grassroots

A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting reportage on the human condition
Rs 15 Se p te mb e r 1 5 , 2 0 1 2 - Vo l u m e 4 Is s u e 9

When philanthropy can be truly meaningful
September 23, 2012 marks the second anniversary of the passing away of a remarkable academic, scholar, teacher and humanitarian, Professor Bhavaraju Sarveswara Rao of Visakhapatnam, at the age of 94. He strongly believed in putting the human being at the centre of all economic planning. Today, the family takes satisfaction in commemorating the memory of an elder by donating in cash and kind to a variety of socially relevant projects he had started. And the receivers of such munificence are benefiting in meaningful ways that improve their lives
sakuntala narasimhan, Bengaluru
fter a lifetime of service to academic institutions as professor of economics and head of the department at Andhra University and vice chancellor of Nagarjuna University, besides serving as advisor to the Government of Nigeria and a similar stint at the Asian Development Bank, Professor Bhavaraju Sarveswara Rao continued to be, even after retirement, active in setting up educational institutions and
Photos: BRSVR Foundation

grassroots
practical applications for community development. A student of the prestigious Cambridge University (UK) for his doctoral research under famous Professor Austin Robinson (who helped in drawing up the Marshall Plan for post-War global regeneration) Professor Rao was elected president of the Indian Economic Association in 1982. It was in the fitness of things, therefore, that his family, which now spans three generations in two continents (India and the US) decided to commemorate his memory through philanthropic projects undertaken under a foundation set up for the purpose -- the Bhavaraju Sarveswara Rao and Venkata Ratnam (BSRVR) Foundation. When he passed away, Professor Rao had already quietly put in place a variety of socially relevant projects – educational institutions (including the Gayatri Vidya Parishad institutions and an Institute of Development and Planning Studies, in Visakhapatnam), health projects in municipal schools, and projects for senior citizens. It seemed logical for the family, therefore, to commemorate his memory through direct donations, in cash and kind (in particular, the latter) to schools – desks and equipment for classes in municipal schools, for instance. There is no leakage of funds, no administrative costs (as in publicprivate partnership projects that multilateral funding agencies seek to promote) and an added bonus accrues in the form of direct social linkages for donor and recipients, to generate non-monetary (but important) social dividends. Among the initiatives undertaken by the foundation, are a vision screening project for schoolchildren in municipal schools followed by arrangements for corrective spectacles for those needing them, repairing toilet blocks that were dysfunctional, building overhead water tanks, pumps

inside

A

Professor Rao’s daughter Saraswathi distributing spectacles at an old age home.
overseeing their growth. He was also engaged in research projects that would benefit the disadvantaged sections of the population – his perspectives on economics were strongly based on “human” development rather than the currently ‘fashionable’ mathematical ‘growth’ models that put profits before people. Professor Rao in fact wrote three decades ago, about the importance of putting the human being at the centre of all economic planning, much before Amartya Sen postulated his ‘capability’ building theories. In that sense he was a pioneer, not only in theoretical analysis but also in combining theory with

Municipal schoolchildren sitting on benches with tables, donated by the BSRVR Foundation. Previously, they had to sit on the floor.
and motors for providing drinking water to schoolchildren, and covering the cost of providing desks and chairs for children who were previously squatting on the floor for their classes. Members of the foundation have also visited a home for aged citizens in Visakhapatnam and distributed spectacles to the inmates. Vision improvement can lead to dramatic changes in daily routines and pastimes for old people (18 of those tested in old age homes had no families to take care of their health needs) and marked improvement in examination scores for schoolchildren. Of the 685 municipal school children covered by the vision screening project, 30 were found to have eye diseases while 14 needed glasses. On their

own, it is doubtful if the childrens’ families would have made the effort to get their eyes tested, given their background of economic deprivation. The primary healthcare model that Professor Rao advocated has been hailed as a very cost-effective, practical and workable template for projects seeking to make meaningful changes in citizens’ health, especially among the disadvantaged sections of our population. When corporate donors extend financial support for social projects of this kind, it is mostly as an ‘investment’ in terms of ‘corporate social responsibility’ (a concept that is itself being criticised now as unethical, because the focus is usually on publicity and advertising a ‘good image’) but direct people-topeople, donor-to-awardee linkages bypass the pitfalls of conventional philanthropy. It is a model that can be replicated a thousand times over, in any region, urban or rural, literate or backward, by donors looking for avenues to dispense aid on scales ranging from modest to grand (a few thousand rupees, to several lakhs.) Choosing suitable projects based on one’s resources, is no problem, given the range of deprivations that our society still sees, six decades after Independence and eleven Five Year Plans adding up to several crores of crores. One of the professor’s sons, Dr Subba Rao, is using his medical expertise to put in place a telemedicine project to extend healthcare facilities to remote areas and indigent sections of the population, especially in the rural areas where the people have no access to good medical services. The family is not looking at returns in the form of publicity or monetary profits, so there is no distraction from the end goals of satisfaction for an individual (or family) in terms of social contribution. Philanthropy is usually used to denote financial contributions that go to deserving causes but after a portion has got drained as administrative (or other – including siphoning off, by corrupt employees) seepages. In privateprivate partnerships, these hazards are avoided. If there were more attempts to replicate such privateprivate linkages, perhaps we could see a far better rate of real progress and development, especially in the key sectors of health and education.

She crossed the bridge with courage and faith 2

How women’s liberation counts for society’s betterment 3

Will we ever be able to get rid of the scourge of malnutrition? 4

Long road to justice, but they are prepared to fight their way 5

Brewing a whole new story in the tea gardens 6

Well, brooms do mirror the lives of communities 7 16-hr shifts, unfair work practices: The trap facing trainee nurses 8

<

2

grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

Se p t e m b e r 1 5 , 2 0 1 2

Focus

grassroots
to college, no one at home understands her work. “My mother, like all mothers, wants me to get married and settle down. In our community, the gender divide is rooted so deep that even a five-year-old boy says that girls and women are not supposed to step outside the home. My family would have preferred me to do the same work from my home. There were some marriage proposals but they did not work out because I was not happy with a system where the girl is placed on view for evaluation by the boy’s side but has absolutely no say in a matter that decides her life.” Shashi has completed a 26-minute short film called Arzoo focussing on the bold woman and on her brainchild, Arzoo. Asked how she broke the barrier between filmmaker and subject, Shashi says, “Sulekha is an extremely warm and honest person. Somehow we drew a comfort level between us, much before I shot her, which is why she is completely at ease in front of the camera. As a filmmaker I feel it is important to be on the same level as your subject, if you want to portray the subject with honesty and directness. I showed the edited film to Sulekha. She had a couple of suggestions which I implemented. I had met Sulekha a few months after the 2002 communal riots in Ahmedabad, through a friend of mine who had been working as a volunteer. Around two years back I met her again as I was planning to write an article related to the Gujarat riots. That is when I decided to make the film,” Shashi sums up, adding, “Making the film has strengthened

