The resurgence of field hockey in India

By Kevin Fixler, for The Atlantic (class of 2012)
DELHI, India, July 19, 2012—In India, cricket is the national obsession, but it is actually field hockey that is its official game, with a more deeply embedded history within this patchwork of nations. Field hockey is the country’s most decorated international sport, and the men’s national team is the most accomplished in the Olympic event’s history—winners of 11 medals, including eight gold, dating back to 1928.

As the world’s second-fastest growing economy strives for more influence among the most powerful nations on earth, many of India’s 1.2 billion citizens view field hockey as the country’s best shot at making a statement on sport’s largest international stage—given that cricket is not an Olympic sport. Indian field hockey has fallen off in recent years though because of a lack of success, with the national team hitting rock bottom in 2008 when it failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time ever. Hockey’s “Black Day,” as it is known, was a near-lethal blow to a sport that has been in freefall since India won its last Olympic medal, a gold, in 1980. Support for hockey has waned ever since.

But buried deep within many Indians is a hope that hockey glory will return. That longing was mirrored in Chak de! India, an award-winning 2007 film starring Bollywood’s top star, Shah Rukh Khan. It chronicled the rise of the women’s national hockey team. Today, there is even talk that Khan, whose image graces billboards and auto-rickshaw rearview mirrors nationwide, will play Indian hockey legend Dhyan Chand—the Pelé of hockey—in another upcoming film.

“I think there is always a potential for hockey,” said Arjun Halappa, a former captain of the national team, as well as one of the country’s top players the last decade. “Everyone might say hockey is gone, but still if you look into India, emotion is always there for hockey. After cricket, you can draw a crowd only with hockey.”

Read the rest of the story, published in The Atlantic. 

Defenseless to defenders

By Ashley Hopkinson (class of 2012)

Angela Cardoz

DELHI, India, April 2010—India’s growing ranks of millionaires want a new kind of security and status symbol—a female bodyguard. That desire is allowing a small group of women to work alongside men and live their dreams.

Even under the blazing heat of the midday sun in the far, northwestern Delhi suburb of Dwarka, Angela Cardoz looks relaxed in an all-black outfit, a collared shirt, pants and a light sweater, wrapped around her waist and loosely tied in a knot around the front. She looks like a ninja, standing out among the swirling colors of traditional Indian clothing — beautiful saris colored in pale yellows, bright greens and dazzling hues of red.

Cardoz, 37, is used to standing out, used to be being stared at.

Here in Dwarka, she has just stepped out of a large, black SUV. With her are three other women. Two are slim and tall enough to be models, their long, black hair pulled back from their faces. Another is short and muscular with shoulder-length hair. The fourth is Cardoz, the Indian ninja, not particularly tall, but muscular, her dark, black hair cut short and layered, the longest layer barely touching the top of her ears.

Cardoz walks with confident strides to the main office of her employer, Secura Security, an orange, four-storey building in the center of the city. Even in her office, they stare at her.

Cardoz and her three colleagues are female bodyguards, part of a new India, where women try to assert their rights, live their dreams and venture into positions and jobs that were once the exclusive domain of men.

Cardoz is from Goa, one of India’s smallest states, known for its beaches, Roman Catholic churches and enduring cultural influence—in song, dance and architecture—of its former colonial masters, the Portuguese. Goa is as different from New Delhi, Cardoz’s home for the last two years, as Maine is from Mexico.

It didn’t take long for Cardoz to realize that Delhi, where she lives with an aunt, was the best place to pursue her dream of being a bodyguard. Even with data suggesting that the crime rate in Goa has increased 59 percent over the last five years, India’s capital still snags top spot for being one of the most dangerous states in the country, especially for women.

Two of every three women have faced sexual harassment last year in Delhi, a city of 16 million, according to a United Nations and government backed survey, which included results found by Jagori, a grassroots organization that aims to raise awareness about women safety and gender equality. The local media often call Delhi the rape capital of India.

“It’s unfair that people think ‘oh she’s a woman she’s weak and she can’t defend herself so I can just come and try to touch her and trouble her,’” said Cardoz, one of 20 women at Secura’s Dwarka office. “I’m very happy to be in this job, my dream has come true.”

Cardoz is one of a few hundred women opting for careers as female bodyguards in leading security companies like Secura Security in Delhi and Tops Security in Goregaon, Mumbai. Tops Grup oversees 14 security companies under its brand including TOPS Security Limited, one of the largest security companies in the country. The division Tops Grup has more than 200 female bodyguards on staff from areas of the country including Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The women are usually from lower-middle-class class families, officials said, sometimes driven by economic need.

Management officials said they began training women because of the demand to hire women in a country where the status of women in general is low, though that is changing. India is one of six countries with female only train cars. They started, in part, because of instances of eve teasing—a colloquial term used in India to describe public sexual harassment of women, which is commonplace in most public areas including, toilets, streets and crowded metro commuter trains. Cities in Indonesia, Brazil, Russia and Japan have women-only commuters cars for similar reasons. It may seem like a mild example of why someone would need a bodyguard, but Cardoz said pervasive sexual harassment of women is one reason their job has become increasingly necessary.

Sitting in a corner office of the Secura Security headquarters, Cardoz recounted the events of her first day of work, two years ago.

Cardoz was nervous, though her first task was simple: accompany the new boss to the mall while she shopped. Her boss was a wealthy, middle-aged woman from Delhi, whose name and occupation Cardoz said she could not reveal. That day, she kept her eyes on her boss, but she also focused some of her attention on a group of 20-something-year old young men, who had made of a game of harassing women as they entered the mall, she said. As her boss approached the mall entrance, Cardoz said the harassment from the men intensified. And she realized then that her client had become the young men’s new center of interest.

“Hey listen, it’s better you don’t do this,” Cardoz recalled saying as she stood face to face with the most belligerent young man in the group, “One day you will have a family and if someone does this to your family, how would you feel?”

In that particular situation, talking to the young men was enough to get them to stop, Cardoz said. If they had continued to act hostile, “I would have used more force,” she added. Like many female bodyguards Cardoz is trained for confrontation. Whether her response is verbal or physical depends on the level of threat, she said.

Cardoz’s client, whose identity she cannot reveal, is a part of India’s fast-growing rich, who can afford 20,000 ($ 377) to 50,000 ($ 943) rupees a month for protection. It is impractical for the majority of the population in a country where the average annual income, in 2011, was 82,000 rupees ($ 1,547).

The amounts vary based on the skills and experience of the guards. Those who are former police officers or army soldiers rank highest on the salary scale. Those like Cardoz, who came in with no such experience, rank lower on the salary scale.

Most industry spokespersons acknowledged that the relatively new business is trending toward being a status symbol for the wealthy rather than a means of crime prevention. The average client is a celebrity or business tycoon who wants female bodyguards for his wife and college-age daughters.

In some cases, the client is a wealthy female executive who would request the service for business trips out of town. The world’s second-fastest growing economy after China, India has spawned at least 50 of the world’s wealthiest U.S. dollar billionaires over the last ten years, according to Forbes Magazine. India is ranked number 19 on a separate Forbes global ranking of millionaires.

Womens’ rights organizations said that while female bodyguards are a novel idea that upholds their ideals of women empowerment, it is not something accessible to the masses.

Morever, female bodyguards may not address even one percent of the issue of gender insensitivity and violence against women, said activists of women’s organizations like Jagori and All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA).

