Interview with sex workers

We interviewed a few sex workers in Kolkata for the documentary and fortunately my job was to do interpretation between sex workers and Seranna so I talked to them personally. I noticed one thing was that most of the sex workers we talked to came in this profession after some kind of bad thing happened with them at some point of their lives. I talked to this one sex worker who was basically from Faizabad but now lives in Kolkata, who said that she had done a love marriage with a Muslim guy, who was not accepted by her family, so she had to leave her home and come to Kolkata.

After spending a few months in Kolkata she discovered that her husband was a drug user. She told him several times to quit drugs and get a job but he never wanted to do it. Finally she had a child but she did not have any money because her husband did not have a job and she could not ask her family to help her because she had already gone against her family by marrying a Muslim guy. Then she decided to leave the home and went to a brothel and became a sex worker.

She is happy now because she has a better life than her husband gave her. She says that now she is not dependent on anyone and is free to do whatever she wants and now she has developed good relations with her family as well. There was some problem in the beginning when her family came to know she had became a sex worker but now everything is Okay. Actually this sex worker was a program co-ordinator of Durbar (the sex worker’s organization) so she would often be on the news and when her neighbors back at her hometown saw her on TV talking about sex work, they started asking her parents about it.

Her parents also asked her to leave this profession but she had decided that she would never ever leave her job. She is very happy to be a sex worker and she dreams to be a sex worker again in her next life. When we asked about what would she like her child to do then she said that she want her child to go to school and get some job. But there is a big problem for sex workers getting their children admitted in the schools. Actually they do not have any residential proof because most of the sex workers in India are brought from either Nepal or Bangladesh.

Since they come from some other country, or even if they are from India, they do not have any residential proof because they usually change their residence quiet often or they work under some brothel owner who acts as a dictator. Usually they are not allowed to go out of the brothel area. Sometimes they go out to work at hotels but not everyone can go. Brothel owners send only those sex workers to hotels or somewhere else of the brothel who have spent few years at the brothels. Because if they have spent some time in this profession then they do not want to run away, or sometimes brothel owners send someone else with the sex workers to hotels.

One other big problem of the sex workers is the money that they make from their profession. Sex work in India is very cheap and sex workers do not have any social idnentity or security. Usually they charge Rs. 50-100 per client because sex work in India is very quick. Clients come, have sex for 5-10 minutes and then they leave. Sometimes they do not even see the face of the person they are having sex with. Sex workers want to hide their identity and clients also want to do the same thing. So this work is very hidden.

Sometimes sex workers work for an hour with one client and this is only time when they make something like Rs. 500 or so. But this doesnt happen often. Usually they have some regular client who is very friendly to them and want to spend more time, sometimes they do overnight booking as well but only with some speical clients. After work they are supposed to give half of their income to the brothel owner so they make something like Rs. 50 per clients. Since this money is nothing, they are seeing more than ten clients per day which is horrible. It makes them sick.

Because of this residential proof problem they can not open a bank account or go to the places where they ask for the identity proof. In India residential proof documents are often checked after the Mumbai bomb blast so these sex workers have really hard time nowadays. And if they are caught then the police send them to jail. Each and every sex worker talked about the Police. They said that the police raid the brothels sometimes and beat them, put them in jail, abuse them but the same police come the next day to have sex with them.

They said that the brothel owner gives some money to the local police station every month so that they do not raid the brothels but police still do it whenever there is some political pressure on them or when they want to make some money. A few sex workers said that once the police took them to the jail and had sex with them inside the jail. It was shocking to hear that how these law protectors break the laws. They said that sometimes the police call the children of the sex workers and have sex with them. It was disaster. I could not believe that anyone could do this.

We asked sex workers if they give blow job or doing message or some other services to their clients and most of them said straight away that they do not give blow job or do message. There was only woman who said that she gives blow job sometimes but only to some special clients. Blow job is something that nobody wants to talk abuot in India. I have also heard that Indian sex workers do not give blow job which sounds strange. I think they can make more money by doing this. I dont know for whatever reason people do not even talk about it. They say that it is English style of sex but I think it is very very old Indian style. Maybe we taught to British and they spread it all over the world.

