Let’s Begin to Break the Silence on India’s Independence Day – Aarambh!

One child gets raped in every 76 minutes in India. One of the highest charge-sheet rates has been registered for cases of buying of minor girls for prostitution followed by rape. (Source: National Crime Records Bureau Data, 2012).

While we have a statistic for the reported cases of rape against children, it is widely accepted that there are many cases that go unreported every year. If we look past rape, the number of children being sexually assaulted, abused and harassed is potentially a huge number. Many children are groomed for sexual exploitation, sold and trafficked. However it is not easy to enumerate the number of children being threatened, tricked and forced into sexual activities every day in India.  

In 2012, the much-awaited Prevention of Children against Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) came into force. The law is a result of continuous lobbying and advocacy for more than decade from the child rights groups in India. While we now have a comprehensive law to protect children who are victims of sexual offences, the implementation of the law is an uphill task for individuals and organizations, especially in the absence of proper mechanisms for child protection.

The culture of silence around the issue, inability to deal with cases of sexual abuse, lack of awareness and understanding on legal and preventive aspects of child sexual exploitation, lack of adequate child protection mechanisms especially for unprivileged communities in the country are some of the many challenges face by the organizations and individuals working on the issue.

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Aarambh is an initiative that attempts to tackle most of the issues mentioned above. This joint endeavor between the Mumbai based NGO Prerana and the ADM Capital Foundation is aimed at empowering citizens and Government to recognize, resist and report cases of Child Sexual Exploitation. Its focus is to address child sexual exploitation from multiple perspectives including community prevention through a strong NGO network, protection, legal intervention for victims, and advocacy. The aim is to demonstrate a few best practices in child protection and successfully implement the POCSO Act. 

Join the movement by connecting with Aarambh on Facebook: 

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Aarambh-Breaking-the-Silence-against-Child-Sexual-Exploitation/554955617895220?ref=hl

To know more visit: http://preranaantitrafficking.org/aarambh/

A CELEBRITY HANGS HERSELF FOR AN ABUSIVE BOYFRIEND – WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT INDIAN WOMEN?

The Jia Khan’s case (a celebrity who hanged herself earlier this month due to a failed love affair) does not make my heart wrench for her clearly because its a classic example of how women “educated” “effluent” and “elite” who are supposed to be independent and intelligent, let LOSERS take charge of their life and kill themselves in the end.

Jia Khan was a role model to many girls in her own way because she had achieved so much in a young age. Her boyfriend was a struggler and a loser. He was abusive and clearly not faithful, in spite of all this she was with him. I appreciate that she was in love and she was faithful – BUT YOU CANNOT BE STUPID IN LIFE. She had a mother, two sisters and her entire career ahead of her. She chose to give away all that for a abuser and a rapist?

You CANNOT blame the world for your problems. You have to take charge of your situation and change it. I am a firm believer of that.

I work with thousands of women who are victims of violence and abuse – they ARE STILL ALIVE, fighting their battle every single day. Jia khan had all the resources to live happily IF she had a better will power. I have no sympathy for people who are cowards in life.

What is real upliftment of women? When she takes charge of her life and shows the door to people out who are causing her pain and violating her rights – JIA KHAN became a victim. My issue is not that she got pregnant or she aborted. I am sure all that was by her own choice – she gave her consent because that is what it looks like, lets assume that even if she was raped she had a choice to go in public and ensure this guy was behind bars.She was a celebrity, she had the media behind her and she could have certainly ruined his life if she wanted. This could have been an example for millions of young girls in India.

She could have led by example but she did not. She succumbed to the SELF CREATED PRESSURES and SELF AFFLICTED PAIN – She had a CHOICE unlike many other women in this country and yet gave it all away.

Jia’s Family who have now come all out against this guy should have done this the day the mother found out that Jia was hit by this boyfriend.  What were they doing till now? Is this not the case with majority of families in India – we don’t know what our daughters are going through, who they are with and what it could potentially do to them.

