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

Public Display of Affection in Europe and India

a young couple walking in Budapest

Public display of affection is something not seen at all in India. Actually its very strange here. The people who love each other are not supposed to show any physical intimacy in public whereas regular friends can hug each other, hold hands and sometimes kiss on cheeks. Holding hands and hugging is the most common act of physical intimacy seen in India amongst same sex person but it doesn’t mean that they are homosexuals. Its again very strange that homosexuals never want to hold hands, hug or kiss each other in public because homosexuality is very very hidden and homosexual people don’t want to express their sexuality. I have met so many Europeans and Americans who always thought that same sex people holdings hand of each other are homosexual because this is how it works in their world.

a middle aged couple in Vienna

Usually friends do such things and there is no idea making love behind it. If people see a couple kissing or hugging they want to watch it. Holding hands is kind of becoming common and is not kind of issue anymore in big Indian cities. Anyways, I have also grown up in the same culture where I never saw any act of physical intimacy in public. My city gets a lot of western people from all over the world who some time kiss and hug in public so at least people in my city have an idea about it. Every once in a while we see some crazy drunk westerner making love on the street. Making love doesn’t mean having sex but finding a westerner kissing or hugging is not something unknown to the people of Varanasi. Doesn’t matter whether they have seen it or not but they are very well aware of this culture.

an old couple in Vienna

I think that having sex or watching people having sex has always been one of the biggest attractions amongst us humans in our whole history. But the world has changed a lot within past a few decades. There are several countries and cultures where sex is discussed, is opened (doesn’t mean in public: in fact there are places where people can go in groups and have sex but is usually a group activity rather than a public activity), people have a choice and it is seen in a very different way than the it is seen in my culture and country. This idea of watching people making love or just seeing them in their undergarments is very exciting for Indians because we just don’t see such thing happening. And whenever we see someone in such condition, most of the time they are western people.

an old couple in Vienna

I am very well aware that a lot of people go to places like Goa in India just to watch western woman in bikinis. In fact, when I went to Goa first time in my life it was also to watch western girls in bikinis and find cheap alcohol. To be honest most of the woman I saw in Goa were old with ugly bodies:) Still when I see someone kissing on the street my eyes like to stop and watch it. But I usually try to avoid it because I don’t like to disturb people but my mind still talks with me about that picture while I am trying not to watch them. I think situation should be the same with most of the Indians, even the ones who try not to watch people kissing or making love. And I don’t really mind it because we just don’t see such thing happening and foreigners should also learn about these cultural issues before coming here and try to respect and be respected. But at the same time we can’t blame foreigners either because it is very important part of their culture.

a newly married couple in Buda

Anyways, I got to travel to Europe (Hungary, Austria and Slovakia) , in fact anywhere out of India for first time in my life a few weeks ago. Everything was different than what I was used to hence everything was a shock, in fact very interesting shock. I don’t want to discuss about all those things in this post but I would like to discuss the idea of the importance of physical intimacy and public display of affection. I had started seeing couples kissing, holding hands, sitting on the lap, caressing, nestling… as soon as I crossed the immigration area at Delhi airport. The most interesting thing was that very good percentage of Indians were also involved in such act who usually never do such thing in public.

a young couple in Vienna

It seemed like they had planned to do it as soon as they leave India but could not wait for the flight to land:) haha. Maybe they had not planned it together with their partners but they had planned it with themselves for sure. Experience make us feel comfortable and I could easily see that Indians were not comfortable doing what they wanted to and looked completely inexperienced. hahaha. I am sure that they did not want to do sex in public but they just did not know what they were doing. They didn’t seem comfortable even in touching each other but they were trying their best. I am not making fun of those people I saw at the airport but It was really funny and interesting both for a person like me to see them. Because I just don’t see such thing happening in my society by the locals and they had changed their as soon as they crossed immigration area at the airport.

even statues were making love

When I arrived in Europe I saw people kissing and hugging just everywhere even inside a church. They were very comfortable with it and it seemed like it was just not an issue at all. I saw people kissing in the train, at the crossings, shopping malls, restaurants, zoo…just everywhere. It seems like kissing is as important as meat to Europeans. I saw all aged people, literally as young as 14 years old kissing in public. Kissing seems very important to Europeans. Once I saw a young shop keeper smooching her boyfriend in front of the customer and the customer waiting for them to finish.

couples at Szimplakart pub in Budapest

I was very well aware about this culture in Europe years before I went there but I was still surprised when I saw it first and my first few days were shocking for me in terms of seeing people making love on the street. I think I had stopped noticing or watching it after a week or so but it was something which won’t go out of my mind soon. In fact once I was discussing this issue with my host Attila and told him about how I saw Indians involved in physical intimation in public at Delhi airport or in Hungary or other European countries I visited and Attila was so surprised and he asked me why Indians don’t do such things in India also if they like to do it.

