A step by step process of how trees are burnt for charcoal production
By Madhulika Chaturvedi
Reports in 1995 came out about the overpowering of the chili farmers in Ramnad district and around by P.Sainath. They had been woven into an intricate web of debt and repayment of loans by the moneylenders and ‘tharagar’(commission agents). Little did they know that this cycle of indebtedness would continue to dog the farmers and their generations later?
The moist eyes and unduly wrinkles on their faces mark for the adversity of unpaid debt. Their shaking voice at the thought of meeting the ‘tharagar’ is palpable. It seems as they have never seen the harvest season and the unsettled look with which they pack their stock of chilies, remarks for the hopelessness attached to it.
A ‘unique kind of slavery’ is what the chili crop cultivators have to live with. After 19 years, a visit to the Theriruveli village of Ramnad district flashes people reciting the same stories, retelling the same tale from the pages of “Everybody loves a good drought’ of how their lives have been exploited, and how they see no way of coming out of it.
“10 people open the sack of chilies, check it with their hands, stamp on them and then decide the price. They can do whatever they want and we cannot ask”, says Kaalimuthu, a farmer working on her husband’s land about what happens when they go to sell their sacks of chilies off in the market. The commission agents, buys the crop usually at 6% interest. He loans the farmer some money before he/she sows the chili seeds. Also, some of the commission agents work as traders in the town market. While weighing the sack to be bought, they often resort to rigging of the weighing scale while putting his foot on it which makes it two-three kilograms heavier. Taking away of a kilogram of chilies as ‘sami vathal’, that is, in ‘God’s name’ takes place as well. Also, the ‘towel’ or ‘thundu’ method as talked about previously in ‘Everybody loves a good drought’ where the bidder and the auctioneer, one at a time touch their fingers at specific points under the towel and decide at which price the batch of chilies are to be sold. The highest bidder for the chilies wins. The farmer opens its mouth only to negotiate for the price, seldom he gets his quote, often he is refused.
Ignorant of the exploitation, the farmer gazes at the trader with hopeful eyes and a silent mumble as a prayer to get a fair price on its produce of chilies.
The former President of the Chili Merchant’s Association, R Sridhar sits in his office, perched on a chair and defends the whole process. “We are an association of 70 members. There is no favoritism or rigging involved in appointing the members or President of the association”. All this while, the farmer has no say. The appointed members all belong to the fixed group of people. An outsider does not have any say, the outsider being the farmer himself.
The traders negotiate the price with the commission agents, which is usually Rs. 400-500 per quintal. However, at the time of payment, the price paid to them narrows to a meager amount as the agents deduct transport charge and a commission of 6 per-cent.
“I have incurred a debt of 8 lakhs. My house has not been whitewashed for years. I don’t have any jewelry left. I have pawned all of it”, a teary eyed Mallika says while adjusting the vegetable basket on her head.
The remittance of the debt has resulted in migration to countries like Malaysia. More than 150 people from the villages are working there. The families of the farmers send 25-30 thousand a month, all this for the settlement of the loans.
One of the main cash crops of the Ramnad district, the ‘mundu’ chilly does not have the government involved in its produce as it lacks cold storage facilities and a marketing yard where chilies should be auctioned in the open. This reason, on the other hand proves to be an advantage for the agents and traders as they are the sole managers of handling and ‘mishandling’ the produce.
The illiteracy of the farmer is abused by the whole sellers. However, even the educated ones are unable to break the shackles. They know that the chilies are exported and it is fairly priced in the global market. Yet, they are unable to say a word against the ongoing process.
There are also fixed agents to whom the farmers can sell. Ones who go to other agents from their usual ones to sell to, but here, all the agents have strong communication within themselves. As Sridhar puts it,“if my party goes on to someone else, they deduct my interest from their produce and then pay them off”.
Innumerable appeals, protest and grievances have however resulted in a partial government intervention. The district collector, N Nanthakumar said that,“a cold storage facility of 2500 tonnes and a marketing yard is due in the next eighteen months”.
