Wednesday, 9 December 1998

Financier is king in coastal Andhra's sex industry


The Indian Express, December 9, 1998
By Syed Akbar
PEDDAPURAM, DEC 8: The "financier" enters Lakshmi's life when she is fined by the court. He is there, outside the court, waiting with the money. She doesn't need to give any guarantee, it just work on ``mutual trust,'' Lakshmi should repay in daily installments with 40 per cent interest. The problem is he never leaves her life.
Nor that of the owner of brothel who bought her on a contract. It was the financier who bankrolled the deal. ``We have to bear the rest of our expenditure like purchase of cosmetics, clothes and medicines and obtaining bail whenever remanded to judicial custody. At times we run short of money. That is when the financiers come to our rescue,'' says Lakshmi (not her real name), a sex worker.
The financiers fund the `companies' and rule the `trade' in the coastal belt of Andhra Pradesh, where sex is an industry and where they use euphemisms from the business lexicon to describe prostitution and related thing. Everyone plays the game according to the financier's rules.
As many as 200 financiers get the sex industry going in the infamous red light areas of East and West Godavari districts. They collect exorbitant interests -- up to 40 per cent -- on the money they lend to ``company owners'', read brothel-owners, and sex workers.
According to insiders, the money involved in the `finance business' here runs into at least Rs 50 crore. The daily turnover is a little over Rs 10 lakh. Such financiers are mainly concentrated in towns such as Peddapuram,Duvva, Tadepalligudem, Tanuku, Velpuru, Rajahmundry and Eluru.
Here's how it works: First, a broker brings the news to a `company' owner about a `new arrival' from a certain place or about the availability of a `fresh face'. The company owner then approaches the financier, who in turn ``personally assesses the quality of the product''.
Only if he is satisfied that the `product' is `saleable' in the market and reimburses the investment along with high profits, the financier hands over the money to the company owner who takes the woman oncontract. The money is repaid in daily installments.
While a middle-aged sex-worker fetches Rs 5,000 on a three-month contract period, those in the teens command as much as Rs 25,000 a month. This investment is borne by the financiers, who recover the money before the contract expires.
The financiers of the sex industry operate from both sides. They finance the company owners as well as sex-workers for their daily needs. While the sum involved is large in the case of company owners, who maintain as many as 25 to 40 sex workers, it is just a few thousand rupees in the case of individual sex-workers.
Whenever the police raid brothels and produce sex-workers before court, the financiers rush there with money. They pay the fine imposed on individual sex-workers and bear the expenditure involved in obtaining bail. Once the sex-workers are free and resume work, the money invested is collected.
In some cases money is advanced towards renovation of brothels with latest luxuries like revolving beds and lovelyrooms with mirrors all around. Some brothels here, a policeman says, beat star hotels in terms of facilities.
G Venkateswara Rao, a financier, proudly says that his area of operation extends to places like Mumbai, where a large number of sex-workers from Andhra Pradesh are holed up. He finances the expenditure incurred by individuals who seek a ``lucrative career'' in Mumbai or northern cities on `contract' for a specified period.
``There is no need for a surety or guarantor. Everything functions smoothly on mutual trust,'' he says.
According to a senior police officer, each financier makes not less than Rs 50,000. Asked why the police did not crack down on the financiers, he expresses helplessness in the absence of complaints. ``Moreover, financing is not a crime,'' he adds.

Monday, 7 December 1998

"We don't want to do it, but who will help us?"