men and women dancing together at a cultural event in Kesthai, Budapest

Attila had already spent more than an year and half living in India and he was very well aware of what I was talking about. I did not know how to make him understand but his question was very genuine that why don’t we do it if we like to do it? I knew the answer but it was hard for an European mind to understand. Sex is very very hidden in India, even talking about it with parents and unknown people is something which just doesn’t happen. Everyone does sex but they don’t want to talk about it. I have met so many people, to be honest all of the people all I meet, who find such sexual acts like cunnilingus and several other sex positions very exciting but they never want to admit that they do it with their partners and always relate with something coming from the western world which is very dirty, disgusting and unnatural. haha

temple art in Khajuraho, India

I am sure that everyone does it but they just don’t admit, even when they are talking with their friends. It is again very interesting for me to see why people relate such sexual acts with western world when all of them are mentioned in Kamasutra or if they are present on the temples of Khajuraho and several others all over India. I think we were practicing all of those acts way before western people started talking about it, at least it was very open part of the society thousands of years before the first sex museum was opened in the world or anyone ever tried to document sex in this whole world. Anyways, my issue is about present India so I should about present.

A young couple in Bratislava, Slovakia

I just mean to say that sex is a very very hidden act in India which is one of the reason why we don’t see public display of affection in India. The second biggest reason behind this issue is the safety of woman in India, woman rights issues and in fact safety of couples also who dare to show physical intimacy in public. It was hard for Attila to understand why someone could be upset by watching others kissing but I understand it very well. Anyways, Attila only seemed upset and I could not satisfy him with my answers. The world knows how Shiv Sena was targeting people celebrating Valentines Day in India. If we try to learn how they were protesting against the festival then we can see that they were not actually looking for people celebrating the festival but mostly they were targeting the couples.

In fact kissing is seen as a form of greeting also in western culture. Men are kissing each other in a wedding part for greeting.

They wanted to beat the couples who were found together watching cinema, hanging around in the park or other public places. So it clearly means that they were protesting against the people and not the festival itself. And I know it very well that the all the people who were protesting against the festival either had a partner whom they went out with to celebrate festival the same day or definitely they wanted to have someone. And I personally know so many people from my own city, who were part of the Shiv Sena and were targeting people celebrating the festival, now are either married with the someone whom they loved or they have girlfriend.

a view of Rajdari waterfall from Devdari

Only after a week after I returned from Europe I went to visit a water fall 50 KMs from Varanasi called Raj Dari. This water fall is a very famous picnic spot for people living in Varanasi and nearby districts and hundreds of people visit the fall on Sundays during rainy season. I was there to find rock paintings and to watch people. The whole region of Chandauli district has several sites with ancient rock paintings and tree fossils which are said to be around 1400 million years old. While I was looking for ancient rock paintings I heard a group of people shouting which made me look at them

Couples bathing together in public is no problem in Europe

It was a group of like 15-20 men, all different aged, mostly young who were taking a bath. A young girl who was wearing Punjabi suit was also taking a bath hardly 20 meters away from them. She was with her boy friend and wearing Punjabi suit mean her whole body was covered with cloth. That group of 15 men was taunting at her. They were calling her with the name black panty. And they were doing it repeatedly in front of hundreds of other people who were there. They were taunting such things like- call us also, we are also very good…

usual scene at bathing places in Europe

The couple was doing nothing other than taking a bath, even they were not kissing or doing anything which can be considered as a sexual act. Her dress was also not different than bathing dress of woman in India. I am 100% sure that it happened with her only because she was with her boyfriend. Most probably such thing would have not happened with her if she was with her parents. It happens with woman even when they are with their families as well but it is more likely to face such situation when they are with their boyfriends. The girl was so nervous and uncomfortable with the situation that she came out of the water and walked away from there.

Even when she was walking away another group also joined and they all started taunting at her with vulgar languages. I know that such things are less likely to happen in big cities and one of the biggest reason behind why such happened is because those people were locals and there was no security at all. But the question that raised in my mind was-

  • Does a girl need security if she wants to take a bath at a water fall?
  • Are couples not allowed to be together?
  • What do such people think about the the couples who kiss or hug, do the think that the girl wants to be kissed and hugged by just anyone on the street or do they think that she is a slut?
  • What about freedom to express your feelings?
  • What about constitution of India which allows us to choose our life partner?
  • What about constitution of us human beings which allows us to live and let others live?

a couple in Bratislava, Slovakia

There are thousands of questions but its very sad that because of such practices we just don’t have any answer for them. The bitter truth is that if we try to study the mentality of such people then we find out that if they see a girl doing anything which can be considers a sexual act, even kissing or hugging, the girl is immediately thought to be a slut who is wanting such thing to be done with herself by just anyone. In small Indian cities and villages If a girl is found in relationship with anyone boy then people talk about it and now the whole neighborhood wants to try that girl out.