“Yes, they (female bodyguards) might ensure your safety. But again it is an exclusive service and it is not a service that is commonly accessible to all,” said Prabhleen, a women’s rights advocate with Jagori in Delhi.

Prableen, who asked that her last name not be used, said it takes a long time for things to become common in India and bodyguarding is not a likely exception.

Sudha Sundararaman, the general secretary of AIDWA, said they have done little or no investigation into the increase of women into that field of work, but support women being in a position equal to their male counterparts.

“However, the whole concept of personal bodyguards is something that should not be necessary here,” said Sundararaman. “There needs to be a situation set up where the direction is not toward more females hiring bodyguards, but should be toward a general social atmosphere where people are safe.”

What women in India need is support, Prableen said. And that may include hiring a bodyguard, but for the general population, there needs to be an atmosphere that encourages women to speak up. Prableen said it’s not as much about Indian women being assertive as about that assertiveness being resented.

“The picture of a woman is seen good or bad,” Prableen said. “We need to accept that women in Delhi and women in India have that burden of preserving themselves as good women.”

Part of that preservation includes knowing one’s place, she said.

“In India it is this idea that you have to be good so you don’t speak up,” Prableen said. “Young girls are told by their mothers, fathers and even friends that if you speak against violence, you are calling for more attention and more violence.”

In 2004, Jagori, in existence for 24 years, began its Safe Delhi campaign, hoping it would encourage more women to take self-defense classes and publicly share their stories about violence. They organized mass protests, programs and candle light marches for their cause.

Prableen said it’s difficult for women to ask for help because they risk being blamed.

Prableen said consciously or unconsciously many victims of violence “take the guilt on themselves,” by feeding into the claim that they were dressed inappropriately or were sending body signals that teased their attacker.

Following a gang rape incident the in the Indian city Gurgaon, located about 18 miles south of New Delhi, local administration instituted an 8 p.m. curfew for female employees. Women across India created a firestorm on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter. Similar policies were suggested for women working in call centers across the country. Those positions require that employees work from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., to make up the time difference and field calls from places as far away as the United Sates.

That’s where bodyguard agency directors say they play an integral role—not in changing the way society views women being mistreated, but by giving women a chance to defend other women, who now have the chance to hire them in order to feel safe.

In general, women are seen as a vulnerable part of the population, Cardoz said, and being able to protect them is one reason she loves her job. She is able to empower women to speak up, while also protecting them, she said.

Secura Security Director AK Singh said like any other business they work based on client demand.  About three years ago more clients began to inquire about female bodyguards to protect their wives and children, and Singh said they seized the opportunity.

“We have some clients who are celebrities and they need some safety for their women, kids and young college girls,” he said. “ When clients started to approach us we started our women commander services,” Singh said, using the internal company term used to refer to female agents.

They responded by starting a training class that lasts six to eight weeks to prepare women who are eager to fight violence, he said, adding that, the demand for female bodyguards started to pick up in the latter part of 2011. Singh said his best guess about the sudden interest in female bodyguards is that people are beginning to see the value in having someone protect their wives and children, who can also blend in well with the structure of the family, without attracting excess attention.

“See, the woman has got some sense of responsibility, and she can handle the situation in a better manner than a man because women have to face some (of the same) problems clients (face),” Singh said. “This is a man’s arena, but still they are performing and doing their duties on the same level as the men.”

Tops Grup in Mumbai has had a similar service, except on a considerably larger scale. It’s been three years and the operation of a female bodyguard unit known as “Tops Angels,” is successful.

Brigadier M. I. Jaisinghani, a former army officer, is the director of training at Tops Grup Training Academy, located in 20 places across India, staffed by 100 instructors.

Jaisinghani said that they train their female bodyguards in martial arts and combat for 21 days before they are assigned to clients. They also have mandatory academic security training classes.

“We toughen them up by making them do these things every day,” Jaisinghani said. “We train them in such a manner that they are motivated to give their life for the client.”

The typical female bodyguard in India has to be physically fit and keep herself that way, graduate at least 10 th standard pass, the equivalent of 10th grade education, be between 20 to 35 years old and willing to be on call for work 24 hours, seven days a week. Exceptions are rare, he said.

Most bodyguards at Tops Grup are hired on yearly renewable contracts. The minimum contract is for a month. Secura Security allows clients to hire bodyguards by the hour, day or year. The company also absorbs the cost of training but Tops Grup security either have to pay a 6000 rupee ($ 113) training fee upfront or have it deducted from their salaries.

The typical female security guard earns roughly 7000 rupees ($ 132) a month and female bodyguards make an average of 40,000 rupees ($ 754) a month, 5,000 ($ 94) more than the average male bodyguard in the company.

But a safe India for the modern-day Indian woman seems like an ideal that is far off, said Mahuwa Tyagi, a bodyguard for two years. Tyagi is tall and slim, her long, black hair neatly pulled into a low ponytail as she talked at the Secura office in Dwarka.

The difference between the two women is that Tyagi was used to confrontation and combat at her former job as an officer with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), a paramilitary unit that is deployed to trouble-spots across India. Trained by the CRPF and Secura Security, her services do not come cheap, by Indian standards. She can earn anywhere from 40,000 ($ 754) to 50,000 rupees ($ 943) a month.

Tyagi lives in a guest home on the property of her client, a non-resident Indian, protecting his family, primarily a college-age daughter, while caring for her own— a win-win situation, she said. Tyagi is married and can now spend time with her four-year old daughter, something she could not do in her previous job.

Like Cardoz, Tyagi said her family is pleased with her job, especially when she explains that she is protecting a family in the same way she used to protect people as a paramilitary officer.

“It’s the same,” she said. “With the police I was protecting the country. Here, I’m protecting a family.”

Tyagi said although everyone does not agree with her career choice the general response is often encouraging.

“Obviously we will give a sense of empowerment (…) in India everybody thinks that there is specific work for women only, but also, if you say you’re doing this kind of thing they feel proud,” she said. “They actually are, like wow, that kind of reaction is what we get.”

 

Pitching Baseball to India

By Laith Agha (class of 2012)

VARANASI, India, April 2012—When Dinesh Patel was a teenager, he figured that if he were to make a name for himself, he would do it with his arm. Growing up outside Varanasi, India’s holiest and oldest city, he could throw with more might than the other boys in his village, and at 15 years old he went off to a sports school to cultivate this natural gift. Within a few years, Patel hoped, he’d be launching javelins for India’s Olympic team.

He was right about his arm. He just didn’t realize it would make him an ambassador for a sport he’d never heard of.

Now 23, Patel is four years removed from being introduced to baseball by the inaugural Million Dollar Arm contest, a reality-show talent search for potential baseball players in the world’s second-most populated country. And after an impressive showing in the contest afforded him a chance to pitch professionally in the United States, Patel is trying to make a future for himself in baseball. In India.

Laith’s final story is a written piece. 

Female Farmers

By Alissa Figueroa, for Free Speech Radio (class of 2011)

UTTAR PRADESH, India, April 2010—Most of India’s rural women farm, but only 15 percent of them own the land they cultivate. As men leave agriculture for work in India’s growing service and construction sectors (often in cities) the country’s primary cultivators–women—are left without legal land titles. That means they can’t take out loans from banks or government subsidized credit programs, and in many states, they can’t sell their produce at government wholesale markets to ensure a fair price. But the women farmers of India have joined together, in small village-level lending groups, and large, well-organized federations and campaigns to negotiate the system, and fight for full land rights. Slowly, rural women are making their voices heard, even in parliament, where for the first time ever this year, women farmers received an allocation in the country’s national budget.

