At the receiving end

BY ADITI WAGH & ALISHA D’SOUZA

Even among the most subjugated classes in our society, there is often one section that bears the brunt of the oppression – the women. The myriad of atrocities against women include molestation, dowry suicides and murders, eve-teasing, kidnapping, harassment by husband and family members, domestic violence and prostitution. Among all these, rape debilitates the mental strength and completely annihilates the morale of a woman.

The Mumbai Commiserate has the highest number of cases reported annually. However, Mumbai is an extensive geographical area with a number of smaller districts that are independent. The difference in the size of Mumbai and Pune makes the incidences in Pune all the more alarming. Pune has the highest incidences of rapes reported in the state, after Mumbai.

In Maharashtra, the trend has been that urban areas register more cases of violence than their rural counterparts. Pune city is an exception to this rule. According to the CID Report of 2009, more cases were reported in rural areas as opposed to urban parts of the state of Maharashtra. Pune witnessed a 27% increase in violence against women last year, in comparison to the year 2009.

A crime branch study on rape cases revealed that there was a decline in the number of rape cases over the last two years. In 2008, as many as 91 rape cases were registered in the city, while in 2009, the number was 66. Rural Pune registered about 72 cases.

Shedding some light on the statement, Jayant Umranikar, Retired Director General of Police, Special Operations said, “Rural Pune is urban in its outlook. In terms of development it surpasses even some other cities in the state. Places like Lonavala, the outskirts of the city that houses the urban IT sector cannot be termed as rural, because the population is highly urbanized.”

Offences like rape have a negative connotation amongst rural populace. It is the victim who is subjected to social stigma and shunning instead of the rapist. Despite the social stigma associated with the crime, the reason behind higher number of victims registering cases in rural area than the urban region in Pune is a cause worth investigating.

Higher education levels have made women more sensitive to these issues. They are better informed about their fundamental rights and the civil laws that protect them. They are empowered to fight these social battles. Another possible factor that encourages Pune’s rural to file complaints against atrocities is sensitivity on the part of police and legal authorities.

Highlighting an astonishing trend, Umranikar said, “Often cases that are filed are not genuine in nature. It may be a form of blackmail by a girl who was promised marriage, and later hung out to dry. Or in case of a minor who elopes, parents may file kidnapping and rape charges against the man. “

Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code states that only physical penetration without consent constitutes a rape. Our judicial system is designed such that very few cases of perjury are punished.

Women tend to use this to their advantage, by filing wrongful charges against men they want to prosecute. But in case of trial, the accused is booked under a non-bailable offence. Arrest is then the only form of justice, although the legal proceedings in courts may drag cases for years.

Approximately 60 % of rapes are instigated because the rapist’s approach is turned down by the girl, hurting his male ego. He then uses his physical strength as a symbol of his masculinity. About 30% of cases stem from sexual arousal after seeing a girl.

The remaining 10% may be attributed to intimidation tactics, where a woman maybe a witness to a crime. Rape is used against a voice that needs to be heard. In certain cases, the criminal may be a stranger to the victim. He may however perpetrate the crime to seek revenge against another loved one. Rape may also be a method to enforce a sense of domination over the victim.

For these victims who are subject to inhuman brutality, there are rehabilitation measures offered by the government. One such governmental wing which functions under the Police Department is Prevention of atrocities against women (PAW).

It is a mandatory unit for every police station. It provides counselling for victims and criminals associated with a wide range of crimes. Of course, as in other crimes, in case of rape as well, the rapist has to be psychologically unfit which is an aspect police discovers during the investigation. It is only post the declaration of his mental illness that the criminal is sent to the counselling department for treatment.

Rape is physical force applied to make a statement. However, Jayant Umranikar believes that mere statistics do not point towards an increase in crimes against women. There may be more registered reports in the rural sector which is encouraging. Not only are women contending against the men they are also empowering themselves.

Pune, being an educated, cosmopolitan city of the state, has identified the seriousness of the issue. Thus reporting this may just be the sign of a more responsible society.

Picture: google.com/images

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A different kind of rush

BY ANCHAL PATHAK, SWATI DEOGIRE, TARANA ARORA

A dimly lit room with a red Chinese lamp glowing in the far end. A young girl aged 22 opens an innocent looking packet containing white powder. With the help of her friend she draws the powder into lines. As both take chances to snort the powder, the Trance music playing in the background becomes subdued. And as they rest their heads back and let the drug take its effect, their realities start slipping and they are transported into a world of their own.