I don’t know what is right or wrong but it was really upsetting for me to see how that girl was being taunted and abused only because she was with her boyfriend. The radical and nationalist groups in India relate such things with something coming from the western world and we should not allow such things because it is against Indian culture. But I think we as a human have a human culture before we get into any particular country’s culture. Love, hate, emotions, feelings are natural human behavior and it just can’t be stopped. And in any case if something hurts us then we should try to control ourselves first and then think about others.

I still don’t know whether my Indian system is better than what I saw in Europe or not but one thing is very sure that woman are living in very tough condition in India. If we just look at this data it can easily tell the story about woman in India. But one thing I would like say for sure that whatever I saw in Europe looked really lovely and I saw Indians also enjoying it in Europe and missing in their own country. Jai Hind. I got a funny picture online which shows the difference I am trying to talk about-

Menstrual cycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Widows in Vrindavan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sudden request for dowry

It is one of my relative’s wedding in the last week of May. The bride is a graduate student and the groom works for a CA (charted accountant) in Lucknow. The bride’s father has a small saree business so not much money. The marriage was arranged by some relative of the bride. This marriage is very traditional and everything is being done according to Hindu religion. The groom and his family seemed so nice to me when I first met them because when the bride’s father asked about dowry, the groom’s father said that it was not an issue for them.

I really liked that decision. But right before a few days right before tilak (the day when the bride’s family goes to the groom’s family and some rituals are done), the groom’s family started asking for dowry. They wanted Rs. 51,000 cash, a motorbike, jeweleries, clothes, refrigerator, TV, bed and a lot of other things. I knew that the bride’s parents did not have enough money to give that much dowry but did not say that they could not afford it. They promised to give this much dowry but I knew that it would be hard for the bride’s family to arrange it.

I was talking with the bride and she told me that she talked about it with the groom and groom said that he did not want anything at all, no demand. All these demands were made by his father and he could not do anything to reduce this dowry. The bride seemed so sad when talking about dowry and I also did not like this at all. I  see the bride’s father somehow trying to arrange everything but I know that it would be very hard for him to arrange everything.

After a few days of the tilak, the groom’s father called the bride’s father and said that the groom had already bought a motorbike so there was no need to give a motorbike but they wanted cash instead of the motorbike. The bride’s father said that if the groom already had a motorbike then why were they asking for cash but the groom’s father said that they wanted either a motorbike or cash instead of it. After paying all of this dowry, the bride’s family has to arrange a party which will cost at least Rs. 1,50,000. So the total cost of this wedding will be close to Rs. 3,00,000 which is kind of impossible for the bride’s family.

There are so many cases where brides were burnt alive a few months right after the marriage only because their parents could not give enough of the dowry which was asked by the groom’s family. I have heard of many cases where the groom’s family tortured the bride even though their demand was fulfilled and finally the bride was burnt alive or killed in some way. Many times the bride’s themselves commit suicide because of the torture. Many times even after facing all the tortures, some brides do not inform other people about it or do not go to the police because they think that if they go to the police and if the police take any legal action against the groom’s family, it would look very bad for them in society.

I never understand if such marriages are marriages or they just like a business settlement where one party always loses everything. It would make sense to me if the dowry was given by the groom’s family but bride’s family, why? They give their daughter who will take care of the groom’s family for her whole life; is it not enough? Is it cheaper than a motorbike or Rs. 51,000 cash? So many questions and it is painful to see how this system is getting stronger and stronger. Now people want more and more dowry. I know many people do not want to have a daughter because they are afraid of dowry. I don’t know when such things will change or if they will ever change or not, but it must change if we want to see real happy and developed world.

Tourism in Amritsar

Lahore 23 Kms

Lahore 23 Kms

I went to Amritsar after submitting documents tour guide license at India tourism office at New Delhi. I had already heard a lot about the flag ceremony that takes place at Wagah India-Pakistan border and this was the main reason why I wanted visit Amritsar. I was supposed to arrive Amritsar on the evening of 9th but I arrived on the afternoon of 10th as my train was delayed by 17 hours. I just looked for a hotel near the railway station, put my stuff in my room and head immediately to Wagah because the parade was supposed to start at 4.30 Pm. I had enough time to reach Wagah before the parade starts, but I wanted to be there early to see what was going on.

