Rapes and women rights in India

Woman rights have always been a very issue in India ever since it was affected by invaders. And now the situation has become worse. If we look at India before invaders came, we see that India was a very liberal society with woman and men both having equal rights. But as soon as invaders came, they changed Indian society completely. They implemented so many rules to keep women behind curtain which kind of separated them from the society and caused serious discrimination against them and now these practices have become part of life in India. I travel a lot across India and as a person interested in human behavior, I try never to miss any opportunity of talking with people, doesn’t matter what subject.
Every once in a while I encounter in such conversations where people are talking about girls and just listening to them gives me a sense about how do they see woman, even who are their family. People react in seriously strange way when talking about woman. Three of my friends have daughters and I still remember that when I spoke to them first time after their baby was born, all of them told me somehow the same thing that were happy EVEN if the baby was a girl. I mean if someone becomes a parent then naturally they are happy and there is no need of mentioning whether they got a girl or boy. I could easily see that they were so happy, just as any new parent, but at the same time they were depressed also. There was definitely something missing out of their happiness.

The compliments of others who came to visit the baby at the hospitals were also very strange. They would come and ask if it was a male or female baby and as soon as they heard that it was a female baby, they would go like : Oh, but its not a problem, now the world has changed and girls are also doing so many nice things. These kind of compliments easily showed that the people already had an idea in their mind that the parents were not so happy. Noticing such behavior raise serious question of gender issues in India. We heard about Damini rape case in December last year and I noticed how big news it had become. Everyone was talking about it, people were protesting on the streets, media had nothing else to talk about other than this rape case, our politicians got a news subject to talk about : the party in power was promising some serious step and the opposition party also got an issue to make the other party look down.

I was wondering why everyone was so serious about this particular case when such things have been happening and will happen, because I don’t have any hope from the government at all and police is cent-percent corrupt, in future as well??? What about other Daminis who were also raped and murdered in the past? There has not been a single day ever since Damini was raped when some other girl was not raped in such or worse condition somewhere in India, including several in Delhi itself. It is my daily routine to read newspaper as soon as I wake up and I never find my newspaper not talking about some rape case somewhere in India. Reports are same more or less everyday that a girl was raped and thrown somewhere in either half naked or fully nude condition:  when family went to the police asking them to register a complaint police did not register the complaint: but when media got involved, police registered the complaint: ministers also promised something etc.

I have read several articles saying police itself raped someone inside the police station. I also read an article about a 40 years old woman who was raped by 3 men. When she went to the police station, the Police did not register her complain. When media heard about the issue and contacted to the SSP (Senior Superintendent of Police), the SSP himself said on camera that this woman was lying. She was too old get raped. In fact he asked media why someone would rape her if she is already over 40??? I was like what the hell is this? We all know it very well that it is very complicated for a person to get their complain registered and police does it all the time because once they register the complain they have to solve it also and Police never have time to solve any problem, they are always busy either relaxing, making fake reports, taking bribe or planning to torture someone without any reason but having such kind of excuse from a very responsible and senior police officer??? Later the SSP was suspended but I know that he will be back soon.

Last year an IAS officer tried to rape a 16 year old girl on a running train. Under pressure of other people traveling on the train, police had to register a complain but the very next day media reported that several ministers and other big officers either went to the police station or made a phone call asking police to take the complain back. But since the issue had already been noticed by media, police could not do anything and case was still going on. Finally last week I read another article in the news paper saying that the District Magistrate case was closed in the lack of evidence. The District Magistrate never spent a night in the prison and the case was also finalized only within a few months otherwise India has got most number of legal cases pending in the whole world and usually it takes years for a case to get finalized.

Another horrible case, I would say the worse one is of Sonali Mukharjee, a girl from Dhanbad, Jharkhand (Previously was part of Bihar state). Three boys from her neighborhood attacked her with acid while she was sleeping on her roof top in 2003 and the boys who attacked her are out of prison having fun or planning to attack another Sonali and no one talks about her. The only mistake Sonali did that she refused love proposal of a boy and that’s all. He attacked her with his two other friends and threw acid on her face. Sonali’s story is that she belonged to a poor family. Her father was a security guard at some residential building which means not more than Rs. 5-6000 of income per month. Her mother was a house wife and she had a younger sister as well.

Sonali was so smart in studies that her school had given her life-long scholarship, she was so popular in her school and her parents were so proud their daughter. She was also a National Cadet Corps cadet. In 2003, almost one and half months prior to the incident, three alleged assailants – Tapas Mitra, and his two friends Sanjay Paswan and Bhrahmadev Hajra – told her that she was a Ghamandi (arrogant) person and they would teach her a lesson. Her father later complained to the families of the three men. On 22 April, when she was asleep on the roof of her house, she was attacked with acid and left with a burnt face and other severe injuries. Her sister was also injured in the incident. She was studying sociology honours in a Dhanbad women’s college and also juggling a job with a private firm when the horrific incident occurred.

Miss Mukherjee and her family were then forced to abandon their home in Dhanbad, and her mother slipped into depression. Her father Chandi Das Mukherjee said, ‘We appealed in the high court… Nothing happened. They were sent to jail but were released soon after… Now they are busy enjoying their lives.”The law against acid attackers needs to be made tougher. Otherwise we will have many more Sonalis. Police sources said that the victim and her family members are afraid since two of her attackers, Tapas Mitra and Sanjay Paswan, were released on bail six years ago. The third accused Brahmadev Hajra was let off as he was a juvenile at the time of crime. She also pleaded with the Indian authorities to help her find justice, or else allow her to die.

