Shouting, undressing and the use of pepper spray

India’s parliament set all sorts of unwanted records in the five-year term that just ended.

Never before in India’s history did a parliament work fewer hours, and this house was also passing the least number of bills. Proceedings were in fact disrupted so often, that the productive time of the lower house, or Lok Sabha, stood at only 61 percent.

Among the more frequent forms of protests were shouting down the speaker and each other, snatching papers from officials and waving placards in front of the speaker’s chair.

At one point some parliamentarians also got rid of their clothes to protest with their chests bared. Others pushed each other around, uprooted microphones, smashed a glass and a computer, and one guy even used pepper spray.

Every now and then some MPs formed a wall or circle around someone who was holding a speech to protect him or her from other democratic leaders. Even the Prime Minister was fenced off like this, while his words were inaudible as the protesters didn’t even stop their shouting for him.

the house of democracy

Gandhi watching the house of democracy. If he would have approved the proceedings inside?

PRS Legislative Research, a Delhi-based research organisation, meticulously compiled the data on this parliamentary session and pointed to the democratic flaws stemming from all the adjournments and disruptions. “Of the 116 Bills passed by the 15th Lok Sabha, a significant percentage of Bills were passed without adequate debate in the House. In the Lok Sabha, 36% of the total Bills passed were debated for less than thirty minutes. Of these, 20 Bills were passed in less than five minutes,” they write.

Another point of concern: “With the last session of the 15th Lok Sabha having ended, a total of 68 Bills will lapse.” These include the Women’s Reservation Bill (one third of the seats of all elected bodies, including the parliament, were to be reserved for women), Direct Taxes Code, Micro Finance Bill, Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill and the Bill enabling the introduction of Goods and Services Tax.

But why on earth do the parliamentarians disrupt the sessions? Well, any reason seems to be justifiable. I saw protests against the government reaction after the detention of Indian fishermen in Sri Lanka, the answer after the death of an Indian prisoner in Pakistan, the perceived lack of retaliation after an incursion by Chinese soldiers, missing official papers after a debated allocations of coal mining rights, alleged financial scams involving the federal government, and so on, and so forth.

Do politicians from the opposition or the ones in the ruling coalition who have deviant opinions think there is no other platform to make their voices heard if they disagree with the government?

Here is a suggestion: Just talk to us. So far, hardly any top politician grants media houses interviews and uses this way of speaking out. Are you afraid of our questions?

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Living at a friends place definitely has it’s upsides

cats

The Making of Raavan

During the festival of Dussehra, huge effigies of Raavas,n symbolising evil, are burnt in dozens or even hundreds of places in the city and in towns all over North India.

But where do they come from? Most of them are made in Titarpur in West Delhi, where the sidewalks and traffic islands as well as the space underneath the flyovers and metro stations are turned into seasonal open air workshops.

Here the men (and, sadly, children) chop the bamboo for the frames, cover them with old saris, affix layers and layers of colourful paper, use tar to paint the mustaches black, apply light bulbs to make the eyes glow green – and then load the parts onto trucks, to somewhere put them together to from the 20 meters high figures. Which then go up in flames in a matter of minutes.

Being part of a jury

Thanks to my great german language skills, I was invited to Bal Bharati Public School in Dwarka which, despite the name, is a private school, to judge pupil’s plays from different schools there.

dancingThey had to act in a mix of English and either French or German, and we had to evaluate both their language as well as their creativity and coherence of the play and so on.

It was great fun, and afterwards we were rewarded with a McDonald’s burger and filled puff pastry. But the best part for me was the dancing before the event. I didn’t know the students learn these traditional dances at school. Gorgeous!

Lotus Flowers

lotus

Swaping the hammer for a pen

school in mine area

More than half of these kids had been cutting stones when they first came to this school at the age of seven or eight or nine. If the age, that was given in the forms, is correct. But who knows. Most of these kids, daughters and sons of migrant workers in the mining area of Kota, have not been born in a hospital. And no one bothered to note down the date. If someone present was able to write.

They helped raising the income of their family. For one cobblestone the families gets Rs 1 and a family might not be able to cut more than 150 stones a day. This amounts to not much more than 2 Euros. The houses are mainly made out of the solid stone that is abundant in the region, but lack everything else. No electricity, no water, no toilets.

stone quarry

Can’t be overlooked: child labour

Even before we reached the mining area out of Kota in Rajasthan, we saw two boys, maybe ten and twelve years old, handling sand with a shovel and bowl. They did road work – not for some exploitative business man, but under a government scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. This scheme guarantees rural people unskilled manual work for one hundred days every year for which they get Rs. 120 per day. But until I saw these kids I thought the scheme only applied to adults.

Not only did they – migrants from another part of Rajasthan who lived in tarpaulin tents in the midst of this dry and barren land – work for a central government road and no one cared. Also there apparently wasn’t any inspector to check on all the kids that worked the stones in the mindes and on the rubble, sitting just meters away from the highway, their hands holding chisel and hammer instead of pen and paper.

On tracks and on the road

The people in my train to Kota weren’t the only ones moving along the tracks. Others walked back and forth the rails like being on a well-trodden path, they crossed here and there not heeding the danger, relieved themselves on the banks and hanged their clothes on the pillars that supported the cables.

driver

fit to drive?

When I reached the dry heat of Rajasthan, I boarded a small car we and off into the wilderness on a national highway. The banks of that paved road often were broader than the tar – but it was just wide enough to accomodate all the families on the way to the next settlement, plus the broke-down trucks, and the women who walked miles to fetch water. Furthermore the children who, bottles and tiffins in their small hands, were on their way to work in the stone quarries or beween the mountains of rubble, to break cobblestones.

Someone moving somewhere?

dowry

No.

This is a case of dowry, my driver explains. The fridge, the chairs, the mattresses – all presents from the bride’s parents for the groom’s family, where the daughter is traditionally moving at the day itself. Even though this practise has long been forbidden, dowry is still a common thing in India. If the family is not able or willing to pay, women sometimes get attacked with acid or they “accidentaly” burn to death.

Missing children, missing childhood

fate of children

A total of 90,654 children were reported missing across India in 2011, and 34,406 remained untraced, according to federal Home Ministry data. They could be abducted or they could be runaways, lost, abandoned – but they often end being targets of trafficking.

After being sold, they are pushed into forced, unpaid labour at homes, roadside eateries, farms and factories like embroidery and bangle making units, or absorbed into prostitution, the illegal organ trade or begging rackets far away from their homes where it is difficult to trace them.

If parents are not too scared to go to police, they often hear from the officers, the girl might have eloped with the neighbour’s boy. Boys could have run away for work or to purchase the dream of becoming a Bollywood star. Or conditions at home were not favourable for the children.

Even if  a case is filed: Most of the missing children come from poorer sections of society, largely urban slums and poor village homes. Their parents often don’t have a photograph of them – which makes it close to impossible to trace them.

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