Interview with Mr. Rajendra Singh

I interviewed Mr. Rajendra Singh, one of the members of the National River Ganga Basin Authority, also known as Waterman of Rajasthan when I was visiting his NGO to get a training about ecology of Ganga. I made two interviews- one about his thoughts on why Ganga Action Plan was a complete failure and other one was about the current National River Ganga Basin Authority. I was really happy to have it done.

Rajendra Singh talking about the complete failure of Ganga Action Plan-

 

2nd interview of Mr. Singh where he talks about the National River Ganga Basin Authority-

Interview with Arun Pathak

Mr. Pathak addressing a public meeting

Arun Pathakis a politician and a social worker from Varanasi. He is famous all over the world for his style of protest by committing suicide. His protest against the movie water in the year 2000 made him popular all over the world. I had been hearing about him ever since I started hearing, had seen him several times in my neighborhood and had read his name in the newspapers and magazines several times but I got to meet with him last year when I was working with Irene, a researcher from Italy. When Irene asked me to arrange a meeting with Mr. Pathak, I was not really if I would be able to arrange it because Arun Pathak has become a very powerful politician now.

Mr. Pathak on the stage

I was thinking about Arun Pathak like any other Indian politician who do not have time for people after the elections are over but my impression about him completely wrong. I was able to arrange the meeting with Arun Pathak and I was seriously surprised to see how helping nature person he was. I went to interview him with Irene at least 20 times in 2 months and he was always so welcoming. He treated us very well and answered all of our questions. I got to learn about him a lot by interviewing him.

Mr. Pathak at Roja Iftar party in Varanasi

I was seriously surprised to listen his stories about his politics, style of protest and his struggles. Mr. Pathak’s family was very poor. His father worked at Jain Dharamshala in Varanasi as a store keeper. Pathak said that often times they did not have enough money to buy both meals everyday and they slept empty stomachs several times. He had to stop his studies and he was sent to his uncle’s house in the village only because the family could not afford to send him to the school.

Mr. Pathak at a meeting

He returned to Varanasi only after a few months because his uncle also not nice to him. Finally Pathak joined municipality school (free schools but just waste of time) in Varanasi. During his schooling when he was only 14 years old, he went to a shop in his neighborhood asking for a job because he wanted to make some money to help his family. The shopkeeper laughed at him and said that he could employ a 14 year old student. Arun Pathak said that he wanted a part time job for evenings.

Mr. Pathak in 2002

After so much request by Pathak, the shopkeeper agreed to have him as a part time employee. Pathak worked at his shop for one month and when he got his first salary, which was only Rs. 30, he was so happy to share it with his family. But when he was going back to his home with his salary, a few bullies stopped him and took his money. They asked him to buy them alcohol using the same money. After drinking alcohol they all went together and beat his family. Mr. Pathak says that his family was beaten up only because they were not able to pay the rent of their apartment on time.

Arrest

Those days a political party called Shiv Sena was very popular in India for working with youth. Shiv Sena has always been known for being a radical Hindu party. There was a rumor those days that Shiv Sena was providing a pistol to all of their new members and after hearing this Mr. Pathak also thought to join the Shiv Sena so that he could get a pistol to kill the people who had beaten his family. Since it was only a rumor, Mr. Pathak was never provided any pistol by Shiv Sena but Mr. Pathak proudly says he found nuclear bombs instead of pistols in Shiv Sena.

Distributing books in Mumbai

When talking about nuclear bombs he talks about the radical people of Shiv Sena. He says he had always led the life of a leader even during his school times and after joining Shiv Sena he again became popular because of leadership quality and so many people in his party became his fans who were ready to die or kill anyone for himself. He did so many programs organized under the banner of Shiv Sena and became so popular very soon. After 11 years of hard work he became district chief of Shiv Sena in the year 2000.

Honored by Sankaracharya

His protests were always huge and always became matter of conversation in the society. His protests against the movie Water, Girlfriend and Chori-Chori Chupke-Chupke was talked about all over the world. Shiv Sena has always been protesting against the Valentines Day celebration in India and he also organized huge protests against the festival in Varanasi. His protest against the liquor stores, corruption and several other things also got huge popularity. Very soon Mr. Pathak had became a very big name all over India.

Hunger strike

Mr. Pathak has always been known for his extreme way of protesting. He has consumed poison five times in order to protest. Once he cut veins of his right hand when he stopped from entering in a temple. When I asked Mr. Pathak about why he did such things, he laughs and says that nobody listens to the poor people. If you are poor and powerless then this is what you do to make people listen to you. He proudly says that he is the inventor of staging suicide as a form of protest.