A report about Sonali asking for either justice or mercy killing:

Sonali appealing people to help her by signing a petition

After all these things Sonali never got justice and the criminals are enjoying their lives, maybe planning to attack another Sonali. I just don’t understand all these craziness and in fact it is increasing. More and more girls are raped everyday and different people have different opinion about it. I have talked with several people on this issue and most of them, over 90%, blame girl’s dressing and modern life style. Many people also blame poverty, illiteracy and even Internet. Neither of these sound genuine cause to me. If its girls dressing or modern life style which motivates people to rape them then what about that 5 years old girl who was raped brutally in Delhi and so many like her are raped every day in our society. We heard about her only because media paid attention otherwise I can guarantee that so many other kids are raped everyday but we never hear about them.

I have also heard of so many cases which took place in rich and highly educated families which clearly shows that this problem is not limited amongst poor or illiterate class. I went through a very interesting conversation about Damini rape case in January when I was traveling on a train from Pune to Varanasi. I was in non AC sleeper class which is mostly used by lower middle class families. All of the people around me where from Bihar who were working in Pune and now going back home on vacations. I heard them talking about how do they find people living in Pune so different than the people living in Bihar. They were saying that all of the young people of Pune waste their whole time with their partners because the parents have got a lot of money and kids don’t care about their future at all.

They were also saying that they see young couples kissing in public spaces or showing other form of PDAs which cause frustration amongst the people like themselves who come from other cities or states where they never see such thing happening. They said that Damini was also raped because of such reason. The people who raped her came from Bihar, and as per the people sitting on the train, it was not their fault that they raped Damini but it was Damini’s fault that she was out with her friends in midnight watching a movie. They were saying that the people who move to big cities to work always leave their wives back at home. And if they see such activities like kissing or something else then they also feel like having sex and since their wives are home, either they have quit their job to go back home or find someone in city where they are at that moment.

And definitely nobody would quit the job, instead rape someone in the city. It was a horrible communication but at the same time it showed the mind set of such people. PDAs is serious issue in India. I know that everyone wants to do it but they don’t because of the local culture. But its becoming more and more common which means more and more people are upset with it. I have heard several incidents when a couple was beaten only because they were found kissing. There is a park very close to my place and it has become kind of love nest amongst young people of my city. I know so many people living around the park area who say that every evening they hide somewhere behind the trees trying to find a couple kissing or doing something else and if anyone is found then they either throw stones at them or just jump in between and say that they also want to kiss the girl or just chase them away and later disturb the girl.

I have noticed if people find a couple kissing then they thinking that the girl wants to be kissed, just by anyone and hence they also deserve a kiss. I used to go sit behind the park every night with my friends, have some beer and enjoy the quietness. I noticed certain people who would come every day with a flash light and try to look everyone sitting here and there. It was a very strange thing to see same people every day and once I asked my friends from that neighborhood about those people and they said that these people basically try to find couples kissing or having sex. And if any couple is found doing anything other than talking then problem for them. These people threaten the couples and in some cases beat the boy, kick him out and then have sex with the girl. I have talked with so many people about what do they think about a couple kissing in a park or just at any other public space and most of them have really strange ideas.

I was once talking with one of my friends, who is my age and is a software engineer and he said that if a couple is beaten because they were found kissing in public then there is nothing wrong with it. He thinks that public places are open for all aged people and kissing is something very very sexual and private. In fact he  asked me how would I react if I see a couple kissing in a park where I am present with my family. I don’t know what would I do, most probably just not pay attention to them and let them enjoy their private moment. I have no idea what is the reason behind all these problems but rapes have made the situation worse and it seems like its not going to change soon. But if I have to make a guess about my society, I would say it’s the Police, government of India, late and corrupt judiciary, some cultural problems and regular sick mind which is causing all these problems.

Police is 100% corrupt and they never want to register complaints because if they register a case then it becomes their responsibility to clear it and in any case any Indian police officer can be bought by offering some money. Corruption in police has caused serious problems in India. I feel like Police is somehow responsible for all of the problems we have in India. Late judiciary is also a very big problem in India which basically somehow motivates people to do crime. People know that if the go to a court then it will take 30-40 years for so called judgment to come. And in any case there is always a way : after district court, its high court : after high court, its supreme court : after supreme court, it’s the parliament and after parliament it’s the president where one can appeal. I know several people who were able to get the hearing delayed just by offering a few hundred rupees as a bribe.

Government also makes so many promises but never does anything. All of the political parties do politics in the name of caste, religion and region. They have nothing to do with development, education or any other issue that we are facing. I think that governments can do anything if they are committed to make a change but they don’t have any interest in such issues. Nature is dying, crime has increased, poverty is increasing, inflation is on top, scams are the biggest in the world…but government has no time to think about these serious issues. They are always busy in talking bullshit and doing scams.  India has so many problems coming from its culture. For an example, the problem of hierarchy on the basis of somebody’s caste or wealth. People evaluate themselves by their caste and literally talk about it in their regular conversations.

I know many people who belong to Kshatriya caste and they always say that they have politics in their blood, they are always the best fighters because they belong to Kashtriya caste…although they are really stupid. The male dominant culture in India is also causing such problem like discrimination and violence against women. I find present India really weird because woman power is worshiped by worshiping Goddesses when they are dead statues but real woman are raped so brutally that it becomes an International news. India, particularly Hindus, have a great concept of respecting woman. In fact the term used for women is Shakti which means power but I don’t know where all these concepts are lost? Female infanticide, depressed woman, violence and discrimination… after looking at the present condition of woman in India, it doesn’t seem like there is any concept of worshiping Goddesses or respecting Goddess power at all.