Yea, but corrupest

Yea, but the most corrupt

The bus left me two kilometers before the border and then I had to take a rickshaw. There were a few things that I really wanted to do in Amritsar and watching people was one of them and that I why I decided to take a bus so that I can talk with more people and see them. The bus was completely full but fortunately I got a seat. I arrived at Wagah border at 3 o’clock but it was the trade time and the border entrance was not open for general public, only traders were allowed to enter to do their business. Wagah border was also like other tourist places in India.

These guys have really tough life

These guys have really tough life

There were not many shops but they a few restaurants and convenient stores and these shops had touts working for them. Several people came to me who wanted to eat or drink something at their brother’s restaurant but I think they did not know that I was from Benares where whole tourism industry is dependent on touts and I was very well aware of it. Anyways, I was not hungry at all so my rickshaw driver did not get any commission. Wagah border was the first place in India I had ever been where they were really taking care of the time.

BSF office at Wagah

BSF office at Wagah

The border was supposed to get closed for traders at 3.30 and it closed right at 3.30. After the border was closed for traders, tourists were asked to make a queue. I think there were around 3,000 people to attend the parade. There were a few rickshaws also who were telling that if someone goes with them, they will get the seat in front but I did not know how this was possible but actually it was true. There were two gates, about 500 meters away from each other. We were in queue at the first gate but the security check was in between the first and second gate. People were shouting Vande Matram and Bharat Mata ki jai and were so excited to get in.

When will we become perfect

What the hell is this?

It was all about arriving at the security check first in order to get a front seat at the parade place and rickshaws are definitely faster than normal walking speed. The first gate was opened at 4 o’clock and everybody started running to the second gate where there was a security check. Everybody was checked properly and were sent to the parade place. I was so happy to see the management but suddenly I saw something that again made me feel like we are still India. There were two policemen sitting on horses but again there was a dog standing next to them. What if the had a bomb inside his body?

BSF flag

BSF flag

I am never ever surprised to see wild animals just anywhere in India, even inside the government offices or just anywhere but near the high security zone? It was something that really surprised me. Well, the parade started at 4.30 and it was something that I am not going to forget in near future, maybe never. The parade was just awesome. There were about 3,000-4,000 people from India side but not many from Pakistan side. The Pakistan side sitting arrangement could also be seen from India side. I think there were hardly 300-400 people. I think it was just because they just don’t have as many people as us, after all we are over a billion people now.

You see this everywhere in Amritsar

You see this everywhere in Amritsar

People were shouting and jumping to encourage their side army. I was talking with locals about why such parade is organized and they told me that the idea behind it is to bring Indians and Pakistanis closer but I don’t think it is working that way. The Indian and Pakistani army men doing the parade were pretending to be so aggressive against each other and I think this is what people want to see. It was so fun. I liked it. The parade lasted for lasted for 45 minutes and finally flags were taken down from both sides and were kept in the offices.

One of the best things I had ever seen

One of the best things I had ever seen

After the parade ended and I was on my way back to the bus, I saw something that doubled my happiness. I saw females securing our border, it was really a great feeling to see females in our army. In a male dominant India society where most of women still manage only kitchen, it was a great feeling to see females securing ourselves and our border. I had already seen female police in the cities, and they look crazy and fat and lazy like male police but these females at the border seemed like they really work hard. They were managing the crowd and doing security check for females. But they were not only associated with females, they were managing male visitors as well.

Volunteers at the shoe stand

Volunteers at the shoe stand

They looked fit, they were confident, they were smart and they were really doing something. It was just amazing feeling to see them. After attending the parade I took a bus back to Amritsar and went to Swarn Mandir (Golden Temple). This temple was beautiful and really huge. I had already heard about Sikhs at the Gurudwaras cleaning the shoes of the visitors for religious reasons but I never thought that this tradition is really important for Sikhs. They had at least 10 huge shoe stands for visitors and they had volunteers working there to arrange shoes of the visitors. There were two people at each shoe stand and they seemed eager to manage the shoes.

The Golden temple

The Golden temple

Visitors don’t even needed to bring their shoes near the shoe stand, all they need to do is that take their shoes off and put it on the counter and then the volunteers would take the shoes and put them in stand. Visitors were not allowed to enter in the Golden temple without covering their head with any cloth. They had a counter where they were offering free small piece of clothes to the visitors. I also grabbed one and entered in the Golden temple. Amritsar was seriously cold. The maximum temperature was 10 degree and minimum was 0.8 on the day I was in Amritsar and walking barefoot on wet white marbled temple was making it more cold.

