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India: Fears and Conflicts


Maheshwar Dam:

The NY-based Ogden Corporation signed a Memorandum of Intent on March 23 to
take a 49% equity share in the Maheshwar Dam on India's Narmada River. The
project will be a social and economic disaster. If we act together, we can
stop this unjust project.

Background on the Maheshwar Dam Project:

The dam would affect more than 35,000 farmers, wage laborers, fisher and
crafts people in 61 villages and submerge about 1,100 hectares of rich
agricultural land. Many of these people would lose part or all of their
lands. There is not enough land available to rehabilitate the dispossessed.
The Madhya Pradesh (MP) State Government has admitted that it has no land
to resettle people displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Project downstream of
Maheshwar. People displaced by the Bargi and Tawa Dams are still fighting
for resettlement 10 and 25 years, respectively, after the dams were completed.

The affected people, led by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada
Movement), are determined that they will never let the project be
built. The NBA has spearheaded a non-violent movement for 15 years to stop
dams on the river Narmada. Over the last two years, thousands of farmers
whose lives and livelihoods will be destroyed by the Maheshwar Dam have
occupied the dam site nine times, barricaded all roads leading to the dam
for three months, and held mass demonstrations and hunger strikes opposing
the dam. Since its inception, the project has been plagued by financial problems.
Electricity generated by the dam is projected to cost four to five times
more than electricity currently produced by the state of Madhya Pradesh
(MP). The MP Electricity Board, which is supposed to purchase power from
the project, is on the verge of bankruptcy and is likely to default on its
payments. Due to the project's serious financial risks and intense
opposition from local people and Indian and international environmental and
human rights groups, U.S. power utility PacifiCorp backed out of the
project in 1998, and German utilities Bayernwerk and VEW Energie pulled out
in April 1999. In 1998, the MP Government had constituted a Task Force to review the project. As per the recommendations of the Task Force, the MP Government
has decided to halt further construction of other dams on the river Narmada
and look for alternatives. However, it is proceeding with the Maheshwar
project, even though the Task Force report has detailed better and cheaper
alternatives to the Maheshwar Project. Ogden's involvement in the Project: In December, the people of the Valley wrote to Ogden outlining the problems
with the project and asked Ogden not to proceed with the investment before
visiting the Valley and meeting with the people who will be affected by the
project. Having not received any reply from Ogden, more than 300 newly
elected representatives from the Valley passed a resolution opposing the
project and sent it to Ogden. In spite of this, Ogden signed a Memorandum
of Intent on March 23 to take a 49% equity share in the Maheshwar Dam
Project. Not only were Ogden's representatives not able to meet with and
talk with the affected people, to add salt to the wounds, they also claim
that they visited the villages and that " most families we saw were
pleased and appreciative of the project" .



Starvation death in Gujarat
Rathin Das

A CONTROVERSIAL starvation death of a tribal in
Sabarkantha district greeted Chief Minister Keshubhai
Patel on his return last night from a nine-day trip to
the USA. The starvation death of the tribal labourer Ditabhai
Gamar, in Sevaliya taluka of Sabarkantha district in north Gujarat on Thursday last has become the bone of contention between the Health department and the Opposition Congress, especially since the area happens to be close to former Chief Minister Amarsinh
Chaudhary's constituency Khedbrahma. Seizing the opportunity provided by the starvation death , Leader of Opposition Amarsinh Chaudhary and GPCC president have jointly demanded the resignation of the Chief Minister. But the State Health Department has claimed that the post mortem report on the dead tribal's body revealed
that he died due to tuberculosis, and not due to
starvation. This controversy about the cause of Ditabhai Gamar's
death also opens up the discrepancies about the
medico-legal definition of starvation deaths. According to medical sources, a starvation death is legally confirmed only when the deceased's stomach and small intestines are found to be completely empty. However, the large intestine may contain some
leftovers of the food the dead person might have taken
earlier. But, this official definition of starvation death
actually amounts to a mockery of the dead as it disregards the starving persons' last ditch attempts to put in whatever he can lay his handson during the last few days of his life. In case of tribals, the starving often consume wild fruits, leaves and roots which not only leads to
poisoning, but also legally excludes them from the definition of starvation deaths. It may be mentioned here that the starvation deaths in Orissa's Kalahandi district in the eighties were not classified as such since few morsels of wild fruits and plant roots were found in the stomachs of the victims. In the case of Ditabhai Gamar too, remains of the last "rotla", the maize bread he had taken had disqualified him from being a datum in the statistics of starvation
deaths in Gujarat.