I am upset, India is upset, Mother India is crying and we need to change the situation. Lets pray that India gets its glory again and we become a really great nation where there is no discrimination against anyone….

A painting at Assi ghat

A painting at Assi ghat

Juna Akhada Peshwani

In Hinduism, Akhara (also akhada) is an association of the different sects of Yogis, also known as Sadhus (Hindu Renunciates). Its history dates back to the eighth century when Adi Shankaracharya established seven Akharas. Some yogis revere Gorakhnath as the founder rather than Shankaracharya. The 7 ancient Akharas are Mahanirvani, Niranjani, Atal, Avahan, Agni and Anand Akhara. Today there are 3 major Akharas (Juna, Mahanirvani and Niranjani) and 3 minor Akharas (Atal affiliated with Mahanirvani, Anand affiliated with Niranjan). Traditionally during the Kumbh Mela, the Naga Sadhus, and the ‘Akharas’, lead and initiate the bathing rituals, before the general population steps in.

Since these group of Sadhus reside in different parts of India, they all have to gather together and then they follow the festival or whatever the reason could be. There is also something very important process of participating in the festival which is called Peshwani. Basically Peshwani is a procession organized to show the official arrival of a group of Sadhus in a city. The same Peshwani was organized by Juna Akhada in Varanasi during Kumbh Mela 2013. I had heard a lot of Peshwanis but had never seen one but luckily this year I got an opportunity to see it. I made a video also which Peshwani of Juna Akhada in Varanasi on 2nd of March 2013 :

Why dogs stuck together after mating???

There are street dogs everywhere in India and seeing them mating is not uncommon at all. And seeing them being stuck together after mating is also as usual as seeing a dog on the street. I had always thought why it happened to them because it looks really painful but I never tried to find the answer for whatever reason. A few weeks ago a friend of mine told me a really interesting Hindu explanation of why dogs stuck together after mating. He said the reason comes from the epic Mahabharta. As per Mahabharata it is said that Pandavas shared a common wife named Draupadi.

The reason why they shared common wife is because Arjun, one of the brothers, married  Draupadi in a swayamvar and when he returned home with his wife and other brothers they went straight to their mother Kunti. Kunti often advised her sons that they share everything they have (or obtain through Bhiksha, i.e. alms) equally amongst themselves. Upon returning home with Draupadi, on purpose, Yudhisthira addresses his mother first “Look mother, what we have brought “. Kunti, unmindful of what Yudhisthira was referring to, unassumingly asked her son to share whatever it is with his brothers. Thus, in order to obey their mother’s order all five accepted Draupadi as their wife.

Now the story begins about why dogs stuck together after mating. As per my friend in order to organize the sex, Pandavas decided that whenever somebody would enter in the room of Draupadi they would leave their sandals on the door so that other brothers know whats going on inside the room. Once one of the brothers was having sex with Draupadi and left his sandals on the door. Later a dog came and stole the sandals and went playing with it in jungle. Bheem, one of the brothers, also wanted to have sex and he approached towards Draupadi’s room and as usual he looked at the door first to see if somebody was inside and had left the sandals outside.

But since the sandals were stolen by a dog he did not see the sandals and entered in the room and found Draupadi having sex with one of his brothers. The brother who was having sex was seriously upset on Bheem and asked him why didn’t he check the sandals before entering in the room. Bheem was also upset and he was asking why didn’t he leave the sandals at the door before entering in Draupadi’s room for sex. Bheem said that he did not see any sandal on the door and they went out together but did not find the sandals. They were seriously angry on the person who did it and decided to find him.

They went to close by places looking for the sandals and the person who had stolen it and found a dog playing with it. They were so angry on the dog that they cursed him. The brother who was having sex said ” Oh dog, the reason why a person was able to see me having sex, which is a very very personal moment of somebody’s life, is only because you hence I curse you today that the whole world will see your private moment every time you have sex and since then all the dogs stuck together after mating and can’t separate until so many people have already seen them.

As per my friend, the curse is the reason why the dogs stuck. I did not believe my friend at all but since then I asked several people if they knew the reason and all of them told me the same thing. I asked them where did they read this story and none of them remembered. For whatever reason I don’t really believe that this story comes from Mahabharata but at the same time I have read so many other stories which are similar to the dog’s story. Anyways, I found the story very funny and interesting. Hindus have answer to every question and maybe this story is also the answer of dog’s pain:)

I have no intention of hurting someone’s belief or disrespecting the religion but I just shared this story because I found it really funny. I hope you enjoyed it:)

Exorcism at Harsu Baramh, Bihar

I grew up in the society where talking about ghosts, demons, spirits… is part of life. There were places where I asked not to go during certain time of the day and nights because it was believed that there were ghosts around those areas and I literally followed it. There were minimum of 10 such places only around my home. Anyways, I have became more interested in ghosts within past 10 years but my interest is in finding why people believe in ghosts and how it affects their life. I never want to miss visiting a place which is supposed to have some power of dealing with ghosts or just talk with someone who says that he is affected by ghosts or can deal with ghosts.

I have already visited so many such places and have talked with so many such people. I have been hearing about a place called Harsu Baramh for really long time which is only 70-80 KMs from Varanasi and is supposed to be the place where one can get rid of any kind of ghosts and demons. The word Harsu Baramh is made of two words- Harsu Baramah. Harsu was a bramhin guy and Baramah is a particular kind of spirit which has access to limited number of people in certain area. Baramahs don’t fly or take a train to affect the people away from their locality.