One of the sex workers told me this story about when Durbar had just started working and wanted to give them basic writing and reading knowledge. Durbar wanted to have a space to start their classes so they asked people living around the brothels to rent them a room. They waited for two months, talked to almost everyone in that neighborhood to rent them a room but nobody did it. A lot of them came to Durbar asking why they wanted to educate sex workers. They said that if the sex workers are educated then they will not respect other people and they will start making their own decisions. Finally Durbar had to start these classes at their own office which was like one kilometers away from the brothels.

One other very interesting thing was that most of the sex workers have a regular customer who is something special for them. This customer is not only a customer for them, they are like their life partners. They support the kids of the sex workers. It is very hard for sex workers to get their children admitted in the school because they are supposed to write the name of the father of the child and bring them to school but it is impossible for them. So in this case sometimes this special customer helps and give his name as the father of the child.

We asked them questions regarding sexually transmitted diseases as well and to be honest nobody knew about anything except HIV. They did know what lube was. They said that even though they use condoms but sometimes they break off. When we asked them reason behind it all of them said that it was only because of low quality condoms but I think lube also helps a lot. I had also never ever seen lube before Lane showed me. I don’t know why it is not available in our market. They really need training and education but unfortunately government is not doing anything for them.

All of the sex workers said that sex work should be decriminalized which I also believe in. I think that sex work is the second oldest profession of the world, or maybe the first. I think either agriculture or sex work is the oldest profession and it should be legalized and decriminalized. They are also part of our society and they should also be respected in the society like other people. I think it will take a really long time for sex work to be legal in India because our politics is at its worse level now. If one part would do something for them then other parties would start pulling leg of the first party. But this organization is doing nice work and I hope to see change.

Comparing Countries Compassion

Laxmi and Seranna

Laxmi (a transgender) and Seranna

Seranna started her documentary calledComparingCountries CompassioninKolkata which is about sex work and sex workers in India. It is Seranna’s project which she will be doing in different countries but she wanted to start it from India. She has chosen me to help her organizing interviews and she wants to interview me also regarding my work with Sanjeevani Booti. She has hired camera crew from Delhi who don’t seem professional, especially the cameraman. He is crazy. He always fights with other crew members. Actually they all fight with each other in front of interviewee. Sometimes they start asking questions to the interviewee. Seranna was also upset sometimes but we did nothave any hope. This production company is big and is run by a award winning person for his direction but unfortunately he was not with us.

This documentary is about comparing laws in different countries regarding sex workers. I really liked this project and she has given me a very challenging job of giving ideas of direction and doing translation. I translated few interviews of sex workers. We interviewed a few sex workers, social activists, professors of university of Kolkata, transgender people, children of sex workers… it was awesome. We did a condom usage demonstration also and trained sex workers about how to keep themselves safe and how to make more money from their clients. This documentary will be a huge success for sure. I feel fortunate to be part of it.

Sex worker’s conference

Today it was the inauguration of the conference. We reached there around 9 o’clock. The conference inauguration was heldin a very bighall.I think there were almost a thousand people present there and most of them were sex workers from different parts of India and abroad. I had never seenthat big number of sexworkers at one place. There were lots of Hijras as well.There werepeople from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Australia, Hong Kong, US and UK. Butmost of them were from India and Bangladesh.Mayer ofKolkata city, some religious leader and a lot ofother VIPs were also there as chief guest.

I metDr. Jana who is member of the advisory board to Government of India for HIV and AIDS programs in India. He was founder of the Sonaganchi project whichhas been really a huge success and now hasbecome a model for the whole world. They have separated the programs in two session each day, 3 hours each session.The second session wasthe panel discussion aboutsex workers are entertainmentworkers. Different people put their thoughts but to be honest I did not understand most part of it because the whole conversation was in Bengali. But I understood about half of it, it was Okay.

It was very interesting to see how sex workers were putting their views and sharing their experience. Most of them were talking about the problems they face created by Police and discrimination in the society. A lot of them were saying that their children can not get admission in the schools only because they are children of the sex workers. They can not open a bank account or even buy a insurance because they don’t have anyresidential proof.It means they might not be able to use Internet either because now it is necessaryfor everyone to show their identity cardat the cybercafe.

