Friday, February 26, 2010

Of False Witches and True Idiots

Two months ago
Gani Devi Kumar was labelled a witch. The man that cursed her with this scarlet letter was the NREGA-in-charge of her village. He declared Gani a witch to the three adjoining villages too. In order to seize her land, the accuser tried various tactics. She was kicked out of her village's NREGA scheme and had to walk 3 km everyday to work through NREGA in a much farther village. She and her husband were beaten up by the village goons. She was given an ultimatum: if she didn't leave the village she would be stripped naked and paraded with a garland of shoes around her neck.

Gani took her grievances to the nearest court where the lawyer transcribed three pages of her woes. This cost her Rs 1000. The police also took a bribe of another Rs. 1000, but didn't do anything. Gani came to Taraji only after she had been robbed of Rs 5000 by the system. To put things into perspective, her family had trouble affording food worth Rs 20.

"It is not in my jurisdiction." N.K. Jain, Chairman of the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) had a favorite line. He was in town for a public hearing, and we had the (mis)fortune of meeting him a day before his event. We handed him a memorandum highlighting the plight of domestic violence, witch-hunting, and sexual harassment in the workplace. He used his favorite phrase constantly in response to our every plea. Meanwhile, he had with him a plethora of booklets on legal rights for women, courts, etc and was distributing them as if they were free souvenirs. Each attempt to reason with the man was futile. This is not what I expected from someone who was once the Chief Justice of the Tamil Nadu High Court. By the end of the meeting, our memorandum was hidden under his human rights paraphenilia.

Nikhil discovered a software which translates phonetic English into Hindi. This allowed him to type up the memorandum presented to Mr. Jain yesterday as well as the letter we presented to the Superintendent of Police (SP) today, regarding Gani's case. It is difficult to charge criminals (like Gani's accuser), because there is no anti-witch-hunting law in Rajasthan. The administration says this practice is not a problem, that it doesn't happen anymore. Taraji disagrees. If the accused commits suicide, is it not a problem? If her children and grandchildren desert her, is it not a problem? If she fears stepping outside her home because of how others will insult her, is it not a problem? Of course it is!

The majority of the day was spent on three strategies that got Gani the justice she deserves. First, Taraji spoke extensively to a journalist from Rajasthan Patrika, a supportive paper that is willing to cover the witch-hunting issue. Second, we went to the police station and gave the SP the memorandum that Nikhil typed up earlier. The SP promised to look into the matter, and according to Taraji he will, based on past experience. The tragedy is that Gani on her own doesn't get these services through the legal process. It's only after an NGO like BMCS interferes that the police takes action. This wouldn't happen if the administration did their job in the first place.

Third, we met up with N.K. Jain once again through the public event held in the UNESCO office. To a crowd of 20 he droned about how much experience the elderly had, how the younger generation needs to get involved in human rights issues, how everyone should be a good human being...he needed to spend his time somehow and he decided to use it by preaching to the choir. Afterwards we attended an official dinner where Mr. Jain was also present. Taraji handed him a copy of the memo with Gani's case, given to the SP earlier today. He said he would look into it, but based on his tone I had a hard time believing him. We spoke with him, trying to understand the role of the SHRC, but to no avail. Through the honorable Mr. Jain, I learned a valuable lesson- sometimes, smart people can sound really stupid.


  1. I guess at times, smart people get to do what they really want to do, and sometimes [or rather most of the times], they end up doing what they're really _not_ meant to do.

  2. I think the honorable is just trying to run away from the issue.This smell the case is more complicated than it looks like and in India no one want to jump into any complication and keep their hands clean.i just hope you get justice to Gani.

  3. I think what you and Nikhil are doing is commendable and it takes lots of courage and guts to follow your heart. As your aunt I am proud of you but also worry about you too. I know I sound like a broken record but please do take care as people become hostile when they are confronted with change and people who are trying to make the change.

  4. Typical Jain trait(or to generalize middle class trait in India..:)..I have seen it in my whole family (and unfortunately myself also..trying to get rid of it)....probably because of the way we are raised...

    saying we follow religiously (no matter how much it piles up on our conscious)
    "doosre ke phate me taang na dalo"

    "don't try to solve somebody else's plight/complication it can backfire stay safe as long s possible"

    he is not concerned about his duties as much as he is concerned about his popularity