. However, he tersely told me to do whatever I liked but that he could not assist me in any manner. That day, I felt all alone without any support. Somehow, I took him to a private hospital, where he was given primary treatment. Due to excessive bleeding, he could not walk. Later, we took him to a government hospital, where he was discharged after being given glucose.

With some determination, I took him to the police station and laid him down on the floor. However, a woman constable got infuriated thinking he was lying drunk. I told her that my husband was in pain and could not sit. I narrated the incident to cops and gave them the application for the filing of the case. I was asked to leave saying 2 constables would visit my place, but none turned up.

That night, the condition of my husband deteriorated and we took him to another private hospital. However, they said if we had come after a fight then we should just go away. While, we were not getting any help, the accused were keeping our track.

Then, we had to come to our maternal place in village Marfa under Chunar police station in Mirzapur district. We are now forced to sleep under the open sky now and suffer in silence.

On April 7, 2019, two aides of the accused came on motorcycle and told me that there was rumour in our village that my husband had died, and that they had just come to confirm the news. Now, I am worried that they can harm our family any day. We are not able to sleep due to anxiety and have lost all peace of mind.

No FIR has been lodged against them and there is imminent danger to our lives from the accused. We want that the perpetrators of this crime are booked and taken to task for their deeds. We want security and justice.

Interviewer      Farhat Shaba Khanam
Victim             Jeera Devi