She crossed the bridge with courage and faith
Sulekha Ali was a simple girl in a Gujarati Muslim family who was good at drawing and embroidery and loved to rear goats. But the Gujarat riots of 2002 changed her completely. The result of her dreams and aspirations for the riot-affected children was Arzoo, an organisation that began as a school for rehabilitating and mainstreaming marginalised children, the orphaned and the poor. Her brave efforts infused hope in the minds of children of both Hindu and Muslim communities and channelised their energies in the right direction
shoma a. chatterji, Kolkata

S

ulekha Ali is a woman of courage. She is totally committed to salvaging the lives and restoring the childhood of children from the margins affected by the communal riots in Gujarat in 2002. “After the riots, relief camps were set up in many parts of Ahmedabad to take care of the victims who had lost everything in the carnage. I entered one of these camps, Alam Camp, as a volunteer. The camp had around 15000 affected people with children moving around aimlessly. It was as if my family had expanded from four or five to15000. I was posted in medical examination and then shifted first to injections and then to the dressings section.

Alam Camp experience, Sulekha was a simple girl of a Gujarati Muslim family who was good at drawing and embroidery and loved to rear goats. She was very religious and was the first in performing all rituals perfectly. “But the riots changed all that. I am still a believer but my perspective on God and religion has changed dramatically. Religion is something that lies deep within the psyche of a person. No religion can be the reason for people to kill one another in anger or in cold blood. Minorities are victimised across the world in different ways and India is just one country. But that does not mean that it should be a cause for violence,” she says. In course of time, Sulekha

In the name of Hope
Arzoo is an education and production centre based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. It is created with the aim to provide a secure knowledge and livelihood base to underprivileged children and women. It funds the educational activities of children by selling stationery and other products made from handmade paper. Arzoo runs a programme to train women in making products such as diaries, greeting cards, folders, gift boxes and lampshades. Thanks to buyers, the women are paid wages higher than what they get in the market and children’s education goes on uninterrupted. of flowers, houses and musical notes drawn by the children of Arzoo. Some have even written their names, Sharif, Ashraf, Raj, while some little child has scribbled “Sulekha Didi is my friend”, complete with ‘friend’ spelt wrong. “I had gone to Bangalore to learn paper craft and thought that when I come back, the money I would make with my paper craft would go into funding Arzoo. But I soon learnt that this would not work. So, I began to teach the kids simple crafts like making greeting cards, paper work, picture framing so that we could sell these through suppliers and earn money,” explains Sulekha. The journey was extremely tough and an uphill climb all the way. Sulekha is still climbing and will not stop because she considers her work with Arzoo an ongoing project. As a volunteer working with riot victims, Sulekha had worked mainly in Muslim-dominated areas. When she came to work in a ruined neighbourhood dominated by Hindus, she was ceptical about whether the Hindu community would accept her. “So I brought in a carom board, some puzzle games and waited for the kids to come in. They came first out of curiosity and then got involved. I thought of making them perform short, simple skits with subtle messages of communal harmony and the value of education woven into them. It worked. Then I began to teach them paper craft.” The name Arzoo was born out of Sulekha’s dream and aspiration for the children she feels responsible for. There are Hindu and Muslim children and they sing and dance in front of documentary filmmaker and researcher Shashi Gupta’s camera with natural spontaneity. In the process of her involvement with children, Sulekha has rehabilitated herself too, from being an ordinary woman to a woman committed to the uplift of children who live below the poverty line. From the time of its inception, Arzoo has diversified from being a small play group to an activity centre and more. The Gujarat riots of 2002 had affected the young minds beyond repair. The need of the hour was to infuse fresh hope in the minds of riot affected children of both Hindu and Muslim communities and to channelise their energies positively in the right direction. Sulekha explains that as she is the only member of her family who went

Photos: Shashi Gupta

Documentary filmmaker Shashi Gupta.
my belief in basic human values and integrity. Each of us has something unique, something we truly believe in. But few are brave enough to cross the bridge. Sulekha Ali has reaffirmed to me that it is possible to do so. All that is required is courage and faith.”

Sulekha Ali, a woman committed to improving the lives of poor and helpless children.
The experience was shocking. If one person came with a finger dangling from a hand, another came with a lost arm with blood flowing from the limb. One came holding his entrails slipping out of his slashed stomach. But I learnt to take it all. My interests increased when I got involved with the children. When I came home, I felt emptiness around me. Life was no longer what it used to be before the camp. I wanted to do something concrete,” says Sulekha. Before her founded Arzoo, an organisation that began a school for rehabilitating and mainstreaming marginalised children, children who have been orphaned or affected by the communal riots in Gujarat in 2002, children who are very poor and hardly go to school, children of all communities living in shanties and bustis (slums) of Ahmedabad. The white-washed walls of the small premises from where Arzoo operates, headed by Sulekha Ali, are splashed with colour crayon sketches

<

Editor’s note: With reference to the story, ‘Right to Education: Making the law work’, in the previous (August) issue of Grassroots, a few facts did not emerge quite clearly. The school was initiated in 1995 with a vision of holistic and inclusive education by Indira Vijaysimha (director and managing trustee). Poorna's principal, Jayanthi, was a former bank employee who gave up her job to acquire training in teaching children with special needs. She has been associated with the school for many years and took charge as principal last year. 