Attack

I had read so many articles about him and some of them said that the thing Mr. Pathak consumed was not basically poison and when I asked Mr. Pathak about it he showed me his palm which sweats all the time and he says that his body developed this problem ever since he consumed poison first time.  He showed me his medical prescription which says that he can not eat any heavy or spicy food, he has to drink filtered water and it all happened because of the affect of the poison he consumed several times.

offering food to poor

He says that it was not only himself who consumed poison but there were other people as well who consumed poison or tried to burn themselves only because he asked them to do so in order to protest. After saying this he called one of his workers named Bulli. Bulli is 29 years old and had consumed poison when he was only 14. He did it in order to protest against the movie Chor-Chori Chupke-Chupke. I asked Bulli several times when I met him alone about why did he consume poison and ever time his answer was same that he did not know.

offering food to blinds

He always says that Mr. Pathak had asked him to consume poison so he did it. I asked him if he ever regret about it and says- why would I regret? It was Bhaiya’s order. He knows what is best for me. I was shocked to hear it. How come someone can have this big control over someone else? The bigger shock is people’s belief in Mr. Pathak. Anyways, he worked with Shiv Sena till 2003 and then left because he was not happy with the way Shiv Sena was discriminating against certain communities.

at a school

Actually Shiv Sena was beating the North Indians living in Maharastra and was kicking them out and Mr. Pathak was seriously hurt with the situation that he decided to leave the party. He formed his own political party and run it for four years. Finally in the year 2007 he realized that he needed a bigger platform to raise his voice and fight against big evils. Finally he joined Bahujan Samaj Party which is known for working with lower caste community and fighting against Mafias.

offering food to lepers

Again because of leadership quality he was appointed as co-coordinator for two state assembly seats in Varanasi. During his work period he made Bahujan Samaj Party very popular in Varanasi where there was no existence of Bahujan Samaj Party before. He has been kind of away from politics for the past one year and has been devoting his complete time in social service and religion. He says that he has been doing a research on the outcome of religious practices. To do it he has hired 11 priests who perform vedic yagyas everyday.

Mr. Pathak's priests

These yagayas including other rituals have been going on continuously since October 2010.  He says that he wants bring the truth in the society. If there is no outcome of such practices then people should not waste their time and if performing rituals really work then they should do it in right way. He believes that rituals do not really seem helpful nowadays because they were made thousands of years ago and now when the time has changed they also need to changed. And he wants to know this change.

distributing books to poor students

I have been to Mr. Pathak’s place several times and every time I go there I see people coming to him asking for help. He makes some kind of donation almost everyday. I have seen him offering food to the lepers, blind or physically challenged people. I have seen him paying poor students fee or buying them books. I have seen him paying for poor people weddings. I think he does all kind of donation possible. He never any new cloth until he donates the same to a few poor people. I still remember that once he bought 12 tracksuits. 11 were donated to the beggars on the street first and only then he wore one.

performing aarti at Assi ghat

I have seen people running behind him, I am sure he thousands of fans only in Varanasi. He is like a star in Varanasi who is always surrounded by minimum of 6 security guards. He says that there is threat of life for him because there are so many people who do not like his popularity hence he needs security guards all the time with himself. After saying this he stops for a while and then said that can you imagine that I started working at the age of 14 because of my poor family background. He proudly says that his first salary was only Rs. 30 and now he has to spend good amount of money only on his security.

Mr. Pathak with his security guards

It is definitely a huge change for anyone and Mr. Pathak definitely deserves it. Now I have met Mr. Pathak several times and I like him a lot. I love his style of working, his devotion for his work, his understanding of the society and his super helpful nature. I am sure that I have also become his fan and would love to see him progressing in his life because I personally believe that he is a thousand time better leader and politician than anyone I have ever met. My society definitely needs people like him.

Mumbai Gay Pride 2009

I loved his costume

I loved his costume

I attended Mumbai gay pride on the 16th of August. It is celebrated on this particular date because the gay community organizing this event says that India got freedom on the 15th of August but gay community never got freedom so they decided to celebrate their freedom one day after the independence day of India. The event was basically organized by an NGO called Humsafar that works with the gay community in Mumbai. I had already contacted people at Humsafar about my project and they were very welcoming. I was in Gwalior doing my training but I took a leave of 4 days and flew to Mumbai. I arrived in Mumbai on the night of the 14th.

They were at Delhi pride also

They were at Delhi pride also

I had attended this year’s Delhi Pride on the 26th of June and I really missed a video camera but I had arranged a video camera to record Mumbai Gay Pride. I had asked my friend Yogesh, who works in Bollywood, to arrange a camera for me and he provided me everything I wanted. I went to Humsafar on the 16th with a camera person and a friend from the US named Ryan. We met in Benares and I invited him to attend Mumbai Pride with me. I wanted to cover the preparation for the parade, interview a few people at Humsafar, interview a few people at the parade, participate in it, enjoy the party and make some new contacts to work together in the future.

Preparation for the parade

Preparation for the parade

I was supposed to start interviews at Humsafar at 12 o’clock but when I reached there I found that there were already a few media people interviewing Humsafar guys but they arranged a guy to show me their office. The office was amazing; they had an HIV and AIDS testing center. I had already been to a few NGOs but I had never seen any NGO having an HIV and AIDS testing center before, so it was really impressive. The Humsafar guy took me to the second floor of the office where they were preparing for the next day’s parade. There were about 20 guys practicing dance. A few of them hijras also. They had a guy to play Punjabi dhol and a big music system. I was surprised to see that they were practicing some traditional dance of hijra culture.