This scene which looks straight out of a blockbuster movie is what more than five million  Indian youngsters go through on almost a daily basis. Sadly this shattering statistic pertains to Heroin alone. The  percentage consumption of other types of drugs is virtually unknown and on the rise.

“You feel dizzy, you feel like floating. There is a flowing sensation under your skin. It’s the easiest form of escapism,” says a 22 year old Preeti Singhania (name changed) who was a user of Cannabis drugs. The “feeling” as Singhania describes, that comes from smoking non chemical drugs that she and her friends used to indulge in while in college, was surreal. She started at 18 herself but claims she knows people who took to the bud when as young as 14 or 15.

“People who get into drugs usually don’t do it with the motive of getting addicted. They just want a onetime escape or an occasional drag as they see their friends enjoying while doing so,” says clinical psychologist, Glennis Mendosa. Working with people trying to kick the habit she says, “every time you consume an addictive substance your threshold increases by a level.

Why do people indulge in a habit that they know might damage their nervous system in particular and their life in general? There are various reasons, the strongest being unstable family environment. If a person has had a tumultuous past, then taking up this habit becomes an obvious consequence. Mendosa explains, “If a child witnesses friction between his parents at an impressionable age and the only time he/she has seen them calm is when they are drinking or smoking, the child automatically equates calmness and peace with these substances.”

Peer pressure is also one of the rising reasons for addiction. Young people want to be cool and accepted therefore, they, on the insistence of their friends take a few drags, little knowing that they are walking into an addiction.

Singhania adds to this list by saying that people use these substances for things as trivial as losing weight or getting over a break up.

People today have a very casual attitude towards substances. The media is to be blamed to a certain extent for not only glorifying but at the same time attaching the element of normalcy to narcotics. This can be observed in sitcoms and films such as How I met your mother, Dev D and Dum maro dum to name a few.

What is even more unnerving is the easy availability of these drugs in public places which families frequent. Places as common as a small kiosk under Shoppers’ Stop in Pune are known to be the selling point of these narcotics. One may shell out 100 bucks for a small packet of grass or up to Rs. 45,000 for a smaller packet of chemical drugs.

To help the cause of addiction, various organisations such as Muktangan in Pune have been set up. These organisations are working to help out addicts by providing them with therapy and medication. Just as every time you take a substance your level increases, similarly the method of curing is to decrease the level or dosage every time an addict takes to them. For example, if your regular dosage is five units a day, it is reduced to four a day. When withdrawal occurs the patient is provided with medication as well as psychotherapy to educate him/her about this addiction. Family members are also included in this session. Addicts are given safe medication like calcium tablets which acts as a Placebo which helps them cut down their addiction.

Mendosa says, “Acceptance is the only way a person can let go off his addiction. A person in denial cannot be helped by the best therapists in the world that’s why a therapist’s first task it to help change the mindset of the addict.”

With determination in her eyes, Singhania adds, “My fainting experience drove me to quit my addiction. I came to terms with the toll it was taking on my health, both physically and mentally.”

With the casual attitude that the society showers drugs with, one can only hope that there are more Preeti Singhania’s in the world that have woken up from the trance and seen the light.

 Picture: google.com/images

When the light turns RED

BY MUGDHA VARIYAR, SHOUMELI DAS, PRATITI CHAKRABORTY

Pune’s vibrant night-life brings out the youth brigade in its hundreds, upbeat and ready to paint the town red. In another part of town, the colour assumes a completely contrasting connotation.

Buddhwar Peth is notorious as Pune’s red light area, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. This controversial area is close to Dagdusheth Ganpati and Kaka Halwai; both abuzz with activity and the daily humdrum of traffic and travel. The dingy lanes and dilapidated houses of Buddhwar Peth catch our attention immediately. The overbearing stench makes us flinch involuntarily.

While Hindi films may have accustomed us to the stereotypically gaudy sex workers and their traits, but when we see the young girls standing stoically on the streets, the reality hits hard.

Our first stop is the Shukravar Peth Police Station, mainly because it seems too naïve to wander around without any understanding of the place. PSI Yadav tells us that most of these girls are between 18 and 30 years of age. “They mainly come from Nepal, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar. Some of them are forced to work here, some are conned into the business with dreams of a better life; but most of them come here by choice, having fled from utter poverty and other problems.”