Hear the story at Free Speech Radio

Alissa Figueroa travelled to Uttar Pradesh and Uttarkhand to report on female farmers. Her final project is a radio story for Free Speech Radio.

Building the Commonwealth Games

By Elise Craig (class of 2010)

DELHI, India, April 2010In a workers’ camp in Delhi, a little girl of three or four bathes herself out of a child’s plastic bucket. The girl is alone for the day–her parents are working on a construction site several kilometers away. About 400 migrant workers and their families are living here on a site called the Polo grounds as they build a new rugby stadium at Delhi University. The families live in “hutments,” 8×8 wooden structures with corrugated tin roofs that look like box cars laid end to end. Used water runs in a small murky stream between the buildings, there is feces on the ground, and swaths of flies pepper the air. There is no electricity. There is no plumbing. And all 400 families share nine toilets.

Across Delhi, construction is moving at a frenetic pace. Roads are being widened, and bridges and flyovers are being built to ease Delhi’s legendary traffic congestion. As cranes jut into the sky, sewers are covered, slums are dismantled, and construction signs promise that Delhi is on its way to being a “world class city.”

The city is being torn apart and rebuilt, spruced up and beautified all in the name of the 19th Commonwealth Games.

Migrant workers and their families who have come to Delhi in search of construction work are living in camps on sites and in makeshift tents along Delhi’s streets. The construction is everywhere—at Indira Gandhi International Airport, across the different campuses of Delhi University, on the riverbed, and along the skyline.

On the ground, taxi drivers are being taught English, and service workers are getting lessons in Western etiquette from the Delhi Tourism and Transport Company. Beggars are being arrested and relocated.

The Commonwealth Games are essentially the Olympics of the former British Empire, and the third largest sporting event in the world. The contest is expected to bring an estimated 5 million additional tourists to India, according the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, and 72 different countries plan to field teams for the games, from Anguilla to Zambia. The contest will be held between October 3 and 14 of this year.

This is the first time that India has managed a successful bid to host the games, and only the second time that an Asian country’s bid has been accepted by the Commonwealth Games Federation. (The first was Kuala Lampur in 1998.)

“We are organizing a major sporting event in the country after a gap of 28 years, after the Asian Games in 1982,” Suresh Kalmadi, president of the Indian Olympic Association told journalists in March. “It’s a big challenge for us. You need to present a world-class event when the whole world is watching. You need to showcase everything on a large scale.”

The games are also a training ground for India to prove to the world that it is capable of hosting a large-scale international sporting event, and push aside fears or bias against holding the games in a developing country. The stakes are also particularly high, as Kalmadi has said publicly that India will be submitting a bid to host the Olympic Games in 2020.

“India and Delhi dedicate themselves to making the Commonwealth Games the best games ever held…one that will inspire goodwill, friendship and unity,” the IOA wrote in its bid to the Commonwealth Federation.

With an Olympic bid on the line, the pressure is on for Delhi to pull off a successful and memorable games, and the IOA originally set a budget of $1.6 billion (79 billion rupees) to cover the cost—not including non-sports related infrastructure like the Metro. That figure would make the 2010 games the most expensive in history–the next closest in cost were the 2006 games in Melbourne, which cost $1.1 billion. But by March, that figure had swollen to nearly $3 billion (ck), and the government announced new taxes on everything from tea to cell phones.

The games are being marketed as Delhi’s ticket to entering the world stage, and an investment in infrastructure that will improve the city for its residents. And many of the city’s residents agree. “It was sold to the middle class in such a beautiful way, most of them say it’s fantastic,” said Krishnendu Bose, a filmmaker who made a documentary on the environmental impact of the games called “Delhi: Work in Progress.”

But in Delhi, environmentalists and human rights activists are asking who will really benefit from the games—the people of Delhi, or the government and business interests who will profit from them?

“It’s a very big question—do we need these games?” said Harsh Bora, 21, a law student at Delhi University.  “It might be a pride issue. But the games are wearing down our self-esteem. Half of our children are malnourished. That money could be used better.”

On the side of a road a few blocks from Delhi University’s School of Economics, migrant workers are living with their families in tents made of blue tarps. The conditions are similar to the Polo Grounds: no access to running water, toilets or electricity. On this particular street, the families have come from poorer states around Delhi to build sidewalks, or footpaths, for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi in preparation for the games.

Ram Khiladi, 30, and his wife Lali, 27, came to Delhi in search of construction work to feed their young family. “We have a piece of land,” he said,” but there is no water.” So when a subcontractor came to his village with offers of unskilled construction work, he and his wife packed up their eight-year-old daughter Priyanka and eighteen-month-old baby Pintu and moved to the streets of Delhi. They plan to continue working until their job runs out in two months, and then, somehow, stay in Delhi.

“It’s okay work, as long as we can get it,” Ram said.

But, when he and his wife go to work, they have to leave Priyanka to baby-sit for her baby brother. There is no crèche, or daycare center, to care for them. In India, the law requires a crèche on construction sites where women work.

“I am scared, but there is no other option,” Lali said, as she breast-fed her baby. “When we leave our kids behind, we just have to leave them with the other kids.”

Priyanka, a small girl with close-cropped hair and a gold stud in her nose, does not go to school, both because she must watch her baby brother, and because they are not registered citizens of Delhi.

“In the village, she used to go to school, but now she can’t,” Lali said. “She misses it, she wants to go.”

According to Ram, he and his wife are paid 250 rupees per day, far above Delhi’s minimum wage for unskilled labor, which is 152 rupees per day. He says they work six days a week, but are paid for seven, as is required by law, and claims that the workers have access to doctors when they need them, and that “injuries are rare.”

But Bora, the Delhi University student, says that workers’ answers to questions about safety and payment have changed since India’s High Court appointed a committee to go through the labor camps and investigate claims that contractors were violating labor laws.

“It’s as if they’ve memorized everything,” he said. “Before the committee came through, they told the truth about what they were being paid, and the doctors. This, this is what they have to say.”

In January, a civil liberties group called the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) filed public interest litigation with the High Court of Delhi. They presented information from a fact-finding report they had written months earlier that said workers were not being paid minimum wage, they were not being paid on time, they were not being paid equally, and other violations of labor laws. They were also concerned that injuries and deaths from accidents were being under-reported.

PUDR had filed a similar piece of litigation with the Supreme Court in 1982, when Delhi hosted the Asia Games.

“In the Asia [Games] judgment, we were not able to provide relief for any workers, because they had left,” said Moushumi Basu, secretary of PUDR and a professor of international politics. “This time, we’re trying to ensure that workers will benefit.”

PUDR chose to file to the High Court instead of the Supreme Court so that they would have a chance to appeal if the court dismissed the case. Instead, the court ordered a new committee to go into the labor camps and issue its own report on the laborers’ working and living conditions.

The Committee’s visits confirmed what PUDR had alleged in its report—that in many cases, construction workers lacked basic safety equipment like construction boots, hard hats and gloves. And the committee confirmed that 49 people have been killed in accidents on construction sites, while officials for the games had previously put the count at 6 or 7 deaths. (In comparison the total number of construction-related deaths in the U.S. in 2009 was 3.) Conditions in the camps were not up to legal standards.