Langar at the Golden temple

Langar at the Golden temple

The temple was beautiful and was really huge. The temple was crowded but there was very good management so I never felt like it was too crowded. I went inside the temple, spent sometime watching people, reading wall writings and came back to hotel. I went to the Golden temple again next morning and this time I spent more time there. There was volunteer working going on everywhere. Somebody was cleaning the floor, somebody was helping with their Langar facility, somebody was distributing medicines, someone was cleaning the dishes…

No words for this

I spent almost 4 hours in the Golden temple, had my lunch in the Langar and finally headed to Jaliawala Bagh. This place is known for massacre of 2000 Indians during British Raj. Now this place is converted into a memorial where they have an art gallery, the well where 120 people fell down while trying to escape, the walls where bullet marks are still there and a few other things. This was an emotional place for of the visitors. I heard many people talking about how cruel the massacre was, of course it was. I spent about two hours there and then headed to Maharaja Ranjit Singh museum.

Bullet marks

Bullet marks

This museum was a new museum but it had no power backup in case of power cut. I arrived there around 2 o’clock but they asked me come after 3 o’clock as it was power cut that time and they did not have any power backup. It was crazy to see that the government had spent such a good amount of money to built that museum but they did not spend a little bit of money to buy a generator for power backup. I just wandered around the museum for an hour and then finally came to the museum at 3 o’clock. The museum was a good place to learn about Mahraja Ranjeet Singh’s life.

This was the last place I visited in Amritsar and I think that this trip was ver

Delhi-Lahore bus

Delhi-Lahore bus

y successful as I got to learn about Sikh religion and saw flag ceremony at Wagah border. Everything was just awesome in Amritsar except temperature. I knew that it was going to be cold but I did not know that it would be this cold. The maximum temperature was 10 degree Celsius and minimum temperature was 0.8 on the day I was in Amritsar means too cold for me. I went to the railway station to enquire about my train and came to know that my train was canceled due to fog.

This was the worst thing happened with me during this trip. I felt like I was stuck in Amritsar. I tried to get a ticket in another train coming to Varanasi but there was no reservation in it. Finally I bought a ticket to Delhi by bribing Rs. 50 to reservation clerk and booked another ticket from Delhi to Varanasi. I feel like two days were not enough for Amritsar. I would like to visit that place again someday in near future.

Arranged marriage of cousin

It was my cousin’s wedding on the 12th of December and I was so excited for it but fortunately I could not attend it as I had to be Gwalior for my written exam and interview for tour guide training. The wedding was on the 12th and it was my exam on the 13th, the party was on the 16th and it was my iterview day in Gwalior so I could not attend either of them. I tell it fortunately because something really crazy went on the wedding and now I feel fortunate that I did not get to attend the wedding or party.

My cousin used to work at a travel agency in Delhi and he is 30 years old and wanted to get married.He wanted his parents to find a girl for him. One of my uncles had a relative in Benares who was looking for a boy for his daughter so my uncle became the midiator and arranged this wedding. The wedding was arranged in May and date for wedding was fixed for December. My cousin used to talk with the girl over phone, he came to meet her in Benares but they met secretly as girl’s father did not want them to meet before getting married. Anyways, they met, talked and they liked each other.

My cousin used to talk about how happy he was with the girl. Even he left his job in Delhi and came to Benares and joined a travel agency so that he could stay in Benares with his wife becasue Benares is cheaper than Delhi. The girl’s father was seriously a crazy guy. He came to my father a few days before wedding and said that he wanted to get my cousin’s horoscope rechecked by some big Bramhin. He said that his family priest had told him that horoscope of my cousin doesnt match with horoscope of his daughter.

Actually everyone’s horoscope talks about 32 different qualities of one’s life and when somebody gets married, the horoscope of bride and groom is matched and is looked how many qualities match. If less than 16 qualities match, the wedding is canceled. The girl’s father said that my cousin was a Mangla means my cousin had some problem with his Mars. The girl’s father wanted to see if his daughter, his grand child and his grand child’s child will be happy or not if he gets his daughter married with my cousin, serious craziness.

Finally the horoscope was rechecked and they decided that wedding be done on the same date. All these things happened only a few days before the wedding. All of my relatives gathered together for wedding and everything was going very well. On the wedding day, when wedding parade arrived at the bride’s place, they heard few people fighting and shouting. They came to know that the bride did not want to marry with my cousin as she was already in love with someone else. Her boyfriend was also there with a advocate and he came to my cousin and said that he wanted to marry the girl.

The girl also left her place before a few minutes of wedding parade was going to arrive at her place and went to her neighbor’s house who was supporting her. She did not want to get married with my cousin. Her father with few other people went to the neighbor’s place and brought her back to the house. She was crying and was shouting that she wanted to marry her boy friend. Everybody from groom’s side heard her saying it and they went to the groom and told him the situation and asked him what was his decision. And I just don’t understand why my cousin said that he still wanted to marry her.