Another belief about Baramh is that it is unsatisfied or disappointed soul of a Bramhin who wants to be worshiped. The story of Harsu is that he lived in a village called Chainpur, in modern day Bihar, with his family and worked as a Bramhin. He was donated a huge house which was located right in front of the King’s palace. His home had two minarets which were in fact taller than the minarets of King’s palace which made the queen upset. She saw it as her disrespect and asked the king to do something so that minarets at her palace looks taller than the minarets at Harsu’s home.

The king also did not like that Harsu home’s minarets were taller than the minarets of his palace and he ordered his army to knock down the minarets at Harsu’s home and burn the whole house. His solders knocked down the whole building and burnt it. Harsu was on work when his house was being burnt but when he heard about it, he ran towards his home. When he reached home, he saw his family dying by being burnt alive and building completely destroyed. Harsu got so angry that he cursed the king that he would become a Baramh by killing himself and would then take the revenge.

Harsu Baramh also jumped in the same fire and killed himself. Harsu was back later in the form of Baramh and killed the king. This idea is so strong amongst the community that they recognize Harsu as the king of Baramh and now there is a shrine located in the same village where Harsu came from. People believe that if a person is affected by ghost and no one is able to help him getting rid of the ghosts then he should come to Harsu Baramh. I also decided to visit Harsu Baramh in order to learn more about the idea of ghosts and exorcism. It was a Sunday the day I visited Harsu Baramh and I was expecting to see a lot of people but shockingly there were not many people.

When I visit any regular temples or holy shrines then I try to be respectful to the people and their beliefs but don’t follow all the rules. I don’t feel comfortable making any kind of offering, whether in form of cash or food or sweets or anything, at the temples because I know that as per real religious rules these things are not important. But when I reached to Harsu Baramh, I was so nervous that I decided to go with all the rules of that particular place. I was nervous because I knew that it was not a regular temple and the people who were there believed in the ghosts more than the God himself.

Anyways, I bought some sweets to offer at the shrine in order to be completely normal visitor. I don’t know how to explain what I was feeling when approaching to the shrine but I was not feeling the way I usually am but at the same time I was so excited. I arrived at the shrine but found it black, smoky and really strange place. There was nothing going on, that place had a really empty feeling. There were a few people working as a priest and maybe 20-30 people behaving strangely. The regional idea in my locality is that when somebody is affected by ghosts they move their head in circle, women open their hair, hit their head on the ground and try to hurt themselves and we call this process in Hindi- the person is playing.

And another idea is that when someone affected by ghosts arrive at such places like Harsu Baramh then they immediately start to play. So I saw those 20-30 people playing. One of them was really funny. I saw him arriving inside the shrine premises. He looked completely normal when he arrived. He was holding a towel and went at a corner and sat their quietly. He looked at the shrine for a few minutes, folded his towel, kept it right in front of himself on the ground and started hitting his head on the ground which means he started playing.

He used the towel so that he doesn’t hurt himself. I saw another lady who was playing. She would play by shaking her head, rolling her body on the ground, making some strange noises and then look at others around her and then sit quietly. Anyways, it was very interesting to see those people but I felt so sorry for them. I was like how come someone could really hurt themselves only in the name of ghosts who are never ever been seen by any person in the whole world. I understand it very well that we get to see what we want to see and if there are people who believe in ghosts then they get to see them.

Its sad for me to see that there are people who are more concerned about invisible pain than the visible pain. Its impossible for me to imagine the mindset of such people who believe in the ghosts and kill their time, money and themselves by going to such places where they can get rid of their ghosts. The shrine at Harsu Baramh was so strange that I did not even think about taking a picture. Every place has a unique feeling but Harsu Baramh had no feeling at all. When I go to temples or other religious places I feel something there because there are a lot of people doing the same thing.

Especially when I go to any Hindu place then I find it very energetic because Hindu religion is a very loud religion and people sing chantings loudly, play drums, recite mantras together which makes the place very energetic but Harsu Baramh was a sad and strange place with complete empty feeling. Later I learnt that it was my mistake that I went to Harsu Baramh on Sunday because Thrusday is the important day for the shrine when hundreds of people come. Anyways, it was good that I got some entertainment and went on a long drive which I always enjoy. I think this journey of finding a ghost will continue for me as I have not been successful so far!!!

Hospitality industry in India

I work in hospitality industry and I have been trying to learn about it ever since I started working. I had already heard about India having so many problems for tourists but never realized how serious the problem was. Every once in a while I heard about something but it was not possible for me to realize how big the problem was and how easily we could solve it and make more money and send our guests back with a positive impression about India. The biggest problem I was hearing all the time was the issue of forced shopping and I was seriously upset with it. For whatever reasons I was never ever interested in it but I was still happy with the money I was given for my services.

Now when I am back after my first trip out of India, my industry seem shockingly in terrible condition and I feel very sad about it. I traveled in Europe for 14 days and to be honest I was traveling ever hour of the day, except when I slept. I was just not at home at all. I went to all almost all kinds of tourist places possible in Europe and I was really surprised how easy everything was and how the government and people were so nice and welcoming for tourists. The only difference was the cost but its not an issue because life was very expensive in Europe and they definitely need to charge more.

And the good thing was that at least you get what you want after paying for it. Its just not possible at all to buy good services in India. I am not saying that its impossible to get good service but its very hard. I have no idea why such things are going on and why not government and the people of my country are serious about it. We need to understand that Tourism in India is relatively undeveloped, but a high growth sector. It contributes 6.23% to the national GDP and 8.78% of the total employment. A World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) report says that by 2020, tourism in India could contribute Rs. 8,50,000 crores to the GDP. In other words, every man, woman and child could become richer by Rs.7,000. India has yet to realize its full potential from tourism.

