Sunday, August 5, 2012

Some recent articles

Two articles I found today. The first is from the “Guardian” website  & it is a rather disturbing one:

India targets the traffickers who sell children into slavery

Up to 200,000 children a year fall into the hands of slave traders in India, many sold by their poverty-stricken parents for as little as £11. Now a group of activists has set out to rescue them from a life in the sweatshops of Delhi

Azam was seven when his mother decided the time had come for him to go out to work.

There were too many mouths to feed and no money coming in since her husband deserted her. And there were no opportunities in their village of Basagaon, which lies at the farthest and most desperate end of Bihar, the poorest state in India. Here more than half the population exist below the official poverty line of 22 rupees [25p] a day.

Anjura Khatun knew what to do. The next time the child trafficker came to the village, they agreed a price. A few days later, Azam was on a train to Delhi.

The boy was initially proud of his new role as family breadwinner. "My mum does not work, so I took the responsibility for feeding my family," he told the Observer, puffing out his chest. He has a sister and a brother, but Azam, now nine, is the first born. And after two nightmarish years in Delhi, he is older and wiser.

From his arrival in the Indian capital, Azam worked in a plastics workshop, sorting through waste from 9am to 10pm. The boys lived six to a tiny room. He hated every minute of every day. "All we were doing was surviving," he says. "Every night when I went to sleep I was missing my village.

"I was waiting and waiting for the owner to pay me so I could bring some money home for my mum. But the owner never gave us money. At first he said to wait for a few days, but then weeks went by and then months, and he never gave us anything."
Azam wanted to escape, but he did not dare. "The man who took me to Delhi asked permission from my mum so I didn't think I could go back."

He looks sideways at his mother. The 30-year-old looks away and fiddles with the hem of her bright yellow sari. She never worried about Azam while he was away, she says.

Her husband had left her for another woman. They were desperate. "We had no money, no food. I had to send him to work. He was the oldest. We needed to eat. What else could I do?"

Stories like this are repeated daily across the poorer regions of India. An estimated half a million children work in Delhi alone, many of them uprooted and three-quarters of them below the age of 14. Many are trafficked there by India's army of slave traders, stolen, tricked or sold by their parents for as little as 1,000 rupees (£11).

No one is quite sure how big the Indian slave trade might be; estimates range from 150,000 to 200,000 children a year. But India is under increasing pressure to get a grip on the practice. In June, the US state department labelled India as a child-trafficking hub and urged the country to bring its laws into line with UN conventions. A series of raids to free child labourers in Delhi has heaped on the pressure, and the country's labour minister has promised a new law banning all child labour.

But Gursharan Kaur, wife of Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, says that, for real change to happen, Indian attitudes to child labour must change. "If everyone decides that they will not employ children, it will help a lot. It is the poor who send their children to work due to their low earnings. If their own families do not understand the child's rights, who will?" she said last month.

An answer to that despairing question is emerging in the form of the activists of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement). Late last month in the Bihar town of Katihar, accompanied by the Observer, rescuers from the group intercepted the Seemanchal Express bound for Delhi, tipped off that a group of young children had boarded the train in Nepal, apparently unaccompanied by parents. It was the first operation of its kind.

At 11.15pm, the white facade of Katihar station was bathed in light. Inside, people slept sprawled on the platforms and in the booking hall. On a far platform, a train stood waiting to leave, its long, blue-painted carriageways crammed with boys standing, sitting and lying in luggage racks.

Inside the carriage the temperature was stifling, the stench of unwashed bodies and stale urine overwhelming. One small boy peered nervously out of the darkness at the far end of the narrow corridor. Suddenly hands stretched out towards the boys as soothing voices told them not to worry, and pulled them forward on to the platform, where they stood blinking in fear and confusion, as the train departed.

The children come from all over India, but the state of Bihar is the hub of the trade, the poorest, the most desperate part of the country. Here, up against the border with Nepal, many parents are only too glad to have one less mouth to feed, one more member of the family bringing in a handful of rupees. The trade is at its height in the farthest reaches of the state, in the poverty-stricken countryside around the down-at-heel towns of Katihar and Sitamarhi.

The rescuers worked long into the night, calming the boys, taking their names, contacting their parents. Some had travelled from Nepal, some from nearby villages. It was 2.30am when the boys are decanted into a grubby hotel near the station.

The next day, when their parents arrived to collect them, there were few smiles. Many of the adults had the look of people who had just lost winning lottery tickets.
Back in Basagaon, 40 miles north-east of Katihar, those who have been rescued and returned crowd into the yard of the largest building in the village. Some of their mothers are here, but there is no sign of the fathers.

Like Anjura Khatun, the other boys' mothers plead poverty and say they had no choice but to send their children away to work.
Nehiar Khathun's eyes are sunk deep in her face. She is 35 and sick, she says. She needs medicine. This is why she sent her son, Tahir, to Delhi. There was no choice.

There were three boys and three girls to feed. Someone had to bring in the money, and her husband was no longer around. "All day I am working, I have all sorts of diseases, I need medical help. Who can help me? We have no money, no food. What is the point of studying?" she says. "Better that he starts working and earns some money so that I can have my treatments."