The complicated structure of labor in the games also makes it easier for subcontractors to take advantage of workers, according to PUDR member Paramjeet Singh. Though the government is footing the bill for all of the projects, each project is awarded to a contractor. Each contractor has many subcontractors, and in many cases, even subcontractors who go to the villages and recruit workers. Contractors pay subcontractors by check, subcontractors pay the subcontractors who work under them, and eventually workers are paid in cash. In most cases, the committee found, there were no records of how much workers were actually being paid.

“It’s a chain of subcontractors,” Singh said. “By the time the rupee gets down the chain, there is nothing left for the workers.”

The committee issued its report on March 17, and what they found was, in the words of former India’s outspoken former U.N. representative Arundathi Ghose, “grim.”

“By and large,” Ghose said,” the situation was horrible, except for one site—the airport. We were not satisfied [the workers] were receiving minimum wage, which the contractors assured us they were.”

According to Ghose, contractors at many of the sites could not prove they had paid their workers wages, because they hadn’t kept records, registered their workers, or given them identification cards, all of which are required by law.

“The living conditions of people working on the flyovers, these people are being treated very badly,” Ghose said. “And we have called for exemplary punishment.”

The four-person committee, which included Delhi’s Secretary of Labour, Shri R. D. Srviataya, made a list of recommendations to the High Court, which specified necessary changes to living conditions and safety conditions, and ways to streamline labor laws and make punishments for contractors commensurate with their crimes. They also noted the importance of registering workers.

Registration of workers with the Labour office is particularly important, because under the Builders Act of 1990, contractors are required to pay one percent of the cost of every project into a welfare fund for workers. Given the cost of the games project, there is a significant amount of money available to workers, but only those who are registered.

“It’s a fine law on paper,” said Anjali Alexander, a volunteer at the Commonwealth Games Citizens for Workers, Women and Children. “If you ask me out of $11 million, how much has reached workers? No more than $34,000–$11 million is still sitting in the coffers of the fund. Hardly any workers know of the welfare fund.”

Sheila Dikshit, the third-term chief minister of Delhi, did not respond to multiple requests for comment by this reporter. Neither did Srviataya. Dr. Lalit Bhanot, organizing committee secretary did not respond to questions after he requested them in writing.

Even though the committee was presented with a “grim” view of conditions for workers, Ghose agreed with Bora—she believed that some workers were still not responding truthfully to the committee’s questions.

“We felt the workers in some sites were clearly being intimidated by workers crowding around us, ” she said.

Bora had been in the labor camps talking to workers before the Committee went in, and during some of their visits. He says that workers’ responses about wages and conditions changed between when he first went in and the Committee’s visit, and he thinks that the contractors were warned about what was supposed to be a surprise visit in advance.

Bora is a member of “Perspectives,” a student group at DU that goes on fact-finding missions and issues reports on social issues like displacement, farmer suicides and the agrarian crisis. In early 2009, the group decided to look into labor practices at CWG construction sites where the university was the main employer.

“Since we are all part of Delhi University, this is happening to us,” he said.

Perspectives went into the camps around the University and talked to 52 workers, and reported much of the same findings as the committee—workers were underpaid, it sometimes took months to get wages, there were no crèches or schools, no health facilities, and employees were not being paid a double rate for their overtime hours. They also reported similar safety violations.

But, Bora says, when he went with the Committee to a site that had previously not had a school it suddenly had one. Workers claimed higher wages. But, when he returned to the same site a week later with journalists, the school was empty, and there was no teacher.

Bora’s fellow Perspectives member, Shikha Pandey, experienced the same thing.

“One day before the inquiry, we met the workers and they started saying that they made 250, 300, or 350 rupees a day,” she said. “I knew some of the workers personally, and they told me they had been told to say that.”

Back on the side of the road by DU, a few tents down from Ram, a woman who would only give the name Khargi said the workers laying the footpaths were not being paid minimum wage—men were making only 120 rupees per hour, while women were making only 110. She also claimed that the contractors had told the employees to lie about their wages and living conditions, but that she didn’t care because she had to return to her village to care for a sick relative.

“I know I’m supposed to get more, but someone is taking a cut in the middle,” she said. “I know I’m not being treated fairly, but I don’t have the education to do anything about it,” she added.

Allegations of poor adherence to labor laws haven’t been the Commonwealth Games’s only criticism. The games have had other troubles as well.

Environmentalists like Ravi Agarwal, director of ten NGO Toxics Link have expressed concern about what the massive construction projects are doing to the city of Delhi.

“Land that you hitherto could not build on will now be commercialized, Agarwal said. “This land was something you could not build on. It was almost impossible. But the games have forced all rationality to fall by the wayside.”

Agarwal points specifically to the brand-new Commonwealth Games Village, where athletes will be housed. The facility is being built on a riverbed that was previously protected land. Permission was given to build on the site through the courts, so long as the facilities were temporary. But now, Agarwal says, the builders have already put out advertisements encouraging citizens to buy the flats after the games end.

“They wanted to make a Manhattan on the river,” Bose said. “And there is money to be made.”

Advocates of the games point to the new infrastructure the Games are bringing to the city—renovation of domestic and international new airports, sidewalks where there have been none, more flyovers to help people move more efficiently and brand new stadiums. But Bora and Devika Narayn, 23, a graduate student in sociology, say that these improvements are only in the neighborhoods where the wealthy middle class live, and that the stadiums aren’t a necessity. Neither student is excited about the brand-new rugby stadium going up on DU’s campus.

“No one knows what rugby is,” she Narayn. “If you ask anyone on the road, no one can tell you.”

Environmentalists are also concerned about the estimated 250,000 trees the city is cutting down for the construction, as well as the new concrete being poured throughout the city. Agarwal fears that more concrete—with holds more heat than earth—and fewer trees will adversely affect a city that is already sweltering in the summer and has a significant amount of air pollution.

“Tree have been an essential part of the city, and if you cut them off, the city changes,” he said. “The character, the temperature, the groundwater.”

Beyond construction, the government of Delhi is bringing other changes to the city to manage the games more efficiently. During the 12 days of the games, there will be no school in the city to help ease traffic. Students in the men’s hostel, or dorm, at Delhi University will have to move out for the duration of the games so that the hostel can host foreign athletes. The city is making efforts to get auto rickshaws off the streets, to get food stalls to close, and to allow only authorized “hockers” selling merchandise on the streets. And advocates fear that the same migrant workers who live on the streets while they build the infrastructure for the games will be removed from the city once they begin.

Agarwal is dismayed that Delhi is becoming what he considers an “antiseptic city.”

“Why do tourists come to Delhi? We don’t want to be a second-hand London. We want to be a first-hand Delhi. They want to make us London.”

Others have criticized the government for providing foreigners with things it does not provide its citizens—like “first-world drinking water” and food testers. Currently, 50 percent of the city’s residents don’t have clean water.

“The games have been converted into such a thing of prestige, like the Olympics sin Beijing, but are the citizens of Delhi–forget India–benefiting from it?” asked Alexander.

Despite the problems, Ghose believes they are. The problems, she says, are not with the games, but with construction standards in India, and the huge scale of construction in India’s capital is bringing attention to abuses that have so far gone unnoticed. And they are also bringing construction jobs to workers who have been pushed out of farm work by the agrarian crisis.

“I think it they’re giving jobs, [the games are] good for the country,” she said. “ But the Commonwealth Games are not going to put the country on the map—our growth rate is. It’s our overall geopolitical and economic strength that will put us on the map.”

