Women’s rights and tourism in Nepal

I saw that there were more working women in Nepal than India. I notice that most of the shops were run by women and Nepali women seemed to be in better condition than Indian women.

Nepali girl

Nepali girl

Nepal seemed to be more progressive in terms of women rights when compered with India. The women were traveling alone, going to office, running shops, women auto rickshaw drivers and the women seemed more friendly with men… it looked really cool to me. I was happy to see it. I saw so many alcohol shops run by alone women. I had never ever seen anything like that anywhere in whole India. Once I saw an alcohol shop with a woman owner and I decided to talk with her. I went there and started asking about alcohol first and when we became friendly I asked her about her life.

liberal Nepali girl

liberal Nepali girl

I asked her if she feels safe sitting alone at alcohol shops and dealing with male customers who are drunk sometimes and she told me that she managing the business is just like any other male member of her family managing the business; no difference so problem to her. I asked her if people in the society mind women working at the alcohol shops and again she said that Nepali society is very progressive when it comes to equal rights for women. I asked her if she had ever been to India and she said that she had never been to India before but had seen India on TV. In reality she did not seem excited about visiting India.

the most beautiful alcohol bottle I had ever seen

the most beautiful alcohol bottle I had ever seen

I told her that it is just not possible to see any women selling alcohol in India and that there are less percentage of working women in India and she said that she was very well aware of the situation of women in India. She said that there are so many Indian families living in Nepal and they also do not allow their women to go out and work. I asked her what Nepali people think of this situation and she said that to be honest, we think that Indians are crazy and backward people. I was surprised to hear this but in reality yes, we are much backward than Nepal in terms of women rights and equal rights for women.

the most luxry way to travel in Nepal

the most luxry way to travel in Nepal

The nature was just awesome all over Nepal. One could easily see that their nature is still untouched. Beautiful thick jungle, beautiful rivers, less industries, less people, less traffic and lots of mountains… it was just awesome. I really enjoyed nature a lot in Nepal. I also noticed that I saw only five big factories in my whole bus ride all the way from Sonauli till Kathmandu. In fact, two of them were Indian factories which sounds nice because there is less pollution because of less factories but there is another truth that there are less jobs because of less industries which means more poverty.

beautiful windows

beautiful windows

Poverty in Nepal really hurt me. There were so many family houses right along the Sonauli-Kathmandu highways so I got to see so many people doing things. But the really interesting thing for me was that nobody was doing anything, just sitting or talking with people, that’s all. It seemed like they just don’t have any work. I had never seen that many young people just sitting here and there and passing time. There were so many kids selling water bottles and snacks on the road. Nepal has been suffering a lot from its political instability for the past few years which seems to be the biggest reason of poverty of Nepal. I dont know, maybe some other reason but Nepalis were just not happy at all from their political system.

cremation at Pashupatinath temple

cremation at Pashupatinath temple

Finally we arrived Kathmandu by 8 PM and it was still raining. I had read about a neighborhood called Thamel which was full of hotel. I wanted to stay there. I asked Babu to ask some locals about where was this neighborhood and he told me that Nepali people are crazy and never tell you the right direction. He suggested me to go to any shop run by any Indian and ask them about the direction of Thamel. We went to a paan shop, bought a few things and asked him the direction to Thamel and fortunately he was a nice guy who told us the right direction to Thamel. It took us about 10 minutes of walk and we had to ask a few other people also the direction to Thamel but we arrived there.

life and death at same place

life and death at same place

We arrived Thamel which was full of hotels, in fact it was the most popular neighborhood in Nepal for backpackers. We went to several hotels but their price seemed too steep to us. Babu was telling me that we could easily find a hotel room worth 500 NR but none of them wanted to charge us less than 1000 NR. Finally we reached a hotel Annpurna hotel. They wanted to charge us 800 NR per night. I told him that I was a government approved tour guide in India and all the hotels give me discount in India then he agreed to give me a room for 500 NR.

Nepali food that I didn't like at all

Nepali food that I didn't like at all

The hotel seemed nice at first but later we realized that pillow covers and bed sheets were used, cable connection was not working properly, telephone was there but dead. We complained about it and were promised to get everything on work by next morning but in fact this next morning never came before we left. In any case, I was not there to enjoy luxury, watch TV or make phone calls from my room hence I also did not mind it. We went out to take our dinner at some restaurant but most of the shops were closed by 8.30 PM. We found a restaurant opened and had our dinner there.

Nepali highways

Nepali highways

I had read several articles about nightlife in Nepal including dance bars and massage centers. A lot of the articles said that Nepal nightlife was safe but most of them said that it was really crazy and dangerous. I had several articles talking about how people went to a night club, spent a few hours, had a few beers and dinner and paid Rs. 40-50,000 and were misbehaved. Several articles talked about how 14-15 years old kids are involved in sex industry and work as pimps. I was curious about what was going on and we had decided to visit at least one night club while being in Kathmandu.

I was just walking here and there in Thamel and saw so many massage parlors. Once we were just passing by a shop which had a sign board saying massage parlor and I was showing this to Babu. Suddenly a hardly 15 years old guy came to me and asked what I was looking at. I told him that I was just watching the advertisements and he said that no, I was looking for something else, something special. I was like no I was just looking here and there. He again asked me if I needed some special service and I told him that I did not need any special service.

We walked away from there but this guy was keep following us and was asking if we needed a girl. He offered us young beautiful girls for really cheap price. He was not alone, there were so many pimps here and there watching tourists. Anyways, I was able to get back to my hotel safely. The next day we worked for a while, walked around, did some shopping… and it was a nice experience. I really missed veg Indian food as it was meat everywhere. But I liked something that they had drinks very easily available so I was enjoying all different kinds of alcohol.

I wanted to use an ATM in Kathmandu but was concerned about paying international transaction fee but Babu told me that a few Indian banks also have their own ATMs in Kathmandu like State Bank of India and Punjab National Bank. There was one State Bank of India ATM near Darbar Square. I used this bank and did not pay any transaction fee. So I would suggest anyone holding Indian bank card should just look for Indian bank ATMs in Kathmandu. Telephones were also so cheap in Nepal. I paid only Rs. 1 per minute for a phone call to India.

Since we were so interested in visiting a night club in Kathmandu. we were gathering information about it through online sources. But fortunately I met a guy at the NGO, where I was supposed to work, who was a male prostitute. I thought who could provide better information than him about night life in Kathmandu. I asked him about it and he suggested me not to visit any night clubs in Kathmandu as they are not safe at all, especially for tourists. He also told me the same thing what I had read online so finally we decided that we would not visit any night club in Kathmandu.

We visited a few temples, markets and participated in Kathmandu Gay Pride. Finally my time was over in Kathmandu and now we needed to head back to home. Babu told me that they had overnight buses from Kathmandu to Sonauli until 10 PM. We arrived at the bus station around 8 PM but all the buses were already gone by then. They said that the last bus was at 7 PM. So we took our dinner, stayed at a hotel near bus station and took an early morning bus to Sounauli and then another bus from Sonauli to Varanasi. It was a successful journey full of learning. I really plan to go back again to Kathmandu sometime for longer period of time.