Published in The Indian Express, December 7, 1998
By Syed Akbar
BHIMAVARAM, AP, DEC 6: Such cases do not frequent police records anywhere
else. The cases of missing people, all of them women, all young. In police
stations across East and West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur, Prakasam and
Vishakhapatanam districts of Andhra Pradesh, there are several such cases.
And a thread that runs through them, which ends in the far-away city of
Mumbai.
The police say the cases come when the women sent from local brothels to
big city fail to come back after the end of the contract. And that, for
every reported case, there must be scores of women held hostages in Mumbai
brothels.
According to an unofficial estimate, about 1,000 sex workers from these
parts have either taken shelter or been kept hostage in brothels in Mumbai
and other big cities. There are a few gangs which operate in the coastal
belt of Andhra Pradesh that `export' the women to the cities.
The racket run by organised gangs in the coastal belt came to light last
month when a sex worker, kept hostage in Mumbai after theexpiry of the
contract, managed to pass on the information to the police through a
`customer'. The raids that followed on various brothels in Mumbai freed
four Eluru girls, all kept hostage after the expiry of the one-month
contract.
The Bhimavaram police recently arrested a broker who sold a local sex
worker to a rich man in Mumbai and the crackdown revealed the existence of
at least half a dozen gangs in the town and surrounding areas.
The brothel-owners say that the ``gangs thrive on the desire of
prostitutes to earn more in a short period''. The gangs hire sex workers
on contracts. The contracts range from one month to one year and cost
anything from Rs 1,000 to Rs 10,000.
The gangs approach brothels, select girls, pay money towards the
`contract', take them to far off places and hand them over to the brothel
operators there. After the end of the contract, the sex workers are
brought back and handed over to their relatives. But, as everything goes
according to the ``wish and will'' of the womeninvolved, the gangs rarely
get exposed. Most of the sex workers, engaged on contract system, hail
from two communities.
In a particular community, whose members are mostly involved in flesh
trade, `panchayats' are held to award punishment/fine to the guilty. The
police, in fact, argue that what happened on November 30 at a redlight
area in Eluru was one such panchayat, called to award punishment to a
broker who breached the contract.
The gang steps in with offers of contracts when the `business' gets tough
back home. ``After the local police intensified raids on our brothels, we
lost our livelihood. For three months, we were without money. What shall
we do if we do not yield to these gangs that provide us at least temporary
sustenance?'' says Durgamma (not her real name) who runs a brothel at
Tadepalligudem.
Though exact figures are not available with either the Government or
voluntary bodies, it is estimated that as many as 10,000 women live on the
sex industry in East and West Godavari districts. Mostof them are found
along the Chennai-Calcutta National Highway No 5.
With their communities and families pushing them, more and more young are
entering the trade. Incidentally, all the Eluru girls rescued from the
Mumbai brothel were below 18 years of age.
Ask any sex worker in the coastal belt of Andhra Pradesh and they have
only one reason to be in the profession. ``We do not want to continue in
the profession. But what shall we do in the face of stiff resistance from
within the community? Who will rehabilitate us?'' says one.
While the sex workers continue to live in abject poverty, the middlemen
prosper. ``We cannot do anything unless we receive a complaint from the
affected. As these women and gangs go hand in hand, nothing comes out in
the open. In the absence of documentary proof, we cannot take any
action,'' says an IAS officer.

Sunday, 6 December 1998

Devadasis: Slave to tradition

1998

By Syed Akbar
VIJAYAWADA, DEC 6: Despite the efforts of voluntary organisations to abolish the Devadasi system, it flourishes in the interiors of Andhra Pradesh. Only, the creed of exploiters has changed. Where the Devadasi (servant of God) once served the entire village, she is today a pawn in the hands of influential politicians.
Local politicians in Khammam and Krishna districts organise Bhogam Melas in honour of visiting dignitaries, some of whom are top political leaders. Women are invited and a mela is held in a remote place. The women perform semi-nude or nude dances and entertain the guests after the programme.

The Bhogam and Dommera communities believed that their women were born to ``serve the deity''. Once offered to God as Devadasis, the women became the property of the village. Social circumstances and economic compulsions forced them to leave their profession of serving the deity through their art in various temples of the State, particularly in the Krishna, East and West Godavaridistricts.