The Travel and Tourism industry holds tremendous potential for India’s economy. It can provide impetus to other industries and create millions of new jobs. But we won’t be able to make this dream come true if we don’t organize our tourism industry. The major problems tourists face in India is the lack of basic infrastructure, behavior of people working in tourism industry (tourists guides, drivers, hotel staff, restaurants etc), unorganized services, people on the street targeting tourists etc. To be honest I don’t really think that we need to make huge changes, we can organize tourism only by making little efforts.

A few things happened with me in recent times which made me write this article. At first my Europe trip which was like an enlightenment for me other than that the first attraction with a foreign tourist after returning back to India. Actually it was going to be my first work after returning back to India. I was going to work with a Dutch family. I was going to take them on the boat ride. This assignment was given to me by a travel agency, the only agency I work with in whole India. Usually I talk with my guests the evening before the working day. I called the hotel several times but no one responded.

In fact they were staying at a very nice hotel in Varanasi and I was just not expecting such behavior at all but it happened. I wanted to talk with the guest just to reconfirm the timing and other details. I went to the hotel and met with the guest. The guest seemed seriously upset when I met with him at first. He told me- Thank you so much for coming otherwise I was not hoping to see anyone. I was really surprised why he told me such thing. I started talking with him and he said that he was traveling with his wife and daughter and he had requested his travel agent to provide them either a triple bed room or two different rooms but today he was provided only one double bed room.

And when he asked the hotel where would he sleep, the hotel said that they could give him a blanket and he needed to sleep on the floor. He was so upset with it and told me that his dog sleeps on the floor and he always sleep in his bed. He called his agent in India and they said that this is Indian way. Finally he decided to booked another room and paid from his pocket. He had already paid for everything but here he had to pay for the mistake he was not responsible for. The guest was so upset that he said he was very well aware the hotel guy and the travel agency guy sleeping in the bed but they did not care at all about him. I was really sorry for him but…

Anyways, I needed to discuss about my work with him next morning so we just sat together and discussed about the next morning. He said that he did not want to go on any boat ride as he was already super exhausted by traveling for 14 hours on a train and then having all the crazy experience at the hotel. He asked me if I could arrange his boat ride for the evening. As a tourist guide working for someone else it was not under my power to change his boat ride. As per the rules of the travel agency I was working with he needed to pay again because he was the one who wanted to cancel the tour. And in any case we would have to pay the boat guy doesn’t matter whether use him or not after making a booking.

He also seemed fine with this and asked me the price but when I told him the price he was again upset. He said that it was a rip off. I could easily see that he was prepared to tell this way before I told him the price because he was seriously upset with everything. He had no idea what I was asking for but he had developed this mentality that I was going to cheat him. I had asked him for Rs. 1200 per person and this is the rate travel agency in Varanasi charge. He had paid almost three times more to his agent for the morning boat he canceled but still Rs. 1200 seemed like a rip off to him.

I could easily see how upset and angry he was and I was the one who was dealing with him alone. I was seriously scared but I knew how to make Dutch people happy:) I have worked with many Dutch people already but the most important thing is that I have worked with a very popular TV channel called VPRO from The Netherlands. All the Dutch people I ever met know about this TV channel and they all way that they like this channel a lot and follow their programs as they are very progressive channel. And when I tell them that I have already done so many assignments and research for VPRO they become very interested in me and seem so comfortable and happy with me around them.

I knew it would make him happy and comfortable if I tell him about my relations with Dutchland so I shot my arrow and it worked. He was kind of shocked at first and later so happy and comfortable. He invited me to have a beer with him. We went on the roof top restaurant of the same hotel and ordered beer. We were just talking and talking about my work with Dutch people and what he could do the next day in Varanasi and already passed more than 20 minutes but no beer. Neither I nor the guest had any idea why the service was so later as beer is a packaged drink, the hotel did not need to produce it.

I asked the waitstaff again about our order and he said, it will come soon. I asked how soon and he said ten minutes. I asked why and he did not answer me. At this moment I thought maybe they went out to buy the beer and we started talking again. After ten minutes I again asked the waitstaff about our order and he just open the refrigerator right next to our table and gave the beer to us. The refrigerator was literally right next to our table, so close that I could easily opened and taken the beer out without leaving my chair. I just did not understand why he made us wait for 30 minutes???

Impossible to imagine but this is what happened. I can’t even imagine why they did not serve our order on time. Were they worried about me? Were they personally upset with the guest? Or do they just don’t care about their guests at all? Didn’t they care about the money we were going to give them by buying their goods? In any case if they did not want to entertain us then they should have just told us about it. Even after doing it no one said sorry or anything. No one explained why they were so late even when we asked them. Why such things happen?

Such kind of thing is just an example which happened recently with me otherwise I encounter something crazy every time I am working and I know it very well that most of the tourists must be facing similar problems, or maybe bigger, when they are in India. I spent fifteen days traveling in Hungary, Austria and Slovakia and I hardly noticed such things two three times but the problems I noticed in Europe was different and was not as extreme as here. It happened only once in Budapest when someone approached me trying to sell an iphone but it was very easy to avoid him. I noticed a problem second and time in Bratislava, Slovakia where a waitstaff at a restaurant did not speak any English and was dealing with customers.

We ordered something else and got something different. Other than this I just can’t think of any problem I noticed during those fifteen days. Now I wonder why can’t we also have similar kind of services here in India? I know that Indian government is crazy and I just don’t have any hope at all but what about services offered by people? Our attitude for tourists? At one hand we are so proud of saying that as per Indian culture the guest is like God (अतिथि देवो भव्) and on the other hand I am very well aware of such incidents where foreign guests were not treated even like a human? And it happened only because they were our foreign guests.