How I wish WOMEN in India could have a better sense of what is right and what is wrong for themselves. The guy DID NOT deserve Jia – period!! She was stuck to him because SHE loved him, and he USED HER, ABUSED HER AND CERTAINLY KILLED HER. She knew it all along.

This country is full of ABUSIVE BOYFRIENDS who think they can get what they want , but are we going to let our girls die because we teach them that TRUE LOVE HAPPENS ONLY ONCE and you have to marry the man with whom you have slept? Ridiculuos!!!

INDIA’S FUTURE – RAPED AGAIN!

On 19th of April I was in the middle of conducting a workshop on Prevention of Sexual Abuse with 50 children in Mumbai as a part of ADMCFs ‘Break the Silence Campaign’ in India. While I spoke to the kids I felt as if I were playing a big role in shaping the future of my country. I told them how to protect themselves from abuse, how to say ‘NO’ when someone tried to touch them, how to escape, that there is a new law to protect them from abuse, that the people of India are awake after what happened in Delhi in December last year.

Yet, on the same day in a small flat in Delhi a 5-year-old girl was heard crying in pain by her neighbors. Starved for close to 40 hours and missing for two days, she was finally found. Soon the family discovered that a 22-year-old man who lived in the same building had raped the girl and left her to die.  Intoxicated, this mentally sick man raped the little girl in the worst possible way. He tried to kill her by strangling her and slitting her wrist. But the little girl survived against all odds. She perhaps survived to tell her tale to the world and pose a few questions to her countrymen. India’s future has been raped again and there are so many questions that need to be answered.

When the 23-year-old medical student was raped in Delhi in December 2012, the country felt that change had begun. Angry citizens condemned the Delhi administration, police and ruling Government. Promises were made of better policing, enhanced security for women, 24-hour helplines and stricter punishment for rapists. But the sad truth is that NOTHING has changed in the National capital and once again the administration has been caught making empty promises.

The horrific case of the 5-year-old girl has brought out in the open the incompetence and insensitivity of the Delhi police. A complaint was lodged on the evening of 16th of April when the girl went missing. Not a single policeman went to her residence to conduct a search; On April 19th, when the neighbors found the girl, the parents rushed to the police station to lodge an FIR (First Information Report). However, the policeman offered a bribe of Rs. 2000/- and asked them to shut up – they were told not to speak to the media. When two girl volunteers from a protest group tried to question the police, one of them was slapped; this was caught on camera and was flashed across news channels. It was only after public outrage that the police registered a complaint and suspended the cop who slapped the volunteer. But there are many more questions that need to be answered.

I wonder if police would have acted similarly if a parent from a posh colony in North Delhi had filed a missing persons complaint? I wonder if they would have offered the parents a bribe of Rs. 2000?  The administration in our country is biased toward people who are educated, who have the money and muscle power. Had this been a politician or industrialist’s daughter missing, the entire police force in Delhi would have worked round-the-clock to find the child. Perhaps the chief minister herself would be searching for the child. The police could not care about the daughter of two daily wage earners, who cannot speak English and don’t have the clout to move the administration. Do we really  value our children based on the class they belong? Have we reached this point?

The belief was that the Delhi gang rape would stand as a precedent to stop crime against women and girls in India. When it happened, people demanded death penalty for rapists.  a But I wonder whether the brutality suffered by the young medical student in December has really set a precedent? The 22-year-old man who raped the little girl had seen the protests in Delhi and also perhaps knew that the country is now looking at stringent punishment for rapists. In spite of this he had the courage to rape the little girl. Indeed, ironically, post the Delhi gang rape the number of gang rapes and sexual assault on children has continued to  rise in Delhi and elsewhere. Do we need to do something more than just announcing a death penalty for rapists?

This incident perhaps could also have been avoided only if we had a clear perspective on how we treat our rapists. The 22-year-old man is not a first time offender. He was allegedly involved in the rape of his sister-in-law in their village in Bihar; he also had raped his wife before marriage. The village council forcefully married him to his wife once they found out about the rape. This is common practice in many rape cases in India: An offender is married to the victim to save the family from shame in the society, with no regard to the women’s feelings. How I wish the village council had instead lodged a complaint against the rapist and put him behind bars – perhaps the 5-year-old girl could have been saved from trauma.