The State of the Cycle Rickshaw

Video by Helene Goupil (class of 2010) and text by Allison Davis (class of 2010)

DELHI, India, April 2010—On a chilly night in downtown San Francisco, the Giant’s baseball game had just ended, unleashing a tumult of people into the street looking for a way home. Some wait in line for over-packed public transportation. Others wander towards the increasingly long taxi stand.  As the crowd grows restless, a twenty-something man rode up on a cycle rickshaw, he slows to a stop as two women waved him down. “How much for a ride to the Mission?” they asked, a distance of about 3 miles.

“Sorry, that’s too far,” he said riding off, the  lone cycle rickshaw seen that evening.

As the night ends in the Bay Area, the Sun is just beginning to rise over the craze of  Delhi streets.  The famous traffic moves like a mass of writhing snakes — cars, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and pedestrians all  moving through and around one another.  The cycle rickshaws, a favorite choice for commuters thanks to low fares, number 8 million in Delhi  and can deftly weave in and out of the commuter hustle. Among them. A thin and quick moving man in a light cotton, mustard button down Pasawan cycles through the Delhi streets looking for his first customer of the day.

The Cycle rickshaw has always been a mainstay of life in Indian cities like Delhi and Kolkata. But, in the past decade as the push for green transportation reaches a fever pitch, it has spread to other cities. New York, San Francisco Bay Area and London all boast a growing cycle rickshaw force.  However, unlike the San Francisco counterparts  — a young, healthy man with a drivers’ license and a t-shirt boasting the company for which he works and a love of cycling — cycle rickshaw pullers in Delhi are rarely as fortunate.

Paswan, 32,  lives in the slums of Rohini, a town north of Delhi.   He has driven a pedicab for 16 years since migrating from Bihar.  At the end of his day transporting passengers an average of 20-25 km  returns to the minute room he rents in a two story stone structure. To get to his room, he wheels his rickshaw through the narrow, winding  avoiding stray dogs, free-roaming children and piles of  burning waste. He climbs a rickety wooden ladder and deftly scuttles across  a ledge the width of a bookshelf .  Drawing  back the curtain of the narrow doorway, Paswan reveals a  dark and cramped  room with a low ceiling— a full grown man can hardly stand up straight without having the top of his head lopped off by a spinning steel ceiling fan.  His possessions are few, some clothes a few sets of beads,  cooking utensil, a single plate stove and a plastic bucket in the corner for water.  But still it is better than other rickshaw drivers who have to sleep in their rickshaws pulled over on the side of the street — Paswan has done that too.

Paswan  is representative of  the class of struggling rickshaw drivers. He migrated from Bihar, and with little education he chose to pull rickshaws — a job with no necessary training. Paswan makes about 70 rupees a day (about $1.50) most of which, he sends home to the wife and child he left behind.

Is not a unique story.  Cycle rickshaws or pedicabs were  introduced to Delhi in the 1940’s to replace the hand-pulled rickshaw that is still popular in Kolkata.  Even with the rise of auto rickshaws, cars or motorcycles, the pedicab has continued to grow in number It’s hard physical labor but it requires little to no education or training. It is an entry level job that offers a way for the drivers to make money in the agricultural off-season though a higher number are year round drivers.

Vignesh Jha is the Director for the Federation for the Rights of Rickshaw Pullers (FORPI) and has immersed himself in the lives of rickshaw pullers in hopes  of  bettering their lives.  He witnesses the difficulties of migrant life. Often malnourished, the physical labor requires about 4,000 calories, while most only eat 1,600. The pullers live in Delhi for 10 or 11 months and often have no way of  communicating with his family for weeks.

Paswan missed the birth of his 4-month-old daughter.

Due to the loneliness and isolation, many pullers, like Paswan, turn to alcohol.  Some also turn to what Ina  delicately calls the “bachelor’s life”, which results in exposure to HIV or AIDS and is often transmitted back to the wives.  Malnutrition and tuberculosis are also common. “Everyday they work hard, they serve hard,” said Ina, “it is incredibly hard on their bodies.”

But what other choice is there?  “We stay here to feed our children,” Paswan said of his reasons for enduring the rampant hardships.

More than just bodily abuses, rickshaw pullers who do not own their own pedicabs,  often suffer exploitation from the people from which the rent— they are often forced to pay 30-40 rupees a day in rental fees.  Without formal licenses the police, who will sometimes seize their rickshaws, often harasses them said Paswan.

“They say our documents are not valid and slap us with more fines… the municipal corporation officials kept taking our rickshaws and fined us 1,000 rupees every time.”

That was before FORPI, says Paswan.

Outside of the Japanese Gardens in Rohini, over 50 rickshaw pullers parked their pedicabs in an abandoned expanse of dry land next to a building site. From the back of each of the Rickshaws was a red sign with the FORPI  motto written out.  Many of them were draped over the handles of their vehicles, sharing chewing tobacco and water from one silver milk container.  Some were napping in the seats of the rickshaws but all had come to hear  Vignesh Jha speaks from a warbling single amp and microphone.  As Ina passed through the crowd, an altruist rock star sweating in rumpled business attire, the group of pullers rose to their feet and   pressed their together in a pose of thanks.

After all, this was a man who was working to save their livelihoods and their lives.

Through FORPI, pullers like  Paswan have been able to stop drinking and have organized with other pullers. FORPI has worked with  over 870 pullers, provided them with id’s, medical attention and is working to subsidize the rickshaws the pullers can own their own.

The improvements seem small, but they make an enormous difference in their lives.

Jha has mortgaged his house to continue to fund his endeavor, he purses it with relentless fervor.

Several other organizations like American Indian Foundation have joined in partnerships with banks and government organizations and micro-credit lenders to improve do the same thing but on a much larger scale. There is, it seems, a much greater push to empower the pullers.

This week President Obama honors an Indian management philanthropist in the White House for his efforts in helping rickshaw pullers. He has invited Irfan Alam, chairman of SammaaN Foundation to a meeting of social Entrepreneurs. Alam, a resident of Patna , has been gaining media attention for the work he has done for  rickshaw pullers — it is incredibly similar to Jha’s work. Since launching in 2008, his program has helped over 300,000 pullers. He has banks finance rickshaw and stocks them with newspapers, bottled water and other items rickshaw passengers can buy. He also plasters ads on the cycle rickshaws themselves — the drivers receive some of the revenue as well as make a profit from the goods they sell.

Most importantly, Alam empowers the driver by giving them uniforms and I.D. cards and encourages weekly gatherings.

In Kolkata where the king of the road is the hand pulled rickshaw, the pullers thoroughly understand the importance of this empowerment. Hand pulled carts are incredibly important to the people of Koklata, especially when monsoon season renders all other vehicles useless.  For the pullers there,  life seems to be mildly better. Though, still wrought with diseases and a shorter lifespan. Many live together in darwas or garages that, for the most part, seem clean and comfortable though sparse.

Last year the government decided to ban hand pulled rickshaws from the road, with the help of organizations like the Calcutta Samaritan Fund, they were able to begin to fight the ban. Though many heralded 2008 as the last days of the handpullers, they are still on the road — an empowered puller can accomplish quite a bit.