Meanwhile, it is evening and the market is abuzz with activity. People are rounding up the day’s work. There are traders exchanging currency notes, whole sellers packing bags, commission agents sharing a good laugh and in the corner is a farmer squatting on the ground calculating the debt left unpaid.
Feet thumping on beats rigorously, a thunder of tinkling ‘ghungroos’ and a grace that could put the divine figures to shame, Guru Kalaimani Vazhvuhoor Samraja Pillai, a Nattuvanars( male Bharatnatyam dancer) exhibited some dance movements on request. He had inherited from his father the art of dancing and he trained him to be a fine Nattuvanar. He trains a total of sixty students on a daily basis. Oscillating figures display gracious movements around the room. The walls had glass around the room which accentuated the beauty of the dancing individuals.
However, the absence of any male species apart from Guruji developed a plateau of curiosity inside me. As I watched them performing further, the plateau of questions building up, persisted.
Unable to hold the repressing urge inside, I shot the question at Guruji if the dance school was only restricted to girls since I had not seen the mention of it being reserved for females.
Guruji replied with a sigh, “there are no boys who come to train themselves as Nattuvarnars.”
The last boy who trained himself there was three years before.
“It is a female dominated occupation now. Although Lord Nataraj being a male, male dancers are now rare in this form of classical dance”
Kathakali and Kathak still have male performers, but even their number has declined in the recent times.
History has seen some elegant dancers whirling to the ‘taal’ of the tablas, but the eagerness to pick up this dance form has subsided. On the other hand, the dancers interested in western dance forms like, salsa, jazz, hip hop, contemporary, and even ballroom dance has doubled in India, keeping the around the world data aside.
Bharatanatyam is the classical dance that requires a more agile body and females are perceived to be able to bend their body more flexibility than males. Also, a farcical notion is attached to classical dancing of males specially that the ones who are ‘dancing and unmarried are perceived to be gay’, according to a senior Bharatnatyam dancer, Santanu Chakrabarty. Such notions take away the vintage charm of the dance form and borderlines sexism of various sorts.
The sort of gender rules advertised in the society result in females twirling around and dominate the clan of male dancers on performing solo. They prey on the limelight of dancing solo even if their male counterparts are equally gifted and gracious.
Also, dance is such an art form that when learnt from a younger age proves to be more instrumental. However, families now do not enroll the boy child in classical dancing and hardly let the young mind enrapture the delicate art and express it through their body.
It appears so, as if a game of see-saw is being played with classical dancing and western dance. Where the male population in the country has drastically declined in the area of classical dancing, western dancing schools offering fancy packages with it has doubled.
The metros- Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata especially have more western dancing schools where boys learn teach and perform rather than picking up lessons on traditional dance forms like Bharatnatyam, Kathakali, Kathak etc.
The see-saw it seems will continue to be a one sided elevation if the social stereotype that classical dancing is an art confined and to be exuded by the female body more finely persists.
(This article is set in the 1990)
“Ab toh hai tumse, har khushi apni…
tumpe marna hai, zindagi apni…
Ab toh hai tumse, har khushi apni…” ( You are the reason for my happiness and my life is dedicated to you), a harmonious tune echoed in the room while she turned off the tap to stop water. Tiny droplets of sweat have glued the fringes falling on her otherwise high forehead. Wiping off the sweat from her forehead, she bends down to pick up a plastic bucket full of freshly washed clothes. Her hair, braided extends till her waist. Walking out of the bathroom, she could sense the whistle of the pressure cooker about to go off announcing her ‘dal’ to be ready. She turns off the knob of the gas-stove and mumbles something. By now the melodious tune was replaced by a calculation of the amount she had to spend in the vegetable market. She hangs the clothes neatly in line on the rope in her balcony. She stops to take a look at the view in front of her.
Sight of lard in layers for sale inside shops, an amicable scrap paper dealer arranging newspapers on a rusty weighing scale, a meat seller chopping the beef flesh and clamouring at a young boy loitering around the shop among the regular hustle bustle. The sight of meat being butchered nauseates her, she cringes.