Se p t e mber 15, 20 12

grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

3

How women’s liberation counts for society’s betterment
bismah malik, Srinagar
educated women emerging from colleges and universities, and making their presence felt in the workplace. Take Waseema Shafi, 23, the only woman networking engineer from the Valley, who recently passed the highest level of CISCO certifications, and is now a CISCO trainer at an academy in Delhi. Shafi had never moved out of Kashmir until a lucrative job offer arrived at her doorstep. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Technology from Kashmir University, attended additional networking engineering classes in Kashmir and passed all the certifications with high ranks. Soon opportunities came flooding in, and finally there came an offer she could not refuse. From being a small-town girl who dreamt of a regular nineto-five job, Shafi now finds herself training IT industry professionals from big companies based in Delhi. “In Delhi, I found myself in a whole new world. I had never stayed away from my family. Initially, when this job offer came, my father and others in the family were not that supportive of the idea of my taking it up. But soon they realised that my career could get a major fillip if I moved out of Kashmir,” Shafi says. The road to success had its share of challenges, but with some persistence Shafi emerged as the only girl in her batch who took up networking engineering since it promised a bright career. She asserts, “Till date, no female student in Kashmir has appeared in CISCO-accredited top certification examinations. Since the Valley did not have a job market for people with these certifications, I chose to try my luck outside the state and luck has been on my side.” For the women of Kashmir, not only do unconventional jobs provide a whole new definition of what it means to be independent, they now feel far more confident of being able to express themselves in public. Shehla Rasheed Shora, an IT engineer by profession and a social activist by choice, has become a popular name in the cyber sphere because of her smart and bold tweets that have grabbed the attention of hundreds of followers on Twitter. Shora tweets on a wide range of issues from Srinagar politics to Delhi jams and Bollywood gossip. But what sets her twitter handle apart from the rest is the change she has been able to make through her Twitter presence. From pursuing the cause of ensuring a fair trial for the inmates of Srinagar jail to raising awareness on the need to protect the worldfamous Dal Lake, Shora’s social activism is reflected in her tweets. For instance, one of her recent tweets went: “Communal sentiments always fall prey to political opportunists. Education can change that. Among Hindus and among Muslims and all other sects.” It became a rage on Twitter. Shora recalls her college days at the National Institute of Technology, Srinagar, when she was an active member of a local youth organisation – One Young Kashmir (OYK) – that hosted various workshops and awareness campaigns in the Valley aimed at youth development. She promoted OYK workshops on Twitter, because of which the young crowd active on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook were drawn to OYK events. Due to her extraordinary communication skills and her huge online popularity,

grassroots

Many of the women who come to meet Naheed Soz, managing director of the State Women Development Corporation in Srinagar, are widows, destitute or orphans, and most of them need financial assistance. Soz, by stressing that the economic independence of a woman is of utmost significance, has come to represent the changing face of Kashmiri women. Women who were once helpless and uneducated have turned self-sufficient entrepreneurs who are generating employment in turn. Then there are youngsters such as Waseema Shafi, Shehla Rasheed Shora and Mehnaz who typify the new-age freedom every woman craves for
While Shora kick-starts her day with a tweet, Mehnaz, 19, a student at the Government College for Women in Srinagar, begins hers by kicking her Scooty to life and beginning a joyous ride from her home to college. Commuting by buses, rickshaws and other public transport in Srinagar had never appealed to the youngster, who became one of the first girls in her college to commute on a Scooty two years ago. Many more young girls in the Valley have joined her on the city streets on their scooters. Today, it is difficult to imagine that just a few short years ago society was just not open to the idea of girls riding two-wheelers. It is girls like Mehnaz who took that first extraordinary leap and helped usher in a change in popular attitudes. As Mehnaz puts it, “Earlier, it was just me and a few friends of mine who had scooters. Later, as many more college and schoolgirls thought of commuting on their own, they took to riding two-wheelers. Now there are

n one of Srinagar’s many bureaucratic offices housed in the Old Civil Secretariat building, a queue of women – some elderly, some young – grows longer by the hour. All the women are waiting to meet Naheed Soz and every morning Soz makes sure to hold a brief interaction with almost every woman who knocks on the doors of her office. She considers this her prime responsibility as the managing director of the State Women Development Corporation (SWDC). The SWDC does not have a really long history in Jammu and Kashmir. It was established in 2005 with the aim of providing some sort of economic independence for the women of the region, especially those who were hit by the turmoil that the Valley has witnessed. When Soz took over as SWDC’s managing director, little did she know that her job would transform her life totally, as a person and especially as a woman. Says Soz: “If you would have met me four years ago, you would have come across a fairly well-educated, and regular government official, who worked to support her family. However, that is not the case today. After being

I

As the managing director of the State Women Development Corporation, Jammu & Kashmir, Naheed Soz aims to provide some sort of economic independence for the women of the region.
promoted as SWDC’s managing director and working for the women in Kashmir, my priorities and my outlook on life have drastically changed. My job here has made me realise that economic independence of a woman is of utmost significance – and not just for her but her entire family.” The women Soz meets come from a wide spectrum of backgrounds. Many of them are widows, destitute or orphans, and almost all of them need financial assistance. She has innumerable stories of success to relate, instances where women who were once helpless and largely uneducated have now become selfsufficient entrepreneurs who are generating employment in turn. Right from setting the women on the right professional track, SWDC has imparted the required skills and provided subsidised loans to them to set up their own enterprises. Personal transformation is the key here and Soz, through her achievements, has herself come to represent the changing face of Kashmiri women. The change is manifesting itself across generations. There are innumerable bright, articulate and

Photos: Bismah Malik/WFS

Waseema Shafi, 23, the only woman networking engineer from the Valley, who recently passed the highest level of CISCO certifications, and is now a CISCO trainer at an academy in Delhi.
she proved to be an asset for the organisation. “I mostly use Twitter for activism and to stay updated. You get to hear the government version of events, the media coverage and the people's perspective – all on your own timeline. It is much better than being the fence-sitter that I've always been. In a place where the political space for women is non-existent, Twitter is a good start,” she observes. so many of us that nobody can forbid us from commuting in this way.” For many women, something simple like riding a scooter or pursuing a social campaign on Twitter may not seem a big deal, but for a violence-torn and distressed region like the Kashmir Valley these little things spell a tryst with independence. <
(Courtesy: Women's Feature Service)

4

grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

Se p t e m b e r 1 5 , 2 0 1 2

Will we ever be able to get rid of the scourge of malnutrition?
For all government talk about ensuring food security, the reality on the ground is different. According to recent World Bank estimates, India ranks second in the world in the number of children suffering from malnutrition, with more than one-third of the world’s malnourished children. UN reports estimate that 2.1 million Indian children die every year before reaching age 5, due to preventable illnesses such as diarrhoea, typhoid, malaria, measles and pneumonia. Reasons: reduced awareness and access to primary healthcare, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition and clean water for children and adults. In Karnataka, a few women are trying to educate women and children about the significance of nutrition. But in a world mired by poverty, unemployment and disease, and all-round apathy, ensuring adequate nutrition is like chasing a mirage