“I think the rickshaws have been part of the city from way back they are needed in some parts of Kolkata negotiating the tiny lanes would be impossible for any other kind of vehicles, and because during the monsoon they’re deeply appreciated when the streets are flooded that’s when they make the most money. They become part of the culture the whole scenario of the city,” says Premila Pavamani the director of the Calcutta Samaritans.

To date, upgrading from hand pulled rickshaw to cycle rickshaw was the extent of the technological advance in the industry. For over 40 years, with the exception of making the cycle rickshaw lighter, there has been little done to ease the physical load  for pullers— until now.

With the anticipation of the Commonwealth games in October, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research has developed and rolled out a fleet of solar rickshaws. The Soleckshaw, as it has been named, is a hybrid human/solar battery vehicle. With the extra boost from the battery, the driver can carry two passengers at speed of 9 mph. More than simply helping with physical labor, CSIR is providing uniforms and training — something many rickshaw drivers are denied.

The cost of the rickshaw is much higher, however,. At 20,000 – 30, 000 rupees it is out of the price range of the majority of pullers who aspire to own one, even with government subsidies.

Whether these improvements are for the benefit of the drivers or the benefit of Delhi’s public image remains to be seen. But, regardless, if the Soleckshaw becomes widespread it will be a government-sponsored way of making an enormous difference of the Indian rickshaw driver.

“We intend to replace all 8 million rickshaws with solar rickshaws.” Says CSIR director, Samir Bramachari.  Currently there are 1000 in service throughout India.

For now, the fight for survival, fair wages and for a healthy life continues to be a day-to-day struggle.

The Right to Attend School

By Lillian R. Mongeau (class of 2011)

NEW DELHI, Delhi, April 2010—Miraj, 11, works 8 hours a day and spends two hours each day in school getting a remedial education to make up for the years he had spent in a small village school in Bihar state where the teacher never came to class.  He came to Delhi with his 21 year-old brother who is the foreman of the small factory where both work.  Moving Miraj came to Delhi in part, his brother said, to get a better education.  Right now, that’s not happening but the Right To Education Commission that is newly charged with getting Miraj and the 60 million children like him back in school sits less that a mile away in downtown Delhi. For the first time in its history, India has passed a law making education mandatory for all children, regardless of caste, aged 6-14.

Lillian R. Mongeau travelled to village schools and the slums of Delhi to report on this story about the newly awarded right of all Indian children to receive an education.  Her final story is a written piece.

Gay Rights in India

By Abbie Swanson, for Making Contact (class of 2009)

DELHI, India, January 2009—”Gay Rights in India” looked at a group of gay men and women trying to overturn a British colonial law in India called Section 377. The law, which has since been overturned, made being gay illegal. Abbie interviewed people in Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai for the story.

 

 

Abbie’s project is an 18-minute radio documentary. The piece aired in June of 2009 on Making Contact and in July of ’09 on KALW.

Kerala Brides

By Sonia Narang (class of 2008)

Sreeja, a Kerala bride, now arranges marriages between women from her hometown in south India and men in the north.

SORKHI VILLAGE, Haryana, December 2007—The day after her wedding ceremony, Omana and her new husband boarded the Mangala Express to make a 2,000-mile journey that gave her a panoramic sense of her changed life. The train left the verdant rice paddies and coconut groves of her home in southern Kerala and 56 hours later, she stepped off in the dry, brown fields of the north.

Up until that trip, Omana had lived with her parents and never left their village where local custom permitted her and other girls to wear their hair loose and to leave their face uncovered. Now, in her husband’s village in the northern state of Haryana, she is pronouncing words in a new language, learning to cook round flatbreads for her husband’s family, and adapting to the cold Haryana winter. Even the dress is different. Here, she must cover her entire face with a veil.

“It’s difficult doing my outdoor chores with this cloth on my face since I never had to wear this back home,” she said in broken Hindi as she sat in her husband’s home surrounded by his family. As she talked, she tucked loose strands of her hair under a scarf and showed a visitor the photos of her wedding.

Omana is part of a supply and demand phenomenon created by female feticide – the selective abortion of girl children, who many families here have long viewed as an economic burden. Up until ultrasound was introduced into India in 1979, many women were pressured to kill their infant daughters. Now, the new technology has led to selective abortion and some ten million female fetuses have been aborted in the past two decades, according to U.K.-based medical journal The Lancet.

Though sex selective abortion became illegal in India in 1994, the practice continues in many parts of the country. Female feticide is most acute in Haryana, a prosperous farming state where families can afford ultrasounds. The 2001 census counted only 850 women for every 1,000 men in Haryana. That imbalance has forced some in this country of more than a billion people to break with one of its more ingrained customs – marrying within one’s caste, a rigid class structure that defines a person’s place in society. Nearly 90 percent of the country’s marriages are within the same caste, but increasingly, Haryana’s eligible bachelors are looking beyond their region and their caste for brides. Even though doing so is considered the last step of a desperate man, it’s still better than staying single – for men and women.

Three friends from Kerala, south India hold their children in a village in northern India, where there’s a shortage of brides.

The importing of brides or the “marriage squeeze” as a UN report called it, has created its own abuses – women trafficked from the poorest parts of India, women unable to produce children sold off to other men, and the importing of under-aged girls. Demographer Christophe Guilmoto, who authored the UN report, said that scarcity of women also increases the risk of gender-based violence.

While the Kerala women are treated better than the rest, women’s advocacy groups say it’s clear that the adjustments many make are dramatic. Kerala has one of the country’s highest literacy rates and Haryana one of its lowest. And the Kerala brides are also moving to a highly patriarchal society, where property is passed down through the sons and women move into their husbands’ homes. In Kerala, women wield power and no one would think of getting rid of a female child.

But, getting married is as important for women in Kerala as it is for men in Haryana. So, the surplus of bachelors in Haryana gave Omana something she couldn’t find in Kerala – a husband. Like Omana, other Kerala women are considered undesirable by Kerala men for a variety of reasons: age, horoscopes difficult to match, and an inability to pay the required dowry. While Haryana men would ordinarily never marry anyone with these so-considered glitches, none matter if they marry outside their state. The grooms even pay for the wedding, a cost traditionally covered by the bride’s family.

And, brides from Kerala are particularly sought after.

“People here think Kerala girls are better than those from other parts of India because they are well educated,” said Rekha Lohan, a researcher in northern Haryana. Kerala also has the highest ratio of females to males in the country, with about 1,100 women for every 1,000 men.

In Kerala, when families of prospective grooms inquired about Omana’s horoscope and found it was one of the rare ones known as unfavorable for marriage, they looked elsewhere. Every year, her prospects got dimmer. At 29, she was considered far past the marriageable age, and her family considered the options. They had heard of other local women marrying men from Haryana and so they sent Omana’s photo to one recent bride and it went from there to the house of Ajay Singh, a 34-year-old sweet shop employee. Before long, the couple met in Kerala for the first time and just days later married.

“These women don’t share anything with the men they marry,” said Ravinder Kaur, a sociology professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. “They don’t share the language, they don’t share food habits or culture. Everything is very different.”

As a result, she added, the marriages are difficult in the first years. “But over a period of time, the women get accepted, they adjust, they learn the language and many of them who came a while ago dress and talk like the Haryana women,” she said.

The marriages are perhaps toughest in the smaller villages where the cultural practices such as wearing the head covering are strict. But even here, in the village, a few Kerala women are making their mark.