How do the police check this racket? “We often conduct raids to ensure minor girls are not being forced into this occupation. Offenders are taken into custody under the Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act, 1956,” Yadav explains.

As we walk along the streets of Budhwarpeth, we see girls huddled up on the sidewalk, on stairs and near shops. A sign board on a shaky building catches our attention – Akhila Budhwar Peth Devdasi Sanstha. We enter the gate promptly, to be greeted by a woman in her fourties, a peer with the organization. Her name is Kamala Kattipalla from Bijapur in Karnataka.

In a candid interaction with Kamala, she revisited her life story. Kamala arrived in the city at the age of fifteen with a hope for finding work and money. She soon found herself running out of choices and was forced to become a sex-worker. She continued to work for a long time before one of her customers agreed to take her from there. Today, not only does Kamala have a family with one son but also does her bit to help other sex workers who need her guidance. She now stays in the city and works with the government-sponsored organisation.

She takes us around the corner where a group of girls are chattering. As we introduce ourselves, they all remain mum and indifferent.

“We face no problems here”, replies one woman, rather indignantly. Though initially apprehensive about answering questions, she soon loosens up. She is from Uttar Pradesh, and has been working in Buddhwar Peth for over a year. Her heavily-made up eyes light up and her pursed lips give way to a smile at the mention of her three month old son, who sleeps upstairs as she waits for customers. Surrounding her are five other young girls, and one middle-aged woman all of whom stare at us, stoically. The fatigue of their twelve hour work day is cleverly hidden. A sixth joins the group in a huff, after angrily refusing a customer who was haggling with her.

When she prefers to stay silent, Kamala takes over. “It is tough”, she says, “since the girls come here at a very young age and get into the business. Some work throughout the night and many face health problems. The police have also given us a lot of trouble, since they round up everyone under the PITA act and keep them in custody for days.”

We make our way to the office of the Akhila Buddhwar Peth Devdasi Sanstha. There Mr. Prakash Yadav, who manages the organisation, briefs us on the work that the organisation does. “We offer health assistance to these girls in every way possible. From getting them tested for HIV and STDs to giving out free condoms, we try to maximize health awareness for their benefit”, he says.

The health and hygiene of the sex workers is a wide spread concern apart from trafficking. To address this major issue, there are four NGOs that operate in the area. Ensuring that these women stay healthy and disease free is a huge challenge, owing to the lack of literacy among the women, or Key Persons (KPs) as they are referred to.

Manali Ahir, a counseller at the organization, gives us a lot of insight on the world of sex-workers in Pune.   “Our main aim is to create awareness and provide medical services,” she tells us. “We go to brothels, talk to these KPs and give them the necessary medical aid. Our volunteers conduct regular blood tests, six monthly HIV tests, provide them with condoms and any other clinical assistance that may be required”, says Manali Ahir. This form of Targetted Intervention by the organisation is funded by programmes like Pathfinder as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

However, she does clarify that during the peak season of the business such as the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, the organization refrains from excessive intervention as they don’t like to affect their work.

Ahir talks about their earnings. “They earn between Rs. 100 to Rs. 200 for services of 15-20 minutes. Some of them charge about Rs. 500 per hour, and some take up to Rs. 1200 for the entire night.

For women with toddlers, there is a crèche facility provided by organisations such as Vanchit Vikas and Kaya Kalp. Organizations like Saheli work towards providing formal education for sex workers with the inclination to learn.

At this point of time, one cannot help but wonder what happens to these women after their prime. While a few fortunate settle down with their Regular Partners (RPs), others return to their villages with their life savings.  A few choose to become managers who help protect the girls.

We received more food for thought than we expected. Choice, exploitation, bravery, greed, necessity, resignation. Different outlooks, crammed into four gallis.

The day turns into an experience of a life-time and an eradicator of previously-held notions, as we open up to a different world that stands in our very midst.

Land Acquisition: An hurdle to Infrastructure development

BY AGAMONI GHOSH, NIKITA MUKHERJEE, RAINA KSHETRY

A sigh of relief made its way through the farmlands of Singur as Mamata finally managed to return their rightly owned land to the farmers. An array of disappointment however marred the young of the same community who may have had a glorified vision of finally moving towards an industrial outlook that in some way would improve the environment they resided in. Land acquisition, the heated topic of debate across state governments and developmental boards has pricked the infrastructural development of the country in such a way that its growth is at questionable quarters.

