Boys and girls living together in the JNU hostels.

Live-ins are “in” for Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students.
Officially, JNU has separate hostels for men and women and live-ins are
illegal, but tell that to the students who have been living together
“openly”, with even hostel wardens sometimes looking the other way, or
fining them Rs 200 when they catch them. But the students are “scared”
about giving their real names. “Do not name us or else we will be
detained,” was the common refrain. Some senior students had been detained
in the past. So most of the names have been changed in this article.

“What is the harm in living together in the same room? We are adults. We
are not twelve anymore and are capable of taking our lives’ decisions. Plus
this has been quite common here,” said Janakya, who has been in three
live-in relationships with three of her classmates over a period of one and
a half years that she has been in JNU and is on the verge of leaving her
third partner.

JNU has 18 hostels on campus, including a working women’s hostel. Out of
these hostels only six are for girls and the other 11 for boys.

“Hypocrisy is evident in JNU as the girls are allowed to enter boys’
hostels, but the boys are not allowed to enter girls’ hostels. Even some
faculty members had objected to this discrimination, but no action has been
taken so far. Living together is very common on our campus but it is not
really allowed. However, our faculty is particular about these rules. If
they find students fooling around they impose a fine of Rs 200 on them,
especially when they are on attendance rounds at night,” said Abhi, who is
not in favour of the idea of live-ins but does not dare to say anything
because of peer pressure.

“JNU has always been a world-renowned university. Why should we bother
about such petty issues? We are happy with the advanced thought process we
have. It is no big deal if students are staying together. We are
intellectuals, unlike other college kids. We can differentiate between what
is wrong and right. We even have boys staying with their male partners in
the same hostel. And let’s not even talk about how many one-night stands we
know of,” said Amrita, who has the reputation of being in the know and is
said to be one the biggest gossipmongers of JNU.

The most famous in-house couple (we are allowed to give their real names),
profiled by various publications, is Sree, 27, who is finishing his PhD at
JNU and his girlfriend Gargi Bhattacharya, 26, who is a lecturer at St.
Stephen’s College. “For the past six years we have practically been living
together in Sree’s hostel room,” said Gargi.

Sree and Gargi say that they never want to get married as they do not want
to bear the burden of in-laws, children and “grief”.

Other students share similar thoughts and are happy that they get to live
with their partners and decide about their relationship’s future based on
their experience. They say that JNU makes life less complicated for couples
as it gives them the “option” of living together. But they firmly believe
that this does not affect their studies because they are studying in JNU to
fulfil their respective goals.



Giving children back their childhood

Our child protection laws need to be implemented better, and we must focus on rehabilitating children rescued from sweatshops

When he is not selling tomatoes every evening at the local market, 15-year-old Shyam Sundaram says he likes to unwind within the corridors of Wadala’s monorail station. Seated cross-legged on the floor in a 10 x 10 space with four walls and an asbestos roof, one of many such rooms spread across the transit camp settlement opposite the station, Shyam explains, “Sunday is when I get to relax a bit because the market closes early.”

The youngest of a family of three (one brother and one sister), Shyam has been hawking vegetables since he was 12 years old. “I began selling spinach and used to earn Rs 30 a day. Now I earn Rs 100 selling tomatoes from a cart,” he says, adding that he hands over his money to his mother, who too works as a vegetable vendor at the wholesale market in Sanpada. “I make around Rs 3,000 a month. I don’t save anything. My mother buys me a shirt and chappals every few months.” He explains that he has no time for play, except on Sundays with his friends, who too sell vegetables beside him.

Shyam and his friends are among the children who are part of the rising child labour statistics in the country, Mumbai being no exception.

According to Census 2011, there are 55,171 working children in Mumbai in the 5-14 year age group. In 2001, the figure stood at 34,525. The 60 per cent hike in child labour in almost a decade is a worrying trend.

Another disturbing fact is that despite the implementation of the Right to Education Act in 2009, a third of working children are between the ages of 5 and 9. We also need to explore the key reasons for the 347 per cent increase in a decade (see chart) in the number of working girls in this age group. The increase in working boys comes at a close 203 per cent.

The rising percentage of working girls in the age group of 5-14 years in nearly a decade (126 per cent for girls as compared to 35 per cent for boys) too needs immediate attention.

Vulnerable, commoditised

It is hard to pinpoint child labour in a specific area. The entire metropolis seems to be buzzing with children of all ages selling flowers and toys at traffic signals, in local trains, marketplaces. Children are also found in small hotels, at roadside eateries, dhabas and restaurants, as well as in the garment and fashion industry.