All the villagers, for example, know Sreeja, a 31-year-old woman from Kerala, who arranged Omana’s wedding and several other matches. After Sreeja’s matchmaking side business took off, she became the talk of the village and appeared on local newscasts. Though she works in the fields and dons the traditional head covering like most women here, she wasn’t willing to abide by the prejudice towards newborn girls.

Negative attitudes towards girls remain strong. “Haryana’s society doesn’t recognize they have created this shortage of women by eliminating their own girl children,” Kaur said.

Moreover, she added, as long as men are able to marry women from elsewhere, “They can pretend there is no crisis.”

Usha sorts through photos of her wedding, which took place in the southern state of Kerala.

Sreeja is an anomaly in the village. But nearby in the town of Hansi – just 10 miles away – strong Kerala women are becoming increasingly common. At present, the town of 75,000 people has about 300 Kerala brides, the majority who come from the same town in northern Kerala. Some of those marriages have been brokered by Usha and her sister Vasantha, who first married Haryana men several years ago. Now, with the help of their mother in Kerala, the sisters have enlarged their own community by arranging eight other matches.

“Earlier, I was always homesick and wanted to go to Kerala often,” said Usha, who lives with her large extended family in a two-story home with an open-air courtyard. Five years into her marriage, she comfortably moves about the house, cooks north Indian meals with ease, and speaks fluent Hindi.

“I was thinking about my mother, brothers, and sisters all the time.” Now, she doesn’t miss home as much and only visits Kerala for weddings or other major events.

She said her husband’s family welcomed her into their home, supported her, and even taught her how to cook like a Haryana girl. “The curries here are made very differently. We use coconut oil back home in Kerala and they use a different kind of oil here. I learned how to make the curries from my mother-in-law.”

Still, Usha feels most relaxed around other transplants from Kerala. On one recent winter day, she wrapped a chiffon pink scarf around her neck, put on a red sweater, and headed to a nearby house to meet her closest friend, who like most of her friends is also from her hometown in Kerala. These women are like her sisters, she said.

“If there’s some event in my home, I invite them. Similarly, they invite me over to their houses. If I fall ill and have to go to the hospital, they come with me to the hospital.”

As Usha navigated the narrow alleyways, she got a few stares, but mostly blended in with the others on the street. The minute she arrived at her friend’s home, she switched into her native language of Malayalam and the two women chatted over cups of steaming sweet tea.

Usha, a Kerala bride, learned a new language and customs after marrying a groom in north India.

When the women visit their parents in the south, the differences between life in Haryana and Kerala are immediately visible. As the train pulled into a Kerala village one January morning, the villagers were in the final hours of an all-night temple festival, complete with drumming, fireworks, and intense traditional dances performed by men in bright red masks and headdresses. In Haryana, the Kerala brides said, everyone would have been asleep hours earlier. And like New Yorkers who winter in Florida, Kerala brides prefer the warm weather of home to the cold weather of Haryana.

Usha’s mother Kalyani, who still lives in Kerala, said that marriage will always trump geography.

“When the girl gets old and is unable to find a groom and get married here, we’re fine even if she gets married to someone far away,” Kalyani said. Moreover, she added, even if her daughter and the other brides can’t stay in Kerala, they get married in the Kerala style.

“The groom’s family brings the wedding dress and jewelry to the bride’s house the day before the marriage.” Even though the brides permanently move to Haryana, Kalyani has no regrets.

“When I arrange a wedding, I’m giving the bride a new life and god will give me blessings,” she said.

Read the story on Sonia Narang’s blog.

A Journey to Ayodhya

By Wu Nan (class of 2008)

AYODHYA, Uttar Pradesh, December 2007—This is the way pilgrims reach Ayodhya. Thirty minutes before the Farakka Express left for Delhi, passengers filled track Number 11. As they waited to board, some kept warm with wraps, others with blankets or rugs. Young girls and children fell asleep on the ground as rats scurried to get the crumbs under nearby benches.

Ayodhya, the site of a 1992 religious riot between Hindus and Muslims, first caught my interest this past December when the government announced another delay—the 43rd—in issuing its investigation of the incident. Again, the Muslim and Hindu activists blasted the government and the sharpness of their argument made me wonder about the the depth of such religious and political.

The facts are these: Up until December 6, 1992, Ayodhya, a city of less than 50,000 population and over 460 miles east of Delhi,  was the site of the 16th Century Babri Mosque. Hindus had long argued that it was also the birthplace of Ram, their most important deity, but India’s first prime minister put an end to the dispute in 1949 when he closed the mosque. That settled the issue until the 1986 when a district judge reopened it and a new party, known as the BJP, began to use the issue of the mosque as a way to cut across class lines and attract Hindu voters. Hindus compose 80 percent of the country, compared to the 13 percent that identifies as Muslim.

On that December morning in  1992, the BJP gathered  600,000 Hindus near the mosque to call for building a Hindu Temple. A dozen Hindu activists broke through the police barrier around the mosque and others soon followed. Within hours, the mosque was destroyed. The wave of violence that followed ended with 2,000 deaths and the appointment of the Liberhan Commission.

The original mission for the Liberhan Commission was within two months to report on who are responsible for the destruction and how and why it happeneds. Fifteen years later the unpublished report still sits on Judge Liberhan’s desk. I wondered how the report failed to come out and a centuries old religious feud could arouse such passions. I went to India to try and to understand Ayodhya and its aftermath.

There I was at the station, anxiously expecting my destination, Ayodhya. Each year the town attracts over 500,000 pilgrims, ten times larger than its population. Why? Thinking about it, I saw a faded blue train approached the platform. As the train pulled in, the crowd rose and chased it. Passengers jumped into the dark carriages looking as if they had been swallowed by a  magician’s box. I held my train ticket but had no idea what carriage was mine.

The crowds suddenly pushed me into the carriage in front of where I stood. It was dark inside. Minor light came through tiny windows with iron bars. Others scrambled through touching  each seat and reading the numbers. I knew I had a sleeper, but had no idea where it was. I tried to get out but too many passengers were pushing in. As I looked through the bars, I thought we must look like animals trapped in a cage.

I finally squeezed out and found help from one staff in red-cap. He led me to a board stuck with a forest of papers filled with hundreds of names. Miraculously, he found mine.

Inside my car, white bulbs dangled above each cabin; the rectangular block with six bunks on either side that were separated by a narrow aisle. Dark blue curtains covered every bed and cut the whole space into smaller parts. The air was stuffy; a child cried from behind one of the curtains.

This was completely opposite experience when I took a train days ago to Chandigarh I thought. The first class air conditioned I boarded had coffin seats, food and drinks served during the entire journey.

I went there to visit Anupa Gupta, the commission’s counsel and only lawyer. He lives in that city   planned by the French architect Le Corbusier in 1950’s. Four hours south of Delhi, it’s known for its civilization of the western layout of wide, tree-shaded avenues where traffic runs in an orderly fashion.

Gupta, a lawyer in his early 40s, met me at the gate of his two story house. He is of medium height, slim and was dressed in a gray suit, white shirt and a traditional British, 18th century style tie. He smiled, looking like a character in a movie as he welcomed me into white stone house. We walked through the small garden in front and up to the second floor office. There, the walls were lined with books including a collection on the American Constitution.

“Ayodhya is an extremely dangerous issue,” Gupta said.

How, asked Gupta, could the passions of an old argument incite a million people?