The lack of a vigilant community and proper mechanism for child protection is also out in the open. When the girl went missing, none of the community members or building residents took active interest in finding her. The girl was last seen playing outside the building and perhaps the lack of vigil helped the rapist to entice her to the basement with a chocolate. When the parents lodged a missing persons complaint, the police did not take any action; there was no search. This shows that we are not serious about child protection in this country.

We the people of India must something significant to curb this menace. Why can’t we make sex education and prevention of abuse compulsory in schools? Why can’t we educate communities about vigil and introduce child protection mechanisms at the community level? Why can’t we sensitize and train our policemen appropriately? Why can’t NGOs working in communities with children train parents about child protection? Can we stop marrying rapists to victims? The 5-yearold miraculously survived. But let’s not wait for a miracle to stop rapes in India.

Passionate protests, countless candles, endless banter & little action – 3 months after the Delhi gang rape, has INDIA changed?

Three months ago the horrific gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi shook the consciousness of INDIA. A lot has happened since 29 December 2012, the day she passed away.

There have been violent protests, candlelight processions, silent prayers and endless conversations have centered on the need for INDIA to change. Some called it the uprising of the indifferent middle class, for others it was a student movement and still others felt it was an issue for the women’s movement in India.

Whatever the perspective, three months later I think it is time for us to ask ourselves has something changed? Do we have a better understanding of women’s issues in India? Has the government started to look at “systemic change” as promised? Do I as a woman feel more secure in Delhi and elsewhere?

I am afraid to be branded as a cynic, but my heart says and events prove that nothing much has yet changed. While I do not deny that there have been a few measures to show some intent towards reducing crime against women in India, I can sense an aversion from the Government towards long-term commitment and continuous thought on the issue.

The 80-year-old Justice J.S. Verma, the former Chief Justice of India, and two of his colleagues were given the task of looking at the entire body of laws relating to gender justice and crimes against women in India. The Government of India appointed this committee on the 16th of December. With the help of 18 juniors and more than 70,000 suggestions from activists, civil society, media, lawyers and experts across India, the committee put forth the benchmark 569-page report on “Amendments in the Criminal Law” in just 29 days.

The report was well received by all sections of society and the tremendous effort of Justice Verma’s team was applauded. The report covered almost everything from voyeurism, offensive IPC sections to acid attacks and sexual assaults on women.

What impressed me were the unbiased, apolitical, balanced and rational recommendations that showed the metal of a few legal geniuses. working under extreme pressure in the most volatile situation. They came up with something so comprehensive within no time. How I wish we all could learn from the way the committee functioned.

The Government thanked and applauded the committee for its hard work and accepted many of its recommendations. However, certain key suggestions were promptly rejected. The Government has ignored criminalizing marital rape, reviewing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and trying military personnel accused of sexual offences under criminal law, as well a barring politicians facing sexual assault cases from contesting elections. But the major recommendation that was rejected came in the form of “death penalty” for rapist’s verses “life imprisonment”.

“It was a unanimous suggestion of women leaders who have been fighting for the cause for decade,” Justice Verma said in an interview.  “The current trend is against the death penalty,” said Justice Verma in an interview. However the Government rejected it by arguing otherwise.

Based on the report, the government introduced an ordinance amending Indian Penal Code and other laws relating to rape and other sexual offences. And a law is likely to be passed in budget session of parliament next month related to the ordinance.

But women activists are not very happy with the ordinance, which makes the perpetrator of rape ‘gender-neutral’. This will mean that if a woman files a rape complaint against a man, he will be able to file a counter-complaint of rape against her.

The ordinance, in its present form, justifies and legalizes marital rape. Even if a wife separates legally from her husband, the husband will get a lenient (two-year) punishment if he rapes her. In India sexual assault by one’s spouse accounts for approximately 25% of rapes committed, but the Government seems to be in no mood to bring marital rape under the new law.