The Bhogam community owes its origin to the Devadasi system prevalent in many villages of South India, Andhra Pradesh in particular. The Devadasis are called Bhogams or Kalavanthulu in Krishna and East and West Godavari districts, Matangis in Nellore and Prakasam and Jogins in Telangana.

The girl offered to the temple by the Bhogam community would look after the temple's religious needs.

Dance being considered a form of worship, the girls were trained in various types of the art form. They used to perform before the deity and in the process, entertain the village.

In the last 200 years, the system turned into one of organised prostitution. Some of the Devadasis have taken to the `respectable' profession of `record dancing', giving semi-nude performances during marriages or social gatherings.

Sunday, 20 September 1998

Chinagollapalem: Island goes into slow dissolve


September 20, 1998
The Indian Express
By Syed Akbar
Nature's laws affirm instead of prohibit. If you violate her laws, you are your own prosecuting attorney, judge, jury and hangman. This prophetic warning by eminent ecologist Eugene P. Odum appears to have become a reality in Chinagollapalem, a picturesque island in Andhra Pradesh's Krishna district.
The 6,000-acre island with 7,000 inhabitants is on the verge of extinction. Already 20 per cent of it has practically disintegrated into the Bay of Bengal. Every day, seawaters lash it brutally, wave after wave. Environmentalists warn that if no immediate steps are taken to prevent sea erosion, the island could disappear from the Indian map over the next 20 years.
Denudation of mangrove forests in the vicinity, the unchecked pollution in the Kolleru lake that straddles it and the construction of an artificial outlet for the Upputeru rivulet have all taken their toll on Chinagollapalem.In fact, the case of Chinagollapalem is nothing short of what could be termed ``environmental retaliation''. K.Satyanarayana is a victim of this ``retaliation''. A decade ago, he was a rich landlord owning 40 acres of lush green coconut orchards and causurina gardens. Today, he has been reduced to penury, and survives on the largesse of village elders.
The single cause for this unfortunate transformation in Satyanarayana's life is sea erosion. The sea has ``eaten'' as much as 1,000 acres in the last 15 years, making many a landlord join the swelling ranks of the landless poor. In a pathetic incident that occurred some years ago, a woman called Padma committed suicide, unable to bear her husband's impoverishment after the land given to him as part of her dowry was completely eroded.
With the state Government preferring to turn a blind eye to this serious environmental tragedy unfolding before its very eyes, it looks like many more are destined to go the way of Satyanarayana and others like him. Ministers and senior officials have visited the island a number of times.
But ironically, the government machinery isyet to act. Says Uday Kumar, a senior agriculturist who has been living on this island for five decades, ``The state Government gives an ex-gratia payment of Rs 1 lakh each to the kin of victims who die in natural calamities. We are 7,000 people. How will ex-gratia amounts help us? Will the Chief Minister think of remedial steps only after we are washed away by the sea?''
Soil erosion has assumed such alarming proportions in Chinagollapalem island that in the past six months alone, the sea has progressed about three metres landward. And the pace gets accelerated during full moon and new moon days when the waves are high. Five kilometres of the eight-kilometre-long island are facing erosion. Huge causurina and coconut trees fall down almost every day along the coast as the soil that had once held them is carried away by the waters. At places, one can discern the process taking place with the naked eye, as small clumps of sand and mud get carried away by sea waters with every wave.
Chinagollapalem islocated amidst striking natural beauty, with the Bay of Bengal on one side and the Upputeru rivulet on the other three. The island is highly fertile and luxuriant, with thousands of coconut and causurina trees. There are also large mango, sapota and cashewnut orchards dotting the island. Incidentally, it is also the home of some rare mangrove species. The main income for the inhabitants is through agriculture, though some of them live on fishing.
There are a few government schools but no hospitals or roads. At times villagers die before medical attention reaches them. The nearest full-fledged hospital for the islanders is 20 km away at Bhimavaram, in West Godavari district, or 50 km at Gudiwada, in Krishna district. What makes handling medical emergencies even more difficult is the serious lack of transportation facilities to the mainland and from there to the nearby towns.
The problem of sea erosion for the islanders is not new. It started 15 years ago, but at a much slower pace. The phenomenon continueduntil 1994, when it suddenly stopped, much to the relief of the inhabitants. But the problem resurfaced in September 1997 and has become even more pronounced since March this year.
Soil erosion here can be termed as ``land drifting'', since the soil from the Chinagollapalem island is carried away and deposited about two km away, seawards. Thanks to this process, a new 300-acre island was formed a few years ago. It served a useful function since it used to protect the old island from being directly attacked by the sea. But since last September, the new island as well as the old island started getting eroded. Now a third island is getting formed right in the middle of the sea, about a kilometre from the second island. Environmentalists are at a loss to explain the phenomenon, while the villagers blame it on the ``lopsided'' policy of the state Government.
Panchayat president K. Hanumanth Rao clarified that the erosion started only after the Government dug up a channel to the Upputeru rivulet in order todivert the excess water from its natural course. Says Rao: ``Our woes started with the new channel. We are cut off from the mainland and the sea started eating away our lands.'' ``The sea has encroached upon my fields up to a metre since August 12. Twenty high-yielding coconut trees were washed away in just one month,'' says 35-year-old Tamba Satyanarayana, pointing to his six-acre orchard, which is now reduced by half. To supplement the lost income, he and his wife have been catching prawn seedlings. ``I will be on streets if something is not done to stop the erosion,'' he says.
But even as the islanders curse their fate, officials plead helplessness. ``It's a natural phenomenon and no one can do anything to stop it,'' says a senior official who does not want to be quoted. But when confronted with the villagers' argument that it is not a natural occurrence but a ``government-made'' one, the official has no answer.