A large number of children in these sectors are trafficked from other states. In the slums of Malwani, Dharavi, Govandi, Madanpura and Byculla, children continue to be employed in large numbers in zari work, button-making, fashion jewellery and packaging, putting in long hours of work. Although many are rescued, they end up in the same place within no time due to poor implementation of rehabilitation programmes.

It is common to see children carrying gunny bags on their shoulders while scavenging dustbins, garbage heaps and city dumps to collect waste. Children with physical disabilities including those suffering from terminal illnesses are easy targets for those running organised begging rackets in the city.

Children can also be found doing various odd jobs: in parking areas, working as petty hawkers, messenger boys, shoe-shiners, cleaners, helpers in shops and establishments, gas stations, garages, as labourers in construction sites, small factories and institutions. All these occupations eventually have a destructive effect on their behaviour pattern and social living.

Children in the red light areas of Kamathipura and Falkland Road are particularly vulnerable. Typically, they are abandoned on the streets in unsafe neighbourhoods littered with brothels, and both boys and girls engage in sexual activities for survival and psychological needs, peer pressure or at times material gains. Children of sex workers even end up sleeping under the cot while their mother is serving a client. They are constantly subjected to advances and are at times sexually exploited. Drug-peddlers and addicts are a common sight in and around these areas, and the daughters of commercial sex workers are perpetually at the risk of getting sold, forced or lured into prostitution due to their exposure to brothels and their owners. Many young girls are put up for sale or hire.

There are innumerable cases where children end up working at home: helping their parents cook, wash, clean or handle small shops. Girls in domestic labour are made to work for long hours with unregulated salaries. A majority of them may not believe this to be child labour, but it should be considered as such because it prevents the child from accessing education, impedes overall development and destroys his or her childhood.

Children from economically weak backgrounds at a very early age develop a responsibility to contribute to household survival and well-being. Ironically, we as a society have a huge tolerance to child labour and such contributions by children are viewed with respect and encouragement.

Some of these children are full-time workers, while others juggle school and working hours, not giving them enough time for recreation, play and overall development.

Rehabilitation of rescued children

India’s track record in implementing legislation leaves much to be desired.

A study commissioned by Child Rights and You (CRY) along with Committed Action for Relief and Education (CARE) aimed to bring to the forefront the situation of children post-rescue, in order to highlight various gaps in implementation and processes.

The study findings revealed that nearly all of the 85 children interviewed, continued to work in the same sector for the same owner. More than half the children belonged to the age group of 11 to 13 years. Hotels, leather factories and zari workshops were the main sectors where most of the children worked full time, leaving them no time for education or recreation.

A concrete educational plan for children rescued from labour should be in place in order to prevent them from re-entering work situations. It is hence important to bring in more clarity in roles, responsibilities and accountability amongst all stakeholders.

Rehabilitation of rescued children should be of utmost priority. Structures and mechanisms under existing child protection laws and schemes need to be activated. Both the rescued child as well as her or his family should be linked to various social security schemes under the district administration. The District Child Labour Welfare Fund should be strengthened in this regard.

But to fulfil this objective there should be convergence of intra and interstate/district agencies. There needs to be easy access to sponsorship and other rehabilitative efforts within the Integrated Child Protection Scheme framework too. Linking skill development programmes to the education department and revamping the National Policy for Child Labour will bring in the desired changes.

The education mix

There is clear evidence that due to a poor standard of education in municipal schools, children end up with very poor learning outcomes: higher rates of dropouts, lack of interest in pursuing higher education after elementary education, to just two. Child labour should be seen in the light of the non-availability of a quality education alternative for children.

Apart from huge gaps in infrastructure of municipal schools, mainly in Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, closure, mergers and adoption of schools by private sector entities (including non-profit organisations) is also a major cause of concern.

An analysis of the United District Information System for Education data from 2012-2015 shows a steady decline in enrolment of scheduled caste and scheduled tribe children in the upper primary schools of suburban Mumbai. This is an alarming statistic that needs to be taken into account by government as well as educationists.

The Centre’s attempt to amend the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act seems to emerge from the need to do away with the contradiction between the Fundamental Right to Education Act and the Child Labour Act than to eradicate child labour. In the proposed amendment, adolescents are allowed to work in a number of occupations and processes barring those mentioned in the schedule, which has been redrawn and restricted to three occupations and processes: mines, inflammable substances and explosives, and hazardous processes defined in the Factories Act.

This does not solve the problem in any way but instead tends to encourage child labour in other forms. The right to free and compulsory education should be extended to 18 years to put an end to child labour.

Integrated approach

The government needs to strengthen multiple dimensions of prevention. Economies need to be strengthened so children are not compelled to work as an economic resource for the family nor they do not have to contribute to sustain the economy of the family.