A poster at Humsafar office

A poster at Humsafar office

I just spent sometime watching the people preparing for the parade; they were really working hard and seemed so excited for the parade. All of the performers were either homosexuals or hijras who come to Humsafar if they need any help. The guy showing us the office told me that the CEO of Humsafar, Mr. Vivek Raj Anand, had just arrived at office and he asked me if I would like to interview him and I really felt lucky that I got to interview him. He was really amazing, very well educated, had very good knowledge of the issue and he really knew what he was talking about. He did not have much time but I got 15 minutes and I think it was good enough to start.

Mr. Vivek Raj Anand, The CEO of Humsafar and I

Mr. Vivek Raj Anand, The CEO of Humsafar and I

I believe that the gay community has always been in existence in India but a lot of people see it as a disease which came from the West so whenever I interview someone about gay culture, I always ask them about the history of gay culture in India. I ask them to tell me about the presence of gay culture in Hindu religious books because I know that Indians do not want to compromise with the religion and once they know something is part of their religion and culture, they are always so welcoming to this idea. And I also wanted to do the same thing, because I believe that if people know that gay culture has always been part of our culture, the it would be easy to make them understand the issue.

A participant of the parade

A participant of the parade

My idea behind interviewing all these people was to interview them and put the interviews online. I had intentionally done the interviews in Hindi so that people living in India could understand them. The interviewee told me a few stories that came from Ramayana and other Hindu religious books which showed the presence of gay culture even during Ram’s time. He talked about what kind of problems he had to face in society, how people discriminated against him, how he came out of it and what is the hope for the future. It was really interesting to learn the history of gay culture in India. He had very good knowledge about history of gay culture in India, especially in Hinduism.

Its true

Posters at the parade

Mr. Anand asked me to work with the MSM community in Benares. He said that he could give me a project or he could get me one through the UP government which was something I really wanted to do. We talked about working together in Benares but he said that Humsafar doesn’t work out of Mumbai and Thane district. He said that he would help me with anything I wanted- funding, training or any other thing but they will not go out of Mumbai and Thane district officially to work. I think I will not be able to work with him soon as my NGO is not registered under section 12 A and any NGO can not get this registration until they are at least 1 year old. But now Sanjeevani Booti has completed its 1 year and now I can apply for this registration.

Thank you Baba Ramdev

Thank you Baba Ramdev

Mr. Anand told me during his interview that he wants to thank Baba Ramdev on behalf of the whole gay community because Baba is the one who challenged the judgment of the high court of Delhi in the Supereme Court of India to revoke of section 377. He said that the Supereme Court of India would also give the judgment in favor of the gay community and this way they would have equal rights very soon. He said that there was no one who bothered coming against the judgment of Delhi high court but it was Ramdev Baba who brought this matter to the the Supereme Court of India so thanks to him. I would also like to thank Baba Ramdev for making the process faster.

Absolutely not

Absolutely not

I interviewed the Mr. Anand, the manager of Humsafar, one bisexual , two hijras, and few gays. It was really a nice experience interviewing them and listening to them and their stories. All of them were a little different from each other but they had the same issues. I think everybody whom I interviewed at Humsafar talked about discrimination the most. The manager of Humsafar told me that he wanted to get his passport with his gender showing either a girl or a hijra or a transgender but the government officials do not want to do it. Government officials tell him that they just do not know what a transgender is.

This was really interesting

She was really interesting

He said that he has gotten his name changed officially to a female’s name and now preparing for a gender change operation but still the government doesn’t want to issue him a passport showing his gender as a female or as a hijra or as a transgender. He has sued the government for this reason. He was saying that gender change operation facility is not very good in India and he wants to go abroad to get it done but since the government is not issuing his passport he is unable to do it. He said that he has decided that he will take his passport only if they issue the passport with his gender showing as a female or a hijra or a transgender.

The hijras I interviewed

The hijras I interviewed and I

He told me that he only looks like a man from his body but he is not a man, he is a woman. I interviewed one Muslim guy also who was with a group of two hijras. This interview was also very interesting. It was the first time when I interviewed any Muslim gay. He said that his family will never allow him to get married with a man, which is what he wanted, so he has decided to either escape from the home or just stay unmarried for his whole life. The hijras were also fantastic. They told me a lot of things about hijras that I did not know before.

Biggest attraction of the parade

Biggest attraction of the parade, for me:)

I never understood the difference between people’s use of the word “hijra” and a “gay” and when I asked him about it they said that educated people use the word gay and uneducated use the word hijra, that’s all. They also talked about the issues hijra community is facing in India and it was exactly as the issues of other people whom I had interviewed at Humsafar. Hijras told me something really interesting that there are two different kinds of hijras.

look at the costume, awesome

look at the costume, awesome

One of them is more respected in amongst hijras. They get married to the hijra goddess when they are so young. They have to wear a thread all the time which represents their marriage with their goddess. They can live with their family as well which doesn’t happen with the other kind of hijras. The hijras who bless and dance at the weddings are different than them; it was really interesting, and I need to do some research about it. I interviewed a bisexual who was in fact a male sex worker. It was the first time when I had ever met any male sex worker and it was amazing talking to him. He also had few issues likes discrimination because he was a bisexual guy.

