1. What do India’s homeless have to say? Let’s ask them.
In a thorough and thought-provoking piece titled “Living Rough” in the Sunday November 2, 2008 “Sunday Post” magazine section of The Hindu writer Harsh Mander investigates India’s homeless. He and his colleagues went into four major centres – Delhi, Chennai, Madurai and Patna – to talk to the homeless and hear what their largest concerns were.
Writes Mander, “It is remarkable that so little is known about the lived experience of homelessness in towns and cities in India: of how urban homeless men, women and children survive and cope; how they sleep, bathe and eat; why they live on the streets and the work they do; their denials and access to public services and food schemes; and how they organise and plan their personal and social lives and their relationships.”
Here is a list of columns Harsh Mander has written on the homeless in India. I hope you search it this in a continuing series for yourself. For now, here’s what grabbed my attention:
“The respondents to our survey said what disturbed their sleep most were the police (17 per cent), mosquitoes (16 per cent), the noise (12 per cent), the weather [esp. heavy rains in the summer – UR] and health problems (9 per cent each.). In Delhi, police brutality figured highest at 32 per cent for disturbing homeless people at night.”
Again, the police. Towards the end of the story, Mander relates the story of a woman who was forced to the streets after becoming a widow seventeen years previous. “…beizzati. Dishonour,” she says, is the overriding feature of her life. “…To live on the streets – beizzati. The policeman beats you with his baton – beizzati. Any ruffian sits next to you and runs his hands over your body – beizzati.”
Heady stuff this – it gives a whole new meaning to Sex in The City. Mander also tells of another woman and the danger and hope that come with a life on the street:
“Buddham Bai, an aged, single homeless woman in Delhi says philosorphically, ‘I am old, I am a woman and I am alone in the city. Where is there place in this whole world for a person like me? Nowhere! Then what good will come out of being scared?’”
As my friend Terry would say, “There but for the grace of God go I”. I have been thinking about this a lot. I’d always imagined myself the daughter of a couple of war-surviving immigrants. Here, in my father’s ancestral homeland, and I am learning that I come from a privileged status. Apparently, even the Christians were cognizant of their castes and I – I am a descended Brahmin. As Aloysius pointed out, “Remember we were Hindis before we converted to Christianity…”
2. A rape, a politician’s son, chopped fingers and a strike
Two newspapers, The Times of India and The Navhind Times, have been reporting very different versions of a sexual incident and some cases, not reporting anything at all.
An unnamed 14-year-old German alleges that the son of an education minister raped her at the beginning of October in nearby Calaguante beach (8km from our house in Porvorim). She told her mother but didn’t report the event until just recently. She’s finally agreed to submit to medical tests and he (the son) finally agreed to be taken in by police to be questioned. Apparently he’ll be going through medical tests too, and police have only just seized his Audi for fingerprints. A few things stand out for me.
First, Monday’s Navhind Times headlines the latest development this way: “German girl undergoes medical examination – doctor confirms that girl was raped, claims lawyer”. The story says,
“…After the medical examination concluded, Mr. Aires Rodrigues, the lawyer of the German researcher claimed that a doctor has confirmed that the girl was ‘raped’ as the Goa Chrildren’s Act says that even if the girl had consensual sex it amounts to rape as she is a minor.” The story continutes that, “A panel of three doctors, including a lady doctor, examined the girl for almost two hours after the girl accompanied by her mother and the lawyer…”
On the same day, The Times of India headline reads, “German girl submits to medical test – doctors non-commital on rape.” The story reads,
“…the medical examination conducted at Goa Medical College and Hospital by a three-member panel of a lady gynaecologist and two forensic doctors confirmed an ‘old hymen tear’, but refrained from forming any opinion regarding ‘recent sexual intercourse’ after an almost two-hour regular examination. They have, however, preseved vaginal swabs andother maerials for serological examination.”
Hmm, judge for yourself. But wait, there’s more:
According to our house’s caretaker John – who also works as a cook in the town of Panjim (15km south of Calangute beach) – there was an masked attack on lawyer Aire Rodrigues mid-October. Four or five masked men stormed into a nearby restaurant where Rodrigues was dining with a friend, attacked him and he fled into a washroom. They attempted to chop off his hand, but got ahold of a few fingers instead, which they cut off.
In protest against the attack on the lawyer and the corruption it represents, the entire state of Goa shut down and went on strike October 28. Add this recent case to the much-publicized rape and murder of Brit Scarlett Keeling in Ajuna Beach in February of this year (and whose organs* are only now being returned to her mother), and you can tell Goa is very angry. It loves and looks after its tourists, but this kind of mistreatment shames the community.
* “…pieces of both lungs, pieces of liver and half of uterus…”
3. Not everyone is crazy for Adiga’s The White Tiger
Critic Amitava Kumar originates from the same Indian state that author Aravind Adiga bases his Booker Prize-winning novel, The White Tiger. Kumar lives and teaches in the U.S. now, and in the Sunday November 2, 2008 “Literary Review” section of The Hindu (sorry, no direct link to the review is online), she relates how – though initially thrilled to have the opportunity to read and review a book that is purported to be a portrait of the “real” India – she found it “curiously inauthentic.”
In an interesting turn on the book review, she muses on the nature of authenticity and the lengths to which writers struggle with this; then how critics could make the same charges of her and her own book Home Products. Writes Kumar in her review,
“…Authenticity does matter, but only as it serves the novel’s more traditional literary demands: that the fault lines be drawn where the internal life and the larger world meet.”
She describes the award-winning novel as a “’India for Dummies’ that proves quite adept at finding the vilest impulse in nearly evry human being it represents.”
I feel compelled to get the book now, and luckily that’s not so difficult: in Mumbai young boys hold up plastic-wrapped copies of The White Tiger at every busy intersection where traffic is gridlocked.
4. “Marriages are made in heaven (but the applications are filed here, at Sunday Times Matrimonials!)”
On a lighter note, I’ve been following the Matrimonials page in the newspapers the way I used to search out the “Men Seeking Women” personals ads in my favourite Vancouver weekly. This week’s section was a solid four pages’ worth complete with the form you fill out to run an ad. Those who’ve worked with newspapers will get a kick out of their ad rates discounts…
Social Cause discounts: 25% off the cost of an ad if you mention that Caste or Religion are not important; or if you don’t require a Dowry.
Privilege Pricing discounts: 50 to 90% off if you’re a Senior Citizen; and 30 to 90% off if you’re a Widow/Widower and/or Differently Abled.
A cousin has already teased me that she now knows the true purpose of my stay in India. Unfortunately, I fear I’m not “homely” (home-oriented), tall (many ads request tall women, for some reason) or “well-placed” enough to create a “suitable alliance.”