Wednesday, 29 July 1998

50 years of solitude -- Development shuns AP tribals


July 29, 1998
By Syed Akbar
VIJAYAWADA, July 28: Uke Venkaiah was 30 years old when India became free. And as the country looks back in its golden jubilee with pride over the development it has achieved, life for him has remained what it was 50 years ago. Venkaiah belongs to the Kondareddy tribe, the most primitive tribal group in Andhra Pradesh. The 50 years of independence have not brought about any change in the lifestyles of this hill-habitant tribal group which is facing extinction.
The population of Kondareddys, inhabiting the inaccessible forest areas of Khammam, East and West Godavari, and Visakhapatnam districts, is fast dwindling, causing concern to anthropologists. According to the latest census, there are just one hundred thousand Kondareddys in Andhra Pradesh and a little over half of them live in Khammam district. The mortality rate in this tribe is the highest among the three major tribal groups in the state the other two being Koyas and Lambadas.
``I hear from the radio that the country has progressed a lot. Iwonder whether it is true when I see my habitation. There has been no development in the last 50 years. There is no electricity and no roads. The same old forest tracts and the same old health problems. Nothing has changed for us,'' says Venkaiah, as an aeroplane flies past the hills surrounding his Uppanapalle hamlet in Chintoor mandal.
Unlike many others, Venkaiah is fortunate to be able to listen to the radio as his hamlet boasts of one. A radio set was brought by a tribal elder a few years ago. But most of the time it remains silent for want of batteries, which are available only in the nearest non-tribal village, a five-hour walk away.
A visit to Kondareddy or Koya hamlets like Chintagandi, Karamanakonda, Gabbilalagondi and Elugalagondi in Khammam district uncovers their miserable health condition. More than 80 per cent of the Kondareddys living in 64 hamlets are malnourished. Women and children are the worst affected. Almost all the children below five years have pot bellies indicatingmalnutrition. Skin ailments, malarial fevers, and diarrhoea are quite common. Doctors rarely visit the habitations.
There are many habitations that the project officers (POs) of the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA), which is supposed to look after the welfare of tribals, have never visited. Even Uppanapalle, which is just 40 km from the ITDA headquarters at Bhadrachalam, has not seen the face of a PO for six years. The tribal school in the village does not run regularly.
Barefoot and wearing loin cloths, the Kondareddys walk down the hills for about half-a-day to reach the nearest fair price shop to get their monthly ration, 10 to 15 kg of cheap quality rice supplied by the State Government. Tribals have been demanding that the fair price shops be located in the nearest tribal hamlet instead of villages in the plain areas.
The ITDA has opened schools in some tribal hamlets, but many of them remain closed for want of teachers. All the students sit on the floor in one classroom. The residentialschools have no electricity and the surroundings are unhygienic. The tribal children may not regularly get nutritious food as the wardens concerned have to walk for miles together to fetch fresh vegetables and groceries. Children are fed some low-quality rice and watery dal.
In one such residential school at Vidyanagar, the Kondareddy children rehabilitated from Vegisagandi and Baibokka look shabby. They have not had a bath for almost a week. When asked, the warden said he had to receive clothes from ITDA and new clothes ``will be supplied soon''.
In the absence of proper coordination among government departments, the ITDA could achieve little success in its mission to rehabilitate this most primitive tribal group that does not like to live on plains. Certain schemes proposed by ITDA for the welfare of Kondareddys are yet to take off.
Many Kondareddys lost their livelihood after the forest department tightened its vigil over felling of bamboo trees. Left with no other go, this tribe has beenresorting to ``podu'' (shifting cultivation) by levelling huge forest tracts, in the process damaging forests and sealing their future.