Please click here to see more pictures:

Kathmandu Gay Pride 2010

BDS office

I went to Nepalafter 7 years but this time motive was different. When I went to Nepal last time, I visited Narayanghat and Kathmandu and basically I was just a regular tourist. But this tour was more than tourism for me. My main intention was to attend Kathmandu gay pride and learn more about gay activism in my neighboring country. Kathmandu Gay Pride is organized by an NGO called Blue Diamond Society. The main guy behind all the activities of Blue Diamond Society and all other gay activism in Nepal is Mr. Sunil Babu Pant, the director of Blue Diamond Society. He is one of the members of Parliament and Constituent Assembly in Nepal.

rainbow flag at the parade

We arrived at the Blue Diamond Society office the day before the parade and I was surprised that nobody was present there. We knocked the door and one person showed up, in fact he was the only one present at the office. He said that since everyone was working hard for the pride and their preparation just ended yesterday, today everyone was celebrating and it was vacation for them. Anyways, he gave me tour of BDS office and explained me basic work of the organization. Luckily I was traveling with my friend Babu who speaks Nepali hence language was not a barrier.

loved their dress

We talked for an hour and finally left with an invitation to attend the parade. I arrived to the BDS office on the parade day around 10 am. The whole office and its surrounding was full of people. They were wearing very colorful dresses and rainbow was everywhere. There were so many people dressed in traditional Indian wears which was really interesting to see. Later I was told that so BDS has networking all over Nepal and these people who looked like Indians came from the Nepal border close to India. The office staffed looked very confident and when I talking with them they were so open with their sexuality.

Red is new Black

Nobody wanted to hide anything. I interviewed so many people including Mr. Pant and learnt a lot. Mr. pant told me that Nepal is way more progressive than India in terms of gay rights. He said that Nepali society is very much accepting the LGBTI community and he seemed very happy with the progress. He said that when he started his activism he had face problems with political parties because all of them were opposing him and his demand of equal rights for gay community and he had to struggle a lot in the beginning.

great

But only after a few months when the same politicians and political parties noticed that he was getting huge support in Nepal, they all started to contact him and they were all requesting him to join their party. Later he participated in the elections and was elected for parliament. He did so much advocacy for equal rights for LBGTI community and finally in the year 2008 supereme court of Nepal ruled in favor of laws to guarantee full rights to LGBTI people, and all gender minorities must be defined as “natural persons” under the law; this included the right to marry.

great idea

I was really surprised to hear that Nepal had already legalized gay marriages. Mr. Pant told me that in fact they were using this status of gay marriages in Nepal to attract tourism and kill poverty and they use the same slogan in gay pride parade also. The gay pride is celebrated on the same day when whole Nepal celebrates a festival called Gaijatra. Mr. Pant told me that Gaijatra has been celebrated in Nepal for ages and the idea of this festival is that everyone is supposed to be happy, make jokes, dress strangely and make other laugh and happy.

promoting tourism

I asked Mr. Pant about his hope from the future and he said that if the condition goes on the same way then very soon they won’t need to organize gay prides in order to make LGBTI community strong but the only idea behind the parade would be increase tourism and bring more money jobs to Nepal because the society would accept the LGBTI community completely and it won’t be any issue at all in future. He said that even he started a travel agency called Pink Mountain to attract LGBTI tourists and it was getting very good attention.

Suman ji in the office

Mr. Pant said that definitely there is discrimination against LGBTI community in Nepal but not as much as India or many other countries. Whatever he said was very interesting for me, especially the status of LGBTI community in the society. LGBTI community heavily discriminated in India but Nepal seemed very progressive. Anywyas, I interviewed a few other people including Suman Ji who was in-charge of Lesbian community work. She also told me the same thing that society in Nepal was changing its views for LGBTI people and very soon there won’t be any discrimination at all. She said that Lesbian community is more discriminated compared with Gays or Bisexuals but she was satisfied with the progress and had a good hope from the future.

rain disturbed a bit

Finally the paraded started and I was part of it. Everyone was so happy, dancing, laughing, shouting and cheering-up… the same way in India. There were a few groups who were performing traditional Nepali dance and songs. It was raining that day hence parade was not really organized and in fact it was stopped for a while but in any case at least 1000 people attended the parade. I saw many people just jumping in from the restaurants or shops and joined the parade. The non-participants seemed cool to me, I did not really feel anyone was disturbed.

British ambassador in the parade

I once left the parade and went to a shop and then started talking with the owner. I asked him if he knew anything about the parade and he said it was Gaijatra parade. I asked him if he was aware of any connection with gay pride and he said no. So I am not really sure if everyone even knew that it was a gay parade. The biggest shock for me was presence of British Ambassador along with a few other country’s consulates in Nepal. I was thrilled to see the British Ambassador participating and supporting the parade. It immediately reminded me of section 377 in India which criminalized same sex practices in India and was introduced by British themselves.

Mr. Pant on an elephant

Anyways, it was happy to see British Ambassador there in the parade. Mr. Pant was sitting on an elephant in the parade and I noticed non-participants calling him, raising their hands which was a clear indication that Mr. Pant was a popular guy in Nepal and people liked him. There was a chariot which was provided by Nepal Art Museum and the elephant was provided by National Zoo in Kathmandu for free to support the parade which was again a wonder for me. All these things made me feel like definitely Nepal was more progressive than India in terms of equal rights for LGBTI community. And not only in terms on LGBTI rights but in Nepal was way ahead than India in terms of women rights. I was really impressed with the condition of women in Nepal, in fact it was the most impressive thing for me.

chariot in the parade

Finally the parade ended with candle lighting and a speech by Mr. Pant. Whatever I saw in the parade was not a wonder for me but when I think of the country Nepal and when I compare it with India then everything was a wonder for me. I was surprised to see how this small country which used to be a Hindu country, like India, only until a few years ago has accepted the LGBTI community whereas in India we are more developed, we have more money, better education but still the condition of LGBTI community is very bad. Anyways, it was really nice that I attended the parade and got to talk with Mr. Pant and other people working BDS. It was very inspiring and a blessing for me. I would definitely like to attend the parade again in Kathmandu in future.

Parrots

my parrots

my parrots

My family brought a parrot home a few days ago but when I first saw him, I got seriously upset because I do not like to see birds in a cage. I believe that they are made to fly, not to be stuck in a small crazy cage. I decided to let him fly back into the sky but by the time I took him on my roof top, he had already injured himself very badly and was just not able to fly. He was trying hard to fly but he could hardly walk a little bit. He hid himself behind a plant on my roof and just did not want to come out of there. My guest Attila also saw that parrot and told me that this parrot needed some more time because he noticed that his wings were already clipped.

sports inside the cage

sports inside the cage

We decided to keep the parrot for a few weeks and feed him well and make him practice flying so Attila gave him one of his rooms where the parrot was living alone and freely. Attila asked me if there was any parrot doctor or expert in Varanasi and I also inquired about it and found that there was no such person in all of Varanasi who could tell us something about Indian parrots. Finally Attila contacted some parrot expert in Hungry and fixed an online video meeting and showed the parrot to the expert.

they love having a partner

they love having a partner

This meeting really opened our eyes and was very helpful to plan the future of this parrot. My family was told that this parrot was only six months old but the expert said that this parrot was at least three years old. The expert told us that this parrot was a male parrot and he was seriously injured as his wings were clipped. The expert said that if his wings were not clipped forcibly then there was a possibility of  the wings growing again. I was so happy hear all this but I was not sure if his wings were clipped forcibly or just were cut off.