The phenomenon of labour is closely associated with migration, as well as homeless families who are not tracked consistently; introducing a method of tracking children too could prove to be an important intervention.

Also, the government could facilitate the change in attitude of parents towards labour and education so they understand the value of education. Again, this means fortifying the framework under the integrated child protection scheme.

What you and I can do

While the government makes multiple efforts to prevent child labour, the role of society is even more important.

Individuals and families need to resolve that they will not use children as cheap labour. The privileged community too has to make equal efforts to realise this dream of eradicating child labour. Similarly each one of us should take the responsibility of child protection.

Simply put, if we see children working, we need to step out of our boundaries and make efforts, however small, to educate others and ensure children get their rights. After all, every small steps contributes to big change.

Further, the community has to serve as a vigilance mechanism. Communities in slums (which see the maximum child labour) in Mumbai, for instance, need to ensure that children do not drop out of school.

Protecting the rights of children forced into labour should not be ignored. Not only the government but educated citizens too need to do their bit when confronted with this horrific reality.

Or else, for Shyam and his friends — unlike their more privileged counterparts — Mumbai will never be the city of dreams.

Where are the women judges in India’s courtrooms?

The Supreme Court on April 11 frowned upon the practice of barring women between the ages of 10 and 50 years from the Sabrimala shrine in Kerala, asserting that religious practice and tradition could not be allowed to dent constitutional principles and values.

Questioning the validity of tradition which has been under attack from feminists and others, a bench of Justices Dipak Misra, V Gopala Gowda and Kurian Joseph said temple was a public religious place and it must observe the constitutional values of gender equality.

The judges said that the issue involved the question whether tradition could override the Constitution which prohibited gender discrimination. “Why this kind of classification for devotees to visit the temple? We are on constitutional principles. Gender discrimination in such matters is untenable. You cannot create corrosion or erosion in constitutional values,” the bench said.

Such strong statements by the learned judges prompted the author to visit the websites of the Supreme and five key high courts to ascertain the extent of gender equality in the judiciary. Here is the status as on April 12, 2016.

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Of the select courts, the percentage of women judges in Delhi High Court is the highest. Could the collegium system of the Apex Court find one only competent woman to be a judge? Did you know that from “1950 to November 2015 only six women became Supreme Court judges out of a total 229 judges appointed?”

India has had a woman prime minister and president but never a woman chief justice.

A November 2015 India Today report shares some interesting facts, “There are just 62 (9.2 per cent) women judges compared to 611 male judges (in high courts) in the entire country. In 24 state high courts, nine HCs did not have a single woman judge. Three high courts had only one woman judge.” Is this a case of gender discrimination or does it imply that only male judges possess the best legal brains and women are incompetent?

Look at the number of women doctors in our country and compare them with the number of women judges. Some might argue that women have taken to education recently in larger numbers. This is not true. Women in this country began taking to modern education even before independence and the pace picked up thereafter in virtually all fields, for example, the author’s mother and mother-in-law became doctors in the mid-1950s in Punjab and Madhya Pradesh respectively.

It can be argued that in the medical discipline, women doctors succeeded because they ran their own clinics or worked in hospitals where they did not need to navigate organisational politics. Fair point. All the more reason why India needs more women judges. Since they are grossly under-represented in terms of numbers, there is a clear case for affirmative action (not reservation). Certainly, there are enough women lawyers in all high courts who can be elevated to the bench.

According to a November 2015 Mail Today report, when a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice Khehar was in the process of inviting suggestions to improve the collegium system for the appointment of judges, a large number of female lawyers complained of “gender discrimination” in appointment of judges to higher judiciary.

When faced with such complaints, the respected Justice Khehar asked, “We would first like to know what the ratio of female advocates to male advocates is. That is very important. The ratio of female judges to male judges must be in the same ratio.”

I am inclined to respectfully disagree with this line of questioning. When under-representation of women in the judiciary is universally accepted, is it correct to compare the ratio of female to male advocates? Was the percentage reservation for schedules castes and tribes based on their population numbers or supposed backwardness?

Further, women lawyers told the court that would not be a fair criteria. “Please do not compare the number of women lawyers at bar and juxtapose it with the ratio of female and male judges. Women were allowed to practise in court only in 1922. Women face a lot of problems in practising in court. Despite that, they are coming out in large numbers to practice,” said senior lawyer Mahalakshmi Pavani representing the Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association (SCWLA).