Wednesday, 15 July 1998

Oldest east coast port in ruins due to years of neglect


Published in The Indian Express on Wednesday, July 15, 1998
By Syed Akbar
VIJAYAWADA, July 14: There are abandoned sheds, rusted machinery, a few
condemned boats, sandcast approach channel, cattle grazing the outgrown
greenery, and human waste littered all around. But, the Andhra Pradesh
State government likes to call it the Machilipatnam seaport and fishing
harbour.After M V Dalakhi of Malta left the port on June 22, 1989, the
Machilipatnam port has not seen any ship anchoring in its area. While the
government and the trade unions are battling out the issue of
privatisation, the port with a vast hinterland continues to be deserted.
The labour has migrated to other ports.
Machilipatnam is one of the two intermediate ports in the state. It's
maritime history dates back to the first century BC when it was an outlet
to many nations. It developed by leaps and bounds under various rulers
through the centuries. Its decline began after India became independent.
For all practical purposes, the once glorious Machilipatnam port is dead.
And the government is just to write the requiem byofficially declaring it
as closed.
The cash-strapped State Government only added to the apprehension of the
people of Machilipatnam that their port, the oldest on the east coast,
will be closed down, when it recently shifted the machinery, in working
condition, to the Kakinada port.
The staff strength at the port has been reduced over the years. As many as
15 cargo boats remain unused. A grab dredger with four mud punts is lying
rusted at the entrance of the port channel. The signal station with VHF
facilities has gone dead. The transit lights for the approach channel have
all disappeared.
The port officer, who is common for Machilipatnama and Kakinada, could not
be contacted as he stays in Kakinada, where shipping activity is in
abundance.
"What remains today is scrap. A few years ago much of the equipment was in
working condition. The private consultancy firm, appointed in 1992 to
study the working of the port, listed many facilities as existing and
suggested some more. But, now the government hasto begin from scratch,"
says a leader of the Machilipatnam Port Employees' Union.
Even the four barges of the private sector remain unused. Estimated to
cost Rs 2 crore, the barges were to sail in January this year. Abandoned
midway, they are rusting in the open.
MAIN PROBLEM: The main problem facing the port is the unstable nature of
the sand bar which keeps shifting from south to north, and back, in a
cyclic manner. The approach channel keeps shifting and at times the water
is only about two feet deep at low tide over the bar.
This drift estimated at about 0.6 million cubic metres with its dominant
direction to the north, results in the shifting of the channel and
reduction of water depth over the bar.
Boats are then forced to cross during the high tide, thereby imposing
restrictions on the traffic. Further, heavy breakers exist in the approach
channel making it dangerous for boats to negotiate the bar.
Thanks to neglect from all quarters, the traffic fell from 79,269 tonnes
in 1985-86 tojust 6,588 tonnes in 1989-90. And since then, there has been
no traffic at all. The revenue last year was just Rs 2 lakh.
"Almost a million tonnes of cargo can be handled. It may even go up to 1.5
million tonnes. The APSEB is willing to get its coal supplies through the
Machilipatnam port. The conversion of the Guntur-Guntakal metre gauge into
broad gauge means a direct access to the west coast, boosting business,"
feels Venkatasubbaiah, who has studied the port in detail.
A report by Howe (India) Limited, a Delhi-based consultancy firm, pointed
out that the approach channel was trying to bypass the guide bunds. The
bank on the south side was being eroded, while that on the northern side
was getting silted up. It suggested that urgent action should be taken to
prevent the by-passing of the river. Protection works and dredging are
necessary. Six years have passed since the report was submitted. The
"urgency" is yet to be recognised.
The report estimated the total cost of development of the port at Rs12.25
crore in 1992. But, it has escalated to Rs 30 crore now.