During the conference few people from media came who wanted to interview Seranna about the documentary we are making. She was interviewed first and then they interviewed me also. They wanted to talkme aboutSanjeevani Booti. After my interview they talkedto other foreigners, Hijras and sex workers. I also want to inteviewfew sex workers cause it seemssomething different thanwhat I have already known about them. There are a lot of things that I need to know and this is a good opportunity forme. I will try to interview them tomorrow.

Second day with Seranna

I met Seranna today at her hotel and talked her about two hours. We talked about how the shooting went last day. She said that they were supposed to shoot the sex workers at G.B. Road but could not because the sex workers and brothel owner did not allow her. She just talked them, actually she did not understand much about what they were talking about because the shooting crew was not good with the translation work. They talked to the sex workers but most of the time they did not transalte. She saidit was okay and she was happy withwhat she was getting.

Seranna said that the brothel owner charged her Rs. 20,000 ($450) just to get them in and organize aten minutes dance show by sex workers.They did not let her shoot this dance part or anything inside the brothels.She was still happy withwhatever happened.I am sure she is very cool and happygirl:). Isee this as a mistake of crew members. When I had worked forCBC and MTV Italy, we did a research first so this way everything was very well organized.But with this documentary nothing isorganized. I did not like it at all.

Seranna said that after spending few minutes at brothel,the Police came asking forbribe to Seranna. I don’t knowwhat reason they wanted bribe for, or maybe becauseSeranna did not have a legal permission to make a documentarywhich isgoing to be commercialized.I am sure crew members did not tell her about it either.The cameraman is very famous guy but I don’t know how these people can make this big mistakes. Seranna said that everything went well with her and she was so happy with the progress.

I had asked Seranna to bring some sex toys and she has brought a lot of didlo andfake pussy. Few of them will be give tome to use formy NGO. I had never seenit in front so I was exited to see them. She showed me by wearing this fake pussy. It was so funny. She said that she uses thosetoys to educate people about safe sex practices. I believe that these kind of things get attention and then you can make people hear whatyou want them to.I liked the toys a lot.

Seranna said that the crew members do not want me to come to the shooting for whatever reasons but Seranna wanted me to go the shooting today but I said no. Seranna is going to interview two high class sex workers,a politician and going to a conference organized by Delhi university about sex work in India. We will fly to Kolkata tomorrow to attend the conference. I am excited for it.

First day of work with Seranna

Finally I arrived Delhi this morning and went straight to Chandan’s place and then to see Chottala. Seranna had asked me to meet her at 4 o’clock so I could not spend much time with Chottala. I was not happy leaving him. I was supposed to meet Seranna at G.B. Road, brothel no. 71. Chandan drove me there. We reached there and I said Chandan to leave started looking for the brothel no. 71. G.B.Road is near the Ajmeri gate side of New Delhi railway station and is the biggest market of generator parts of Asia. Brothels and this biggest market of Asia was on the same road.

All the shops were at ground floor and brothels were at first floor. I sent a message to Seranna informing her about I had reached there but she did not reply me. I thought that maybe she was busy with shooting. I thought it would be good experience just to walk around so I did not stay near the no. 71 brothel. All the steps going up side to the brothels had few girls wearing all the makeups, calling to the people. I was also called up by several sex workers. They were all very well dressed but I could easily see that they were not healthy.

A lot of sex workers were at the windows and they were also doing the same thing: calling people upstairs. I went to a tea shop and sat there for an hour. All these sex workers were calling people like:- hey black pants; come upstairs, hey blue shirt, Rs.100 only, hey you look tired come to me… Each and every person walking on that road would look at least one to the windows. Now I had spent more than an hour so I thought to start walking. I noted something very strange that there was no education posters and writing about HIV or other STDs in the whole area. I wandered almost all over the sex working area but saw only two posters teaching about condoms and HIV. This was very sad.

As I stood-up, I saw one guy running. I asked few people they said that he was inside a brothel and he was looted by the sex workers. I had heard of the sex workers at brothels looting their clients but I never believed it. I had asked several people about it who go to brothels and all of them said that they never carry any extra cash or any valuable stuffs with them when they go to brothels because sex workers loot their clients sometimes, specially if they are new. I think it is only because sex workers for the brothel owner and give a big cut of their income to the owner so they never make much money.