grassroots

F

pushpa achanta, Bengaluru
or most children in poor families in rural as well as in urban India, the one common denominator, other than poverty and deprivation, is under-nourishment. In February 2012, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) conducted a detailed inquiry into the deaths of children due to malnutrition that had occurred in Raichur District in north Karnataka, taking cognizance of an article in an Indian weekly magazine. In an introduction to a report about the Raichur incidents and the investigation that followed, NCPCR referred to the World Bank estimates – that India was ranked second in the world (after Bangladesh) in the number of children suffering from malnutrition, with more than one-third of the world’s malnourished children. The document mentions the United Nations estimate that 2.1 million Indian children die every year before reaching age 5, due to preventable illnesses such as diarrhoea, typhoid, malaria, measles and pneumonia. According to various statistics provided by the Department of Women and Child Development of unlettered and frail Dalit woman from Harappnahalli Taluk in Davangere District who is about 70, she was a daily wage labourer all her life. Not surprisingly, her grandchildren, between three and six years of age, are grossly underweight. The tale of 35-year old Karibasappa, also from Davangere District, is equally painful. Belonging to the Bovi caste, the landless bonded agricultural labourer has three young daughters weighing between nine and 15 kg, which is 40-50 per cent below normal. “The intake of food and body mass has increased over the last year or so due to awareness building and support from local non-governmental organisations. These people do not get jobs under MGNREGA due to dominant caste lobbies that want to maintain the status quo,” says Manjunatha. He is a social worker who has been actively educating marginalised communities about their rights and entitlements the past two years and putting pressure on anganwadis and ration shops to function. Apart from shortage of nutrition and healthcare, some people are compelled to eke out a miserable existence from manual scavenging and bonded labour, a sad reflection on the socio-economic situation in Karnataka, despite such forms of 'employment' being abolished and their practice punishable under Indian law. At a public hearing, Clifton Rozario, state advisor to the Supreme Court commissioner on the Right to Food and a human rights lawyer with a non-profit legal research firm in Bangalore, Alternative Law Forum, mentioned how a Tamil Nadu-based private company had embezzled Rs 300 crore in contracts signed with the Government of Karnataka for the supply of ingredients required for preparing midday meals for children in the state. The firm was banned after several complaints to the Lokayukta about the irregularities. There were news reports about the company providing packaged raw material of low quality, with levels of zinc higher than permissible limit, for the noon meals. According to Rozario, due to many cases of malnutrition, the Karnataka Government had made it mandatory to have 68 lakh children in the state weighed, but that, he added, was insufficient. “Governmental, legal and social change is required to combat malnourishment among children, especially girls. The testimonies from disadvantaged rural health of an individual, a family and a community. “We have managed to reach out to women, particularly to devadasis in 10 taluks in Belgaum… on how a balanced diet contributes to the well-being of people irrespective of age, occupation and gender. We have talked about basic rights and entitlements such as the anganwadis, fair price shops under the public distribution system, healthcare through primary health centres, hospitals and maternity homes and the need for women to prioritise their nutritional requirements, independent of their reproductive status. Incidentally, our interactions have also convinced around 3000 women to leave the age-old devadasi tradition, which were exploitating women and girls from the Dalit and other economically marginalised groups.” Shobha and her colleagues have now started working in Chikoti Taluk of Belgaum District where there are many malnourished, underweight children such as Lakshmi and Sanju, who seem much younger than their 13 years. At the public hearing, Karnataka State Commissioner for Disabilities K.V. Rajanna said: “Caste, gender, religion, class and disability impact access to food. There are anganwadi workers who hesitate to give government-supplied food to their own kids. Further, they differentiate based on caste in the quantity and quality of the meals provided. In some centres, during the midday meal time, Dalit children are seated and served separately with specific utensils, which the kids must clean themselves.” Nandini, programme manager, ActionAid Bangalore, sums up: “Malnourishment stymies the normal physiological and mental development of kids. However, fighting caste and gender discrimination in midday and other government-run meal schemes is tough as it impacts vested interests. Most people who work for the benefit of children ignore their perspective and rarely involve them in decisionmaking. We must remember that children are citizens of the present and future whose viewpoints and realities we must understand to enhance their lives.”

Sanju, 14, and Lakshmi, 13 – malnourished children from Chikoti Taluk, Belgaum District.
children in the 0-6-year age group has improved in Karnataka. However, the realities of children and expectant or lactating mothers are shocking in the northern districts, in Raichur, Bijapur and Koppal. The reasons: reduced awareness and access to primary healthcare, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition and clean water for children and adults. Significantly, Raichur is considered one of the 30 most backward districts in the country in such aspects. The district has 2.7 per cent children severely underweight in the 0-6-year age group, compared to a state-wide average of 0.89 per cent, and 30.57 per cent in the moderately underweight category against the corresponding figure for Karnataka at 17.02 per cent. At a public hearing on child malnutrition held in Bangalore in July this year, some heartrending stories emerged from other parts of Karnataka, from Davangere and Belgaum which are supposedly better off than Raichur. “I have to slog for many hours every day to care for my seven little grandchildren when their parents work in distant Tumkur and Bangalore Districts. My sons and daughters-in-law are quarry workers who migrate for around nine months to engage in manual scavenging or construction jobs during the off season. Whatever my children earn (between 50-150 rupees each per day) and my monthly senior citizen’s pension of 400 rupees per month is insufficient to feed the kids and ourselves. Also, stone quarries and sand mining pollutes the air and water causing respiratory and skin diseases,” Hanumakka explains. An

Five-year-old Sridevi weighs 11 kg, just half of what she should actually weigh. Here, she is with her father, Karibasappa, in Davangere District.
communities and individuals have educated and inspired me to take up the struggle further.” In the midst of woe, there is hope, kindled by Shobha D., a former devadasi from Gokak Taluk in Belgaum District. The 37-yearold had co-founded the Mahila Abhiruddhi Samrakshana Samiti collective in 1997. She and other devadasis have been associated with various initiatives and campaigns to educate women and children about the significance of nutrition in the improvement and maintenance of

Seventy-year-old Hanumakka of Davangere District and her underfed granddaughter, age 4.
the Government of Karnataka, and the National Family Health Surveys and Sample Registration System quoted by (NCPCR), the overall status of health, nutrition and mortality of

Photos: PA

<

Shobha D., a former devadasi and co-founder of the Mahila Abhiruddhi Samrakshana Samiti, Belgaum District.