Sunday, 21 June 1998

Tribal women doggedly resist Naxal wrath


Published in The Indian Express on Sunday, June 21, 1998
By SYED AKBAR
RAJAHMUNDRY, JUNE 20: It was a well chalked-out Naxal plan to demoralise the tribal women of Pedamallapuram in East Godavari district. But, the scheme fell flat on its face as the women resounded their conviction to keep the Naxals at bay, come what may.
The Naxals' intention behind the midnight attack on the sleepy village of Pedamallapuram was to weaken the resolve of the tribal women, who have been leading an anti-Naxal movement in the agency area of East Godavari district.
But as has been the case with Pedamallapuram since the start of the movement in February, Naxals propose and tribal women simply dispose. A band of 40 Naxalites swooped on the unsuspecting tribal hamlet tucked away in the vast hilly tracts in the early hours of Thursday. After gunning down two tribal leaders, Jarta Rambabu and Bodoju Venkateswara Rao, the `Annalu' as the Naxals are known in local parlance then attacked 10 tribal women.
But, their ire was concentrated on Thonta Ramulamma and Bodoju Lakshmamma, the twins wholaunched the anti-Naxal movement. The incident far from demoralising and weakening the tribal women leaders has in fact strengthened their resolve to fight the Naxals and assert themselves. Their number has burgeoned and the men too have joined hands with the women in their fight to teach the Naxals a lesson.
That the tribal women of Pedamallapuram cannot be cowed down by acts of violence can be gauged from the fact that despite the danger hovering over the village, the women took an oath before Chandrababu Naidu yesterday to continue their movement.
``Had the Naxals attacked us in daylight, we would have taught them a lesson. But cowards as they are, they came in the cover of darkness after blasting the electricity transformer,'' says Ramulamma.
Pedamallapuram serves as a gateway to the agency area in the district. The hilly and bushy environs around the village provide a perfect camouflage to the Naxals to carry on their operations.
Further, women in around 50 hamlets in the agency area got inspired from the anti-Naxal movement in Pedamallapuram. This, the Naxals believe, will jeopardise their interests in the long run.