There has also been a big debate on reducing the age of a juvenile from 18  to 16 years of age. This is because one of the prime accused in the Delhi Rape case is 17 years old. There are contradicting opinions about reducing the age of a juvenile. Child rights activists feel there should not be generalizations based on one case, police and the girl’s family, however, want the juvenile hanged (which is not possible under the current law).

I am certain that the Government will hang all the 5 accused (except the Juvenile) mainly for two reasons: A big agenda points to the campaign for the 2014 elections and they will want to take the credit for delivering justice to the victim. It makes me wonder: can the death penalty scare rapists or potential rapists? Has this changed anything?

Over the past three months, we have been reading news of incest, gang rape, murder, from all over India. Shockingly 90% of the cases being reported are of Child Sexual Assault. The most recent one was the horrific rape and murder of three sisters (minors) who were begging for food in Bhandara, Maharashtra.

The Government is silent on Sex Education in schools, stronger programs for child protection, police reforms, and better political systems to have credible individuals as people’s representatives. After three months of passionate protests, countless candles and endless banter as a nation has INDIA forgotten its women and children?

RAPED , KILLED, CREMATED – CAN INDIA’S CONSCIOUSNESS CHANGE?

We Indian women have been groped, fondled, touched, pushed, teased, pinched and raped. Some of us raped literally and some raped through eyes, comments and gestures. Each one of us has faced this since puberty, some were unlucky to face it even before, some in their homes, some in schools and most of us on the streets.

Since my teenage years, my parents, like most parents in India, told me, “The outside world is bad, so be careful.” We were told to hold our bags to cover our breasts, we were not allowed to wear sleeveless shirts, or short skirts that might attract the attention of men, no fitted tops and no make up. The world around us was BAD, we were told.

And their fear was justified: In India a woman is raped every 4 seconds. Whenever we read about a rape case the implication was that the woman had been careless: She wore a tight skirt, she went out too late, she was with a man and therefore must be a prostitute. Never was the rapist blamed. This is part of our consciousness and learning since childhood and part of the reason the terrible problem persists.

Instead, we have taught our girls to protect themselves with martial arts, told them to carry chili powder to throw in the eyes of an attacker. We have covered them in multiple layers of clothes and taught them to use an umbrella for protection. Never have we thought to look at this issue from another perspective, we, each one of us, have blindly accepted that the world around us is BAD.

But our collective failure to speak out, to act against men who rape, has led once again to tragedy, this time in Delhi. There, in mid-December, a 23-year-old medical student was brutally raped on a chartered bus over many hours and then discarded  on the streets of the national capital. Six psychotic men raped her, beat her and threw her away thinking they could do so with impunity. Nothing protected her – her multiple layers of clothes, the lessons from her parents, the six police check points which she passed as she was being raped, or her male friend – everything failed this woman.

As terrible as this was, hundreds of women are raped in India every day, some in marriages, some on the streets, but this tragedy has finally sparked the consciousness of our nation of 1 billion. Finally, we speak in one voice – WE NEED TO RESPECT WOMEN IN INDIA. Delhi students and angry women have braved tear gas, water cannons and lathi to protest against the men who thought they could use the young woman for their pleasure, to demand their punishment.

But I wonder, would the sense of national tragedy, the reaction, be the same if the girl, were wearing a short dress when she was picked up by the bus joyriders, if her male companion were a boyfriend, or if they were returning from a nightclub?

I believe this case has grabbed national attention because the girl was SPOTLESS according to the huge moral brigade of India. She was a medical student, wearing Indian dress, it was 9:30 pm (not so late), she went to a movie with a friend and she was returning home. She ticked all the boxes of the ideal Indian woman.

But would the brutality have been any less if this girl were a model or a dancer, wearing a short skirt? We need to use this moment also to analyze our own prejudices when it comes to rape. Don’t we all have biases against women who are MODERN in India? We ignore women who are raped in villages. We turn a blind eye to the thousands of Dalit women who raped by upper caste men.