One of the most prickly nettles for governments in India today is land acquisition for industry. The complex and ambiguous routines involved in Land acquisition by the government for public projects has adversely affected the infrastructural development.  The Land Acquisition bill of 1984 an almost draconian approach to acquire land for developmental purposes was recently sought to be replaced for which the Draft Land Acquisition Bill 2011 was tabled in parliament. But has it served any purpose or is it just the old wine in a new bottle failing to gain any results. Billion-dollar projects stalled or abandoned due to protests or legal battles with angry former landowners have exposed the dicey world of corporate land acquisition in Asia’s third-largest economy, sparking calls for a legislative fix.

India’s abysmal record in terms of providing adequate compensation and honouring promises to the oustees has contributed to the present trust deficit and consequent opposition on the part of owners of land to part with it. In the public eye, the government is no longer considered an honest broker.

Amidst this chaos the only sufferers are the common man who expecting better infrastructure pay stashes of money every year as taxes but are time and again left high and dry.  Himanshu Chandrakar, an IT salaried official working at Infosys says, ‘A silicon valley or a couple of SEZ’s do not decide the overall infrastructure of the country. So what if I live comfortably and work in these environments. The moment I step out and go to my native place which falls outside the territorial domains of the city it’s as sad as one can imagine. If this kind of lob sided infrastructural development continues we are most likely to have an urban outburst of excessive population.”

The beauracratic nuances with its ever prolonged red tapism has plagued the Indian developmental visions. In its  report – Building India: Accelerating Infrastructure Projects by the Economic Survey  drew the comparison that building a thermal power plant in India took three and a half years, while in China it took a year less. Such concerns cast doubt on the speed with which the economy can be transformed by big spending on infrastructure. MOSPI in its annual report showed that 293 Out Of 559 Construction Projects in India Were Delayed As Of October 2010.

Only a quarter of India’s 88 cities with populations of more than 500,000 have formal transport systems, according to the Asian Development Bank. Currently, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) is inviting bids for 65 highway projects, the equivalent of 6,800km of road for a total cost of Rs680.8bn. However, according to research by Macquarie, the Australian investment bank, only 15 have been awarded so far. Another 50 are still up for grabs. This is because progress has been hampered by disagreements between the government and private sector companies over whether roads would yield enough revenues to justify investment.

Even the new bill has failed to provide any kind of relief. Soumyajit Sen, practicing advocate at the High Court of Kolkata says, “Land owners badly needed a law that would offer a redressal system for disputes/acts of coercion, a fair compensation package and suitable rehabilitation. Corporates, on the other hand, were in dire need of a process-oriented system that would not only reduce the time involved in land acquisition but also provide safety for their massive investments, without entirely altering their payback estimates. The draft bill has disappointed both.”

The Chamber of Indian Industries  also suggested that the government should carry out an extensive survey of the country, identify the most fertile and productive agricultural land to be protected, and then carry out a massive zoning plan, designating certain areas for different types of development, including infrastructure. However, the new land bill makes no provision for any such an undertaking.

Not only has this new proposed system created further ambiguity but also raised the potential scope of land dealings. The Bill, prima facie, is expected to increase the cost of land acquisition for the Railways, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), mining, airport and metal projects, even as it is expected to speed up land acquisition due to better compensation and lesser dispute.

Ninad Mishra, a real estate agent from Pune states, “The existent costs in land dealings including the payments made to the middlemen were already so expensive.

With the introduction of the new levels of transparency so as they call it has become newer levels of expenses. The more the running from one authority to another the more is the cost incurred.”

So if this new policy is a nightmare for the urbanites does it fare any better for the farmers as it claims. The new policy takes effect prospectively, and does not cover projects for which land has already been acquired. It promises added benefits to farmers and revises certain provisions of the earlier policy announced on September 3, 2010.

Besides compensation, farmers will get an annuity of Rs 23,000 per year per acre for the next 33 years, going up by Rs 800 every year. In the earlier policy, this amount was Rs 20,000 per acre, going up by Rs 600 every year. Farmers can also settle for one-time compensation of Rs 2.76 lakh (earlier Rs 2.40 lakh) per acre.