S e p t e mber 15, 2012

grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

5

Long road to justice, but they are prepared to fight their way

grassroots

Where militant groups rule the roost, teenage girls and young women often face torture, molestation and sexual harassment. Men seek sexual favours and if women don’t give in, they have to pay dearly. It was in such a scenario in Manipur that members of the Hmar Women’s Association decided to fight back. And fight they did, despite anonymous phone calls and threats to their lives. However, it was only when the National Commission for Women in Delhi came into the picture that things improved. The lack of support structures for women who underwent traumatic experiences was evident. Speaking out proved to be the only hope and even today the fight for justice continues
ninglun hanghal, Churachandpur, Manipur
onflict in Manipur has been an ever-present reality for decades. As in most conflict zones, it is the women here who bear the brunt of the disturbances. But they have learnt to come together against the violence, whether it is caused by security forces or by militant groups. Women’s groups like the Imphal-based Meira Paibis are well known, but there are many small local organisations in other parts of the conflict-scarred region, which are responding with courage and determination to atrocities on women. Take the Hmar Women’s Association (HWA), a group formed by the Hmar community women in Lamka, the headquarters of Churachandpur District. When its members learnt from media reports in early 2006 that about 25 women – many of them still in their teens – were being tortured, molested and sexually harassed by so-called ‘underground outfits’ in villages such as Parbung, Hmarkhawpui and Sipuikawn, they decided to fight back. The villages are located in the Tipaimukh sub-division of Churachandpur. This sub-division, along with four others – Henglep, Thanlon, Saikot and Samulamlan – forms the epicentre of violence here. Claimed as ‘liberated zones’ by insurgents, safe hideouts for as many as 13 insurgent groups, each claiming to represent a community or a hill tribal group or sub-group, are located here. Even non-tribal outfits from the Manipur Valley claim to have a base in the district. Security forces, like the Assam Rifles, have been deployed in the area, and many of the insurgent groups ostensibly come under the Suspension of Operation agreement. The remote location – it takes two days to reach the villages by jeep from Lamka – did not deter the HWA women activists. Recalls Pi J.L. Sawmi ('pi' is a prefix used locally as a mark of respect to an adult woman), the head of the association and currently president of Churachandpur Joint Women’s Union (CJWU), an umbrella body of various local women’s groups, “The roads were atrocious, but that didn’t stop us.” The intra-ethnic violence as well as clashes between the state and non-state elements had reached such a point that the villagers were fleeing

C

to neighbouring Mizoram in sheer terror. They had horrifying stories to relate. Reportedly these ‘militant’ outfits made demands at gunpoint. As Pi Sawmi puts it, “The villagers would have to pay dearly if a demand, or rather ‘command’ – which extended to sexual favours – was not obeyed.” During the days of heightened protest against the Tipaimukh rapes, the activists moved from village to village. They came under all kinds of threats and their lives were in danger. As Pi Sawmi says, “We

(Courtesy: Women’s Feature Service)

<

Conflict in Manipur has been an ever-present reality for decades and as in most conflict zones, it is the women here who bear the brunt of the disturbances.

received several ‘unidentified calls’, but ignored them or moved about incognito.” The group had to also face smear campaigns. The local media were very critical of their actions and alleged that they were engineering these protests at the behest of vested interest. “But,” Pi Sawmi says, “we also issued press releases and statements to clarify.” Within days, rallies and protests were held against the Tipaimukh attacks, both in Lamka and Delhi, which forced the Manipur Government to set up the Rajkhowa Commission to look into the allegations. Ironically, although the nature of the crimes involved rape, the Commission did not include any health experts, let alone women investigators. The hearings and examination of the victims were conducted in Parbung – the headquarters of Tipaimukh – with cross-examination being undertaken by Human Rights Alert, a human rights group, and the Manipur Forward Youth Front – both of which are valley-based and non-tribal bodies. Apprehensive and demoralised by the turn of events, HWA leaders went knocking at the doors of the National Commission for Women (NCW) in Delhi in May 2006. “Fortunately they heard us out patiently. Chairperson Girija Vyas and other members took the matter

Local women in Manipur have realised the importance of coming together, especially in a district like Churachandpur where different communities and ethnic groups live cheekby-jowl.
Apunba Lup. The Union collectively resolved that any rape accused, no matter his ethnic background, should be awarded exemplary punishment, and a minimum sentence of five years along with a fine. Today, even as ethnic clashes continue to rage, the CJWU has successfully intervened in several incidents. They are also exploring ways of keeping the original issue alive and are thinking of filing an RTI petition on the action taken on the Rajkhowa Commission Report, which was submitted to the state government in 2007. So far, little seems to have come out of it. Churachandpur’s brave and feisty women activists want justice and are prepared to fight hard for it.

Photo: K. Sarojkumar Sharma Vizag

Photo: Mang Tangpua

Activists of the Hmar Women's Association protesting in Lamka, the headquarters of Churachandpur District in Manipur. The demonstration was in protest against the torture and sexual harassment of 25 women in the Tipaimukh Sub-division of Churachandpur.

seriously,” recalls Pi Sawmi. Later, an NCW member and Northeast-incharge, Malini Bhattacharya, visited Tipaimukh and met the victims. In her report, Bhattacharjee stated that the girls who had undergone sexual assault and rape still suffered from headaches, listlessness and inability to concentrate, apart from various menstrual and urinary problems. Some reported impairment of eyesight and hearing, and there were also complaints of pain in the back and abdomen. Not surprisingly, every woman complained of living in fear. Bhattacharya also noted the abysmal lack of health care in the area: “There was neither hospital nor doctor, only a defunct primary health centre.” It was only on the recommendation of the NCW that a free medical and trauma counselling camp was held in Parbung in November 2006. This move helped. According to Pi Sawmi, many victims felt better psychologically, as there was a lot of sharing with the full participation of the HWA members. One woman beneficiary put it this way, “When we talk about problems that only women can relate to, like abdominal pain, we feel better.” A major fear among the rape survivors was of having contracted HIV/AIDS since many of their attackers were known drugpushers. There was also the stigma attached to being raped. Several survivors have today left their homes to begin life anew in Mizoram and Meghalaya. But it is difficult to erase the past completely. According to Pi Sawmi, these women – most working as domestic help – are still “living death”, their hopes of marrying and settling down to a normal life completely dashed. The campaign also took a lot out from the HWA women. There was limited financial and legal support. Pi Sawmi adds, “All our funds were spent on travel and most of the time it was from our pocket. While the NCW members were required to be ferried by helicopter, the HWA team would leave for Lamka two days ahead in order to be there on time.” A major problem, they believe, is the lack of support structures for women who undergo traumatic experiences, given local ignorance and illiteracy. The HWA team had a tough time dealing with the parents of the rape victims, most of whom wanted to keep the

issue under wraps. It was only with time that they realised the importance of speaking out. The lack of health care infrastructure was another major challenge, with the victims not knowing where to go or whom to approach for medical assistance. But the biggest lesson learnt was the need for local women to organise and come together, especially in a district like Churachandpur where different communities and ethnic groups live cheek-by-jowl. That was why the CJWU was convened in 2005. It comprises several community-based women organisations, including the HWA, the Zomi Mothers’ Association, Kuki Women’s Association and Ima Leimaren