their bedroom

their bedroom

Attila was in regular touch with this expert and the expert told us so many things that we just did not know before and I am sure most of the people in India who have parrots do not know about these things and this was the reason why I decided to write a post about parrots also so that other people may also be benefited by this knowledge. Indians love parrots but we do not know what is good and what is bad for the parrots and we do so many bad things with the parrots which literally kill them. The expert told us that the average life of a parrot is about 25-30 years but most of the parrots in India survive hardly for a few years. So here I will mention some of the things that I learnt about parrots:

  • Never keep them in small cage as the parrots are wild birds and they are made to be in nature, not to be in a small cage where they can’t even move properly. The truth is that size is very important to your birds mental and physical health. You must take into account how active your bird is and how much time he spends in his cage. It is best to get the biggest cage you can afford and fit in your house. My cage is 3 feet deep, 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
  • Make sure that the cage is not painted because parrots love to climb using their beak and it could be dangerous for them if they eat the paint which is nothing but dangerous chemicals.
  • Make sure to put some sticks and if possible arrange a swing also inside the cage because parrots love to play. So just think what parrots could enjoy and arrange it for them. And yes, mind it that parrots do not play cricket or football:)
  • If your parrot is facing in circles all the time then believe me he is not happy. He is seriously bored and it is really bad for his physical and mental health.
  • Never feed anything cooked to your parrots as they are used to eating raw food. Raw fruits, vegetables and raw grains are the best food for parrots.
  • Never feed chilis to your parrots. Many people in India believe that parrots love chilis but the reality is that parrots can not taste hot taste thus they never know what they are eating and if you don’t give them anything except chilis then they would obviously eat the chilis which is really bad for parrots health.
  • Put a small bowl of sand in the cage because parrots need to eat a little bit of sand sometimes because sand has some minerals which help parrots to digest their food.
  • Give some free flying time to your parrot every once in a while, once a week for a few hours is an ideal time, so that they practice flying. This really helps parrot a lot in enjoying being in your house.
  • Cover a corner of the cage from the outside with a piece of cloth or hard paper. This covered space is really an important place for the parrots inside the cage. This is where they feel secured and usually spend most of the time under this shade. They feel like it is their bedroom.
  • If you are planning to keep your parrot for a long time then please bring a life partner for your parrot. Parrots are the second smartest wild creatures on the planet and they really miss their friends and just hate being alone and bored.

I never believe in the idea of catching someone’s freedom but if you decide make a parrot into a pet then please follow above instructions. I strongly believe that if someone follows these rules then their parrots will be happily living inside the cage and they will also be happy to see their parrots playing and enjoying being with them. I will keep updating this post whenever I learn something new but if you have any question about parrots then feel free to write me and I will try my best to get the right answer to you. Thanks.

Kolkata Gay Pride 2010

Begining of the parade

Beginning of the parade

I got to attend Kolkata Gay Pride as well which was on the 2nd of July. I arrived in Kolkata on the 1st of July after attending the Chennai pride and spending a few days in Bangalore. My friend Sourendra from Mumbai had introduced me to Mr. Rajshrei Chakrobarty who was Secretary of Dum Dum Society and one of the organizers of Kolkata Gay Pride. I knew that Kolkata was the first city in India to start gay prides and I was expecting it to be the biggest one in India this year as well but when I arrived at the parade venue I was shocked  to see that there were hardly 50 people in the parade.

Mr. Chakrobarty

Mr. Chakrobarty

Mr. Chakrobarty told me about the reason of few people before I asked him about it. He said that most of the organizations working on gay rights in Kolkata boycotted the parade because of some internal politics hence they could not make the parade as big as it used to be in the past. He said that Dum Dum Society and one other organization called Anandam were the only two organizations that organized the pride this year. I was surprised to hear that most of the organizations boycotted the parade but at the same time I was happy also that at least someone organized it.

the most important message

The most important message

The parade started from Jatin Das Park near Hajra crossing and ended at the Academy of Fine Arts. The parade started with only 40-50 participants but it was really interesting. I have been to all the big prides taking place in India within past one year and Kolkata one was the most liberal parade I had ever seen in India. I noticed that nobody was wearing the masks. They had an auto rickshaw with loudspeakers and the participants of the parade were singing songs of human rights, equal rights and gender equality. They were passing out pamphlets which had writing about LGBT rights.

Cool

Cool

It was raining most of the time during the parade but it could not stop people from joining the parade. The parade started with 40-50 people and ended with at least 100 or 120 people. A lot of people joined at the Academy of Fine Arts where the parade ended. In fact, the end was the most interesting part of the parade for me. At the academy a lot of young lesbian couples joined the parade. I had never seen that many lesbians before in any of the parades whether Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai and very interesting thing was that these girls were young.

Brave girl

Brave girl

They being young surprised me the most because in India lesbians coming in public and very rare and whenever I see any lesbian I always find them over 35, living either alone or with their partner and always have no connection with the family but these young girls were really young and I don’t think they were living alone or had no connection with their family. They were so open and they knew that their parents were going to know about their sexuality if they participated in the parade but they still did it which meant their parents either knew about it or these girls knew that their parents would not mind knowing that their daughter was a lesbian. I liked it.

Mr. Ranjeet Sinha

Mr. Ranjeet Sinha

The parade ended with speeches from Mr. Ranjeet Sinha, Mr. Rajarshi Chakrobarty and a few other social activists. After the parade ended, I went with Mr. Chakrobarty to attend a cultural dance and performance program organized by an organization called Saathi. This program was basically a platform for the LGBT community to show their talent and have fun. I spent about an hour at the program and then headed back to my hotel for overnight. Dum Dum Society had organized a cultural program about 2 hours bus ride away from Kolkata two days after the parade.

Cultural dance performance

Cultural dance performance

This program was really something and I could easily see how Dum Dum Society was working honestly with the LGBT community and how they had strengthened the people belonging to the community. The program was just awesome. They had several dance performances, some of them based on Bollywood songs and some on traditional  Kolkata songs,  they had fashion shows where all the clothes were designed by the people belonging to LGBT community and I was shocked to see the quality of the program. It was really awesome and I enjoyed it a lot. The chairman of municipality was the chief guest of this program.

He had a lot of fun

He had a lot of fun

There were more people in this program than the parade. I think there were at least 500 people at this program.  I was able to interview a few people including Mr. Rajshree Chakrobarty, Mr. Ranjeet Sinha and a few other people from LGBT community and all of those interviews were really interesting. Mr. Chakrobarty told me about the history of gay activism in Kolkata. He said that it first started in Kolkata in the year 1989 which clearly shows that they were one of the few who started gay activism in India and at present there are about six or seven organizations working on LGBT rights in Kolkata.

Good message

Good message

I asked about the condition of the LGBT community in Kolkata and he said that the condition of the LGBT community living in Kolkata city area is in much better condition than the LGBT community living in the other districts or suburbs of Kolkata because of the influence of media and availability of organizations working in the city. He told me that the condition of the LGBT community is much better in Mumbai and Delhi when compared with Kolkata because Mumbai had started working on this issue way before Kolkata and since Kolkata is the poorest metropolitan city in India, the life of LGBT community is not easy here.