Participants at the parade

Participants at the parade

He said that when he was 14 years old and would go out with his friends and his friends used to look at the girls but he never felt like he had any interest in girls. He said that when he turned a bit older, he met Mr. Anand who brought him to Humsafar and that was the time when he came to know why he did not have any interest in girls. He joined Humsafar and now he works there as a program manager. He said that he used to distribute condoms to the male sex workers at railway stations and once he gave a pack of condoms to a policeman thinking that this policeman was a male sex worker. The policeman slapped him and kicked him out of the railway station; it was a funny story.

Aceept our sexuality, it is not a defection

Aceept our sexuality, it is not a defect

The first day was all about watching people preparing for the event and interviewing a few people at Humsafar. After completing the interviews on the first day, we came out of the Humsafar office and we were standing on the road waiting for an auto-rickshaw and at the same time a 25-26 year old guy named Sourendra came to me and started talking about what we were doing in Humsafar office. I had already seen him in the office so I also didn’t hesitate telling him about my project. He asked me where I was from, what I was doing at Humsafar etc. and then he asked me about my project and said that he was also gay and visits Humsafar on regular basis.

Folk dance performers at the parade

Folk dance performers at the parade

He seemed to be an educated and interesting guy. He asked me where I was going and after my answer he said that he was also going to the same direction. He said that he also wanted to come with me. I asked him if he would like to be interviewed and he said- why not. We went together to my friend’s place and my friend drove us to somewhere where there was a litti-chokha (very famous Bihari food) party. We all went together and I interviewed him over the dinner at 1 o’clock night time.

377 out

377 out

Actually I regretted that I took him to that party because the guys over there at the party got too much interested in him after hearing that he was a gay. They would all come, look at him and laugh. I was really not comfortable there and I told my friend to change the place but since it was already 1 o’clock night time, we just decided to continue the interview at same party place. Sourendra was such an open and energetic and nice person. He talked about a lot of things that usually people do not want to talk about.

Participants at the parade

Participants at the parade

He talked about his sex practices and this conversation was really interesting. He talked about discrimination in the society, family, friends and discrimination at his job. He used to work at a call center and everything was fine for him. After a few months the call center in-charge changed and a new guy came who seemed like did not like gays. Sourendra’s voice was was sweet, like a girl, but this new in-charge wanted him to speak with a heavy voice which was something unnatural for him. He said that he pretended to speak with a heavy voice but it did not work and his performance level decreased and finally he had to leave the job only because he could not speak with a heavy voice.

Neither less nor more, we just ask for equal rights

Neither less nor more, we just ask for equal rights

When I asked him about the existence of gays and hijras in our religion and history, he told me something really interesting. He told me about the existence of gays and hijras during Krishna’s time. He said that once Krishna also wanted to sleep with a man. It was something that I had never ever heard before. I know that Ramayana in North India is different than Ramayana in South India. They have some difference between them like Ramayana in North India says that Hanuman was a celebate and South Indian Ramayan says that Hauman had more than one wife. People living in the North do not eat fish because it is meat for them and people living in West Bengal eat fish because it is sea food for them.

Bijay with his friend

Bijay with his friend

Different people have different beliefs about the same thing and maybe the case here was also the same: the Mahabharta Sourendra had read was a little bit different from the one I have read, not an issue at all. I liked interviewing Sourendra. After completing the interview we dropped Sourendra at the railway station. I was so excited for the next day’s parade. I was supposed to meet my friend Bijay, who lives in Chennai, at the parade. He was also gay and was in Mumbai to attend the parade.

Aadimanav

Aadimanav

We met at the Church Gate and headed together to the parade. I had two other guys to help me with the camera and other things. Mumbai Gay Pride seemed different than Delhi Gay Pride. I think the organizers had tried to give a cultural look to the parade. There were folk dance and song performers from South India and they were performing local dance of South India. I met Laxmi also at the parade. The parade was a little bit delayed as other things in India and started around 12 o’clock. I think the number of people at Delhi Gay Pride and the Mumbai one was same, something around 3000 people.

Youngest participant of the parade

Youngest participant of the parade

A group of people was carrying a huge rainbow flag. Mumbai seemed more respectful to the flag than Delhi. People at the Delhi parade were so excited that they started jumping with the flag and tore it off only few minutes after the parade had started. I saw a guy with his four or five year old daughter at the parade. She was sitting on her father’s shoulders and was holding the flag. A few of my foreign friends tell me that although they support gay rights they do not like gay pride parades as they are so vulgar but in India situation was the completely different- very cultural, good enough even for a five year old girl.

Laxmi and Celina

Laxmi and Celina

People were dancing, jumping and laughing so it seemed like a very happy event. I was also enjoying it. An hour after the parade started, a Bollywood actress named Celina Jaitely joined the parade. She has been involved with gay rights issue for a long time in India. I saw many Bollywood and TV stars at the parade. I think she was in the parade for more than an hour. There were a few guys with Celina and they had dressed amazingly. I had never ever seen anything like that before. Laxmi, Celina and everyone else at the parade were dancing and enjoying themselves.

bombay gay pride 194

look at the masks

I saw two Muslim girls also at the parade who were wearing Burka. They joined the parade an hour before its end but they also seemed to be enjoying it. They were also dancing with other people but most of the time they wanted to be under the gay pride flag. I think they were concerned about their identity. Many people seemed concerned about their identity like at Delhi Pride. They had covered their faces with clothes or some kind of masks. I just don’t understand why people come to the gay parade if they are so concerned about their identity? Better stay at home and watch it on TV if they can not support it openly.

