Women’s rights and tourism in Nepal

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

Nepali girl

Nepali girl

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

liberal Nepali girl

liberal Nepali girl

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

the most beautiful alcohol bottle I had ever seen

the most beautiful alcohol bottle I had ever seen

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

the most luxry way to travel in Nepal

the most luxry way to travel in Nepal

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

beautiful windows

beautiful windows

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

cremation at Pashupatinath temple

cremation at Pashupatinath temple

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

life and death at same place

life and death at same place

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

Nepali food that I didn't like at all

Nepali food that I didn't like at all

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

Nepali highways

Nepali highways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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US visa refused

It was my US visa interview at US embassy, New Delhi and it was refused which I was just not hoping for. I and other people who were supporting my trip were almost sure that I will get the visa. I had four sponsorship letters, my sponsor’s bank account papers, my own documents but the visa consular did not even see them. I arrived at the embassy at 7.45 am as it was my interview at 8. Everything seemed very secured at first. The security was organized by an private security company. I did not know see any Indian police there which I think was a good idea.

I never believe Indian police, private security guards work better than Indian police. I saw so many Sikh people for the interview, maybe more than half of the people for the interview were Sikhs, turban and beard everywhere. I had noticed something really strange on US embassy website which showed their special connection with Punjab. They have five different helpline numbers for four different regions of India. Actually they do not consider Punjab as part of North India, they have a separate number only for Punjab. On their website it is written: North India (except Punjab), very funny.

US embassy is no parking zone thus they do not allow any vehicle to even stop in front of the embassy. Even general public is not allowed to stand near the embassy. They want only and only people who have some business with embassy. First of all my papers were checked by the security staffs outside the embassy and then they allowed to get in the office. In the embassy the first thing happened with me was security check. They scanned each and everything I had, even my documents. After the security check they sent me to big hall where a lot of interviewees were already sitting.

Here one girl came to me and taught me about in which order I should keep my documents. Then she sent me to another officer who saw my documents and gave me a small receipt with my interview number mentioned on it. After this they asked me to wait for my number. My number came after 45 minutes. They were sending interviewees in group of 10 each time. I passed through a passage and arrived in a huge hall. I had to wait for 4-5 minutes here also and then my number came and I went to a counter where an Indian officer was sitting, most probably he was employee of US embassy VFS.

He just checked my documents and asked me a few questions which I had already mentioned while applying for the visa. I think he just wanted to make sure that I was the right person. After this one girl came to me who brought me to another counter and here I saw a foreigner first time. He wanted to take my finger print. There was a scanner where he asked me to put my both thumbs first and after scanning it rest of the fingers. It was first time in my life when my digital finger prints were taken. But I liked this idea better than putting ink on the finger then taking finger prints.

It had happened with me only a few months ago when I applied for my marriage certificate at Benares court. It made my thumb dirty. After taking the finger prints, they asked me wait for my number. I did not know what was going on as it was my first experience of any visa interview. I was just sitting, watching here and there, listening to the people… and finally my number came. I went to the counter and as saw a really professional looking person sitting at other side of glass and of course he was the visa counselor. His first question to me was where I wanted to go.

I told him Seattle and a few other cities and then he asked me why. I told him tourism and business and he smiled and said a little bit of both? He asked me several question within hardly two minutes. He knew a little bit of Hindi also. His last question to me was what was my income and I think here I failed. I told him how much money I made last year and then he wrote something in his computer, took booklet and passport and returned it to me saying that he could not give me the visa. I asked him why and he said that according to US laws I could not qualify for the visa.