Equal rights, yea!

Equal rights, yea!

Mr. Chakrobarty told me something really interesting that transgenders are more discriminated against when compared with gay community because their sexuality is more visible but when we talk only about discrimination then yes, the whole LGBT community is discriminated against on various levels. I asked the same question which I ask to other people whom I interview about many people thinking that homosexuality is a disease or a fashion and it being possible to change it by getting people married or making them practice yoga (Baba Ramdev Says). His answer was like the others in that he said it is not possible to change somebody’s sexuality by getting them married.

Good slogan

Good slogan

He said that many people get married with a woman under family or social pressure but they are not happy and they practice sex with a same sex person even after marriage. I know several people who do this and I definitely believe that it just not possible at all to change somebody’s sexuality by getting them married or teaching them yoga. I asked him about the existence of the LGBT community in Hindu culture and religion and he told me several stories which proves that the LGBT community has always been in existence. I also believe the same because I have read several Hindu sacred books and have visited temples where same sex behavior sculptures are shown.

Our rights, human rights

Our rights, human rights

He told me something really intersting that I did not know before. He told me when Hanuman went to Sri Lanka to search for Sita, he saw that Ravan had kept several women but he was not able to give time to all of them hence these women had started making sexual relationships with each other which clearly shows that there were lesbians during Rama’s time also. I asked him about the revocation of section 377 and he told me that homosexuality was accepted in Hindu society and temples of Kamasutra and several other books clearly proves it but British made it illegal and this judgment of the High Court of Delhi was a right judgment and most probably it will help changing the society in the future.

She was very active

She was very active

It was really informative talking with him. He was a real and honest social worker working on LGBT rights in Kolkata. After Mr. Chakrobarty, I got to meet Mr. Ranjeet Sinha who was a transgender himself and was working with transgenders in Kolkata and nearby districts. He also told me about the problemswhich the transgender community was facing in Kolkata. He told me that there are reservations on the basis of caste and religion but no reservation for transgenders. He demanded for a separate toilet system at public toilets because when he goes to the male toilet, people make fun of him and if he goes to the female toilets then women are scared.

Great

Great

Mr. Sinha told me a story of his one friend, who was a transgender Hijra himself and was a well known social activist in West Bengal and was suffering from AIDS. He had to go to the hospital once and the doctors forcibly took off his clothes, made him wear men’s clothes and only then they admitted him in the hospital. Mr. Sinha demanded that their identity should also be recognized on official documents such as passport and voter ID card. He said that all the NGOs are focusing only and only HIV and AIDS but they must do something on other issues also related with LGBT community. He mentioned all the South Indian states, especially Chennai, as being especially progressive working on transgenders issues.

Very colorful event

Very colorful event

He also said that it is not possible to change someone’s sexual identity and if one tries to do so then the result is always horrible. Kolkata taught me so many new things. I was especially thrilled to see the work of Dum Dum Society. It was really a nice experience meeting with people like Mr. Chakrobarty and Mr. Sinha and so many other people who helped me in Kolkata and educated me about their issues and their work. I hope to go their next year as well and will hope that all the organizations that had boycotted the parade this year would join the parade again by ending the internal politics and making Kolkata a city of equal rights for everyone.

Please click here to see more pictures:

Chennai Gay Pride 2010

My friends and I

My friends and I

It was Chennai gay pride yesterday on the 27th of June and I came to attend the festival. This festival was not as big as I was expecting it to be but big enough to bring attention of local people and make them aware about something called “gay”. I was expecting for at least 1000-2000 people but it had hardly 400-500 people. The parade started near Labor Statue at Marina beach at 5 PM and lasted for over an hour. The parade was organized with the help of many organizations working in Chennai for LGBT rights but most probably Shakit Center was the biggest name.

Participants

Participants

The people at the parade seemed to he really happy and energetic, especially people from LGBT community. Delhi and Mumbai pride had music and many people were dancing whereas Chennai parade did not have any music but still people were singing something in Tamil- which I did not understand for sure, jumping, laughing and dancing. They were hugging each other and seemed so happy. There were all kinds of people: gay, lesbians and hijras. But I noticed one thing that Chennai parade had fewer lesbian couples when compared with Delhi and Mumabi parade and this parade seemed less open than Mumbai and Delhi one.

I also think so

I also think so

Participants of Delhi and Mumbai pride were much open in expressing their relations with their partners like they were holding hands with each other or just walking together which showed that they were a couple but Chennai Pride did not have anything like this. The participants of Chennai pride were more like did not want people to know about their partner. I think since South India is more Hindu part and people are seen as more religious, maybe this is the reason why gays of Chennai want to hide their relations more than Delhi and Mumbai people. Anyways, I was happy that they at least organized such event.

They were cool

They were cool

I was talking with one of the organizers of the parade and he said that last year the parade was bigger than this year but the important thing was that this year more community members participated whereas last year there were more outside supporters which increased the number of people in the parade. I had also noticed the same that Chennai parade did not have many outside supporters whereas Delhi and Mumbai had big number of supporters like students and families as well. The Marina beach area is a big picnic spot for Chennai people and since the parade was on Sunday, there were thousands of local people who watched the parade.

Exactly

Exactly

It was good the parade took place at such place where locals got the see the parade. I also distributed pamphlets to the people around and masks to the people who seemed interested in joining the parade but seemed confused. The usage of masks was on a bigger level here in Chennai than Mumbai and Delhi. I saw a few people wearing two-three masks at the same time to cover their whole face. I talked with a few participants of the parade who were wearing the masks and they said that Chennai is still so conservative about gay culture hence they did not want others to know that they were also at the parade.

Mr. Annirudh

Mr. Annirudhan

Their wording was “if others see me participating in the parade, they would think that I also have the same taste.” I know that gays are made of fun of all over the world and many people hate them just because of their sexuality but I expect the big cities to have a better view about gay culture but Chennai did not seem to have this better view for gays. I asked Mr. Annirdudhan Vasudevanthe, one of the organizers of parade, about the change in conditions after Delhi High Court decision of making gay relations legal and he said that there is some change for sure but not really much or not something that really changed the society.

People from the organizing committee

People from the organizing committee

Annirudhan was happy to say that at least people have started talking about it and now at least they know that there is something called the “LGBT” community and they have also their rights. He said that the condition is not going to change really soon and that it will take sometime but hopefully someday they will also have equal rights in the community. He said that the LGBT community is discriminated against everywhere in the country and they demand protection and medical health care from the government of the India. He said that many people think that homosexuality is a disease which can be cured by giving some special therapy which is just not true at all.

There were families also

There were families also

Annirudhan said that being homosexual is neither a fashion nor abnormal at all; it is a natural process and anyone could be born with such human nature. I also believe the same. He talked about the Aligarh Muslim University’s professor Srinivas Siras who was found having sex with a same-sex person and was suspended only because of this reason. Prof. Siras later committed suicide because the university administration had funded a sting operation to video Prof. Siras having sex with a same sex partner.