Baba Ramdev would like it

Baba Ramdev would like it

Mumbai Gay Pride seemed more organized in some ways. They had a van stuffed with banners, posters, masks, t-shirts etc. But masks and t-shirts were the most demanded items. I also tried to get one t-shirt but could not because they ran out within few minutes. They were distributing bottled water also to the participants. They had few volunteers with big bags who were collecting all the garbage, poly bags and bottles used during the parade. They said that they did not want to leave anything as garbage on the road, so this was a very clean festival which usually doesn’t happen in India.

live and let live

live and let live

I saw many people looking through their balconies and windows of their houses. I am sure they were surprised. Many people just joined the parade serendipitously. I saw a few people who were standing somewhere along the road doing their business, and then they saw the parade and joined it. One thing was very sure that Mumbai pride had more transgenders and hijras than at Delhi parade. There was a group of hijras which was right behind the flag performing some traditional hijra dance but this dance was not something I had seen hijras doing where I live. This hijra dance seemed more organized and calm, but usually hijra dance is very energetic and loud.

Meeting after the parade

Meeting after the parade

The parade was moving and moving and I was just filming the parade, talking with participants and enjoying it. Finally the parade stopped at August Kranti Marg sometime around 4 o’clock where a few social workers and NGO members delivered a speech about gay rights and their future planning. I also took a break and went to the beach nearby. I did some filming there also and interviewed a gay couple whom I had seen at the parade. One other thing that was in my mind was the repeal of Section 377 and I wanted to talk about it with the participants of the parade and members of Humsafar.

They were so happy

They were so happy

I asked about repeal of Section 377 to almost everyone I talked with and everybody was so happy about it. There was a guy who told me that these kind of laws are very important for bringing change in the society. Section 377 did not affect gay culture very much in India, even when it was effected, because you never know who is doing what inside their room but the worst thing that happened because of implementation of 377 was that it changed the thinking of people over time. But now since 377 is repealed, it will take some time, maybe 50 or 100 years, but someday gays will have equal rights in India. I also believed what he said.

Hijras

Hijras

After the parade ended, my friend Bijay took me to a very famous and old restaurant near August Kranti Marg. After having a few bottles of beer, we headed to Bijay’s hotel. I spent some time at Bijay’s hotel and then we headed to the party place. The party was organized at a disco but the Mumbai party was different from Delhi one. The Delhi party was organized by the organizers of the parade whereas the Mumbai party was organized by the participants. Delhi party’s entry was free but Mumbai party’s entry was Rs. 500 but they gave me three free drinks.

I with my friends after the party

my friends and I after the party

The Mumbai party had more people than the Delhi one and it had more lesbian couples also. It was my second time at any disco after the Delhi pride party and I was so excited for it. I don’t know why but I drank a lot of beer that night at party and got completely drunk. I saw many gay couples kissing and hugging each other which was not new to me but my friends were so surprised to see it the way I was surprised at the Delhi party. The party was supposed to last for the whole night but I had to leave early as my flight back to Bhopal was at 6 o’clock morning time.

look at the costume

look at the costume

Ryan helped me by packing up my stuff and bringing me to the airport. Somehow I arrived safely in Gwalior but that I will not forget that party night, it was crazy, I loved it. This trip was very successful because I got to meet with a lot of new people, interviewed them, learnt a lot and built some business relationship with Humsafar. They have invited me again to the parade next year and I will try to attend it. I still think about the people I talked with, their issues, their stories… it was so nice talking with them.They are fighting for a issue which should just not be an issue.

very happy picture

very happy picture

My friend Sanjay, who helped me with camera, told me what I was doing was crazy when I explained him my reason for being in Mumbai but after listening to the people I interviewed, his mind also changed. He also told me that gays should also have equal rights in our society. Actually my question stories of gay culture in Hindu religion worked for him. All of the interviewees told me few stories and it changed Sanjay’s mind. I know it very well that if somehow people can come to know about the existence of gays in Hindu religion, then there will be less problem for gays to get acceptance in Hindu society.

rainbow flag

rainbow flag

I think the basic reason behind the discrimination against gays in India is the communication gap, especially about sex practices, between straights and gays and 150 years of section 377. Section 377 changed our society a lot; it changed the mind overtime. When I look at Hindu religious books and history I find that gay sex practices have always been part of Hindu culture. It was not any issue at all and we were the most liberal society on the planet but the British changed everything in India. Well, we are getting rid of the poverty given by them slowly and I hope to get rid of this crazy system also.