At the same meeting SCWLA also represented, “It is submitted that keeping the Article 14 (right to equality) and Article 15(3) (the power of the State to make special provisions for women and children) of the Constitution Of “India is a signatory to Conventions on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), 1979, which envisaged removal of obstacles of women’s public participation in all spheres of public and private lives.”  The source of Article 14 lies in the American and Irish constitutions. Before we get into the question of gender equality, we have to answer some fundamental issues on the Justice system and fundamental flaws relating to its practice in India.

1. How adapted is a British system of justice to an Indian culture, ethos, identity and practice? Is the understanding of gender equality the same in Indian and Western societies? Let me elaborate. It is a long term fundamental flaw in our system, which has not been addressed or has perhaps not even entered the consciousness of our western educated judicial practitioners. While all humans are created equal, it does not mean they are the same. Same and equal are two completely different concepts.

Equality in the Hindu system does not mean we have one toilet for men and women, one set of dresses for men and women.

Why India? It is the same worldwide. In Hindu philosophy, we say the soul of men and women does not have gender in its spiritual state. But for practical purposes, two sexes are created based on physical differences by the Gods. These differences at times have to be respected and catered to just like there are separate toilets for men and women. By doing so it does not mean we are disrespecting and abusing the notion of equality.

2. Now coming to the issue before the Apex Court on whether the current practice at the Sabrimala shrine, of barring women between the ages of 10 and 50 years, should be changed. Hindu Goddesses have a wider following than Hindu male gods in many parts of the country. In the same vein there are certain religious places that are men exclusive and in equal breath there are certain temples that are women exclusive.

There exists a women-only temple in Kerala.  While 95 per cent of the temples are common to both sexes please understand that Hinduism treats both equally, and that does not mean that each and every function on earth has to be the same. At times for reasons of tradition, certain things are male specific and equally certain things have to be reserved for women. This is a fundamental difference between Indian and western thought.

If courts want to still force the issue of gender equality despite the arguments above they should do so. But keep in mind that the courts have to apply the law equally to all religions. That then would be real justice. The suggestion is either create a level playing field, or if the argument is that every community has its uniqueness, then let them cherish their uniqueness. You cannot have different rules for different people in the eyes of the law. We are repeating the mistakes made earlier by using British concepts of secularism and minorityism!

Are we willing to look within and change?

Dardionu Rahat Fund- Helps 6 lakh poor patients

Starting with a small donation of Rs 10, this man has collected over Rs 10 crores to help 6 lakh patients who cannot afford to pay for their medical treatment. Read the story of Naginbhai Shah, an 86-year-old man who still works with the dedication of a 20-year-old to bring relief and hope to the lives of thousands in Ahmedabad. “Everyone lives. But to live while doing something for other people is what matters the most. I get complete satisfaction, loads of blessings and a lot of happiness. This is my meditation,” says 86-year-old Naginbhai Shah about his work.
Naginbhai is the founder of Dardionu Rahat Fund, an organization based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He has taken up the responsibility of helping patients who cannot afford medical treatment in hospitals – those who have no money to pay for their medicines, check-ups, surgeries, etc.
The Fund was born in 1964 with a small donation of Rs. 10 and, since then, Naginbhai and his group of volunteers have collected over Rs. 10 crores! They have helped with the treatment of more than 6 lakh patients.
“My son was about three years old when he fell sick and had to be admitted to the hospital. I was a middle class man back then and was searching for a job. I didn’t have the money required for his treatment,” recalls Naginbhai about the time when he first became motivated to do something for the underprivileged.
He had his asthmatic son admitted to the hospital for treatment and went to an old friend to borrow some money. On returning with a sum of Rs. 25, Naginbhai encountered a woman who had come from a nearby village. She was there with her eight year old son and was weeping when Naginbhai met her.
“I asked her why she was crying. After some hesitation she told me that her child needed an operation and the doctor had informed her that the total expenditure would be Rs. 25. She had come with only Rs. 10 from her village. And now, she was left with just Rs. 6. I don’t know what came over me but without thinking for a second I immediately gave her the Rs. 25 that I had borrowed,” he says.
Naginbhai had to go out and borrow some money for his son once again but he was happy that the child he helped recovered after the operation. “My son recovered too. And after some time I got a job as well. After that, I started believing that my job and my son’s health were all the result of the blessings of that woman,” he adds.
It was sometime around then that an idea began to take shape within him. “What if I came to the hospital for half an hour each day and helped one or two people with whatever money I could arrange?” he thought. The year was 1964. Naginbhai discussed the idea with some friends. He was amazed when he asked if they would be willing to help with Rs. 10 – they gave him Rs. 51 instead. “I was surprised. I was asking for small amounts and people were giving a lot more,” says Naginbhai.
And that’s how it all started. Naginbhai would regularly ride his bicycle to the hospital near his home, identify the people who needed help and take care of all their medical expenses with the money he had collected from his friends.
Today, after about half a decade, this generous man is still dedicated to his service. He has a team of five volunteers and they go out every evening at 5 pm to Sheth V. S. General Hospital, Jivraj Mehta Hospital, and some other hospitals in Ahmedabad. In the general wards of these hospitals, they move from one bed to another, talking to the patients there. They chat with them to find out where they are from, their professions, how much money they make, etc.
In this manner, they are able to identify those who need their help the most.
We ‘adopt’ these people and help them with everything they need – be it an MRI, a CT Scan, some medicines, an operation, or anything else. But we make sure that the patient does not go home untreated.” The small team raises money by speaking to people across the city – friends, acquaintances, family, strangers – anyone who can help them with funds. “Sometimes, when we reach the hospital, we find the doctors, staff and some patients waiting for us. The doctors ask those who cannot afford treatment to wait till we come,” says Naginbhai.
“We know what we do is just a drop in the ocean. We cannot go out and help every poor person who cannot pay his/her medical bills. But we have decided that whoever we help, we will help completely and won’t leave that person’s treatment half way. The money involved could be Rs. 10,000 or Rs. 50,000, or more. But once we tell a person we will help, we don’t back out,” he adds.
Naginbhai lives with his son who is working in Ahmedabad. He is extremely frugal with his expenses.
His team works with him for free and there are three trustees who help him take care of the finances of the Fund.
“My family does not support me a lot. But I have stopped expecting anything from them. The people support me. Donors send in money blindly. Last year, I collected Rs. 1.55 crores and spent Rs 1.48 crores on the patients. No money is spent on administration.”
His team also provides patients with fruits, hearing aids, artificial limbs, etc. It is mostly by word of mouth that donors reach Naginbhai. One such donor is Suresh Ruparel. He’s been associated with Naginbhai for the last five years.