After spending few more time now I was stopped by a pimp who wanted to sell me a girl. He just came to me and started walking next to me. He asked me would I like to have a girl and I said no and then he was like I will charge only Rs. 200 and give you a very nice girl, young and beautiful. I told him several times that I did not need a girl but he was kept walking next to me and asking the same question again and again. Finally he left me and a new and the most dangerous pimp appeared: the police. They probably did not want to sell me a girl but maybe, who knows.

They came and asked several questions about my identity. It was okay but I was wondering why did they stop me? I was never stopped before at any place in Delhi. There must be some reason behind it. Maybe they wanted me to ask them for a girl. I saw many many young guys, only 13-14 years old, going to the brothels. They all looked kind of afraid going in but they went. Now after spending more than two and a half hours finally Seranna called me and said that she had left her mobile in her car so she was not the texts I was sending her. She asked me to meet her tomorrow. I am so excited for this meeting.

HIV & AIDS workshop at girls’ school

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Presentation for class 9th

We organized a workshop at Gopi Radha Girls School in Varanasi where Sanjeevani Booti’s social workers and volunteers did a presentation about HIV and AIDS. We had been thinking of it for a long time and it finally became true. We did presentations for the 9th and 11th class girls. We wanted to do it for 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th class but school did not permit us to do a presentation for 10th and 12th class girls because their exams are going to start soon. We did the presentation for 11th class on the 11th and for 9th class on the 12th of Feb.

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Sanjeevani Booti's social workers with schools kids

We had planned to send one girl and one boy to each class but again the school did not permit us to send males so I had to send only girls to the school. I have very good girls now who are interested in this issue, but they don’t want to volunteer, they want a paid job. But it’s okay, I know that it is hard to find people who are interested in working for free. But this makes my project tough because I don’t have regular donors and I do not want to be dependent on a few individuals. I need new people who could support my projects financially.

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A social worker giving presentation

We had two foreigners also who helped us to make this event successful. One of them is Claire Abraham from Montreal, Canada, and the other one is Christina Hunter from San Fransisco, USA. Claire had been helping me for the past one month. She provided me lots of information and trained Sanjeevani Booti’s social workers. She was a big help but unfortunately she could only attend the workshop on the 11th. She had to go to Nepal to get her visa extended. Christina joined us only on the second day.

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Sanjeevani booti's social workers with school staffs

A few girls told us to show condoms to them, to talk about sex, and to talk about sexually transmitted diseases but we could not show them condoms because I was concerned about the school administration’s reaction. The girls want us to organize a big workshop for them where they can get deep knowledge over the subject. But I don’t know when I will be able to organize it because this is an expensive process. I am in touch with a few doctors and social workers from other organizations to make the coming event successful.

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class 9th

I thought it would be great for the kids to hear about HIV from the people living with HIV. There is a network of HIV positive people in Varanasi and I think I can bring some of them to the event. Everything was great but Iam concerned about the future. I think I need grant proposals but I don’t know how to write them. Claire had promised to teach this to me and I am looking forward to it. She is supposed to be back within next few days.

25 new HIV patients everyday

I went to the NACO (National AIDS control Organization) center at BHU with Claire today to get some data about HIV patients in Varanasi for our upcoming workshop at schools. First of all the counselor did not agree to give us any data, and told us to contact the head of the department first and then get permission. I had told her that I was from an NGO but still she did not want to give us any data. We went to the head of department’s room but could not meet him as he was busy with someone else.

We waited for two hours at the counselor’s room. We saw many people coming to get tested. I met a girl who was HIV positive and now volunteers for the NACO center. After spending a few minutes the counselor became friends with Claire and told us everything we were looking for. I am sure she did it only because a white skinned person was there. She said that NACO has a testing center in a lot of different districts of Uttar Pradesh but the BHU one is the only one in all of Poorvanchal where they have ELISA testing facility.

Poorvanchal is a county of Uttar Pradesh which contains seventeen districts. I was shocked to hear that all the people who want to get tested for HIV enentually come to Varanasi center. They can get tested in their districts as well but those reports are not considered as the final report. The ELISA test is the most reliable test and is available in Poorvanchal only at BHU center. She said that the number of HIV patients has increased rapidly within the past few years. When she joined the job nine years ago they had only five-six hundred people every month who wanted to get tested but now this number is between one hundred and fifty and two hundred.