The new policy has three parts. The first deals with land to be acquired for basic infrastructure, such as highways and canals, which will be based on mutual agreement. The second part will deal with agencies that prepare master plans for planned development. Karar Niyamavali or mutual agreement will guide land acquisition for this and allow for all the benefits announced in the earlier policy.

A key difference now is that farmers will also be entitled to get 16 per cent of the developed land for free. If the farmer does not intend to keep the land or part of the 16 per cent developed land, he could liquidate a part of it for cash.

The third part deals with land acquisition for development and other commercial purposes by private developers, where companies can negotiate and acquire land directly from farmers, provided they have the consent of 70 per cent of the affected people.

The most major loop hole in this system is that there is a huge distance between the farmer and the development agency which does not allow the farmer to avail all the profits from the deal. Also due to illiteracy of the farmers in the state, many are fooled easily in giving up their lands.

Disappointments, disagreements, non implementations. This is all the infrastructure progress has faced in light of the recent land acquisition dramas. Will it fare any better in times to come ahead or will the hierarchical costs inculcated in land dealings proof to be a huge set back.

The prime challenge for the government is not to turn a blind eye to the needs of the people and have a comprehensive revision of the Bill along with the consent of various representations from groups as corporate, public infrastructure boards, state governments and most importantly local governments.

It’s time we realised that infrastructure is shaped more by the local forces than anyone else and hence decentralisation with effective outcome should be the need of the hour.

A story of the Third India

By Apeksha Mishra, Shagun Kapil, Sanket Chaukiyal

Sadashiv Das is a former medical Superintendent of SCB Medical College in Cuttack, Odisha. He retired last month. His sixtieth birthday was just a couple of days ago. The years have however not been very kind to him. Arthritis has completely immobilized him. He hobbles now using a crutch. So, the idea of finally resting is not entirely unwelcome.

Das has been visiting the secretariat in Bhubaneswar every single day for the past 18 days. He wishes to get his service papers in order so that he can start receiving his pension. But eighteen days of patiently standing in queues has not yielded anything. He is directed from table to table. No one seems to be responsible for anything.

Das suffers from diabetes and hypertension too. His condition requires visiting the wash room from time to time. However the latter in the secretariat is a festering Inferno of stench, stains and flies.  The closest place is his niece’s house, seven kilometers away. He cannot possibly go there leaving his place in the line.  The eighteen days have been a torture to him. He has already paid Rs. 2000 in cash, five packets of Wills and two packets of Jalaram laddoos as bribe. The inertia is however unaffected.

This too is the story of India. Beyond the dazzling growth. Beyond the dark poverty.

Whether it’s Bhubaneswar or Pune or Delhi, the story is the same. What has stopped administrations and Governments across towns and tehsils from working is something beyond corruption. It is a total refusal to get things moving. It is almost a sadistic pleasure in seeing people squirm, despair, cajole and still get snubbed. Reason can no longer apply to explain this behavior. The poor are no longer the only sufferers in India. Constant harassment and humiliation can rival the pangs of hunger too. As middle class India groans in misery, there is no Lochinvar who rides into television studios in righteous anger. As everyone, from the anchors to the activists, discusses and bemoans the fate of the other India that comprises the poor, everyone forgets that India is not just of the rich and the poor but also of the 200 million strong middle class whose angst is overshadowed by the excesses against the poor.

The Jan Lokpal movement has churned out opinions galore. The ones against the same have sneered that most of the agitators did not even know the concept of an (anti corruption) ombudsman. Prajikta Kakatar, a resident of Pune stopped her twenty two year old son from going to a rally in support of Hazare in Pune. Her logic was, “When you don’t even know what the Jan Lokpal Bill is, who made it, how many versions there are, what are you agitating for?”

“India has indeed had a skewed story”, says sociologist Kalindi Jena. “However the problem is that a proper identification of victims has not been made. The poor in India are not the only ones suffering. Middle class India is too. The poor at least have the competing attention of the political class these days. But who fights for the middle classes?”