Interested the issue, Gupta joined the commission in 1999 when Judge Liberhan had struggled early on and ended up firing his lawyers at that time. Immediately, the pace picked up and by 2001, Gupta began interviewing L.K. Advani, the head of the BJP party, which came into power by trumpeting Hinduism—a religion practiced by 80 percent of the country compared with the 13 percent who practice Islam

Advani is considered core to what happened to the Babri Mosque because he was the prime minister at the time of the incident. When Gupta’s questioning offended Advani, he heard from Judge Liberhan who  asked him to tone down his questions to the the former prime minister.

“I said I’d rather quit the commission,”said Gupta. “After this he (Advani) was very wary of me.”

Gupta wrote 200 pages on his deposition of  Advani. In the following nine years he also heard the testimony of nearly a hundred witnesses. His understanding of the Ayodhya issue, he said, got deeper and sharper. The last witness to testify was Kalyan Singh, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP), the state where Ayodhya is located. After Singh’s testimony, Gupta filed a 400 page report defining Singh’s role in Ayodhya incident. He said these reports are important evidence for what happened in Ayodhya.

“The complete truth has to be told,” he said.

When asked why the report has been delayed so many times, however, Gupta and says simply that it’s incomplete and mentions his lack of a computer and a staff of only 20.

“Was this really how such an important report stuck? And the passion still drives the pilgrims to travel on a tough trip I am enduring?” I asked myself. The train was running fast. And the next minute I fell asleep in the darkness.

I finally arrived 14 hours later. Unexpected, my interpreter took me to the Faizabad district police station where the police head wanted me to register as a foreign reporter. I was told Ayodhya is highly sensitive place and I would be accompanied by a police guard to make sure I’m in a safe area. I noticed even the women police there were armed.

My guard in green uniform nodded me and sat silently at the front of a van my interpreter booked. I sat in the back with my interpreter. We slowly drove on the stone paved road. The van trembed and made noises, while other cars, bikes, people and donkeys passed us.

This is Ayodhya,  typical of those cities built by India’s Muslim rulers in the 15th century. Low-slung houses and shops filled the narrow streets. The only thing that makes it unique is that every five to 10 meters there’s a uniformed police officer, similar to my guard. The local residents appear to be quite comfortable with the police and chat with them at ease.

We met Amar Ujula, a local political reporter who has followed the Ayodhya issue for a long time.

“Will the Liberhan report fail?” I asked the question stuck in my mind since I started my journey.

“The Liberhan report will come out either in current government under BJP’s time,” he said.

He explained that the government and BJP are both responsible for the destruction of Babri. Neither of them will be interested in exposing their fault. The major public complaint is that the government failed to prepare enough police in advance to prevent the destruction. The BJP is most eager to bury the report since it planned the gathering which lead to the mosque’s destruction, he said.

A person I later met had a different view was more critical on the Liberhan report.

“The Liberhan report is a joke. 15 years? I don’t think it will ever come out,” said Capitan Afzal Ahman Khan, a 90-year-old Muslim activist, who lives nearby the destroyed mosque.

Captain Afzal was almost killed by BJP in Dec 1992, days before Babri was destructed. Friends and relatives helped him flee, but his house was set on fire. When he heard the Babri mosque had been destroyed, he said, he cried till fainted. “When I woke up, I just wanted to die with Babri and ran toward that direction. Many people stopped me,” he said.

He paused in the dark of his house. His eyes shone. Behind him hung a poster of the Babri Mosque, this tall white building, which reminded me of the gorgeous Taj Mahal.

For him, the government report hasn’t come out because it was a shame for them as their police failed to protect the mosque. As a result, Muslims like him lost their holy mosque and had to fight for it until today.

“I’ll die after the first pray at the rebuilt Babri Mosque,” he said continuing. “The government should build a new Babri Mosque, looking exactly the same as the old one.”

He recalled the experience of praying in the Babri when he was young. To him the memory was as vivid as it was yesterday.

Captain Afzal thought of praying in Babri again almost everyday. “I believe there will be a new Babri,” he said.

Today eight family members of Captain Afzal rolled in a small house the government rebuilt. Although he survived the incident in 1992, the Government ordered body guards to protect him since he’s an figure in Ayodhya and in case similar incidents would happen to him again. So, a guard armed with an  AK 14 stands outside. A color-printed board hangs over his front door—a mark of government protection.

Five minutes away from his house there was the Babri site which rose the passion made Captain Afzal want to return to the mosque and drew the pilgrims who boarded the train with me. But, they can see as little as I did.

Stone walls have been reinforced with two layers of iron fence and arrow-shaped top point to the sky.  These surround the area that is about the size of a small stadium. No trace of the poster I saw in Captain Afzal’s house.

Only a few people are authorized by the government to be able to enter the site and these are generally researchers. Many Ayodhya residents have never visited the destroyed site.

As my trip went on, I got eager to know what Ayodhya means to BJP. Back in Delhi, I surprisingly discovered that the BJP party of Ayodhya has been building a temple five miles from the site of the mosque.

At his house in a wealthy area of south Delhi, I meet Swanpan Dasgupta, a scholar and columnist who has worked closely with BJP leaders since 1989. Dasgupta talks with me in his basement study room. Three walls are lined with bookshelves. At one corner there is one long table where each of us sitting at one end.  Dasgupta’s dog sits next to the table watching us.

To him Ayodhya represents a brazen and brave act by Hindus. “A new political identity was therefore formed,” he said, because it cut across caste lines. “There is a creation of political Hindu. That is the significance of Ayodhya to me.”

For the BJP party, this meant that the poor who had traditionally voted with the ruling Congress Party, began supporting the BJP, which had always been known as an upper caste party but one that also appealed to Muslims.

Dasgupta said that when the Muslim King Babur ruled India in the 15th Century, many Hindu temples were destroyed and converted into mosques. For decades, Hindus have wanted their temples rebuilt Ayodhya  captured this issue and made the rebuilding of the temples a political issue.

After Babri’s destruction in 1992, the question of whether there was ever a Hindu temple at the site became a charged legal and academic question. In August 2003 the Allahabad High Court accepted a report from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) that offered evidence of an earlier Hindu temple beneath the Babri Mosque. Muslim archaeologists  have appealed the decision and the dispute is now stuck at the Allahabad High Court.

“It does not matter whether we’ll build it in 20 or 50 years,” said Dasgupta.  “It’s a victory for the Hindu.  We have reclaimed the site.”

The temple being built nearby, he says, is nearly 60 percent complete and will be moved once the courts say it is okay to do so.

“Ayodhya marked the beginning of Hindu militancy. The Hindu now hit back far more aggressively,” Dasgupta said. “It could become very dangerous.”

“Will there be an closure to Ayodhya?” I asked.

“It’s only one issue,” he says. “It’s never the last word. The energy Ayodhya has thrown out will go on.”

“What about the Muslims? Will they forget Ayodhya?”

“They’ll eventually get over it,” said Dasgupta. “The Muslim never ruled the country very long. They will not lead on the issue either.”

But, I’m not as sure.

The night before I left Ayodhya, I sat in my interpreter’s courtyard waiting for my train. My ears began to catch the sound of men murmuring. It was very low at first, but then it got stronger and clearer. I suddenly realized it was men praying. He said yes. It was the evening time for Muslims to pray.

The sound was like the waves of the ocean, raised and fell, went higher and higher, and finally flooded the whole town. It was a ritual that had last for years and years and seemed likely to last for decades and decades to come. Because Ayodhya is on people’s mind.