Foreign participants

Foreign participants

Mr. Annirudhan said that even though gay relations have been legalized in India, Prof. Siras was still punished. I was talking about the same matter with one of the participants and he said that said that the government should ask the university about how they dared to record Prof. Siras personal life without his consent. Recording somebody’s personal life without without their consent is a punishable offense under Indian law because it comes under the right of privacy act and government police should register a complaint against the university administration and punish them, not Prof. Siras.

Right

Right

I also think that it is true that nobody has rights to do such thing. There are so many beautiful laws in India but implementation of these laws, how affective are they??? So many problems with gay community in India. I am happy that I came to attend the pride and I would like to come here again and hope that the Chennai gay community will have fewer problems when I come here next year and there will be more support from outsiders as well. One thing is very sure that the gay community will not be able to get equal rights in the society until we straight people support them so please come together to help our LGBT community and make a better world.

Kothis and Varanas are Hijras

Kothis and Aravnis are Hijras

There was a party also the night before the parade whereas Delhi and Mumbai had a party on the parade night. This party was organized at a four-star boutique hotel called Le Waterina situated at Kotivakkam Beach, Trivanmauyr, Chennai. This was the most expensive party I had ever been to. There was no entry fee in Delhi’s party, Mumbai party was Rs. 500 but drinks were not so expensive inside whereas the entry fee for Chennai party was also Rs. 500 and the drinks were really expensive. Anyways, I got in and met a few locals who had come to attend the party.

Rainbow flag of Chennai Pride

Rainbow flag of Chennai Pride

I met a guy who did not even know about the parade taking place the next day but he knew about this party. I asked him how did he come know to about the party and he told me that he got an SMS on his mobile about the party. I asked him if he would come to the parade as well and he was like why would I come to the parade. He seemed hesitant to talk about the parade and the party but I saw him the next day in the parade. I think he was also a gay but did not want to talk about it and I expect such behavior from the LGBT community in India because I know that the LGBT community always hides their sexual identity because there is so much discrimination against them and they do not have equal rights.

Go-Go dancer at teh party

Go-Go dancer at the party

This party showed me something new, something that I had not seen before: a male go-go dancer. I was thrilled to see it. The party had a famous DJ from Delhi who was playing western music all the time and then he announced that they had a dashing boy from Bangalore who was going to dance tonight. This go-go dancer appeared in shorts and a T-shirt but later he took off his T-shirt and was wearing really short shorts. He seemed like a popular dancer because many people knew his name. I think he was in the party for more than an hour and I think his presence boosted-up the party. People went crazy to see him. I had seen such only on TVs before and it was so fun to attend the party.

Please click here to see more pictures:

Coca-Cola Varanasi

I worked with a journalist named Bart Spellers from Holland who was writing an article about the Coke issue in India. He wanted to visit all the disputed Coke sites in India including Mehdiganj, Varanasi and I worked with him in Varanasi as his local assistant and translator. I also look for an opportunity of visiting Mehdiganj and talking with people about their problems created by Coke so I was happy to get this job. I took Bart to Mehdiganj, arranged interviews with Nandlal Master, a few employees, the union leader at the Coke plant, a few women and a few farmers. Bart did not want so many interviews but he wanted to talk with the right kind of people because he did not have much time for Benares.

I was kind of surprised to hear that he did not have much time for his work. He was writing the article on a very controversial subject and I think he should have spent more time in Benares in order to come closer to the fact. Anyways, I think they did good job because they talked with few but the right kind of people. I had an idea but was surprised to talk with the people in Mehndiganj. I was very well aware of the situation but thought it might get better this year but after talking with the people I realized that the situation is still the same as it was four years ago when I went there the first time to work.

All of the people were still angry at Coke and the government. They all said that Coke is responsible for the lack of water in Mehdiganj and the government is doing nothing against Coke. They said that the situation has been getting worse and worse year by year which did not surprise me at all. We had less than average rain last year and I heard that Coke’s market increased within the past year in India which would of course cause more ground water shortage. Nandlal Master said that the committee constituted by the prime minister of India to study the issue has submitted its report to the PMO but has not made it public yet which sounded strange to me.

Why not make the report public since the study has been completed? Nandlal said that he has used a RTI to ask when the report will be given to him and the concerned department replied to him that they have asked the district magistrate to get him the report. It is okay if they are going to provide the report but I still do not understand why they tried to hide it? Why was it not given to the media? After all it is a big issue . So many questions again and the government and Coke both seem suspicious to me. Hopefully someday something will happen, but it is not sure when.

Finally the article is published here:
http://www.depers.nl/buitenland/497352/Coca-Cola-zuigt-de-grond-leeg.html

Menstrual cycle

I recently learnt something really interesting- the religious idea behind women having their menstrual cycle. I tried to learn about it because I often hear about women considered as impure during their menstrual cycle and a lot of crazy ideas associated with it. The religious reasons I found behind women considered impure during their menstrual cycle has a very interesting story associated it and I just don’t know if I would ever believe in this reason but I thought to share it with the world through my blog.

Within a past weeks two things happened with me that made me think about it. Actually there was an old Neem tree in my neighborhood that died a few weeks ago and I was seriously sad about it as it was the only tree in my whole neighborhood.  I was talking about it with my friends and one of them told me that there was a girl from my neighborhood whose menstrual cycle was going on and she touched the tree and this touch killed the tree. I asked him how this could be possible and he said that since women are very very impure during their menstrual cycle, if they touch any plant, the plant dies of this touch.

The second incident that happened with me was I was working with a girl and we went to an ashram where there were only women living there. We went there to schedule the appointment for interviews in coming days. They asked us to come on the next day but when we were leaving the ashram, one of the women came and asked the girl with me if it was her menstrual cycle going on that day and incidentally it was her menstrual cycle days those days so she said yes. And right after hearing this this women asked her to not come to the ashram until her menstrual cycle days are over.

She became kind of angry and started telling me that now she would have to take a bath because she talked with this girl and touched her whose menstrual cycle was going on. I did not know what to tell her but her view was really strange for me. Anyways, I talked about it with a very educated woman who has very good knowledge of Hindu religion and she told me a really nice story. She said that once Lord Indra , the king of Gods, had to kill two Bramhins because of some reasons which were a very big sin and because of this sin Indra lost all of his supernatural power and his powers.

He wanted to hide himself and went to a river and hid himself under the water. His guru Brihaspati wanted to see him and could not find him. Finally he reached to the river where Indra was hiding. He met Indra and asked him the reason behind him hiding himself in the river and Indra explained to him the reason. Indra requested his guru Brihaspati to help him in getting rid of this sin and Brihaspati suggested to him that he find people who would share his sin with him. He said that this was the only way for him to get rid of the sin. Indra came out of the river and started looking for people who would agree to share this with him.

He asked so many characters but nobody agreed to help Indra; but finally four characters agreed to help by sharing his sin: mountain, tree, river and women. Since all of these four characters shared the sin, all of them were cursed that they would become impure for a certain number of days every year or every month. She said that sometimes the whole mountain or a certain part of the mountain’s appearance change every year when they turn a little bit red and it is a sign of their menstrual cycle. There are a few trees which release glue or kind of a sticky thing which is sign of their cycle. This glue is used widely in India in pregnant women’s food.