I have a strong feeling that the people not working in tourism industry are very friendly and nice and all the tourists like them a lot but unfortunately a lot of people who are working in tourism industry are really strange. They just don’t have any sense of tourism or hospitality at all. Another unfortunate thing is that the tourists don’t really get to meet many local people and mostly they interact with their agents or other people working in tourism where they develop strange ideas about India and I am not surprised at all. I would also develop the same mentality if such thing happened with me.

I still don’t forget the way my driver in Himanchal Pradesh had cheated me for only Rs. 100. The amount was nothing for me but that experience of being cheated changed my whole idea about him and I started to hate him and was not feeling secured at all. If we just look at any online travel forum about India then the forums are full of negative stories about India. In fact there are warnings. I know that a few people might be offended with my thinking about tourism industry in India but to be honest I experienced the difference and whatever I am writing is a bitter truth.

We really need to realize that there are problems. If we don’t admit that there are problems then we just won’t be able to solve them. Internet is changing the world. Now we can easily learn a lot about the any place in the world without visiting. We can talk with people without meeting them, we can share ideas and if India is getting negative impression online then we are going to be in huge problem. People read about India before coming here. We need to change otherwise one thing is very sure that we are not right track and things are not going work this way for very long.

I know that everyone is not the same and there are so many people who have real passion for tourism and they do really nice work but it is very likely to get a bad experience in India. I hope we change such things soon.

Passport office in Varanasi

Government has been trying to make the passport application process easier and they opened a passport office in Varanasi hoping that it will solve a lot of problems. I got my passport two years ago and I still remember that I had to wait for 11 months after applying for it. When I heard that we have got a passport office in Varanasi, I was so happy because earlier there was only one passport office for whole Poorvanchal region of UP state which was in Lucknow. I got to visit this office with my friend who wanted to apply for a fresh passport. The building looked new and organized and definitely it had all the unnecessary formalities which we usually find at Indian offices.

They did not even allow carrying any bags inside, no camera, helmet..The office looked hi-tech and full with young employees. Later I learnt that first step document verification and other inquiries are done by Tata Consultancy which was very good because private companies always work better than government. We did some inquiry about the process of applying the passport and asked for the form. They told us that there is no system of filling up the forms manually exists anymore and now everything is done online. You apply for the passport online by filling up the form and booking an appointment on their new website.

You the just supposed to bring all the documents on the appointment date and go for the interview. They have a website with the name Passport Seva Porta with all the information available on it. This new system sounded beautiful but I don’t really think that this is a good system for whole India, especially my region of Poorvanchal where thousands of villages still don’t have electricity, just forget about having computers or Internet. There are so many places where they have got computers but there is no Internet or if there is Internet then people just don’t know how to use.

And in any case the website is in English which is a huge problem for a lot of people. I was discussing about this issue with a few people and they told me that the people who don’t even have electricity or the ones who do not speak English or don’t know how to use Internet won’t ever need passport. But the fact is that there are thousands of uneducated but skilled laborers from Poorvanchal who go to Arab countries to work every year. If fact when I think about the people I saw at the passport office, it seems like most of them wanted to go to Arab countries to work and they were having huge problems with applying for passport online.

All of them were having some kind of problem. The website says that you need to bring certain kinds of residential proofs, identity proofs and other documents but the website doesn’t say that they don’t only need the original documents but they need a print out of the same document from the concerned government office website. When I had applied for the passport only my PAN Card was enough but now they want the original PAN card, a xerox of it with the print out of information available on Income Tax Department ‘s website about my PAN card. The same thing was there with all other documents.

Now they don’t entertain any document which has no record available online. For example driving license is not accepted anymore. All these formalities sounded like a huge problem even for a person like me who uses Internet all the time. I was thinking about all those people who had never used computers before. At the same time I met a gentleman who needed an urgent passport for his wife. He was working abroad and wanted to bring his wife also with him. He had his ticket booked after 15 days or something. Government promises to provide urgent passport within a week by charging some extra money.

He booked the appointment online and his appointment was issued for Varanasi office. He showed up at Varanasi office and they told him that Varanasi office is not authorized to take applications for urgent passport and he needed to go to Lucknow only which is like 10 hours by train from Varanasi. He went to Lucknow the same evening where he was told that since his appointment was issued for Varanasi office he needed to go there. He again came back to Varanasi office when I met with him. And again the same story. The people at the Varanasi office were saying that they were not authorized to take applications for urgent passport.

Now this guy was so angry, he was asking if they are not authorized to take the application for urgent passport then why do they issue the appointment and no one had any answer. They were kept saying that they could not help him and he needed to go to Lucknow only. Now this guy wanted to talk with some big officer and they were kept asking him to wait. He passed more than an hour waiting for some response and finally they said that no one would meet with him and he can do whatever he wanted. I was kind of scared after looking at all these conditions and was not sure whether one should apply the passport at the office or go to some agent.

I started asking to my friends if they knew some reliable passport agent and they told me about a person named Rehan Bhai who has got his office in front Diamond Hotel, Bhelupur. I went to him and he seemed thousand time more helping than anyone working at the passport office. He charged me only Rs. 1000 as his service fee but he offered me a lot in exchange of it. At first my friend did not have to fill up the form or anything. He informed us about the documents which were accepted nowadays by the passport office. We just provided him all the documents and he took care of the rest. He booked the appointment as well. He went online and printed the online records of his documents, booked the appointment, prepared all the documents in order, kept them in a file and handed it over to us. Now we just needed to go to the office on appointment date.