I was really socked. I told him that my trip was entirely funded and I was going to stay with my friends therefore did not need much money for the trip but he said that those things doesn’t matter. I asked him what should I do next and he told me to try after a few years when my economical condition improves which indicated clearly that my income was less than what they expect from the visitors. Anyways, I was sad and left the embassy. I was so excited for this trip and I know that I was going get very good business if I would have gotten the visa but…

I do not blame US embassy or their policies for visas. I think everything was very well organized, staffs were super trained and everything looked so nice to me. The visa counselor was nothing but a robot. He did not have any attachment or detachment to me. He did what he was suppose to do and I respect him. And it was not the end of the world for me. I will try next year again when my economical condition will be better and I know it will be better for sure:)

Indian police

I completed my tour guide training in December and my license was printed in January. Now the Ministry of Tourism office in Delhi asked me to bring a police verification certificate from my local police station. The Police verification certificate certifies that there are no legal cases against me. Actually they had provided a proforma also and I was supposed to just go to the local police station and get it stamped. I went to my local police station with that proforma but the police officer did not want to stamp that document. He asked me to go to the DIG office and apply for a character certificate there.

By mistake I went to the some other police office instead of DIG office. I went there and told a police officer about the certificate I wanted and then he asked me why I wanted this certificate and I explained that I had completed tour guide training and now I need a police verification certificate in order to get my license. After hearing that I was a tour guide, this policeman told me “Oh, so your profession is to make tourists fool and fuck them”. I was really angry to hear this, I said my profession is a tour guide and then he said that its similar.

After asking a few other questions he gave me right address of the DIG office. I went to the DIG office and I was really surprised to see the condition of the office. The office was so dusty and dark. I met the officer who issues the police verification certificate and he gave me a form and asked me a fill it and submit it along with other documents. I was told by my local police station to take care of this officer which means to give him some money, so I gave him Rs. 100. After taking this bribe he told me to contact my local police station after two days.

He said that he will send my application to my local police station and they will verify my residence and other documents and then they will send their report back to the DIG office. I contacted my local police station and my application had arrived at the local police station. The officer at the local police station asked me to bring all of my documents. After seeing all of my documents, he said that it was not enough. He needed a domicile certificate issued by the court which I did not have and I knew that it would have taken me over 15 days just to get this certificate.

I had given him a xerox of my passport also which was enough but he said that a domicile was necessary. Fortunately there was an advocate sitting in the office who favored me and said to the police officer that a passport is also equivalent to a domicile certificate.  Finally this police officer agreed to accept my documents after the advocate’s interference. He asked me to wait for a few minutes. After that advocate was gone he again started looking at my documents and after reviewing them for a few minutes he told me that they would send someone at my place within the next week or so and after verifying my residence they will send their report to the DIG office.

I knew why he needed one week of time. I asked him if I was supposed to give him something and then he said that such works are not done without paying. I was told by a few of my friends that I should give Rs. 500 to the local police station so I gave him Rs. 500 but this police officer started saying that Rs.500 was not enough as there were 5-6 people to take a share in that money. Finally we agreed on Rs. 700. After taking this money something happened that I had never ever hoped for. This police officer taught me the right way to bribe.

He taught me that I should always take care of who is sitting in the office and try to bribe when there are not many people around and never ever tell this to any other officer working in the same office, this was very valuable information. Actually I had told him about that officer in the DIG office who took Rs. 100 from me and this local police station officer said that I should not tell any other officer whom I have already bribed.  Anyways, after taking bribe of Rs. 700 he said that my documents would be forwarded to the DIG office by the same evening.

I went to the DIG office and then the DIG office said that they would send my documents to the LIU (Local Intelligence Unit) now. My documents arrived at the LIU office after a few days and when I went there, the same thing happened which had happened with me at the local police station. First of all they said that they would send someone to my home to verify my residence but when I asked them how much I was supposed to give, the officer asked for Rs. 500 and said that nobody would come to my place anymore and my documents will be forwarded to the DIG office by the same evening.

But something really funny happened while I was sitting in the LIU office. Actually I got a call on my mobile about my guest house inquiry and this officer heard me talking. After the phone call he asked me if I run a guest house also and I told him about my guest house and he asked me I had a restaurant in my guest house or not and I said no. And he asked me where do my guests eat and I told him that usually they go out and after hearing it, he seemed kind of sad and told me he would have loved coming to my place for a meal if I had a restaurant.