She said that the river’s cycle is for two months every year and this is the time when rivers foam a lot and their current is very high; this is the sign of their cycle. And because of this cycle it is prohibited in Hinduism to take a bath in the rivers for two months every year. Only Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati rivers are all time pure rivers so there is no prohibition of taking bath anytime of the year, even when their cycle is going on. And we all know about women’s menstrual cycle. And since this cycle is the result of the sin of killing two Bramhins, they are considered impure and are prohibited from many activities.

In most parts of India, most of the women follow certain rules during their cycles like they do not enter the kitchen, do not touch their elders, they sleep on the ground whereas their husbands sleep on the bed, they do not take a bath for the first three days… Marwaris are more strict about it. They keep their women in a separate room and I have heard that more strict families do not allow women to come out of their room. Nobody enters their room and goes to talk with them. Only food is served in their room. They come out of their room on the fourth day and take a bath.

The pots they use to take their food is purified by lighting up a small fire in the pots or by just moving them around the fire and only then these pots are brought back in the kitchen. Fire is used to purify the pots because fire is considered to be the purest thing and it is believed that fire can purify anything, just anything. The women whom I talked with said women should respect the rules for monthly cycle and should not go out and should not do any hard physical labor. She said that all the companies selling napkin pads say in their advertisement that now women can out and do whatever they want even during their periods which is very bad, and they should not do it.

I asked her what if a woman has a job and can not get a leave of three-four days each month. She thought for a while and said that we have to think about when these rules were made. She said that these rules were made thousands of years ago when there were no napkin pads available in the market and so it was not good for women to work during their periods but since a lot of women work now and obviously can not get a leave every month, they should not stop themselves from working but they should make sure they are not doing anything which is hard physical labor for them like weight lifting, jumping or playing…

She said that even science also says the same thing. She said that women should see their periods as God gifted vacations of three days every month and should enjoy this. But I was wondering how they can enjoy their vacations if they are not even allowed to come out of their rooms or talk with others. She said that if women do not respect the rules, they may be punished with sickness or diseases in the future. I don’t really know much about human body but I love to hear about human body science and always want to learn about it and this story was very interesting for me.

I am really surprised to see such writings present in our sacred texts which were written thousands of years ago. I am seriously in love of those people who wrote these things, just don’t have any idea whether these stories are true or not but one thing is very sure that the writer was super smart. His imagination power would have been just awesome. Hats off to you my dear Hindu sacred text writers!!

Widows in Vrindavan

I worked again with Irene who was doing her M.A. from Ca’Foscari University of Venice and her research topic was Hindu widows. I had already worked with her in October 2009 in Benares but this time she wanted to visit Vrindavan because she had heard a lot about Bengali widows living in Vrindavan and how important this city is for Hindu widows. I contacted my friend Yashu who lives in Vrindavan and asked him to help as I also did not know much about Vrindavan. He promised to help me and in fact he arranged everything- hotel, food and many interviews also.

Irene had already heard about Bhajan Ashrams (ashrams where chantings are organized) working in Vrindavan and she wanted to visit them and see if it was possible to interview women there. I had also heard about widows working at Bhajan Ashrams before but I had no about idea of how big and how many Bhajan Ashrams were there in Vrindavan. I think there was at least one ashram in each alley and few of them were really huge, having three-four thousand widows under the same roof.

These bhajan ashrams are run by rich religious people. They give Rs. 2 and a little bit of rice and a little bit of lentils to each widow chanting for three hours. They have two to three shifts of work. The first shift start around 8 o’clock in the morning whereas the last shift of work ends around 6 o’clock in the evening. Not just any widow can enter in any bhajan ashram and start chanting and then get some money. They have to get registered with the ashram first and then their timing is decided and only then they can work.

There are thousands of widows living in Vrindavan and most of them, over 90% come from Bengal and do not speak any Hindi. Some of them live in a government widow ashram, some of them stay at private ashrams, some of them have rented a room and  some just sleep somewhere on the road or along the river Yamuna. Over 95% of the widows living in Vrindavan make their living from working at bhajan ashrams and begging. All of these women go to bhajan ashrams in the day time and then beg in evening and morning time when there are more pilgrims going to the temples.

Vrindavan is also called city of temples, there are around 5,000 temples in Vrindavan and this city is considered as a holy place amongst Hindus so hundreds of thousands of people visit the city every year. And since people visit the city for religious purpose, people donate a lot of things which makes Vrindavan a good place for begging. It was very sad to see the number of beggers in Vrindavan. I think most of the widows living in Vrindavan are involved in begging.

We asked them why did they chose Vrindavan only and why not some other place like Varanasi or Haridwar as they are also sacred cities for Hindus. Most of them said that since Vrindavan is very popular amongst Bengalis, most of the Bengali widows come to Vrindavan. We asked them why Vrindavan is popular and most of them did not know the reason behind it but one lady who was not a widow told us a very interesting story about why Vrindavan is popular amongst Bengali people.

She told us a story of two brothers who used to work as a cashier at some king’s palace. Once they were working at the king’s palace and while working they ordered a glass of water with sugar but by mistake the servant mixed salt instead of sugar and gave the drink to those two brothers. They drank it and did not realize that there was salt instead of sugar because they were too busy with their work. But later when the servant realized that he had made this mistake by giving salty drink instead of sugar, he went to those two brothers to say sorry.

He told those two brothers that they he had mixed salt instead of sugar in their water but those two brothers did not believe it. The servant told them again the same thing and then these brothers asked the servant that if he had mixed salt instead of sugar then how come they did not feel it while drinking it. And the servant answered that since they were too much busy in their work, they did not realize whether there was sugar or salt in the water. Both brothers were shocked to hear this and this feeling changed their whole lives.

They thought if they would have worked with the same honesty to find the God, the way they had been working for the king, they could have found God. This was the moment when they decided to leave the materialistic life and devote themselves completely to the God. They left their job and came to Vrindavan, which used to be a jungle those days, to meditate and devote themselves completely to the God. They became so popular amongst people that the king of India decided to meet them. When the king came to see these brothers, they were sitting on a ghat along Yamuna river and meditating.

The king told to one of the brothers that he was so happy with their devotion to the God that he wanted to do something for them. He offered any kind of help or money they wanted. These brothers asked the king to get the broken stones repaired at the ghat. The king started laughing and went to see the ghat. But when he arrived there he found that this whole ghat was made of precious stones. These stones were so expensive that they were not available even in the palace of the king. At that moment he realized the supernatural powers of those brothers and immediately went back to them and said that he had realized his mistake of offering just anything.

He said that he was unable to give them what they already had but he still wanted to give something to them. He said to those brothers to that he would donate them all the land he could see from his eyes at once. One of the brothers stood up and looked around and finally all the land they could see from eyes by standing at one place was donated to them and this land is what we call Vrindavan now. So the people meant to say that the city Vrindavan was established by Bengalis and this is why it is so popular amongst Bengalis, very interesting story.

We could interview only ten women in a city where there were thousands of widows because most of these widows did not know any Hindi and I did not know their language. Anyways, we visited a government widow ashram also. There were two government run widow ashrams- one run by the central government and other one was run by the state government of UP. The ashram run by the central government seemed more organized than the state government one. It was new building with at least 500-600 rooms. There were about 2700 widows living in the same building.