Saturday, 20 June 1998

AP farmers cross swords over dam


Published in The Indian Express on Saturday, June 20, 1998
By SYED AKBAR
VIJAYAWADA, JUNE 19: The ayacut downstream of the Tammileru river in Krishna and West Godavari districts is today on a power-keg. What could have been a simple issue between the farmers of Krishna and West Godavari, over the construction of a 120 mt rock-filled dam across the Tammileru by the ayacutdars of Lopudi village in Krishna district, has snowballed into a major controversy with some senior politicians on both sides of the border tightening their belts. The matter came to such a pass that a police picket had to be set up to prevent inter-district rivalry among the ayacutdars of Tammileru.
It all began early last month when a group of farmers of Lopudi and Gollapudi in Musunuru mandal of Krishna district began the construction of the dam with the active support of a legislator and some politicians. The dam, the Krishna district farmers argue, will stabilise the level of the ever-deepening river bed and thus ensure supply of water into the Gollapudi channel that irrigates around 800 acres in thedistrict.
On the other hand, West Godavari farmers got the work stalled on the ground that it would affect about 12,000 acres in their district. As the two legislators and other politicians on either side of the border entered the scene, indirectly, the dispute heated up. Officials of West Godavari and Krishna districts too jumped into the fray and dashed off letters to their higher-ups in the State capital in support of the respective ryots.
While the irrigation superintending engineer at Vijayawada argued that no riparian rights were involved as no new ayacut was proposed, the West Godavari collector pointed out that the construction was detrimental to the interests of the farmers . Apparently acting under political pressure, the officials in Krishna district issued technical and administrative sanction to the rock-filled dam without seeking the necessary clearance from the executive engineer of the Godavari special division at Eluru, who is also the conservator of the Tammileru river.
The farmers ofKrishna district have been drawing water from the river via the Gollapudi channel since 1935. Even in those days, the excavation of the channel was opposed by the then zamindars of West Godavari district. The matter was taken to court and the channel got legalised.
The farmers in Krishna had no problem till a few years ago. But, large scale quarrying downstream led to the drifting of sand and this resulted in water not flowing into the channel at the offtake point.

Monday, 4 May 1998

Second sex? No way, say women in AP tribal village; men agree


Published in The Indian Express on Monday, May 4, 1998

By Syed Akbar
VIJAYAWADA, May 3: Tonta Kannaih, Korepu Satyanarayana and Bodu Gangaiah have left their village, Pedamallapuram. The three young men would have found it embarrassing to live there any longer after they were tied up, beaten and tonsured by women for selling arrack.
On April 29, they threatened a bootlegger from a neighbouring village who strayed into Pedamallapuram, got 150 half-litre sachets of illicit liquor from him and started selling them. Tribal women chased them on bicycles and a State Road Transport Corporation bus and caught them. They tied them to a column of the village temple, put red ants on their heads and extracted a confession. In Pedamallapuram, selling arrack is a crime and the punishment instant. The accused were beaten up and tonsured. The judgement was passed and executed by the women of the village.
Far away from preached feminism and the shadows of urban life, this tiny tribal hamlet in the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, with some 225 tribal families, stands out for twothings: self-assertion by women and strict implementation of prohibition.
Such is the enormity of the power the tribal women assert here that when they speak, men keep quiet. Even the terror-striking Naxalites maintain a safe distance from them.
How could the tribal women gain supremacy over men? Tunta Ramulamma, the brain behind the tribal women movement, says: ``We have formed a mahila sangh and its word has become the law for the women in Pedamallapuram and around. The sangh has shown the women what they can achieve if they are all united and firm on any given issue''.
More than fighting for their own rights, the tribal women's concern, however, is the general well-being of their menfolk. They thought that they could not achieve this unless they prevented men from consuming intoxicants. The Chandrababu Naidu government's prohibition policy must not have cut much ice with the people in the plains, but the tribal women continue to enforce it with even more vigor.
(It may be recalled here that theState Govt had lifted prohibition early this year saying the liquor trade involved women force.) Brewing or sale of liquor is totally banned in Pedamallapuram. And no one can dare drink alcohol in this part of forest stretch. For, the punishment is quite severe and several men have been beaten up since January when the women imposed total prohibition. The ban-enforcers are the poor, illiterate and ill-clad tribal women, who toil for a living under the scorching sun by collecting soapnuts, honeycombs or wood from the nearby hilly forest tracts.
The tribal women's movement against intoxicants, alcoholics and bootleggers was not born overnight. They have suffered humiliation at the hands of their drunkard-husbands over the years. Some of them turned widows after arrack consumed their men. Then, there was the problem of the Naxalites and the police. Both of them attacked the tribals accusing them of each other's informants.
``Fed up with the trouble for over four years, we curtly told the Naxalites not tointerfere in our affairs. We also did not want the police and the excise personnel to enter the hamlet. Then came the idea of sorting out the problems on our own,'' recalls Lakshmamma, a front-runner of the movement.The tribal women turned more active after the local office of the Girijan Cooperative Corporation (GCC), which issues loans to tribals, was burnt down by suspected Naxalites in January. Immediately, the women convened a meeting and passed two resolutions: keep away from Naxalites to ward off police attacks and strictly implement prohibition.
When asked about the women's movement and their concept and execution of justice, the men in the village, including the panchayat president, chose not to speak. They only said in a hushed voice: ``Ask the women''.