She said that they had hardly fifty to hundred positive results every month a few years ago but now they have at least twenty five positive results everyday. This number was huge and I could not believe it. The interesting thing was that they have only people who are sent by some doctor, think about the people who do not know if they have HIV. She also admitted that the number of positive cases will increase rapidly within the next few years because government’s approach towards this issue is insufficient.

She was not happy with her job. She said that her salary was too low. She said that the WHO gives huge amount of money to the Indian government then Indian government gives money to the Uttar Pradesh government and then Uttar Pradesh government gives money to NACO therefore most of the money is eaten by the politicians and other people involved with this project.

There was one thing that I liked most about this work is that now they give free ARVs to every positive patient. They do not give ARVs to every patient, they are given to only those people whose CD4 is below some dangerous level. I asked her about the number but she did not tell me about it.

AIDSvideos.org

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The speaker

I have got a project from an American institution that makes videos to make people aware of HIV and AIDS. Their name is AIDSvideos.org. They want me to make videos for them in every possible Indian language. They have twenty seven different kinds of scripts in five different Indian languages so it seems like a long term project. They want me to do two kinds of work for them- translate their scripts in different Indian languages and then make videos of them. There are twenty-two official languages in India so if I make their whole videos then it will take at least few years to complete it.

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Our camera setup

I had made a Hindi video few days ago using their script for Sanjeevani Booti but it did not go well. There was a American student named Allen Roda from New York university staying at my place those days who had a very nice camera. We used his camera to make the video. Since I did not have a teleprompter and the script was so long, I got the script printed and put it at both sides of the camera so that speaker could read it. It all went well and it looked fine on the small camera screen but when I played it on my TV then I could easily see the problems. The speaker’s eyes were moving from right to left every time he would go from one page to the other one. It did not look professional so I have decided to make other one.

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Ravikant in front of camera

But still I have some problems. Lane and I looked for some softwarethatwork as a teleprompter and we found some that worked perfect with English script but the problem is that they do not work with Hindi or other languages. I don’t know how to solve this problem. But one thing is very sure that if I do not have a teleprompter then it will be very hard to make long videos. The script is eighteen minutes long and it is very hard for anyone to remember this whole script and start speaking in front of the camera.

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Allen Roda

I was so excited for this project but the teleprompter problem has becomea huge issue for the speakers. They say that they will not be able to remember the whole script. By the way I did some translation work by translating the script in Bhojpuri. It was also a hard job because Bhojpuri is spoken in lots of different districts with different accents and different words therefore I tried my best to write in a very simple Bhojpuri that could be understandable to everyone. I am sure that this will work fine but again the problem is that I have not been able to start making the videos. Hopefully Lane could find a way to fix this problem. I am also talking to people and searching online to fix this problem. I want to start this project soon. I am so excited for it.

Neetu in Pain

Neetu is a sixteen-year-old girl who lives with one of my relatives in Mau district. She was thrown out in the garbage right near Mau railway station after she came on our planet. She was in the garbage and just kept weeping and weeping. A lot of people were there but they were just watching her crying and not doing anything. Nobody picked her up from the garbage. One of my relatives saw Neetu crying and then he could not stop himself picking her up from the garbage. He picked her up and brought her to his place.

He showed Neetu to his wife and his wife started yelling at him. She was angry at her husband because they had already seven kids, two daughters and five sons. She did not want to keep Neetu but her husband told her that Neetu was in the garbage and if he puts her again in garbage, maybe some animal would kill her. They still did not know that Neetu was a female. They were thinking that Neetu was a male baby. Finally aunt took Neetu inside her house and gave her a bath. While giving the bath she realized that Neetu was a female baby.

She started crying thinking that how will she manage Neetu because she had already two more daughters. She was concerned about the dowry for Neetu’s wedding. Aunt again told uncle to take Neetu out of the house. But uncle did not want to do it. Finally they agreed on keeping Neetu in the house. Now Neetu is sixteen years old and has passed 10th class with good marks. My aunt died a few years ago and now my uncle lives with Neetu. My uncle’s other children do not take care of him. My uncle is now old and retired from his job and his children don’t want to see him anymore. They live somewhere away from his place and not take care of him.