We met a government employee there who was working as a helper. We asked for permission to take interviews and he seemed fine with it. He said that all the widows staying in the building come to him everyday in the morning time to get free grains which are provided to them by the government. He said that we could interview them when they come. We were just sitting there and I noticed a lady watching us from another building. She called me and started asking me why we were there and when I told her about Irene’s research she said that it was not allowed.  She asked us to go to the district magistrate and get permission from him.

It seemed really strange but we could not do anything. We did not understand why she was stopping us. Then we went to the biggest Bhajan ashram of Vrindavan but the same thing happened there as well; they did not allow us to talk with the widows there. Finally we reached to the state government run widow ashram and met the security guard of that building and explained the project to him. He was a really nice guy. He said that the officers were not at the ashram now and told us to complete the interview before she comes back.

I asked him why he was telling us to complete the interview before the officer arrives and he said that officers do not allow anyone to talk with widows living there. I asked why they don’t allow and he answered that since both of the officers working at the ashram were completely corrupt and eat the pension money which comes for the widows, they do not want others to know about it. I was really sad to hear this. He said that the government provides a monthly pension to the widows but these officers keep half of it for their enrichment and give only half to the widows.

He said that first of all they ask for Rs. 300 to all the widows just to get them their pension registration card and then they say that it takes about a year for pension to start when in fact registration is free and the pension is started within only a few days. He meant to say that the officers keep all of the first year pension money for themselves and then start pension from the second year and they give only half of it. We asked him how many widows were living at that ashram and he said about 300 which means these government officers steal Rs. 90,000 per month.

He said that they give a small percentage to other government officers also like the district magistrate and other people but most of the money goes to them. I was seriously shocked to hear all of these stories. I just could not believe how someone could take money of those poor women who work for only Rs. 2 and a little bit of grains everyday? Anyways, now I knew the reason why that other government officer at central government run widow ashram did not want us to interview women living there. It was very sad but this was the truth.

We realized that it was very difficult to interview the women living at ashrams so we decided to interview the women who live independently. We started visiting widows at their homes and started talking with women on the road or living in small ashrams. All of them had seriously sad stories. Most of them were married at a very early age and their husbands also died soon after the marriage. They were not allowed to study and finally they decided to leave  home and come to Vrindavan. Some of them left home because their children did not care about them.

We interview to a few Bengali women who said that they stay for about 11 months in Vrindavan, save some money and grains and then go back to visit their family and give all of their savings to their children. We noticed something really interesting- that idea of the reason of their widowhood is sin in their past life was not so popular amongst Bengalis whereas widows from North India had this strong belief that the reason of their widowhood in the present life is because of the sin they had done in their past lives.

Most of the North Indian people believe that the biggest discrimination with widows happens in the Bengal region but the Bengali woman whom we talked with said that they never felt discriminated. It was really strange to hear them saying this. I think that they do not see the discrimination; as a discrimination, they think that this is the way it should be. Anyways, we all know that widows are discriminated all over India, but the biggest discrimination is there in Bengal region.

We got to interview a few Hindi speaking non-Bengali women also. We asked them why did they choose Vrindavan and they said that since Vrindavan has a lot of Bhajan ashrams where at least Rs.2 with some grains is provided, it was a good option for them come to Vrindavan instead of dying at their place. It was a very interesting answer but I do not know to what extent it was true. We interviewed a few widow women who said that it is much better to stay at home and find a job rather than going to an ashram and living like a beggar. I liked this idea better.

We asked all the widows about the remarriage of widows and we noticed something really interesting that most of the widows who were close to 70 years old said that remarriages should happen but all the widows who were close to 40 or 50 said that remarriage of a widow a big sin. They believe that the God has given them punishment in the form of their widowhood life and they should respect it because if they do not respect it then they will go to hell and will become a widow again in their next life so it is much better to live like a widow in one life rather going to hell and becoming a widow again in the next life.

I think the reason behind older women believing in the idea of remarriages was they had already seen their whole lives and now they were alone and helpless so they they think that it is much better to remarry and have a family whereas young widows can take care of themselves hence they believe in living alone. Anyways, it is only my idea; I still do not understand what could be the reason behind it. After coming back from Vrindavan we decided to contact some religious person to ask him questions about what is there in Hindu sacred texts for widows.

We met a woman who had done her Ph.D. in Sanskrit and works as a katha speaker at several temples and ashrams in and out of Varanasi. We asked what could be the reason behind a woman becoming widow and she told us several interesting things about what is written about widows in Hindu sacred texts. She said according to Hindu texts if you try to disturb a couple or make them marry with someone else forcibly, this could also cause you lose your life partner in your next life. I asked her what if a man does it and she said that the rules are the same for men and women both so men can also be punished in the same way.

The second reason could be if you are married but you have relations with other people. There are two kinds of punishment for this sin- one is that when you go to the hell, you have to make relations with a burning iron body and the other is you could lose your life partner in your next life. She said that making relations while in the menstrual cycle could also be a reason of widowhood in next life. All of these reasons seemed genuine to me and made one thing clear that love marriages were accepted in Hinduism and there is a very hard punishment for not accepting it. I think the parents who do not want their children to marry with their girlfriend or boyfriend should think about it now, otherwise they could become a widow in their next life:)

After studying Hindu widows in Vrindavan and Varanasi, I have developed this impression that the widows who decided to stay with their family and find a job, even small, are much more happier than those widows who decide to stay at Ashrams or go begging. I do understand where did this idea of staying at ashrams and discriminating against widows came from, but the situation is very sad and corrupt government officers make the situation more sad. Again I see only one solution of this problem- education, education to women. I believe that if women are educated and have working skills, they can at least try to find a good job and live a better and happy life. But lets see when the government of India will become serious about education for women.

Driving License in India

I have gotten my driving license about 8 years ago but I thought to write my experience at the RTO (Road Transport Office) office today. Actually my friend was talking about applying for a driving license today and it made me remember my experience and I decided to write about it. I was 20 years old when I applied for my driving license so about seven years ago. The RTO office was about 25 KMs from the city area and the city transport system crazy as it is now so I asked my friend to take his motorbike to go there. We reached at the RTO office and this office also looked as crazy as other Indian government offices.

The office was so crowded, full with people and animals, believe me there were dogs and cows sitting inside the office premises. People were chewing paan and spitting all over the office, the whole floor was red because of spit of the paan. There were touts (commission men) wandering here and there, looking for new confused face like I had. One of them came to me and asked if I needed a driving license and of course I wanted one so I told him yes. And then he said that he would help me getting the license but he wanted some money for it.

My other friends had suggested me to not go to RTO office to get license as fake licenses were easily sold in the market but I did not want to do any illegal work. I had met an advocate asking about the procedure of getting a license and he told me that I could get it even without going to the RTO office only by giving some extra money. My advocate said that money is everything at RTO office, if you spend money, you get whatever you want, otherwise nothing. But I had thought to go to the RTO office and let things go on in front of me.

So I told that commission man that I did not want his help but he kept coming to me asking if I needed his help and I told him again and again that I did not want any help. We were looking for any information center but actually there was no such place where people could get any information. We asked someone among the general public about the procedure and they told me to get a form first. We went to the form counter and there was a long queue. I was in the queue for a while and when my turn came, I saw a blind person giving the forms.