Peachy complexion, enormous eyes and standing at a height of 5’6” , Chanda is an attractive , middle class housewife. Her husband is a newly appointed accountant in a private company. She is nestling a baby in her womb which is due in six months. The place that she lives in belongs to the old Kolkata. A rented, two-room, and one large dormitory partitioned into a bathroom and a kitchen is the place she calls as her home. There is no proper toilet inside that place. The toilet for that flat along with eight others is towards the end of the floor. The place is too humble an abode for Chanda who hails from an affluent household. A fixed income is what her husband derives from his service and her father-in-law from his; insufficient an amount to feed a family of five in the city and other half away in the village.
By Madhulika Chaturvedi
Chennai, December 3, 2013 -A step down from the ‘Tirumailai’ MRTS(Mass Rapid Transit System) station, and a raft of shops selling everything on earth- from broomsticks, to illuminating lamps, to dress materials, hand loom bedspreads, spare parts of motor vehicles, cell phones, appear in front of us .Congregation of vehicles in a traffic, and a girl tugging on his father’s shirt on being lured seeing the balloons when a seller crosses her. Lightened up faces of women carrying shopping bags from sari shops, smiles on people’s faces coming out of ‘Sarvana Bhavan’ signalling satisfaction of having spent on a sumptuous meal. Men, women and children with vermilion smeared on their foreheads coming out of the ‘Kapaleeswarar’ temple. Fruit-sellers clamor to passersby, the garland makers vehemently deny the bargaining customers and some clay-doll and idol sellers arrange the misplaced things on their stalls- this, is a scene on an average day in the Mylapore area of Chennai.
A clear sky and festival pulls more people.
However, along with the hustle-bustle around him, Laakeshwar is seen arranging the ground-nuts spread on a worn-out plastic on a stall. The sound of his cough can be distinctively heard even among the other sounds one hears on the street. A sixtyish, dark and stocky man, his ears spring to attention when a man taps on the groundnuts spread on the stall. He wants to some nuts. Laakeshwar mumbles something in Tamil, and his eyes are seen crinkling into a toothless smile when his customer hands out the currency note to him. He counts them, taps his fingers on his forehead then again on his chest, closes his eyes, mumbles something and puts the note into a pouch.
“Past thirty years madam”, says he on being asked about the time he had been selling groundnuts. “I born and brought up in Madras”, he musters up the English language words he knows. He also sells coconut water on a stall beside the groundnut one. However, it is the groundnuts, selling which, he gains immense satisfaction. Its sales coming down in the last few years have disturbed not only him but the three other stalls selling groundnut in the area.
The groundnuts are brought from Pondicherry and the persistent rainfall results the nuts in becoming moist. It easily crumbles between the fingers. In between rise in demand for other essential things for cooking, groundnut sales have come down over the years. Even export has decreased. No buys in bulk anymore. Mylapore, in Chennai is one the few places where groundnuts are sold.
“It is difficult to sustain a livelihood with these sales”, said another seller. It was 2 p.m. and she had had just two customers till then. They are all seen with a similar expression on their faces that reveal their despair in failure of sustaining livelihood based on selling groundnuts.
They wait for festivals, for it is then that the street is crowded and people notice the groundnuts. “Earlier, people came looking for groundnuts, and now, we look for people to buy them”, said Laakeshwar, his tone reeking of disappointment.
They are seen excited about the ‘Kadlekai parishe’ festival in Bengaluru, where mounds of groundnuts are sold in a fair and look forward to setting up stalls there. People turn out in that fair in a large number, and groundnuts sold there in three days is more than the average sold here in a month. “It is a big fair there!” exclaims Gayathri amma, another seller. They regret such fair not taking place in Chennai.
However, as the day ends, and the street lamps and big shops illuminates with lights, the groundnut sellers refill their oil-lamps and light them.
The vehicles ply double in number, and bell-rings from the temple echo in the area. People again are seen in and out of shops and eateries, with packets in their hands and smile on their faces. The faces where the smile gives a miss are the ones adjusting their oil-lamps, mixing the nuts, checking if they crumble easily, removing the ones that do with hopeful eyes searching for buyers.