Although the young woman’s horror represents a terrible loss for her family and the nation, let us hope that her life is not wasted, that our national mourning has finally brought gender inequality and gender-based violence to the forefront. For the first time, there is conversation about teaching boys to respect women, to control their urges.  People are advocating for stringent and swift punishment for rapists. The blame is finally shifting from the victims to the offenders.

This incident has also given hope to the thousands of women who are still struggling for justice after being raped. The not-so-popular Women’s Movement in India has stepped forward.

Hopefully, the national introspection will help diminish the stigma around rape and reporting rape. Bollywood, the media and our repressive society have exaggerated the social stigma attached to reporting an attack and this also needs to change.

Time has come for us as a country to think deeply about the way we see girls and the way we treat them. We worship women as goddesses but label them as whores if they dress differently. We kill girls in the womb, preferring boys, and rape them once they are born.

We need collectively to work to change both the legal and cultural frameworks of this country simultaneously and justice needs to be delivered to victims in a timely manner.

Lets not forget that men are also victims of our socialization. Lets educate our younger generation about sex and sexuality; let’s not teach them what our parents taught us.

We must sensitize our police, politicians, judiciary and media. In our Bollywood films, lets stop portraying women as objects and glorifying men who tease women.

The 23-year-old young girl died of multiple organ failure, from the failure of her country and all of us to protect her. Each one of us is responsible for not speaking out.

The only way we can pay tribute to her terrible sacrifice is to ensure that no other women experience the same, to speak out against violence, to act against violence.

The time has come for us to make this country a safe place for women.

Mandatory Reporting of Child Sexual Abuse in India: Are we ready for it?

 

“I asked my students in Grade IV to write an essay on ‘What is that one thing which scares you the most?’. A student wrote about her father’s best friend. She wrote that he does something to her in the absence of her parents and she does not like it, she is scared of him. She vaguely mentioned that she was being sexually abused.”

This story was narrated to me by a schoolteacher who met me during one of my workshops on the prevention of child sexual abuse held as part of the Break the Silence Campaign.

What would we do, each one of us, if we discovered that a child in the neighborhood, in our class or in our own family was being sexually abused by someone trusted?

Most of us might try and solve the matter internally within the family, the school or the neighborhood.  Some of us might turn a blind eye  since sexual abuse is a subject that makes many of us uncomfortable. Very few of us would think about reporting the case to the nearest police station. Going to a police station is not the accepted norm in India and carries a burden of shame.

But the new law on The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences says we cannot solve child sex abuse cases by ourselves and mandates that these must be reported to the police. This might make life a bit uncomfortable for some of us.

Section 20 & 21 of the new law states that any person who fails to report a sexual offence against a child shall be punished with imprisonment of up to six months and/or be subject to a fine.  The punishment is higher if the person is in charge of a company or an institution, for people who serve in trusted positions.

Worldwide, mandatory reporting of child abuse (which includes child sexual abuse) has been instrumental in drawing attention to the problem of child maltreatment and has been heralded as a triumph in protecting children. India is following the steps of most developing countries, where Mandatory reporting is the norm and considered to be one of the most important strategies to prevent child sexual abuse.

While there is no concrete data on the number of children sexually abused in India, a report in 2007 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development on Child Abuse in India gave a rough estimate.  In all, 12,500 children were surveyed across 13 states in the country and 53.22% reported one or more forms of sexual abuse. Interestingly, the percentage of boys reporting abuse was higher than that of girls. Children on the streets, at work and in institutional care reported the highest incidences of sexual assault. The survey also showed that 50% of abusers were known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility. Most children had not reported the matter to anyone.

But are we ready for mandatory reporting?

Currently there are seven NGOs focused on the issue of Child Sexual Abuse prevention and on the rehabilitation of victims. Two to three NGOs working on the issue of human trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation also work with victims of Child Sexual Abuse. Even among the NGOs working directly on the issue, the focus is different for each one. While some work only with middle class adult woman survivors, some focus on children from Grade I to IV studying in private schools. Few work with the police and child welfare committees to raise awareness on the issue.