I was surprised to see a blind person working with such an important work of giving right forms and dealing with money. Actually government has a scheme of providing jobs to handicapped people which sounds fine but giving forms and dealing with money job to a blind person? Well, he was doing fine. He had different kind of forms for different kind of licenses and other works and he had organized the forms in such a beautiful manner that he knew where what kind of forms were kept. I asked him to give a form for a learning license, they issue learning license first and after one month permanent license is issued, and asked him the price for it. He said Rs. 10 and I gave it to him and came out of the queue.

I was looking at the form and I noticed that print rate of the form was only Rs. 2. I went back to him asking why he charged me Rs. 10 instead of Rs.2 and he said that he gave me a wrong form by mistake. He asked my form back and as I returned him the form, he returned my money saying that form for driving license was already sold out and he did not have it any more. The commission guy I had met earlier showed up again saying that it is true that the print rate is only Rs. 2 but it is sold for Rs. 10. I did not have any other option than paying him Rs. 10.

So I offered him Rs. 10 and he just did not want to sell the form to me. Finally I asked my friend to go in the queue and get the form and this is how I got the form. We filled up the form and went back to another counter to deposit the fee. The counter was supposed to get closed at 2 PM and it was only 1.15 or something and the counter was already closed. I saw a fat lady sitting behind the counter glass and eating something. I asked her why the counter was closed only at 1.15 and she said that it was not 1.15 but it was 2.15. I told her that it was only 1.15 but she said yes, 1.15 but in my clock, it was 2.15 in her clock.

The guy standing behind me asked me to show her some money so I showed her a bill of Rs. 20 and she opened the counter and this is how I was able to deposit the fee. Now it was turn of a written exam but I was a little bit concerned about it because there is not traffic rule in practice in Varanasi and I was not very well aware of them. I saw other guys offering some money to the examiner and we decided to go for the exam first and then give money according to how exam would go.

Exam was not tough and I was confident that I would pass it. After the exam, I went to examiner and asked him to see I was pass or not and he asked me to come later. But then I said that I had not given any money to him and I wanted to make sure that I was pass otherwise I would give some money to him. He looked at my paper and said that I was pass. I think he was the only honest person I met at the RTO, honest in the sense that at least he told me the reality that I was pass rather than asking for a bribe by saying that I was fail. He asked me to come after three days to see the result.

I again went to the RTO after three days and saw the result and I had passed the exam. Now I was supposed to get my learning license. The person giving the license wanted Rs. 100 but I bargained and finally I ended up giving Rs. 50 and got my learning license. After two or three months, I went to the RTO again to get my permanent license. They put me in an interview. The interview was not tough at all. They just asked me my vehicle registration number and a few other basic questions. Actually they are supposed to put all the applicants in a practical driving test but they just don’t do it.

After the interview, they asked me to come after a week to collect my license. I went to the office again after a week and had to bribe an officer again. The officer giving the license looked at my name and asked if I was a Bramhin and I said yes and then he said that he was also a Bramhin and in fact he lived closed to my home but we did not know each other. He asked for a bribe of Rs. 150 but I did not want to give this much. I started bargaining by saying that I was a student but he did not want to hear anything.

He said something really interesting that he charges Rs. 200 to other people but since I was a Bramhin, same caste as him, he was charging only Rs. 150 to me but I had also decided that I would not him Rs. 150 for sure. We talked for a while and I finally I gave him Rs. 75 and said that this is all I had. He took this money and gave my license but asked me to not tell anyone that I had given only Rs. 75 as rate for others is different. I am happy that I have a license but I still think about that blind man, that fat lady and that crazy Bramhin guy who gave me discount only because I was also a Bramhin.

Sometimes I think that I should have given some money to my advocate and get my license at home but then I think that if I have to live in India then I must need to learn to bribe and that experience at RTO at least taught me how to buy a government officer in India. I always think that I will not bribe any government officer but when it comes to getting some work done, there is no hope at all and I bribe again and again. But I hope that technology will change something, maybe not in my life time but someday for sure.

Who actually gets married? A motorbike dowry story.

This question that has always been in my mind is who actually gets married- the bride and groom or their family? It is so common to hear people getting married but then there are few stories associated with these weddings that makes me confused about who actually got married- the bride and groom or the family. It was my cousin’s wedding few days ago and I also went to attend it. Everything seemed fine to me, actually I liked it because I got to see a village wedding which is obviously more traditional than weddings taking place in Indian cities nowadays.

But I heard some things about the wedding that shocked me completely. I am very much interested in this crazy concept of dowry so I asked my cousins about it like what dowry did the bride family have to give and one cousin told me a crazy story about the motorbike the bride’s family had to give as dowry. He said that when the bride’s family asked the groom about what motorbike would he like to take, the groom asked for the Bajaj motorbike called Platina because he liked it and the bride’s family bought this motorbike about two months before the wedding.

After buying the motorbike, the bride’s family informed my cousin’s family that they had bought a Bajaj Platina but my uncle did not like this bike. He liked a Hero Honda bike so he asked the bride’s family to return the Bajaj bike and buy a Hero Honda one. Since the bride’s family had already bought Bajaj Platina and had paid for it, it was hard for them to return this bike and get their cash back. So they said that they had already asked the groom what bike would he like to have and the groom had asked for a Bajaj Platina and that was the reason they bought it.

But my uncle said that they should have asked him instead of the groom. Actually the groom works in a city called Korbain M.P. which is like 30 hours of train ride from my village and my uncle said that since the groom lives far away and doesn’t need a bike for his work, he would not drive the bike, the bike would be used by my uncle. It was a big problem for the bride’s family to return the bike so they involved the bride in this matter. They asked the bride to talk with the brothers and sisters of the groom and tell them that she liked Bajaj better than Honda and that is why she had asked her father to buy Bajaj bike.

She talked with the brothers and sisters of the groom and told them about her choice and asked them to convey her message to her father-in-law but again my uncle did not entertain the bride. He said that this bike would not be used by the groom, it would be used by he himself so he wanted a bike of his choice. Finally the bride’s family paid some penalty and returned the Bajaj bike and bought a new Hero Honda one, which was of course neither the groom’s nor the bride’s choice; it was choice of my uncle.

The bride’s family lost something like Rs. 10,000. It was crazy to see that the groom and bride had no control over their wedding. What was the need to ask for a bike if it was not going to be used by either the groom or bride??? Who actually was getting married- the bride and groom or my uncle??? I saw my uncle driving the bike the very next day after the wedding. I don’t know when the bride will ride the bike her father had bought. After attending the wedding I came back to Varanasi, but again heard something that was just unbelievable.

The bride came to groom’s house after the wedding and then she was supposed to live with the groom. After ten days of wedding the groom went back to his work in Korba but the bride was still living at the groom’s village house with her in-laws. I asked my cousin about it and he said that it is village tradition for the bride to stay at her in-laws house for at least two years after the wedding. So now the groom is in Korba and the bride is living with her in-laws.

I am sure that the bride would have loved going to Korba with her husband and she could not because of this crazy culture. She just cooks the food, looks after her in-laws, cleans the dishes, clean the house… that’s all. She is still 19 year old and she needs to go to school and I am sure that she would have loved to continue her studies but… It would be easy for her to keep her studies continued if she was living with her husband in Korba because she would have fewer responsibilities there. But… I don’t know when these things will changeand women will have equal rights in India, but hope is always there…