The girl’s family beat the boyfriend and his uncle who was in support of thier wedding and locked them up in a room for the whole night and finally the girl was forcebly married to my cousin. The wedding rituals were done quickly and the bride was brought forcebly to groom’s place. The bride told everything again to my cousin and asked him to help her meet her boyfriend but my cousin said that she should not do such things as she is married to him now. It is hard for me to understand why my cousin married her even after knowing everything but I think he was in dipression.

He would often talk about his age and would tell me that after a few years nobody would marry him. I am sure this is not the case anymore in India but my dipressed cousin… I don’t understand a few things like why the girl did not tell anything about her boyfriend to my cousin before marriage and why did they wait till the wedding date? I don’t really know who is responsible for the whole situation. I have heard that bride’s family knew everything but the father of the bride did not like bride’s boyfriend.

Arranged marriage is still very popular in India but now I hear of more people coming against this idea. The concept of arranged marriage is not a problem to me also as long as the couple is happy but when such things happen like what happened with my cousin’s wedding then it really makes me angry. I just don’t know how someone can do this? I don’t know if I should want my couisn and his wife to live together or get seperated but one thing is very sure that if the girl does something like eloping with her boyfriend, it would be a huge problem for my cousin and his family.

Widows in Varanasi

I worked with a student named Irine from University of Venice who wanted to study widows in Varanasi. She was more interested in prostitution of widows at widow ashrams in Varanasi. I asked her how she decided to chose this subject and she said that she watched the movie Water and got interested in this subject. I also liked the subject very much but I was not sure if I would find some widow to ask them questions about prostitution. But this subject was very interesting to me so I agreed to work with her. I did some research and found that there was a government widow ashram near my home.

We went there and found that there were about 18 widows living at that ashram. The ashram did not look in a good condition. There was a garden and free space but the building was not maintained well. It looked like a building built in early 1900. Somebody at the office told me that there was a rich pilgrim from Kolkata visiting Varanasi who met a widow somewhere at some Ghat and heard her stories which made him think about building a widow ashram in Varanasi. He built this building and gave it to the government and now the building is looked after by the department of women welfare for the government of Uttar Pradesh.

This is the only government widow ashram in whole Uttar Pradesh. There was a woman in-charge of the office. I explained her about Irine’s project and she allowed us to interview widows there. The Ashram was divided into two parts- one for the women who could take care of themselves and one part of the ashram was for the women who were not physically fit. The widows have to cook food for themselves. They get only Rs. 550 (US$ 12) per month by the government.

All the widows and the office in-charge told us that government did not send any money for the past three months so widows did not have any money at all. The office in-charge told me that there are few local people who are regular donors to the ashram and their donation and government money together keeps the widows alive otherwise only government money is not enough and I also believe it. Rs. 550 for one month, how can someone survive with that much money for a month?

The widows who are fit enough to take care of themselves live on the ground floor of the building and other woman who are too old and not physically fit live on the first floor. Government has provided a small gas stove to all the widows and each widow cook food for herself on her own. Ashram has a kitchen also where food is cooked for the women who can not cook food and cooking is done by a office staff. There is a washing machine to clean the laundry but I am not sure who does the laundry.

The rooms are big and there are four beds in each room. Irine wanted to talk about prostitution of widows at widow ashrams but I did not know how to ask widows about prostitution. All of the widows at that ashram are over 65, few are over 80. We decided to visit the ashram again and again, become friends with widows and office staffs and then see if something comes out. We asked about other widows ashram in Varanasi to the office staffs and they gave address of two other ashrams in Varanasi. One was very close to my place which is called Mata Anandmayi Ashram.

We went there and found that Mata Anandmayi Ashram is basically a school for girls to study religion. The peon at the office told me that there were over 20 widows also at the ashram but the manager of the ashram was so rude to us. He did not want to talk about anything. He just said that they do not keep widows at their ashram. I don’t know why he did not want to talk about their work but it was strange. We could meet or talk with anyone at the ashram but the rude manager and peon.

We went to one other ashram called Birla ashram at Chowk, Varanasi which was built by Birla family. There were about 20 widows living there but we could not talk with any widow the very first day. We met a crazy woman who was wife of some IAS officer. I don’t know how she had a room there, although she was not a widow. She told me that her husband had arranged a room at this ashram for her as she wanted to stay in Varanasi for religious reasons. She also did not want us to talk with widows at the ashram.