Most of the NGOs working in the sphere of prevention of sexual abuse feel that mandatory reporting will have a direct impact on their work, wherein parents and teachers will not let children attend sessions on prevention of child sexual abuse.  where the topic might be discussed. Sex and sexuality are taboo in India; we are discouraged from talking about it in our homes and schools. Adults feel that children should not be exposed to these things at a young age, since it would corrupt their minds. It is difficult to talk about sexual abuse in such a challenging cultural context.

NGOs say it takes them months to persuade parents and school administrations to let them conduct sessions with children. If this is the mindset of English speaking elite in private schools, one cannot even imagine the state of affairs in a vernacular Government school, which caters to underprivileged children.

I have observed that when children disclose sexual abuse within schools or families’ adults try to handle the revelation in their own way. Rarely is discussion or dialogue encouraged, instead, desperate attempts are made to protect the image of our schools and families.

NGOs that work with a single agenda of prevention of child sex abuse worry that mandatory reporting might make life difficult and perhaps result in closure of their programs due to a negative response from schools, families and communities. No one wants the world to know that his or her child has faced sexual abuse in the family or in school.

The cultural framework in India does not allow victims of sexual abuse to live a life of dignity – sometimes we do not allow victims to live at all. They are ostracized from their communities; families are worried about the future of the child. The stigma for girls is even worse, especially since no one would marry her if it were known that she was abused. In such a difficult cultural context mandatory reporting might be detrimental to the attempts made by NGOs to break the silence around the issue.

Still, many organizations feel that despite the risk, the new law could work well if used in the right way. This would include highlighting problems among castes in India.

At present, the majority of the cases of sexual abuse that are being reported to the police come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Mandatory reporting insists that no one is spared under the new law. Children from elite backgrounds if abused, are never allowed to report a case to the police. The family name and the image in the society would be tarnished. This helps the offenders go unpunished.

Offenders who belong to the lower socioeconomic groups are soft targets in the sense that they can be easily arrested and prosecuted.

But high profile offenders ensure that the case is never reported and even if it is reported they never get punished. This perpetuates two myths: That sex offenders are only the illiterate and the poor, that only children who are poor become victims of sexual abuse.

Mandatory reporting will help bring to light high profile cases of sexual abuse. This will help people realize that anyone could be a sex offender and sexual abuse could happen to any child irrespective of socioeconomic status.

Now, however, police must register a case no matter who the offender is and no matter what their perception is of the victim based on his or her socioeconomic level.

The fact remains that mandatory laws are good as an aid in gathering data but it is not known how effective they will be in preventing cases of sexual abuse. Mandatory reporting sends out a strong signal to perpetrators that child sexual abuse will not be tolerated.

However, mandatory reporting does not guarantee a better environment for child protection. The already overburdened police forces are not adequately trained or equipped to deal effectively with the issue. We are a country with a strong desire to protect our children but that desire is limited to paper.

Indeed, there is no way to translate this intent into action – much like much of India’s sweeping legislation with a recent example being the Fundamental Right to Free & Compulsory Education.

While we can all agree that mandatory reporting might help bring to light cases of sexual abuse, perhaps mandatory reporting to the police is not the right approach – at least one for which India is prepared in reality. The existing workload of the police, lack of adequate training, lack of enough personnel to follow the cases, lack of special or fast track courts and lack of a social mindset to blame the offender and not the victim are major roadblocks.

The new law is ambitious but unrealistic at present. We must ensure police reforms, establishing a separate unit within each police station with officers  trained to handle cases of abuse. There is also a need to educate and sensitize the judiciary, health workers and even social workers on the issue. Local NGOs should take upon themselves to reach out to the Child Welfare Committees (wherever they exist) and educate them about the law.

There needs to be discussion and debate on the pros and cons of Mandatory reporting Without taking adequate measures to ensure proper handling of cases, mandatory reporting is futile.