Monday, 5 January 1998

Babri Masjid: Demolition men turn mosque-builders


By Syed Akbar
Published in Indian Express on January 5, 1998
VIJAYAWADA, January 4: Principles don't bring power, said the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate Atal Behari Vajpayee. Perhaps, unholy alliances and pre-poll PR do.
So, on the eve of the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, the party which was behind the demolition of the Babri Masjid has promised to build mosques for about 200 Muslim families -- spread over a dozen villages -- in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh.
Coinciding with Vajpayee's birthday on December 25, president of the State BJP minority wing Mir Ahmed Ali Khan laid the foundation stone for a mosque at Kotapadu. A day later, another foundation stone was laid for a mosque at Anjanapuram.
For the villagers, tucked away on the border of West Godavari (WG) and Khammam districts, this is good news. Since they now have to travel as much as 15 km to reach the nearest mosque. Imams and Khazis are brought from Chintalpudi in WG district or Vissannapet in Krishna district to conduct rituals in these villages.
``We have been demanding a mosque. Neither the AP Wakf Board nor Muslim religious leaders ever recognised our existence. The BJP has now come forward to construct a mosque. Why should we oppose the gesture when it is fulfiling our religious needs?'' argues Shaik Hussain Saheb, an agricultural labourer in Kotapadu.
Saheb Jan, a 95-year-old man, donated his land for the first mosque while a lorry cleaner, Shaik Moulali, offered his for the mosque at Anjanapuram. The State BJP has said it will raise funds for construction.
The local BJP unit says each mosque will come up on a 200 square-yard site before the rains begin. The total cost, according to the Krishna district BJP minority morcha, is estimated at Rs 4 lakh.
According to Shaik Baji, district BJP minority morcha president and the brain behind the mosques, a sum of Rs 20,000 has already been collected. ``There is a feeling that the BJP is against Muslims. We want to clear this misconception by constructing mosques,'' he says, denying that the move is a campaign stunt.
``The party sought permission from the local panchayats on April 13, 1997, when we had no idea that elections would be conducted,'' he adds.
But other political parties are not ready to believe this explanation.
Vijayawada City Congress president Jaleel Khan, who is himself constructing a mosque at Tiruvuru, describes the Bharatiya Janata Party move as politically motivated. According to him, the local Muslims have always been against the BJP and the party's offer will not help it in any way at the hustings. ``No intelligent Muslim will support the BJP which cares little for the welfare of minorities,'' he says, adding that even senior party leader Sikandar Bakht has been ignored by the BJP.
Local BJP leaders, however, are euphoric about the project and they hope to bring more Muslims in the backward regions of north-western Krishna into the party. The BJP today boasts of about 1,000 Muslims in its fold. Former district secretary of the BJP K V Satyanarayana feels that there is nothing wrong in constructing mosques.
``In fact, they will help develop spiritual values and erase social evils,'' he says.

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