“Once I visited a hospital and asked if I could donate money for someone and how I could find a genuine case. The hospital staff told me about Naginbhai. Actually, my mother died in that hospital and I could not reach in time. That’s why I really wanted to help someone there. Naginbhai maintains a very good relationship with all regular donors. I keep aside a portion of my salary for him every month,” he says.
Naginbhai sure has the blessings of the woman he first helped with Rs. 25. And many more now. We wish this 86-year-old a long life and many more years of dedicated service.
By Mahendra Galani

Serving Humanity

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Arashdeep Kaur reaches out to the needy by organising free langars outside PGI.

They say charity begins at home. And living up to it is Arashdeep Kaur, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Social Work from the Centre for Social Work,of a Punjab University. Following in the footsteps of Padma Shri awardee Bhagat Puran Singh, founder of All India Pingalwara Charitable Society Arashdeep believes in ‘serving humanity’.

In-charge of the NGO Udham Emergency Blood Donation and Welfare Association, this girl has taken it upon herself to reach out to the needy by organising langars outside PGI. The NGO also helps raise awareness among University students about the importance of blood donation camps. She talks about it and more.

Motivational factor

One often wonders what inspires youngsters. Do they seek motivation from some pioneers or is it the values ingrained in them? Arashdeep says it is a mixture of both. She proudly states, “Bhagat Puran Singh, founder of Pingalwara in Amritsar — a house that tends to the destitute has always been a foundation of inspiration.”

Feathers In the cap

In-charge of PU-registered NGO Udham Emergency Blood Donation and Welfare Association, Arashdeep shares that the NGO, “Organisers drive to boost blood donation. The collections are sent to PGI, Fortis Hospital, Max Hospital, among others.”

Always upfront about her willingness to serve the society’, she raises funds for the needy’. After collection of enough funds, langar is held outside PGI. “Hordes of people satiate their appetite and go home with wide smiles, which gives me much satisfaction,” she says with a glint in her eyes.

Apart from mading contributions for the betterment of society through social work, she is also a passionate theatre artist. “I have been securing top positions in the Youth Festivals for my performances. In 2014, I waas awarded the second positioon for a Punjabi play,” she says.

Taking pride in her being an all-rounder, Arashdeep informs, “I am a district-level Kho Kho champion as well.”

Flipside of being an achiever

Arashdeep claims that social work gratifies her like nothing else. “There can never be a flipside to being a social worker. Extending a helping hand to the society is the most exhilarating experience ever,” she smiles.

Words of wisdom

“Serves the society selflessly and bring a smile to someone’s face is my mantra.” she smiles.

By  Manika AHUJA

The Tribune LIFE+STYLE on 24 Feburary2016