Kerala: Innocence Betrayed

A study reveals child prostitution to be flourishing in three cities.

Literacy and education levels are no guarantee forcurbing sexual abuse and exploitation, even when itcomes to children. That has been proved by a stategovernment-sponsored study which reveals that a flourishing flesh trade involving boys and girls between ages eight and 18 operates in the cities of Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode.

The research project identified 825 child prostitutes in the three cities, of which 355 were males and 470 females. Child prostitutes below the age of 14 constituted 6.67 per cent and were mostly girls. The identified cases are by no means the final tally of
children in the flesh trade across the state. The research project identified 825 prostitutes, 6.7 per cent of them under the age of fourteen.

A sizeable number of children interviewed had finished
school and were in great demand among clients fearful of contracting hiv and sexually transmitted diseases and believed child sex to be a safer option. Researchers of the the Women’s Empowerment and Human Resource Development Centre of India (whi), a Thiruvananthapuram -based voluntary organisation entrusted by the government to conduct the study, interviewed 300 children in the three cities. The results were startling.

Poverty, broken families or sexually abusive relatives, co-workers or bosses were found to be the chief factors driving these children into the sex trade. Like 14-year-old Mohini, whose father is an employee of the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation, and her mother a housemaid. With her father preferring to spend time away from home and in the company of other women, Mohini took to hawking her body to tourists on Kovalam beach to bring in the extra cash. Regrets she may have, but she’s never looked back since. Mohini belongs to the ranks of street children who ply their trade openly. They are but a small section on the lower end of the sex trade. More clandestine are the girls who meet clients in their homes or in pre-arranged safe houses, away from the sight of the authorities. Child prostitutes making house calls are
less prone to fall victim to violence from clients wary of drawing the attention of neighbours. These girls are not driven by poverty but by the lust for glitter. Most of their money is spent on cosmetics,
clothes and exotic food. Often, they do it just to get even with overstrict parents. The situation is worse in Kozhikode, where children accompany clients on extended journeys. Pleasant and
unpleasant experiences await them on these trips. The
kids are usually swamped with gifts and cash. But sometimes the ride gets rough and they end up gangraped as well as short-changed. Boys, though, are less vulnerable to client abuse. In Kochi and Kozhikode, young boys are in demand from the homosexual community as well as lonely nri wives. This is a closed trade, yet anybody you meet on the street could prove to be a ‘link’: autorickshaw drivers, lottery ticket-sellers, std booth operators,
stationery shop employees, fruit vendors or bus conductors. The client profile covers the broad social spectrum: businessmen, government officials, bank employees, politicians, policemen, college students, even pensioners. Predictably, the study stays clear of elaborating on the social profile of the clients.

"This exploitation of children is shameful in a state such as Kerala which boasts 100 per cent literacy, political awareness and steps taken to empower women,"
fumes Sugathakumari, chairperson of the State Women’s
Commission. "What are the police doing about it?"

Precisely nothing. For them, the problem does not exist. Observes Arun Kumar Sinha, Commissioner of Police, Thiruvananthapuram: "It is only a rumour. We have not received any petition regarding child prostitution." Sinha admits that 17 children from Karnataka were used for prostitution in the Kovalam beach resort, but they were rounded up and sent back. There have been no cases since, he contends. But dig Jacob Thomas, former director of the Women’s Commission and chief consultant to the project, recognises that the police have a habit of not acknowledging a social evil. "It’s not a priority," he says. "vip security is their priority." As police commissioner in Kochi, Thomas had in fact issued identity cards to social workers involved in rehabilitating child prostitutes. The ID cards were meant to save them from police harassment. Dr K.G. Vijayalekshmi, project director, plans to
extend the study to the rural areas where the girl
children mostly come from. She thinks the problem
cannot be tackled by directly hitting the powerful
commercial interests and the gangs that protect the
trade. She advocates awareness-building and gradual exposure as a means of exerting pressure on the clandestine racket. In the vicious cycle of demand and supply, the child prostitute must surely be the most debased product since the invention of commerce.

Venu Menon