It hardly took us 2 hours to complete everything and yes, he promised that he will us the passport within two months because he had some connections with the officers working at the passport office. My friend reached to the office on the appointment date then everything was very professional. All the problems that we had to face were in the beginning stage. At the office he was sent to a desk where people were sitting with their computers. All the computers had two screen- one facing to the computer operator and other one facing to the applicant so that applicant could also see what information was filled in.

They asked my friend after filling each page to confirm if all the spellings and other information was right which was a very good system because in the past so many people had problems with the name or address printed wrongly on the passport  and with such system I don’t really think that it will happen any more. After this he had to meet with three different government officers who verified the original documents. It was really funny that one of the recognized that we were taking help of Rehan Bhai only by looking at the file. I asked Rehan Bhai about it and he told me that he writes some secret code somewhere and that is why the officer was able to recognize it.

Anyways, all the formalities were done. My friend hardly spent 30 minutes inside the office which was very impressive for me because I still remember the time when I had applied for my passport. But the most important thing is that we saved all the time and everything was so smooth for us only because we were taking help of Rehan Bhai. It would have not been possible to get the work done that easily without his help. Finally my friend received his passport also only within 2 months But I still feel sorry for all the those people who were at the office facing all the problems. Government of India has always been crazy and I definitely have no hope from them but I was not hoping for them to be this stupid of ending the entire system of filling up the forms manually. I think they should keep the both systems alive and have a help desk to fill up the forms for uneducated people.

I would like to share mobile no. of Mr. Rehan Bhai so that if someone looking for an agent or information regarding passport office in Varanasi, reads my post may contact him directly. His mobile no. is- 9415291050. He has an assistant also named Deepu whose mobile no is- 9336633322. Feel free to contact them as I already have their permission. I hope this post will help people wanting information about getting their passport without any hassle. Please don’t think that I am advertising for Rehan Bhai, his services were really awesome.

work with OHM, The Netherlands

OHM is a TV channel from The Netherlands. They actually make radio and TV shows about Hinduism targeting the Hindus living in Netherlands. They wanted to make a documentary TV show about a young Dutch Hindu boy who was born and raised in The Netherlands in a Hindu family experiencing Hinduism in India. The character they had chosen was named Bramha and they wanted Bramha to live with a traditional Hindu family in India for a few days, experience their daily life, religion, culture and then make a presentation about it. Bramha was a 26 years old young energetic boy who did not have much interest in any religion.

To put a contrast in the story they wanted Bramha to stay with a Hindu family which is follower of Aghor. They had contacted several people across India to organize their work but none of them were able to do it. And I understand it very well because India and Indians have changed a lot after terrorist attack in Mumbai and now they do not want to take any risk by hosting any stranger. Finally they contacted me through my blog. At first I thought it would be easy but later I also felt the same issue. People did not want to host any stranger.

They wanted to film inside the Kina Ram Ashram which I knew wont be possible as I had already tried it several times but every time I got same response that they do not allow media inside the Ashram premises. They have done it because a few years ago some TV channel from India did some filming inside the Ashram and later played with the footage and story and presented Aghor and Aghoris as the people who eat human body flesh, use alcohol in the rituals and do other strange things. Anyways, I still went there but they did not allow me.

But they suggested me about a family who was devotee of Aghor. I knew the family personally but I did not know that they were devotee of Aghor. Another condition put by the TV channel was that the family needed to be a joint family and luckily this family had seven brothers living in the same house and sharing the same kitchen. It was perfect for the show but they were also not comfortable with hosting a stranger in the home. In any case this was the best option I could find. I was talking about an option of TV people meeting the family in person and asking about the option of hosting Bramha for a few days and luckily it also worked when Bramha arrived.

They permitted Bramha to stay with them. So Bramha stayed with the family for four nights and the other crew members stayed at hotel and did the filming. Other than filming with the family they also filmed some regular footage of Varanasi like the evening ceremony, sun rise, rituals, temples, river… They liked Lali Baba a lot and filmed with him also. I have no idea what was the impression of Bramha and what he will talk about the family or Hindus in India but I have a feeling that they were happy with my work and went back with a positive impression about the family they worked with.

Nirvana Travels lead character

Nirvana Travels is travel show done by NDTV Good Times TV channel in India.The show looks at the spiritual face of different cities in India. The idea behind the show is to meet people in different cities and see the city through their eyes. They contacted me regarding their upcoming show about Varanasi. Actually in this show they have one lead character and a few other regular but interesting people as well. They wanted to choose me as the lead character for this show because of my tour guiding work, research and social activism. I was kind of surprised when I heard about it first, actually I had no idea why they wanted to choose me only if there are so many other tourist guides, researchers and social activists.

Anyways, I asked them about why me only and they said that there are definitely other tourist guides in the city but no one is as popular as me online because of good references. There are other researchers but they usually study only one topic and never share it whereas I have been studying many different subjects and I write about it online. And finally they said that they did not want to work with any social worker who was a very big name, they wanted to work with new people in the industry. And overall I was doing all these things alone. I had never heard anyone talking all these things about me:)

Anyways, they came to Varanasi with the host of the show named Kaisha Hastu. She had already done other episodes of this show and some other show for NDTV Good Times. We agreed on filming and places and other details. Basically they wanted to film me in my environment, where I usually meet with my friends, the shop where I usually have my tea and such things. The first day they asked me to take them to my favorite chai shop. I was feeling kind of nervous being surrounded by cameras in my own neighborhood but it was fun.