The Anna Hazare movement was criticized for not including Dalits and minorities. It was criticized for being an upper caste middle class agitation. The truth of the matter, however, is that in a country of competing appeasements, the middle class, especially upper caste Hindu, is an Indian who has a story of untold grievances. He enjoys no quotas, no subsidies, no reliefs and no bailouts. This even after it is his money, his taxes that go to pay for most of the aforementioned goodies. The pursuit of a welfare state has created a Robin Hood government that robs not the rich but the middle class to pay for the poor. One of after the other, the grandiose schemes of a welfare state waives away Rs. 60,000 crores worth of farm loans and spends Rs, 45,000 crores for a rural employment guarantee scheme. Little do governments realize that the pockets that they rob to pay for rice at Rs 2 a kilo are empty because the same pocket pays Rs 40-50 for the same amount.

“Hence the resentment”, says Darpan Chowdhury, political science professor at Jadavpur University. “There is no doubt that middle class India has also been suffering. It may not be an active suffering like someone taking their lands or raping their women. Decades of being ignored by the governing class can also be frustrating. But facts are facts and it also is partly their own fault. Voting percentage in Gadchiroli is 68% when it is 42 % in Mumbai. Middle class India hardly votes. And even when they do, it is not en masse like the poor whose numbers are their strength. Middle class India has stayed away from active political participation and it is what is costing them dearly today.”

The indictment is indisputable. But if the middle classes have sinned, they have also paid for it. The Lokpal movement is now a hope that this inertia is finally broken.

And as they gather their powers to make their voices heard all one can hope for is that the story of this third India does not fall behind the other two.

Picture: google.com/images

Pune lights up for Pujos

BY RAINA KSHETRY

“Yaa Devii Sarvabhuuteshhu Maatrirupena Sansthitah

Yaa Devii Sarvabhuuteshhu Shaktirupena Sansthitah

Yaa Devii Sarvabhuuteshhu Shaantirupena Sansthitah

Namastasyaih Namastasyaih Namastasyaih Namo Namah”

(Goddess Durga is omnipresent. She is the personification of the Universal Mother. She is a Mother, who is present everywhere and who is the embodiment of power and energy. Great mother, who is present everywhere and who is embodiment of Peace. I bow to that mother, I bow to Durga, I bow to Shakti.)

The most popular festival among Bengalis, Durga Puja’s spurt of fanfare can be sensed on all four days of mirth and extreme euphoria. Bengalis all over the world rejoice to their heart’s content with identical sounds of the dhak, ecstatic sights of dhunuchi naach, while the air breathes intoxicatingly of shiuli flowers.

Though believed to be more of a Bengali festival, Puneites too celebrate Durga Puja with passion and devotion. They welcome this festival with excitement and enthusiasm. Major puja committees in Pune are all decked up to make this year’s festival a grand success.

The festival of Durga Puja has been celebrated in Pune for more than seventy years now and every year the response and participation of devotees from all different communities has been encouraging. Major puja committees start preparing in advance to ensure that these four days are gripped by sanctity and fun.

There are more than twenty three venues where Durga Puja is celebrated every year in Pune. The top locations where one is sure to find all the fun and frolic are- the Kalibari at Khadki, Congress Bhavan and the Sabojanik Durgautsav Committee, Kalyani Nagar.

“We are always thankful and grateful to the local people of Pune for helping us to make this festival a success. It is actually a place where people irrespective of their origin, caste or any other kind of differences, come together and adore maa durga. It is metaphorically a celebration of humaneness,” says Rajesh Burman of the Bongiya Sanskriti Samsad, Congress Bhavan on JM Road Pune.

And who can resist the delicious Bengali cuisine and mouth-watering rasogollas? The Pune Pujos takes care of that as well.

“People who come into our pandal do look forward to eating their heart out at the food stalls that we set up. One can pamper their taste buds with some traditional Bengali food items. Furthermore, this year we have put up a painting exhibition cum training sessions, wherein interested minds can learn the basics of merging colour with imagination. To cater to non-Bengali devotees, we have arranged singers who will sing Hindi and Marathi songs,” says J P Banerjee, President of Sarbojanik Durgautsav Committee, Kalyani Nagar.

For all the Bengalis out there, if you’re not at home, this will be the perfect way to enjoy your Durga Puja in Pune!

The Fashion Guru

BY SALONI DUTTA

Down to earth, compassionate, and cheerful best describe Swapnil Shinde. He’s the man who dresses the damsels of Bollywood. Swapnil Shinde believes in letting creativity empower the work one produces. He speaks fondly of his career in the fashion industry acknowledging the fact that it has been an eventful journey filled with crests and an occasional trough. In a span of just three years, this designer has found his footing in the industry which is known for its ruthlessness.