Photo: hmar.in

6

grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

Se p t e m b e r 1 5 , 2 0 1 2

Brewing a whole new story in the tea gardens
Women working in the tea gardens in Assam are now cashing in on their experience and traditional knowledge and turning entrepreneurs. They are now part of a booming small tea growers’ fraternity that contributes to 30 per cent of the total tea production in the state. It’s helping women earn more money and overcome poverty. Some, like Behola Majhi, have worked hard with their children to tend to their small patch of green, their alcoholic husbands really of no use. Others such as Bharati Koda are happy raising nurseries for sale to large tea gardens. Also, workers are getting to know about land rights and better livelihood opportunities. Life in Assam’s tea gardens isn’t quite the same anymore
azera rahman, Tinsukia Assam
For more then 10 years, the day began on the same note for Onjoli Komar, 30. She would pick up her cane basket, hang it from her head and head for work in the vast and lush environs of the local tea estate to pluck leaves. Things have changed drastically today. She tends to the tea saplings in her own tiny plantation first, before doing anything else in the house. Once the domain of uppity, horse-back riding British sahibs (officers or masters), tea cultivation is now being taken up by those who had worked on plantations as labour. In the process, women like Onjoli are brewing a fresh story by cashing in on their experience and traditional knowledge, and becoming entrepreneurs. While their land holdings may not be too big – yet – who knows what the future will bring given that profits are potentially big. There are challenges, of course, for the former daily wage earners, including alcoholism among their male counterparts. But there can be no doubt that the enterprising women, now part of the booming small tea growers’ fraternity in Assam, are changing the face of the tea industry forever. Talking about her foray into tea cultivation, Onjoli, who lives on a tea estate in the Tinsukia District of upper Assam, says, “It always helps to have some extra earnings. That was the only reason I got into tea cultivation. And while it was a new experience, I had the comfort of having knowledge in this field.” According to her, one of the reasons for the general poverty among tea garden workers is that they tend to have large families, and the money earned through conventional ways is never enough. She says, “We want a better education for our children and the daily wage of Rs 70 that we once earned is just not enough.” Abandoned by her husband when she was pregnant with their child eight years ago, it was even more difficult for Onjoli to run a home for a family of four, which includes her parents. Then, three years ago, she happened to come across a person who identified himself as a small tea grower. She recalls, “When he told me that he grows tea plants on his plot of land and has been earning good profits, it made me think. I didn’t have a big plot – just one bigha. Also I didn’t have enough money for the initial investment which was around Rs 6000. So that person proposed that he pays me for the saplings and the pesticides, and our earnings could be divided. It sounded good, so I agreed.” With the first plucking, Onjoli’s garden gave 20 kg of green leaves, which she sold to a private factory at Rs 14 per kilo. Thereafter, there has been regular plucking every few days on a rotation basis. “I make a profit of about Rs 3000 or more a month, depending on the amount of leaves generated and the price we get for it,” she smiles. Behola Majhi, another tea garden worker in a tea estate in the Tezpur District of lower Assam, also decided to take control of her family and grow a small tea plantation when she saw that her alcoholic husband was wasting all their hard-earned money on lao pani, a home-brewed liquor. “We are a family of six and my husband and I are the only earning members. Life was a struggle, and to add to it my husband would throw away all the money on alcohol,” she says. That was when she learnt about how a lot of people, including the babus (lower ranking officials on the tea estate), were setting up their own tea plantations. “That made me think of a portion of land in our backyard which is not low lying and thus ideal for tea cultivation,” she adds. For the initial investment, Behola borrowed some money from her brother and bought her first batch of tea saplings. “At first, it was not easy. Along with my two sons, I had to work for hours under the sun, digging the soil, making drains so that the water would not collect, and planting saplings. We also had to water the plants and spray pesticides. Together with all this, I continued my work at the tea estate, too, because tea shrubs require three years to grow fully and be ready for plucking,” she reveals. Her hard work bore fruit. The first plucking got her 35 kg of green leaf, which she sold to a factory. “The first thing I did with the money was to secure admission for my children at the nearby private school. I also opened a bank account where I save some of my earnings,” she says with pride. The Karmakar brothers of a tea estate in the Dibrugarh District of upper Assam have a similar tale to relate. They handed over their land of two bighas to their wives for tea cultivation. Giggles Sharmili, the wife this trend, the Government of India announced a separate cell for the STG community under the Tea Board of India in September 2011. In addition, the Board also conducts workshops to impart technical assistance to the community. Tea growing, however, is not the only thing women tea workers are getting their hands into. For instance, Bharati Koda of a tea estate in Tinsukia is raising a nursery of tea saplings that she sells to bigger tea gardens. “I didn’t want to take the extra effort of spraying pesticides, weeding, plucking leaves and then selling them, although the profit margin is decent. I am happy with my nursery. This time I have around 200 saplings, which I sell for around Rs 7 each,” says Bharati. Slowly but surely, women are putting their stamp on Assam’s STG sector. Onjoli signs off by saying, “My grandmother, or even my mother for that matter, wouldn’t have imagined doing anything other than tea plucking for a living. But they are proud of what I have dared to do, in my own small way. I am proud of myself too.” <
(Courtesy: Women’s Feature Service)

grassroots

Behola Majhi, a tea garden worker in Tezpur District of lower Assam, decided to grow a small tea plantation when she saw that her alcoholic husband was wasting all their hard-earned money on lao pani, a home-brewed liquor. Behola's small tea plantation yielded 35 kg of green leaf, which she sold to a factory.
of one of the brothers, “Our husbands go to the tea garden factory for work and we work on our own garden!” She adds, “We get about 25-35 kilos of tea leaves with each plucking, which we sell at Rs 10-15 per kilo. Its good business and our husbands now rely on us for a lot of things, instead of always the other way around.” There are several success stories like those of Onjoli, Behola and Sharmili, but the trend of tea cultivation by women tea garden workers is still at a nascent stage. “Their land holdings are not large – one or two bighas at the most – so, as a trend, tea growing among them has not yet come into its own,” notes Raj Kamal Phukan, deputy secretary of the Assam Branch Indian Tea Association, Zone One. He doesn’t deny that this is picking up, though. “There is a lot of awareness among tea garden labourers today than earlier – especially about land rights and better livelihood opportunities,” he says. Other experts believe the small tea growers (STG) community, of which the women are a part, is making a significant contribution. Ramen Lal Baishya, assistant director of the Tezpur branch of the Tea Board of India, puts it this way, “Small tea growers are a booming community and they are changing Assam’s economy.” He points out that Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi himself acknowledged that 30 per cent of the state’s total tea production – 500 million kilos in 2009 – was accounted for by STG community. This will only rise rapidly, according to Baishya. Recognising the significance of