‘Depressing’, ‘abysmal’ and ‘useless’ ,said a correspondent from Firstpost in his report about the condition of juvenile remand homes in India. Besides the reports of escalating juvenile crime reports from cities around India, the correction homes they are sent to, should come under the scanner as well.
Something worse than the crime itself, is the kind of remand homes that the juveniles are kept in. Instead of providing a caring environment to the children to nurse their minds back to normal life, these remand homes are a euphemism of jail like custodial center. Toilet conditions are sickening, and the cells where they are put up are poorly ventilated.Food constitutes of things that are not eatable Reports say, at times more than sixty inmates, of all age are housed together, leading to sexual abuse of the younger ones! Without proper individual assessment, the inmates are handed over the routine but following that routine and attending all the education classes is at the discretion of the offender.
There are also reports of a drug abuse from one of the remand homes in New Delhi.
Proper counselling and mental health care of the inmates looks like a far fetched dream here. Even the JJ(Juvenile Justice) authority acts as as a mute spectator instead of acting upon it.
The reports are petrifying.
With due respect to the judiciary, and a request to excuse the disgust, I never knew that reprimanding the ones guilty of crime should be so unpalatable? The ill-atmosphere of that place is likely to turn innocent juveniles into criminals. If they had been sent to the ‘correction’ home with even a little chance of coming out better, that hope, should be declare as redundant now. No wonder criminals arrested now had been juveniles from remand homes earlier. Perhaps a juvenile convicted of crime now would emerge as a criminal in the future for sure.
Why is it like that?Whom to point the fingers at, now?
A government reeking of corruption or a failed law system?
A three feet figure peeks from behind a dismantled ‘auto-rickshaw’ while a number of other children gather around a girl to take candies that she has been distributing. She offers her one again, but she refuses for the second time, and this time runs inside a plastic tent, where an elderly woman is stirring her spoon into a broken cup. Bare, dark brown coloured skin, thick tuft of curly hair on top and thin thread in each of her two feet with two beads that tinkle each time she walks, is ‘Kathi’, the child who refused the candy. She is an orphan who stays with the woman, from the time she was born. She tries to make some inaudible sound into the woman’s ear, tugging at a thin cloth barely covering her wrinkled figure. She calls ‘Patti’ or Grandmother. Kathi, is a shy girl whom the woman brought five years back from a nearby village of Tamil Nadu. She does not talk to many people, just keeps playing with the flowers her ‘Patti’ sells. You ask for a flower, she gives a wink, smiles, and hands you one.
Besides Kathi, there are many other children on the streets who are either orphans, or suffering from disabilities that they do not know what to call it as. They live on the main road, by the Chennai Fort station where the vehicles come and go in full speed, and where accidents are sure possibility
Since Kathi is an orphan, the woman worries who will take care of her after she is not around. “I will give her into an ashram”, says she, kissing Kathi’s forehead. Kathi also has speech problem, and does not talk too, with many, which is Patti’s concern as well. She plays on the street, and it is difficult for the elderly woman to keep an eye on her. She wants Kathi to go to a school, and be able to take care of herself. “Girls are not safe now. Not even children. I am very scared of what will happen to her”.
As I chat away, I sense Katti is not beside us. The next moment I turn to find her wading her way to through the traffic to pick up a toy she had dropped on the road. I see another boy pick up the candy that he had dropped on the road and swallow it inside.
The scenes unnerve me. I ask the people around if they have appealed to the corporation or government. “No madam. There have been a number of summers that we have been waiting for the government to listen to us so that these children get a humble place to live in. Our requests have fallen to deaf ears”, said one of the women in a shed pouring tea into a cup.
It is sad when an emerging economy like India whose government has charted out plans for wider roads and splendid shopping malls, cannot provide shelter to its own children. Nearly, 18 million children live on streets. To call a home they have the shelter either under over-bridges, or pavements underneath the open sky. They fight the cruelty of winter and bear the rains, whereas the large malls have extra heaters to keep people warm even while splurging.