VIDEOS ARE COMING SOON

Coca-Cola research for book


broken pipe of rainwater harvesting system

broken pipe of rainwater harvesting system

I worked with the American writer Mr. Michael Blanding for two days (14th and 15th of June) in Mehndiganj as his translator and local assistant. He is writing a book on the Coca-Cola issue. This book is called Coke Machine and will be published under Penguin Publications, USA. (update – purchase here) I met him on the 14th at Lok Samiti’s office in Mehndiganj. Michael has already written a few articles about the Coke issue in Columbia but this time’s article is going to focus on Indian, Columbian and Mexican issues. One of his most popular articles is “Coke: The New Nike?”

another broken pipe

another broken pipe

I already knew about the Indian and Columbian issues but I did not know that Mexico was also affected. Michael told me that Mexico is the biggest market of Coke products and now they have a huge problem of obesity and other health-related problems. Obesity was not a problem in Mexico a few years ago but since Coke’s sale has increased in Mexico, obesity has also increased with it. He told me that Coke and Pepsi both are going to introduce Nariyal Paani (Coconut water) in India, which sounded crazy. What is the need to do it? I am sure that they will never ever be able to provide the natural drink, after all it will be mixed with chemicals.

jammed pipe

jammed pipe

We interviewed about ten people, visited Coke’s rain water-harvesting sites�at different places and saw Coke’s waste-water discharge system. I was hoping to see something better this time but the situation is still the same. We went to Coke’s two rain water harvesting sites, one of them was on the roof-top of the Agriculture Research Center, Kallipur village and another one was at the roof-top of the Mijramurad Police station. We saw that none of the water harvesting sites were in working condition and most of the pipes were either broken or jammed.

rainwater harvesting at the roof top of Mijramurad police station

rainwater harvesting at the roof top of Mijramurad police station

We talked to people working at the Agriculture Research Center and all�of them said that Coke had started the site about two years ago just to show off. It stopped working within the next few months and no one from Coke ever came to repair it. Even though they informed the Coke officials about it but they did not entertain villagers. People said that now the roof-top over-flows and their rain-water harvesting site doesn’t work at all. We saw the well also which was supposed to hold all the rain water and then recharge the ground water, and we found it was completely dry. People said that they never saw any water in the well because the pipes connected with the wells are jammed.

We went to see other rain water harvesting sites at the roof top of the Mirjamurad police station and the situation was the same there as well. Most of those pipes were either broken or jammed. We talked to a journalist who lived near the police station and few police officers and all of them had the same opinion as the Agriculture Research Institute employees. They also said that the site was started about two years ago and then it stopped working within the next two-three months and no one from Coke ever came to see it.

We talked to people living near the plant, and all of them said that they were suffering with water problems and all of them blamed Coke for this problem. They said that they had never felt any water shortage before Coke had arrived in Mehndiganj. Many people showed us their wells which were completely dry and they showed us their hand pumps which do not work any more. Farmers told us that they buy the water to irrigate the land because their bore wells do not work any more. There are a few rich people who have submersible pumps to get water and they sell the water to poor farmers.

We visited two of the ponds dug by the village committee. They showed us how their ponds are different from Coke’s ponds or rain water harvesting sites. They told us that they have chosen the land that has lime in the soil which filters the water very well. The village committee has connected nearby villages to the pond through pipes and this way all the rainwater will run towards the pond and will recharge the groundwater. It did not seem to me that Coke had done anything like this with their ponds. It seemed that the village committee is doing a great job.

Nandlal Master, President of Lok Samiti, said that Coke had conducted a groundwater testing through an agency called TERI (TATA Environmental Research Institute) and they have also advised that Coke leave Mehndiganj. I also think that Coke should leave Mehndiganj as soon as possible because I have been visiting Mehndiganj for the past three years and I see situation getting worse and worse every time I go there. I am so excited for Michael’s book to be published. I hope that he will also support the struggle of Mehndiganj’s people.

Bribe, Bribe, Bribe…

I applied for my passport a few days ago. I was supposed to fill out a form and submit it at the passport office in Varanasi. I went to the office and presented all of my documents to the officer. I thought to look over the documents again before giving it to the officer and discovered that I had made some mistake filling up the form. I thought it would be a good idea to fill out a fresh form. I asked the officer there if he had a fresh form but he said that the office didn’t sell the form. It was crazy, no passport application for at the passport office.

He asked me why I wanted a fresh form and I explained my problem to him but he said that he knew how to solve my problem. He brought whitener and cleaned the mistake and asked me to over write there. I was happy that I did not have to go out and buy a new form but I did not understand why he helped me. I never expect a government employee to help people. I knew that there was something wrong going on. I filled out the form and gave it to the person present there but he said that let the officer come. I asked him if he was not a office employee and he said that the officer has hired him personally to help him.

I immediately understood that there was really something wrong going on. The officer came and stamped my paper and signed it. He was supposed to give me a receipt of the passport form but he did not give it to me, he gave it to that other guy. I asked the officer what should I do next and this officer told me to talk to the other guy. I asked him and he turned his face like a rotten mango and said something that I could not hear. I asked him again and again and he would tell something that I was unable to hear. I asked him to speak loudly and then he said please give something.

I did not understand what was he looking for so I asked him to be clear about what he wanted and then he said that he will have to send my passport application to the regional office in Lucknow and he needed stamp and postage charge. I asked him if government doesn’t pay for it and said ‘NO’. I am sure that it is the government’s part. I asked him how much the stamp and postage charges were and he said Rs. 200. I know that I can send a post to any Indian city from any Indian city for Rs. 10. So I told him that it was too much.