She asked me to come after few days because she wanted to talk with someone at the office back in Kolkata first. We talked with her for a while and then decided to leave for now and come back again. We went there after a few days and fortunately this crazy lady was not there this time. We met a widow but she was busy that day. She told me that most of the widows who live at Birla ashram work as cook at different houses. She told us that the Ashram doesn’t provide anything but a room to the widows.

I am not sure if the Benares office eats everything and doesn’t provide anything but rooms or this is how they work but it sounded strange to me because there were a few women who just could not do anything. When widows die, they inform the family and if nobody comes, they just cremate the body sometimes in traditional way and sometimes at electric burner. All of the women whom we met were over 60 which was a clear indication of change in the society.

The life stories of widows was really sad and interesting. Different widows had different stories behind leaving their homes and staying at the ashrams.Some of them were kicked out of their home by their own children, somebody was kicked out by their daughter in laws, somebody just did not want to stay with the family as they felt like they were an extra burden to the family. But there was something common in most of the women that they were married at a very young age. It was crazy to hear that some of them were married only when they were 6 or 7 years old.

If I remember correctly, I met over 5 women who were married at the age of 6 or 7 and their husband died when they were only 10. They just never lived with their husbands. We interviewed a woman from Chennai who was the smartest woman amongst all we women we met at both ashrams. When Irene met her first time, her first question to Irene was- who is the prime minister of Italy nowadays. She was married at the age of seven and then lived with her parents for four years because her Gauna had not happened. Gauna is a part of Hindu weddings which is about the bride living with her parents for few days or sometimes few years, depending on the family, even after getting married.

She said that she went to live with her husband after six years of her marriage at the age of eleven but she was again separated from her husband for an year because of some family tradition of her husband’s family. She was not allowed to sleep or even talk with her husband for one year, even they were living in the same house. She used to cook the food for her husband but would sleep with her sister in laws. She lived in the same house where her husband was living but she could not even talk to him and after an year her husband died.

She said that she just knew that her husband had died but she did not know what husband mean. Her parents brought her back to their house and she led her whole life living with their parents and sister. She said that after few years when she came to know that her husband was already dead and she would not be able to marry again, it brought her vairagya and decided to study and work. She could not go school for long time but she studied at home and started giving classes to students. She used to teach maths and science to the students of up to class 10th.

After her parents died, she went to live with her sister and stayed there for several years. But few months ago she felt like she was an extra burden to the family and decided to leave Chennai. She came to Benares to commit suicide. She jumped in the Ganga but was saved by a boat rower. The boat rower informed the police about it and police sent her to widow ashram. Now she prays everyday to die. Her story was really heart-touching but she was really a brave woman. She was just awesome.

She explained us south Indian tradition for widows which sounded a bit different than north Indian tradition. She said that once the husband dies, the widow is brought somewhere near the river and her hairs are shaved. She said that widows are made sit seperately and family and neighbours bring sarees and throw at widows face from distance. They don’t even come close to the widow and give the saree. Something seemed different in south than north which was widows in south India are allowed to wear either white or red saree whereas in North India widows are allowed to wear only white and I have not heard of people throwing saress on widow’s face but when I think of widow’s condtion, I feel like this could be possible in north as well.

We asked all the woman a common question which was why somebody becomes a widow because Irine had read that Hindu widows believe that they are widow because of some sin of their past life and each and every widow were agree with this idea. We asked if they think that a widower is also a widower because of some sin they did in their past life but here answer was different. Widows said that men have different life, they can be fine even if they are a widower so definitely they must have done some sin but their sin is not as big as a widow’s sin.

There is a very strong idea amongst widows that they must follow all the rules made for widows which are like not eating tasty food, not talking with any male, not going out, not wearing colored clothes, not getting involved in any kind of celebration etc. which means anything that makes a person happy. We asked all the widows about it also and everyone but that Chennai woman said that all the widows must follow these rules because this is the way they can fix their sins and if their sins are not fixed then will have to live in hell after they die.

We asked if widows should marry again and a few, hardly 3 or 4, of them said that they should but most of them said that a lot of widows marry nowadays which is really bad. They must follow the traditional widow life. Some of them seemed angry talking about how widows marry nowadays or how they dress in colorful clothes or how they go out. It was strange. But I noticed one thing that none of the widows were educated except one Chennai and one Benares woman and all of them were married at very young age.

One of the widows at government ashram who was from Bengal told me that widow life in Benares is crazy. They are discriminated everywhere. They are not allowed to participate in any wedding. Nobody likes to see them. If somebody sees them while getting out of their home, they get back into home again and rest for a while and then come out again. Because it is considered a bad luck to see the face of a widow. She said that widows are never ever invited to any wedding as it is believed that shade of a widow can make the bride widow.