Photos: Azera Rahman Tinsukia/WFS

Se p t e mber 15, 2012

grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

7

Well, brooms do mirror the lives of communities
three-day workshop on broommaking, with the objective of getting mentally challenged children to be economically selfsufficient was organised in Jodhpur recently. It was also an initiative to help broom-making communities join the mainstream and provide them a sense of dignity and social recognition. The communities are among the most economically depressed sections in India and they continue to suffer the stigma of being ‘untouchables’. Rupayan Sansthan, a folklore research institute, has established an ethnographic museum that showcases the traditional lifestyles and indigenous knowledge systems of rural communities in Rajasthan. It was set up in Moklawas Village on the outskirts of Jodhpur, in collaboration with the Nav Jyoti Manovikas Kendra. Together, they work with mentally challenged children and adults hailing from the deprived social segments and give them an opportunity to become “catalytic agents for social change”. The Sansthan is providing shape to the documentation, audio recordings and books collected by Komal Kothari (who set up the museum), who did not accord much significance to the institutional form of research during his lifetime. Brooms in Rajasthan are made by hand. Broom-making is not a mechanised process; it means

grassroots grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

A Journal of the Press Institute of India
Registered with The Registrar of Newspapers for India under TNENG/2009/27557

grassroots

A

Clockwise, from top left: Children at the broom-making workshop; getting the sense of a traditional lifestyle by interacting with members of th rural community; a foreigner having a close look at an exhibit at the museum set up by the Rupayan Sansthan; and a long shot of visitors walking towards the museum.
using different parts of the human body ranging from toe to the teeth. They are mostly handmade objects, exemplifying the endurance of preindustrial labour. The brooms, used for sweeping homes, courtyards and city streets, have been an integral part of our lives since times immemorial. Broom-maker Jitu Kohli from the Kohli community taught fundamentals of the craft to a group comprising a dozen mentally challenged students. Says Rupayan Sansthan secretary Kuldeep Kothari, “It serves as a reminder that though the mentally challenged may learn and behave differently, they still have a great deal of talent and potential to add to the fabric of our society.”

The broom-making community was earlier making date-palm brooms (sourcing material from the Northeast) but now makes the popular phul jhadu. The nomadic Banjara community produces brooms made of different grasses (panni): the migratory Koli community and the Bangariya community of Rajasthan use datepalm (khejur), while the Harijan community specialises in brooms made of bamboo (baans). According to Kothari, several communities are migrating from other states to the western parts of Rajasthan to take up broom-making for a living. The museum devoted the first three years of its existence to a single object – the broom. Backed by extensive fieldwork on grasses, brooms and broom-making communities, 40 subjects were selected for study. Kothari points out that brooms made from millet, jowar and maize zones provide good material for comparative studies, including the techniques of making them. The museum has a collection of 350 varieties of brooms from the three staple diet zones and the products displayed show the life and work of indigenous communities. Brooms specimens are tagged on the basis of name, material and region. Kalyan Singh Kothari, Jaipur

Press Institute of India Research Institute for Newspaper Development Second Main Road, Taramani CPT Campus, Chennai 600 113 Tel: 044-2254 2344 Telefax: 044-2254 2323 www.pressinstitute.in

Director V. Murali murali@pressinstitute.in Editor Sashi Nair editor@pressinstitute.in/ editorpiirind@gmail.com Editorial Assistant R. Suseela suseela@pressinstitute.in Manager N. Subramanian subramanian@pressinstitute.in Assistant Manager / Librarian R. Geetha geetha@pressinstitute.in Office Staff B. Rajendran
The Press Institute of India does not take responsibility for returning unsolicited material. It may not always be possible to reply to senders of unsolicited material. Opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the editor or publisher.

Photos: KSK

<

A panchayat keeps its promise
The Sakkimangalam Panchayat in Madurai District, with a population of more than 2300 people spread over 20 villages, passed a resolution to end discrimination against people living with HIV by creating awareness about the scourge at the grama panchayat meeting held on Independence Day. Members of the Madurai Multi-stakeholders Forum were part of the initiative along with representatives of the District AIDS Prevention and Control Unit and members of the Vaigai Network of HIV Positive people. The villagers present witnessed cultural performances by folk artistes, thanks to the initiative by the Tamil Nadu States AIDS Control Society to create awareness in the rural population. Entire villages along with their representatives, including the Sakkimangalam Panchayat president, Noor Muhammed, pressed hand prints on a huge banner placed near the meeting venue to symbolise support to the campaign to end discrimination. the landlord telling me to vacate the house. Today I no longer live with such fears. I hope this programme will inspire other villages so that more and more women like me can be beneficiaries. Moreover, following the programme last year, the young people from the village have come forward for voluntarily testing of HIV. They have also started to openly talk about HIV which was not the situation two years ago”. The newly elected Sakkimangalam Panchayat president S. Rahmath Sibagathullah has provided space within the panchayat office for a condom outlet. Said Sibagathullah, “We are planning to allocate separate funds in the coming budget to create awareness about HIV through youth clubs and self help groups. We are also planning to launch a campaign in support of the transgender community and promote their acceptance in society by offering them jobs and renting houses to them.” < (Courtesy: Centre for Advocacy and Research, Chennai)

Every effort has been taken to assure that the accuracy of information contained in this publication is based on reliable sources. All trademarks and trade names mentioned in this magazine belong to their respective owners. In case of error editor/publisher shall not be liable for any loss or prejudice caused to the reader. The publisher reserves the copyright of the materials published in the magazine. No part of the articles or photographs can be reproduced without the prior permission of the publisher. All disputes will be subjected to the jurisdiction of Chennai only.

Advertisement Tariff
Full Page: B&W: Rs. 5,000 Colour: Rs. 10,000 Half Page: B&W: Rs. 3,000 Colour: Rs. 5,000 Mechanical Details Bleed : 275 mm x 350 mm Material can be sent to murali@pressinstitute.in or by CD to our address

The Sakkimangalam Grama Sabha meets.
Iyyappan, president of the Vaigai Network of HIV-positive people said, “Sakkimangalam Village is the first grama sabha in Madurai District to pass a resolution against the discrimination of people living with HIV. The grama panchayat not only passed a resolution against the discrimination of people living with HIV but also came forward to provide job opportunities for people living with HIV under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Eight people living with HIV were given job opportunities under the scheme.” Jeeva, a person living with HIV since 1998 and a beneficiary of the Green House Scheme through which she was allotted a house, said: “The resolution has had a huge impact on the village. My own family, which was not very hopeful about my future, is proud to see me as a person who owns a house. A lot of my earning went on house rent and I lived in constant fear of my HIV status being revealed and

Annual Subscription
12 Issues Rs. 180 36 Issues Rs. 500
Please note that the cheque or demand draft or at par cheque payable in Chennai, for the subscription amount should be drawn in the name of Press Institute of India ONLY and NOT in the name of the magazine.