And then said that he will have to pay every officer whoever looks at my application and for this he needed Rs. 200. I bargained and gave him Rs. 100 and this shameless person grabbed this money from my hand like a hungry lion. He told me to not worry anymore. He promised that he will forward my letter to the other office by the evening time. It was really interesting to see how that creepy government officer has hired someone to ask for the bribes from the people. The officer did not want to do it on his own. It is very smart of him but very bad for India.

The next step in order to get my passport was to get a no objection certificate from the local police station. The passport office sends the documents to the SSP (Senior Superintendent of Police) office and they send the documents to the local police station. I went to my local police station to see if they had gotten my application from SSP office. I asked them and they told me to come back after two days. I met a person at the police station who had hit his something with his car about two years ago and police had taken his car. Today he had gotten the release order from the court to get his car back from the police.

I knew that the police would not give his car back without taking a bribe but I was wondering how they would ask for it because I was also present there. I thought they would be shy asking for a bribe in front of me but this shameless policeman completed his papers and passed it to the policeman sitting next to him. He said to the car owner, even very loudly, to give something to the next police man and take the car’s key. I was not surprised but couldn’t understand how shameless the our and corrupt our police is. He gave Rs. 500 to the policeman but he was not happy with it, he wanted more. As the first policeman heard it, he stopped his work and started talking to the car owner. He said that first of all you did not give anything to me and now you want to give only Rs. 500? It is not done like this. Finally they ended up with Rs. 700.

This first policeman told me that he hadn’t got my application yet and asked me to come the next day. I reached there the next day and this time he had my application form. He looked at all of my documents and then asked where was I born. I told him that I was born in Varanasi but then he asked my father village’s address and asked me to come back after ten days so that they could do an enquiry in my father’s village where I never lived. I asked him why did they want to enquire about me in a place where I never lived. And he said that sometimes people commit crime in their village also. It was crazy. I did not know why he was doing it and then I realized that maybe he was doing it to disturb me so that I would give him some bribe.

I told him that I wanted it as soon as possible and then he said that he knew some way to make the process fast and now I understood what this way was. I told him to use that way and then he immediately took me to the next room where the head of the police station was sitting. He interviewed me, and asked me several questions including who will pay for my trip to the US. Finally he attested my photo and I came out of that office with that creepy policeman. Now he took me to a corner and said that he also wanted something. I asked him how much and he said whatever I wish. I asked, “Rs.200”? and he said what can he do with Rs. 200.

And then he asked for Rs. 600. I had to give him that money because I knew that I will never ever get my passport if I had not made him happy. After this office I have to deal with LIU (Local Intelligence Unit), SSP office, the passport office in Benares and the passport office in Lucknow. I will have to bribe everyone and still maybe don’t get my passport on time. This whole experience made me very sad. I was wondering if there is any government work in India that could be get done without bribing government???

Interview with sex workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sex worker’s conference

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

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

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

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

Interview with Musahars in the village

Mushahar is a caste of Hindus. I got opportunity to meet and spend sometime with them when I was working for Financial Times in Varanasi. Mushahars are still considered untouchables in the society. Their traditional job is to pick up the long pepper (Pipal) leaves, make bowl of it and sell it to market.

We went to a village of Mushahar community near Mehndiganj, Varanasi. They still live in huts made by clay. Interviewee was a 24 years old married woman whose husband was a rickshaw driver. She had 6 members in the family including her husband, father in law, mother in law and 2 daughters. None of their daughters go to shcool. Her husband makes only Rs. 25 (50 cents USD) per day. No local person wants to sit on his rickshaw because he is a Mushahar.

Mushahar community get some job during the harvest time. They work on other people’s land to cut the grains. It was funny to hear that people eat the grains which got cut by them but they do not sit on the Mushahar’s rickshaw. Even though they work so hard on field during harvest time they don’t get paid in cash. Their wages is 5 Kgs or grains per day. So if they work for 1 month in a year they make 150 Kgs of grains which is worth Rs. 2000 ($50) per year. Their traditional job is good enough to make them happy in their life but since India is going through huge change in society people have adopted plastic bowl now which has put Mushahars in trouble. I don’t see any shop keeper using leaf bowl in big cities. Cities like Benares still have this tradition but it is also changing.

I remember after completing the interview interviewer gave Rs. 500 to interview because he was shocked to hear that their per day income was only 50 cents. We had a local to help us meeting the people and she said us to tell the villagers to divide the money. Then interviewer gave Rs. 500 more and said to distribute the money in whole community. But it became a big issue for them. They all started fighting. Interviewee was not agree to share her Rs. 500 but villagers were telling that her money should also be distributed. She wanted only rest of Rs. 500 to be distributed. Finally we had to run away because they had became so violent.

This Mushahar village where we went to had only hand pump and one well. Since this village was near Coca-Cola plant, they had huge problem of water. Their hand pump and well both gets dried during summer time and no one, who knows that they are Mushahar, let them take water from their resources. So during summer time they have to walk for at least 2-3 Kms to take the water. Since it is women’s responsibility to collect water for family in Indian villages, it makes Mushahar’s life much harder in Mehndiganj.