All of the widows at the ashram were living there because of religious choice but it is hard for me to believe that it is real Hindu practice. I am sure that real Hindu religion doesn’t discriminate between men and women and gives extreme importance to women so I think that the ideas that widows at ashrams are following are also given by crazy Bramhins and Khstriyas of middle age. It was hard for me to believe how the widows are punishing themselves.

I have learnt a lot while working with students but one of the most important things I have learnt is that Brmhins, Khatriyas, English, Muslims or anyone who ruled India did serious damage and condition of women in India now is terrible, only and only because of them. I think only education can solve this problem but the way Indian government is providing education, it seems like it will take ages for women to get equal rights and come out of these crazy ideas such as following strict widow life and punishing themselves.

Tawayaf culture

I am hosting a FulBright scholar, Megan, who is doing her research from University of Pittsburgh. Her research topic is tawayaf culture. She has rented a whole flat and will stay till June 2010. We discussed a few things about tawayaf culture in Varanasi. I already knew that Lucknow was the most famous place of tawayafs.Varanasi has also been a famous center for tawayafs but according to Megan, it doesn’t exist anymore. I also talked with a few of my friends and relatives and they were telling that there are few places where tawayafs still perform.

Most of the people think that tawayaf is one other name for prostitutes but it is not true. They were highly educated women and and trained in their skills such and dancing, singing, literature and were very well respected in society. My friend Ravi told me that kids of royal families were sent to tawayafs to get training which included behavioural training, gazal writing and few other skills. The place were tawayafs used to live was called kotha and now kotha is also referred as a brothel which is also not true. Kothas were a place for tawayafs to live and perform.

Usually kothas had more than one tawayaf where one, the most senior, was the head. The head of the tawayfs was responsible for training other tawayfas. Usually kothas had a dance performance every evening where anyone was allowed to enter. They had male musicians who played different musical instruments and tawayafs were the one who performed dance. Alcohol was also served to special clients or sometimes to everyone. Sex work was also involved there but it was not like today’s brothels where someone pays Rs. 50 and sleep with the sex workers till he cums.

Tawayafs were expensive and I have heard that they had right to choose whom did they want to sleep with, so it was not like anyone could pay and sleep with them. Usually they had one special client who was very close to the tawayaf and this relationship was also not like a relationship of a sex worker and her client; it was something special. Tawayfs had children also and this special person would act as their father. Tawayafs were called at the palaces also perform and entertain the royal families. Whatever I heard about tawayfs made me feel like tawayafs were accepted and respected in our society but kothas were still a disrespected place.

There is not much information available about tawayafs but I have heard that there are a few places in Varanasi and Lucknow where they still have few kothas which run illegally. Megan’s subject is awesome but she is more interested in prostitutes now because she said that it would not be possible for her to write her thesis on tawayfas because there is not much information available about them. I want to know more about tawayfs and looking at Megan’s thesis if she writes something about them.

Guide training program – week 6

Finally the last week of classroom teaching is finished now. This week we had classes about Jaipur, Indo-Islamic architecture, things to do during any emergency, gems and jewellery, Jainism, business history of India and a few classes about the project report and upcoming tour. All the classes of this week were fine but I like the “things to do in any emergency” class the best. The lecture was delivered by a retired air hostess of Air India. She taught us about what we should do during any emergency but the thing that made her class best was her openness and her topic that no lecturer had ever talked about during the training.

She talked about medical problems, sex, homosexuality, HIV, AIDS and other STIs. She taught us what we should do if any tourist asks us to have sex with them. She said that first of all it completely depends on us whether we want to have sex with the tourist or or not, but if we decide to have sex with the tourist then we should never forget to use condoms because there is high risk of STI transmission by having unprotected sex. She seemed so concerned about HIV and AIDS. She said that since she had worked in the service sector, she had sex with several different kinds of people but she always used condoms.

She talked about homosexuality as well. She taught us the basics about homosexuality. I already knew about what she was talking about, but it was a completely new subject to most of the participants. She said that if any of the participants were homosexual, then they should not be shy about it and talk with their parents and live a life as they want. She talked about the high court judgment as well. She said that now there is someone to support homosexuals in India. She said that homosexuality is seen as a disease in India. Most of the parents think that if they get their homosexual child married with an opposite sex partner, the disease will go away which is obviously not true.

I just could not believe her openness about the subject. All of the participants of my batch were males and she was the only female amongst us but she talked about sex which doesn’t happen in India usually. Everybody enjoyed the lecture a lot. On the last day of this week when all the participants were called together in the auditorium of the institute we were provided a certificate of participation. This certificate will help us talking with the government officials for our project. The female participants were called separately on the stage to motivate them. The institute said that Indian tourism industry needs female tour guides in India and we should promote them.