They introduced me as a very popular tourist guide and researcher from Varanasi. At first they asked me general questions about Varanasi, its culture, people, tourism… They already knew that I was very much interested in cultural and religious diversity of Varanasi so they asked me a few questions about it also. Other than this there were questions about my personal life, research, activism… To be honest I don’t really remember how many questions they asked but they asked me questions about almost everything. Other than me they need some help with interviewing other people as well.

They were very much interested in the idea of Nirvana hence wanted to interview someone who had some real knowledge about the subject. I suggested them to meet with the manager of Kashi Labh Mukti Bhawan. Mr. Shukla, the manager, is a very knowledgeable person about the subject of Moskha or Nirvana. I had already interviewed him several times. After interviewing him they showed interest in interviewing some young artist from Varanasi, preferably a tabla player because Varanasi is very famous for its Tabla players as well. I organized this with a very famous and young tabla player from Varanasi named Prashant Mishra. Finally the show was completed with a big interview with me and four-five smaller interviews with other people. I look forward for the show on air.

work with e3 Foundation, Texas

I got to work with a non profit organization called e3 Foundation from Texas. Their project was very interesting. They were making a documentary about religion and what it means to people. It was a series of documentaries which was based in three different countries. They wanted to make one episode about Hindu religion and this episode was based only in Varanasi. I was was responsible to do research, find different people who were interested in talking about what religion and God mean to them, schedule appointment for interview and do interpretation. But they did not want just anyone, they wanted each person to be different from other so that there is diversity in the show.

It didn’t really take me much time to organize it as I already knew many interesting people. I think my interest in people helped me a lot here. There is a public call booth at Assi crossing which is owned by my friend’s uncle. I always found him different from others because whenever we were sitting next to his shop, he would usually come and stay close to us so he could hear what we were talking. Sometimes he also became part of our discussion. Only a few days before e3 contacted me, the show owner, friend’s uncle, had shown me his diary. His diary was full of poetries written by him.

These poetries were basically about his life, his religious practices, the way regular people practice religion, the world and questions about religion and God. It was really impressive. He had told me once that people who are not curious and do not question things are just like animals. Because the God has given us mind and we need to use it. His another writing which impressed was – Are we really worth getting blessings of God? I was really impressed with his writings. And when I was thinking about right people for the show, he immediately clicked in my mind.

And when I asked him if he would like to be interviewed, he was so happy and agreed on getting interviewed. I took e3 to Kashi Labh Mukti Bhawan also where we interviewed the manager about the idea of death in Hinduism. We also filmed a family who had brought their mother to die a Varanasi. We filmed evening and morning rituals as well at Mukti Bhawan. It was again very intense experience translating the manager, because he loves talking and talks too much and the atmosphere at Mukti Bhawan. Anyways, it went very well.

I introduced the director to a boat rower also who is known for his singing skills. He writes his own songs and most of them are religious. He loves singing his songs when he is rowing the boat and his voice is really beautiful. This interview was also very good and interesting. Other than this we interviewed a lady professor of Hindu religion and definitely her interview was very nice. Overall we did 10 interviews with different kind of people and did some regular touristic things like evening ceremony, morning boat, temples, rituals etc. It was nice working on this project because it was mostly about interviewing people and I got to listen a lot which is always a nice experience for me.

Another project with VPRO

VPRO hired me again for their documentary project called From Bihar to Bangalore. This documentary project was bigger than the last one I worked with them in 2011. The host of the show Mr. Jelle Brandt Corstius wanted to show how India changes from one city to other. I was responsible for organizing their work in Varanasi. Mr. Jelle spent 4 months studying Hindi and exploring India to prepare for the documentary. I met him about 3 months before the crew arrived in Varanasi. Mr. Jelle told me that the whole world knows Varanasi but they only one classical picture of Varanasi but he wanted to show something different.

We went to a few places which is shown in all of the documentaries about Varanasi. Apart from those regular places we went to Kashi Labh Mukti Bhawan where they allow only 15 days of stay for the people to die, we met with Mr. G. D. Agarwal and the king of Doam society. They wanted to interview one of the members of National River Ganga Basin Authority also. I suggested them to interview Mr. Rajendra Singh because I was very well aware of his honest activism for environment, especially Ganga but we could not schedule an appointment with him as he was going to be busy somewhere else during the filming time.

We decided to work with Mr. B. D. Tripathi, professor at BHU, instead of Mr. Rajendra Singh. Mr. Jelle was very much interested in the king of Doam society, the people who work at the cremation ghat. Arranging an appointment with him was kind of a pain because this person was seriously commercial. The only thing he cared about was money. VPRO wanted to film Shivratri festival in Varanasi and I arranged the filming at a temple called Tilbhandeshwar with consent of the temple management committee and Shivratri organizing committee.

Everything seemed very well organized. I knew what we were going to do and when. Everything went smoothly except filming at the Tilbhandeshwar temple and interview the king of Doam society. When we arrived at the temple to start filming, it was too crowded. We got in the temple and by the time we were going to go on the rooftop to film the preparation, a policeman stopped us. He said that filming inside the temple was not allowed. I told him that I had permission but this guy just did not want to hear anything.  One of the persons from the management committee also said that it was not problem for them but he still did not allow us.

VPRO understood that it was not my fault but it was crazy to see how this policeman behaved us. The king of the Doam society was also a crazy guy. He did not want to speak anything, his answers were too short and finally we decided not to work with him. We filmed a Sadhu also at the biggest Ashram in Varanasi which was very nice. The Sadhu was very cooperative and he invited us to join him at his personal Ganga ritual. VPRO just loved this footage. Everything went very well and finally we completed the filming in Varanasi and VPRO told me that it was one of the best episodes they had ever produced.