Swapnil began his journey with the industry when he decided to opt for a course at the National Institute of Fashion Technology. He followed that up with a Masters in Fashion from Milan. He made it big with the television reality show Lakme Fashion House in 2005 where he got a chance to showcase his talent in front of the who’s who from the fashion industry including Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla.

“I was the first runner up and I had to go for a six month internship at the House of Versace, one of the best known Italian fashion brands. It was a dream come true for me to work for Versace and the whole ordeal left me with new confidence. Since then I have been a regular at Fashion Weeks”, said Swapnil Shinde

His journey in Bollywood took a sharp turn with the movie ‘Fashion’. “I knew actor Mugdha Godse from when she was a model and she wanted me to design her clothes in ‘Fashion.’ She recommended me to the film’s stylist and they were keen on using my collection for Priyanka Chopra. The film clicked; so did her clothes.”

Post ‘Fashion’, Shinde designed for Lara Dutta, Kangna Ranaut, Mandira Bedi and Soha Ali Khan in their films. He also designed for Sanjay Leela Bhansali Productions ‘Guzaarish.’

As a designer, he feels he has evolved. “I used to primarily work on evening gowns but now I have started expanding my work. I plan to introduce an Indian line of clothes for my brand and also launch a menswear line.”

Shinde is also busy preparing for the coming fashion weeks. His last stint of backing out from the Lakme Fashion Week is still being talked about, for which Swapnil clearly says, “I had some personal reasons and matters to look into which led me towards backing out from the fashion week but now I am all set for the coming seasons.”

Talking about fashion in Pune, Swapnil commented on the recent sprint of fashion weeks in the city by terming them as inspiring for the young city based designers. “I feel these events come out as a huge opportunity and are stepping stones towards the national fashion weeks for budding designers. They are a perfect platform for them to showcase their work. I would be glad to be a part of some event. It is young, refreshing and inspiring for all of us in the industry to see fresh budding talent.” He also feels that a taste for good fashion has been gradually developing in the city and it is becoming one of the biggest markets for the sale of high street fashion clothing and accessories.

With a strong clientele in South Africa and UAE, Swapnil also has a big following in India. His designer brand, ‘Swapnil Shinde’ is a favorite amongst many Bollywood actresses. “My dresses are a way for me to express myself. I’ve been at LFW for 11 consecutive seasons. My tastes have been refined, I’ve matured as a designer, I developed my own prints and have been giving more attention to accessories as well. The designs I make are mass production-friendly; experimental yet wearable.”

With a target group of women between the age group of 18 to 25, Swapnil tries to make his creations cost-effective. “The “Swapnil Shinde” woman can be anyone. It’s just about looking for that hidden quality, and the much sort after “x factor” which the brand aspires to provide.” he said.

Although the inspirations and the design philosophy behind his collections vary, the trademarks remain the same- complicated pattern making, innovative draping, and the Indian inspiration, is what sets Swapnil Shinde apart from the others in the fashion industry. He has recently finished styling for the television soap, “Ratan Ka Rishta” and has worked on the dresses in Micromax and Sony Viao advertisements with Kareena Kapoor. Of what we can see, he is bound to become a heavyweight in Indian fashion in times to come.

Indian classrooms, Afghani dreams

BY ANCHAL PATHAK, SWATI DEOGIRE, TARANA ARORA

A tall, well-built 19 year old boy leans on the railing outside his classroom. In broken English and with a shy smile on his face, he converses with his Indian classmates. His eyes, however, skim the room, continuously looking for others like him. With his own people he laughs boisterously while his mannerisms become more conscious around others. This is just another moment in the life of Idrees Kamawal, one of the many college students from Afghanistan who is trying to make a home away from home in India, more than 1800 kilometres away from his own country.

Pune being the ‘Oxford of the East’ has kept up to its sobriquet by being a host to students from various countries such as Mauritius, Bahrain, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Afghanistan.  Every year, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) offers 700 full scholarships to students from Afghanistan to pursue their higher education in India. The subjects pan from performing arts to commerce, law, arts and many more. On his recent visit to India, President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai was promised by New Delhi that 300 more scholarships will be provided to Afghani students in the field of agriculture, thus providing further scope to the youth of Afghanistan.