LUCKNOW – The land of Elephants

I was recently in Lucknow – Lucknow is the State Capital of one of India’s backward States Uttar Pradesh. I was visiting the Drop in Centers supported by ADM Capital Foundation which cater to the child labourers living in the most vulnerable communities in Lucknow city. The visit started early morning of the 7th of November: Obama had just won the elections in the United States of America. It was a beginning of a great day for USA and for US. People were exhilarated because USA had a President who was pro people and their development. Indians were excited because long ago Obama mentioned that he admires Gandhi and our admiration towards him grew after that comment.

One of the communities where our center was located lives literally on a dumping ground, it is surrounded by flies and dirt all over. There were a few commonalities across these communities: Lack of water, electricity, toilets, a clean and safe environment. People did not have the most important and the most basic things needed to survive.

Another commonality across these communities was the smiles and enthusiasm of children who came to the center. I love working with children for this reason. No matter how they live and where they live, they DREAM BIG. The pride in the eyes of the teachers proved that there are still very many young Indians who want to strive hard to work with children in these difficult circumstances.  It was educational and insightful.

Having worked across marginalized communities in India, I was aware of the challenges faced by the teams on the ground. What was interesting to note was that the teams came up with a few creative solutions during our discussions. The teachers in the center were not Oxford graduates – they also belong to the nearby communities, some of them get paid less than 100US Dollars in a month. However the spirit and enthusiasm among them and the fire inside them to bring about a change in that community was inspirational. There was no proper space in the community to run the centers. Children needed better seating arrangements, better rooms, toilets, warm clothes in winter.

I was thinking about the children and their DREAMS on my way back to lunch. Suddenly my mind reflected on another DREAM that made headlines in India a few months ago. The dream project of the Ex Chief Minister Mayawati who built a park and Dalit memorial to immortalize the sacrifices made by National leaders for uplifting the Dalit community. There are too many angles to this story  and a lot has been said about the parks. Close to Rs.7,000 crores (1.43 Billion US Dollars) of public money have been spent to make marble statues of elephants, national leaders and Mayawati herself. 4 parks have been built in the heart of Lucknow city.

That evening we decided to visit the park – just to witness the extent of this huge project. I was gutted when I entered the park. A HUGE gate with guards (to protect the Elephant statues) all we could see was ELEPHANTS, ELEPHANTS and more ELEPHANTS. There were no trees inside the park – very few saplings and some grass in some parts of the park. I can’t even describe how big the park is – all I remember was walking endlessly to reach one corner of the park.

We laughed when we saw two BIG statues of Mayawati (with her purse in her hand) and her mentor Kashiram (with a branded watch) with folded hands welcoming the visitors. These statues were  tallest among all the other statues in the park – taller than the statue of doctor B.R. Ambedkar who wrote the constitution of India. Mayawati’s name was written in a bigger font size than anyone else in that park.

I had witnessed two sides of India in less than 10 hours.

On one hand we saw the Dalit community and children struggling for space, on the other hand we witnessed a Dalit leader’s megalomania which led to wastage of acres of land in the heart of Lucknow city.

There is no electricity in the communities – the park is illuminated with thousands of lights. Every elephant has a special light exclusively for himself or herself.

The communities have no protection from the mafia and goons. Individual guards protect the lifeless statues at the parks. Sometimes they hold an umbrella to ensure the statues don’t feel hot or don’t get wet during rains.

There are not enough public schools in Lucknow – I bet the number of elephants are more than the number of schools. The cost of an elephant is 10 times compared to the running costs of a public school.

I am not sure how to end this post. I don’t know what to say because I wonder if anyone is bothered about the dreams of those children at our centers. They are invisible but there are huge numbers of these invisible Indians who have been denied their basic human rights.

Mayawati came to power because she played her DALIT & WOMAN card. However what she did after she became the chief minister is perhaps worst than the atrocities that the Dalits have faced in India. She missed out on a big opportunity to change lives of the millions of Dalits in UP. She misused public money to ensure SHE is immortalized in those lifeless statues. People died of hunger and malnutrition in the State, but thousands were spent on her party celebrations.

This is the reality of Lucknow and of India – it is indeed a place where Elephant statues have more respect than human beings.