Now my uncle is completely dependent on Neetu and is very proud of his decision of making Neetu part of his family. But he is concerned about Neetu’s wedding. He wants Neetu to get married as soon as possible and has been looking for a groom for Neetu. But the problem is that when people hear that she was found in garbage, nobody wants to marry her. Neetu wants to live with my uncle but he wants her to get married because he is not sure what will happen with Neetu after his death.

Neetu lives in Mau district which is kind of undeveloped district even on Indian standard therefore the society is very very male dominating. None of uncle’s son want to help Neetu and it is also one of the biggest concerns of uncle. I have heard of people rejecting girls if they think that girl is not beautiful or is not educated or is not fare or whatever strange reasons but this is first time when I heard people rejecting a girl because she was found on garbage. She is being punished for the reason she is not responsible for.

I think Neetu needs to get married and it will be better for her to get married before uncle dies because there will no one for her after uncle’s death but I don’t know if it possible. The way uncle has been looking for the groom for past two years and every time people rejected Neetu, it seems like it will be very hard for uncle to find a groom for Neetu. Uncle wanted to get Neetu married in the same caste but now he has changed his decision and is agree to accept even a inter-caste groom but still no hope for Neetu. People hear that she was found in garbage and reject her right away.

I don’t know how to help Neetu but I hope that someday she will get her dream boy. I don’t know when people will stop discriminating between girls and boys. I see this problem because in Indian society boys are given more importance than girls. A lot of people get aborted if they have a female baby because sometimes they are concerned about the dowry, and sometime they just don’t like the females. The people who have only girls have hard time in our society. People criticize you in different ways if you have only daughters.

Sometimes they say that there will be no one to give you shoulder (carry your body) when you die. The thing to be noticed is that only males are allowed to give shoulder to a dead body. I don’t think it is a problem if females give you shoulder. And now it is happening. I heard of lot of cases where somebody died and he had only daughters and these daughters gave shoulder to their father and cremated the body. It sounded strange to a lot of people but I don’t see it as any problem. Hinduism has give very high place to girls but I don’t know when and where the problem came from. But I still have a hope that someday there will be no discrimination between boys and girls and girls like Neetu will not be thrown out in the garbage again.

Security and Sanitation or Satellite?

On 22nd of October, 2008 India launched Chandrayaan, a satellite, tocompile a 3D atlas of the lunar surface and map the distribution of elements and minerals.I am sure these kinds of work costs huge amount of money. Right after one month of this satellite launch India faced the biggest terrorist attack ever. Almost 200 people died and over 350 were injured in this attack.

Our fire department did not have big enough ladders to reach the target, they did not have any special clothing, they were wearing normal cotton clothes, a lot of policemen were killed because they did not have bullet proof jackets, I saw a video of a police man fighting terrorists with his old riffle and terrorist had very advance gun. This all happened because Indian government never thought to spend money on these things.

During Bihar flood this year, thousands of KGsof grains and food packets got rotten only because we did not have helicopters. There were only two helicopters covering whole Bihar. People were dieing of hunger and thirst. There was enough food but we did not have transportation system to bring it to needy people. Again it all happened only because Indian government never thought to spend money on these things.

Sanitation is a big issue for India. People piss on the road because we do not have public toilets, people throw garbage on road because we do not have dust bins, one sweeper is responsible to cleanup the whole neighborhood where more than two-three thousand people live, they discharge untreated sewage directly to the rivers, people also throw the garbage in the river because there is no one to educate them. All these things happens only because government never give priority to these works.

Sending settelites seems like too much show off work to me. I am sure more than 30% of the Indian people can not write the word moon and more than 50% of the people must not be knowing what a settelite is, and more than 97% of the people will not be knowing how Chandrayan will work or what will it do. Indian government has been continously talking about this project since they have started it.

I think we need sanitation, security and education first, and then settelite. I think it will be better to tell the ideas to some rich countries or tell them to fund the whole project or just sell the projects and spend the money where it is needed first. A lot of necessary things are not done in India only becasue of lack of money like we do not have good roads, we do not have enough schools, we do not have good public transport system. Why not spend money on these projects and give better life to Indians.