When we reached there they brought a Khatia (bed kind of thing made of ropes). I wanted Mushahars to sit with me and as I told them they asked my caste. When I said that I am a Bramhan they refused to sit with me on Khatia because they are a different caste.

Stupid Coca-Cola manager

Once were passing by Coke’s plant in Mehndiganj and saw one house just next to it. My researcher friend was very much interested in interviewing someone near the plant so she told me to ask people if they would permit us to interview them. We were right in front of Coke plant and as I got off the taxi I saw few security guards at the plant gate. They saw me and went inside the plant but I never thought about why then went inside the plant after watching me.

I found one old person in that house who wanted to be interviewed because he was really in deep trouble. I called my friend to come and at the same time I saw the same security guards watching me from roof of the plant. They were standing there and watching me and as they saw a white girl coming towards me then immediately they went downstairs. I thought they just wanted to see what I was doing there.

After five minutes a car came from opposite direction of the plant and one very well dressed guy came to us with 4-5 security guards. He said that he was regional manager of Amar Ujala, leading news paper of India, and doing some research about Coke issue for his next article. He showed me his id card also which was issued by Amar Ujala and after watching this I became sure that he was from Amar Ujala.

He asked my friend about her research and offered to work together. My friend was so happy to meet a Indian researcher who was interested in same subject as her. They both shared contact details of each other. At the same time our interviewee was abusing Coke a lot. He said that he used to be a land lord before Coke came to his area but after Coke he could not grow enough crops even for his family.

Amar Ujala guy said that Coke provides a lot of job to locals but interviewee was not agree with it. He said that his son was a graduate but he had no job so Amar Ujala guy gave him a written paper and said to contact Coke manager with that paper to get job for his son. He said that Coke’s manager was his very good friend. Our interviewee was so happy hoping that his son will have a job tomorrow.

After a while he left and we also completed interview and left. Then we contacted Mr. Nandlal Master to inform him about it and he said that Amar Ujala guy was not Amar Ujala employee but he was the Coke’s area manager. It was shocking for me, I was little scared because they were asking about me to my driver and I had already watched some videos of protest against Coke where bribed police was beating people. I didn’t understand why he told us a lie.

We also did our research and found that he was really Coke’s area manager. His name was Mr. Amit Sinha. He used to be regional manager of Amar Ujala but left the job few months ago and now he was Coke’s employee. The id card that he showed was issued by Amar Ujala when he was working for them but he never returned it.

He called my friend again evening time and asked to meet her tomorrow and they fixed the appointment. He again called night time and this time he was so rude talking to her. He was telling my friend to come and stay with him at his place that night but my friend said that she would feel better if she meets him in any restaurant. Then he said that they will have fun whole night if she stays with him and again my friend said no. But he was kept asking her to come, have drink and fun.

My friend said that she was married and did not want to stay with him and then he said that her husband was not watching her so why not stay with him and have some fun. After hearing this my friend started shouting at him and he hanged up the call. She was so disturbed, I had never ever hoped for this kind of behaviour from a Coke manager.

After this everybody started pressing me and my friend to lodge a complaint against him. But she was not comfortable doing it because she was worried about her name to be public. Mr. Nandlal Master contacted Amar Ujala also and they were also wanted to lodge a case against him for using their name but they wanted a written complaint from my friend which she didn’t want to do.

After few days we visited Coke’s plant after special permission from Coke US and I found his name in the employees list. Everybody was trying to butter up my friend, they took her to all their near by rain water harvesting sites, they had sent over 5 people with her. We visited their three rain water harvesting sites and none of them were near the plant, the nearest one was about 8 KMs away.

After few days Coke’s manager started contacted Mr. Nandlal Master offering some money to get everything settled but obviously Nandlal Master didn’t except it. It was more than 15 days of drama, everybody was contacting me to tell my friend to lodge complaint against Mr. Sinha but she was not agree. Finally she left India hoping that Coke’s manager will be fired someday because all the Coke officers knew about it. But he is still Coke’s area manager.

Because of the privacy, I have not used her name in any of the posts related to her work.

Production work for CBC’s documentary

It was Nagnathiya today and CBC guys were in Varanasi to start shooting for their documentary called Myths and Might. Mr. Shubhranshu Chowdhary called me to inform about it. I had already helped him in researching for characters. I met them at Veer Bhadra Mishra’s house who organizes this play in Benares. There was huge crowd to see the play, more than 25,000 people. I had already seen the play several times before but this was the first time when I was sitting on a boat. It was fun to watch the play by sitting on a boat. There were lots of VIPs around my boat.

CBC’s camera was amazing, it was a HD camera. I had never seen such a camera like that before. I was with them for the whole play shooting. After that we went to Dashashwamedh ghat to shoot Aarti which was last work of that day. CBC wanted to shoot Mr. Veer Bhadra Mishra next morning which I always wanted to see. I requested Mr. Chowdhary to let me see Mr. Mishra talking and he said he will call me tomorrow when they start shooting.

I was so excited to see Mr. Mishra’s interview and was waiting for Mr. Chowdharys’s call but he didnt call. Finally I called him and he said that I could not see this interview because of some boundations created by Mr. Mishra. After Mishra’s interview they filmed Raja Babu, one of our characters, for the whole day. After spending two days with Raja Babu they left Benares.