I told him that I lived with my family and we cook our own food and he was also invited if he wanted to have dinner with us and he said no, he was looking for some restaurant cooked hot chicken with whiskey.  I obviously said ‘No’ to him but I was really surprised how someone could be that stupid. Anyways, after bribing him, I left the office and came back home. The LIU office had told me that they would forward my documents to the CO office. The CO office is a kind of regional police office. I think there are 5 or 6 CO offices in the whole Benares district.

I contacted the CO office after two days and this office was also nothing better than the other offices I had been to. I met an officer at the CO office and he asked why I had applied for my character certificate. I explained my purpose to him and then he said that they had already checked my day time character but they did not know anything about my night time character. He said that- “Now we know about your day time character but we do not know about how many woman and prostitutes do you sleep with in the night or how many bars do you visit every night”.

He said the same thing to other officers also sitting in the office that they had checked my day time character but did not know anything about my night time character and after hearing it, all of them were laughing. One of them said they should check my night time character also. I was seriously shocked and did not know what to tell him. I could not believe that a police officer could talk in such manner. Anyways, I asked him check my night time character also and then he asked me to contact them after a week or so. I again knew why he needed to check my night time character and why he was asking for one more week.

I immediately asked him about the bribe and he also the said same thing which the officer at the local police station had told me that such works are not done without money. Anyways, I asked him how much and he said just give anything. I gave him Rs. 200 and asked when they would check my night time character and they said that there was no need to check the night time character and my documents would be forwarded to the SP ( Superintendent of Police) office by the same evening. I contacted the SP office the next day and the officers said that they will present me before the SP tomorrow.

I went to the SP office next day and I waited for the SP for an hour and finally I was presented before him. He just looked at my face and asked me why I needed a character certificate and that’s all.  I hardly got to talk with him a few seconds but just for this I had to wait for a hour at his office. I requested that he forward my documents as soon as possible and he was very nice with it. He immediately asked his PA to bring my documents, signed and stamped them and said that my work was done. After meeting him I contacted his PA and asked if I needed give something to him also and he asked me to come the next day and see if my work was done.

He did not want to take the bribe until my documents were forwarded to the next office. I went to the office again next day he said that he could not do it. I again contacted him after two days and this time my documents were already forwarded back to DIG office. Now I was sure that I was going to get my character certificate because all the formalities were done and I had bribed all the offices. When I went to the DIG office, the officer there said that they could not issue my character certificate until some other big police office stamped my documents. He also asked me to contact him after a week.

I again knew why he needed one more week. I gave him Rs. 300 and requested that he do my work faster and then he gave me the address of that other police officer whose office was also in the same building premises. He asked me to go this office and wait until the officer came and then return to inform him when this officer arrived. I went to this office, waited for hours in the terrible heat and finally this officer showed up after three hours. I informed the officer at the DIG office and then this officer brought my documents to this big police officer, got them signed and stamped and then gave me my character certificate.

This character certificate was nothing special but a really small piece of paper saying that there was no legal case against me. It seemed like they had not printed new character certificates for the year 2010 because the year mentioned on the paper was 2009 and the officer had to correct it by pen. I still think about all the craziness and corruption I had face,  the way they mistreated me saying that my profession is to make fools of tourists and fuck them, one officer said they did not know about how many women and prostitutes I sleep with…

I had to spend Rs. 1700 just to get this character certificate which should be given free of cost. I had to wait for almost a month and go to all those crazy police offices several times. Just to get this small piece of paper I had to go to DIG office>local police station>DIG office>LIU>CO office>SP office>DIG office>that big police officer’s office>DIG office. I got my character certificate and later I presented it to the Ministry of Tourism office in Delhi and got my license but when I think of all the corruption and those people working at police offices and those officers who approved my documents and my character certificate, it makes me feel like my character certificate was issued my the most characterless people on the planet.

Driving License in India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

25 new HIV patients everyday

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

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

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

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

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

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