Though Kabul and New Delhi share warm vibes, S A Boxwala, Vice Principal of Nowrosjee Wadia College in Pune paints a different picture of Afghani students in the city. “(They) find it hard to blend with the Indian students”. Trisha Singh, a third year, B. A. History student agrees, “They don’t mix much and prefer to stay with their own people. Out of a group of twenty, maximum four or five people will step out and mingle with Indians.” Also when it comes to talking about their country, faculty and students agree that they remain reserved and only bring up Afghanistan after a lot of probing or in class discussions, not so much during normal conversations.

 Even though Afghani students face trouble in communicating with their peers, a large number of them still opt for education in India because of its geographical proximity and, most importantly, for the funding. Professor Pramila Dasture from the Department of History, Nowrosjee  Wadia College explains, “There is an issue of funds. They find it cheaper to live in this country rather than going to the western countries.”

Idrees Kamawal’s response to the same is in the affirmative. He says, “Studying in the west is very expensive. India is the best option in Asia when it comes to education.” When asked why he didn’t pursue higher education in his own country, the response was quick. “The situation there is not so good. There is no standard of higher education in Afghanistan”.

“India offers a maximum number of scholarships annually. Also, people love the culture and tradition. The most important thing is that mostly students are poor in terms of economic conditions and they will always prefer India over London or anywhere else where a burger is sold for $5.”, Says Mustafa Kazemi, Senior Editor, Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

Dr Boxwala offers another viewpoint, “India is more liberal when it comes to religion and tolerance. These students may not find the same acceptance in the western countries. In India anyone and everyone is welcome”.

Scanning various Pune colleges for pretty Afghani faces, one senses the reluctance of Afghani parents in sending their daughters abroad for education. Very few girls come to Pune for education in spite of many scholarships available. “You will only find one or two girls in each batch of Afghani students”, asserts Prof. Dasture.

Noori, a friend of Kamawal and fellow scholarship student reaffirms, “We send very few girls outside the country. It’s mostly the boys who come for higher education”. According to common observation made by Taranish and Prachi, third year B. Comm students; “When it comes to international students, we notice more Irani girls in college than boys. But amongst the Afghani ones, we hardly get to see any of the girls”.

Though the government figures show a large number of Afghani students pursuing their higher education in India under schemes like ICCR, SAARC scholarship scheme and Cultural Exchange Programme, do these degrees help these young minds mould a career in India? Or rather are they willing to take up a job here? The answer comes out very clearly in Kamawal’s response, “I want to go back to Afghanistan for a job. There are lots of opportunities for us when we go back with an Indian degree”. Kamawal and his friends, like most Afghani scholarship students in India, agree that they will be placed a cut above the rest when they go back to Afghanistan and apply for a job there. Observing the trend amongst these students, Prof. Dasture states, “They don’t stay here once the course gets over”.

Talking from his personal experience, Kazemi says, “In Afghanistan, most of the jobs are based on qualification. When you apply somewhere and you have good qualifications, you are hired immediately. There are a lot of opportunities here because of hundreds of NGOs, Foreign Forces, The UN, News Agencies, and Organizations hire people as they need manpower. So whenever there’s a qualified student, and if he has experience, every organization tries to grab him. The same thing happened to me”.

While talking about the mindset of the youth and thewestern intervention in his country, the editor says, “While one believes that the country is going on well, others would say that we are going backwards. Religion is also a cause of the mindset. I believe if a person is deeply religious, he is not optimistic about the future of the country.” Taking this comment forward, Prof. Dasture adds, “These students are very religiously and politically inclined. In terms of politics their thinking is way beyond ours; perhaps this is the effect of the intervention of the West in their country”.

All said and done, the Afghani youth in India enjoy their stay in the country. Their love for Bollywood films, their insatiable appetite for naans,and  their ease with the Hindi language ensures they dont feel like fish out of water.

However, Kamawal and his friends say that they like staying in India but their roots are so deeply embedded in the soil of Afghanistan that in spite of the situation there they fervently wish to live in and work for their country soon.

Kazemi sums up the entire situation, “Most of the youth wants to continue living here – including myself. I and a few others like me are optimistic about the future. We believe in our forces, although not too strongly but we believe in the future very well”.

And so, with his friends in tow, Kamawal steps back in to his classroom with a hope to eventually fulfil his Afghani dreams.