8

grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

Registered with The Registrar of Newspapers for India under TNENG/2009/27557

16-hr shifts, unfair work practices: The trap facing trainee nurses
Life for nursing students in India has never been easy. Most do backbreaking work, face exploitation, and are forced to bear it all for the sake of a certificate and perhaps a ticket to a better life abroad. Hospital managements are often not too kind to trainee nurses and many cases of withholding of certificates and non-payment of salaries have been reported. Then there is the compulsory signing of 'bonds', which bind the students in more ways than one. Missing is the human touch, and as a result some nurses have ended their lives. It is a sad commentary on the medical education system that when India needs trained nurses more than ever to run its faltering health care system, it continues to cheat bright, young women and men of promising career options
shwetha e. george, Kottayam

grassroots

T

he most common dictionary definition for the word ‘bond’ is ‘a link that binds people in a relationship’. For nursing students, though, this word only represents abuse and extortion. Take the case of 22-year-old Mumbai-based Malayali nurse Beena Baby. She committed suicide by hanging herself all because of the ‘bond’ system that governs the lives of the thousands of nurses across India. “We swallow the abuse and break our backs doing tough 16-hour shifts just to obtain that one-year experience certificate from the hospital,” says 27-year-old Tiju Mathew. She adds, “We do it because it’s our only ticket to leave the country forever.” Here’s what this ‘bond’ system is all about. Most private nursing colleges are attached to a hospital. Fresh graduates are inducted and made to sign an agreement with the management stating that they would work as staff/trainee nurse for a fixed salary for one year, that is, 365 accountable working days. At the end of this they are granted a certificate of experience. “But this is nothing short of a trap,” says Beena Bhasan, president of the Kerala Trained Nurses Association (East Zone) and principal of a private nursing college in central Kerala, “Overnight, these graduates become the manual-work force of the hospital. Their original certificates are withheld. If a student chooses to discontinue, she has to not just forego her experience certificate but pay the compensation amount, fixed at will by individual institutes.” There are no off days and paid leave is non-existent during this period. When Tiju caught a respiratory infection by putting in long hours in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), he had no option but to quit. The Mumbai hospital where he worked for eight months paid him his salary dues, but got his provident fund lapsed and told him that he would not get any ‘experience certificate’ because he hadn’t completed a year. The salary, although fixed at Rs 4200 in the agreement, turned out to be just Rs 2700. The reason cited? ‘Expenses deducted for food and accommodation’. Not only did Tiju have to work another whole year to make up for the requirements of

experience, worse still is the fact that he will have to explain the gap in his career to all prospective employers. Twenty-four-year-old Mareena, a BSc nurse graduate from north Kerala, worked for the ‘mandatory’ one-year term after completing her course, only to be told that it was not a certificate of experience that she would be getting but a certificate of internship. So she had to work for one more year at the same hospital to finally obtain the certificate that would qualify her as a staff-nurse with experience. In the agreement, the hospital management had stated that they would be paying the Calicut University-stipulated salary of Rs 4500 but the students only got Rs 3500 in hand. “Six months into the internship, we went on a strike,” recalls the young nurse. The management eventually relented and Mareena and others were paid in full for the second half of that year. But Mareena faced more hiccups. In her second year as staff nurse, while her agreement stated that she would be paid her full salary, once again fixed on the basis of the Calicut University recommendations, she got only Rs 5300. “We went on strike again and got it hiked to Rs 9500,” she recalls. Mareena quit the same month she got all her certificates back and is now pursuing her IELTS training to work in Canada. While they have to pay up every inch of the way, their returns – in terms of salary – are dismal. Says Bhasan, “The salary for General Nurse and Midwife graduates is anywhere between Rs 1500 and Rs 2000 and Bachelor of Nursing graduates get up to Rs 3000.” Add to this the willful withholding of certificates and an exorbitant compensation amount, and it becomes clear that the ‘bond’ system is nothing short of extortion. In Maharashtra, almost all private hospitals that work on the ‘bond’ system charge Rs 50000 as compensation in the event of a nurse seeking to break the contract. Beena Baby, to whom there was an earlier reference, had worked in a prominent cardiac care hospital in Mumbai and was reportedly charged with misplacing a CD that had a patient’s medical details. She was allegedly threatened by the management to pay up the compensation amount or

Equipment breakage, theft, misplacement and negligence are a fear factor for trainee nurses, always at the mercy of the hospital management.
work without pay for the rest of the year. Either way she stood to lose her experience certificate. So rather than face her parents – still toiling hard to pay off her educational loan – Beena Baby chose suicide, according to those who knew her. Leela Pillai recalls the case of a student who had joined her college but got admission into a government medical college soon after. However, the hospital management insisted that since it was too late to take a new student in her place, she had to pay the tuition fees of four years as compensation or they would not give her certificates back. The student paid almost Rs three lakh to get her papers back. In Kerala, private nursing colleges charge around Rs 72000 per year for the four-year BSc degree. Ninety per cent of students here – most of whom are from lower middle-class families – avail of educational loans to raise this amount. Says Bhasan, “My students come from the poorest of families in Kerala. I can only plead for their sake to the management.” Of course, the Trained Nurses Association in Kerala has finally decided to tackle the exploitative system by going to court. “We want absolute abolition of the bond

and respectful treatment of nurses. “Humanitarian concern is hardly shown to us,” says Tiju. Any breakage of equipment, theft, misplacement and negligence are a cause of great fear and trauma for trainee nurses who are always at the mercy of the management. “When I ask prospective admission candidates why they are opting for nursing, most reply – ‘what else can I do’?” says Bhasan. The fact is that admissions in private nursing colleges today have come down by almost 50 per cent. And those who are still lining up to take these courses are doing so because they see nursing as a way to make it to the West. Cousins and friends, already settled in Canada, the UK and Australia, beckon them relentlessly with the chant: “Get your experience certificate, raise another Rs five to seven lakh for immigration and live the life of your dreams.” It is a sad commentary on the medical education system that at a time when India needs trained nurses

Fresh graduates from private nursing colleges are inducted into hospitals and made to sign an agreement with the management stating that they would work as staff/trainee nurses for a fixed salary for one year. There are no off days and paid leave is non-existent.
system,” says Kochu Thressiamma, president of the Association’s Kerala Chapter. “We are also asking for a salary revision and leave allowances.” Other demands include the shutting down of fraudulent nursing colleges and, more importantly, the dignified more than ever to run its faltering health care system, it continues to cheat bright, young women and men of promising career options in nursing, right here at home. <
(Courtesy: Women’s Feature Service)

Photo: WFS