Tahir boarded the train to Delhi in 2010, taken by a local trafficker called Javed. He was rescued six months ago, but his mother says she wants him to go back. Tahir looks at his feet as he talks. He wants to study to be an engineer. But he knows they need the money he can earn now. "I want that my sisters and brothers can get a good meal," he says. Tahir is 10.

The traffickers promise the parents that the children will be earning good money – anything from 700 rupees [£8] a month to 3,000 rupees [£34]. But none of the children gathered in the courtyard were ever paid more than a handful of rupees for their work.

Mohammed Abzal, 10, and Mohammed Saddam, 11, disappeared from Basagaon two years ago.

Their mother, 35-year-old Lal Bannu, says the family were desperate. Her husband was working in Kolkata and Javed said the brothers could earn 1,400 rupees a month in Delhi. The boys worked there for two years before they were rescued.

"I said they should go to earn, we needed the money," she says, her voice emotionless.

"I wanted them to start earning. Money was a priority. My husband never sent us anything."

None of the mothers will admit that they took money in exchange for their children, but activists working in the villages say that a price of between 1,000 rupees and 3,000 rupees is the norm. And the money is desperately needed. Welfare schemes designed to protect the poorest rarely filter down to those who need it most.

The boys look around the muddy courtyard. Nothing has changed since they first left, they say.

Their mother still has no money, no way to feed them. They seem oblivious to the falling rain.

There is nothing here for us, they say. There is no point in staying. It would be better for everyone if we went back.

Avdesh Kumar slipped away from Bhubharo village, in the countryside outside Sitamarhi, when he was 10. He dreamed of Delhi, could not see the point of school and anyway, everyone in the village felt he should be out working. When the local trafficker, Rama Shankar, suggested he go to the capital, he leaped at the chance. The older man sent a rickshaw to pick up Avdesh and four of his friends, who had slipped away from their homes in the early morning. All were excited at the adventure, certain that they were going to make their fortunes. As the train slipped through the countryside, Avdesh stood by the door and watched the world go by. It was his first time on a train. "I thought that if the train went any faster then it would fly," he says.

His friend Pappo Kumar thought Delhi would be like the New York they had seen in the movies. It was a tradition in his village that children went out to work when they reached the age of eight, he said, and that made sense to the gang of friends. But Shankar had tricked them. "When we reached Delhi I saw a lot of crowds and people going very fast and it was very beautiful. But we hardly got a chance to see it. From that Friday we worked every day, for 17 hours every day, sewing saris."

For the next 14 months, they were kept as prisoners, 49 boys to a room 30ft long and 15ft wide.

Only for a few hours on a Sunday would their owner unlock the grille across their door and allow a few of them out, under strict escort, to wander round the local market. Avdesh was never one of those allowed out. He lived his life in that room, ate there, slept there, worked there day after day.

"I wanted to see the city. I wanted to see my parents. But I had been kidnapped and there was never the chance to go out," he says. "I was trapped. Every day I wanted to run, but I did not know any way home."

The promised money never materialised. It had all been for nothing.

Most of the children who are rescued are taken to Bachpan Bachao Andolan's ashram on the outskirts of Delhi. When their parents are traced, they are given 20,000 rupees by the government to make a fresh start and a letter warning the parents that they will face jail if the child is found working again.

When the Seemanchal Express that had been ambushed in Katihar finally pulled into
Delhi, traffickers rounded up the children who had remained on the train and shepherded their cargo towards the doors. But the police, alerted by Bachpan Bachao Andolan, were waiting for them on this occasion. The remaining 31 children are led away to safety, but not before they have pointed out the traffickers.

The children told police that the men paid their parents as much as 3,000 rupees to buy them.

Twenty traffickers were arrested. In theory, they could face years in jail, but the reality of the
Indian justice system is that within months most, if not all, will be out on bail. Few will ever face a court.

Back in Bihar, more children are already boarding trains. The slave trade goes on.

  • © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved


The second article is a far more uplifting article from “The Independent” (UK):

All together now: The quest to save Indian music

Two men are trying to save Indian folk music, one haunting song at a time. Andrew Buncombe joins them as they haul their microphones to the farthest reaches of the Thar desert.

Father and his sons sit in the desert, barely looking at one another as their hardened fingers press on the dark teak necks of their instruments. As they draw horse-hair bows across steel strings, the pulsating energy summons the sound of a train accelerating. Suddenly, the pace eases: the musicians pause, preparing themselves before all at once they move the drawn bows staccato-like across the strings: the train, the performance suggests, rapidly approaches, puffing away until the piece is brought to crescendo. The "train" has arrived. And quiet descends upon this desert scene once more.

Ashu Sharma and Ankur Malhotra spring to their feet. They have been recording and filming this entire musical session but had not realised they would hear such an impassioned performance. They grin at one another. "That is the thing with recording in the field," says Malhotra. "You never know what you are going to get. This project could be endless. Every time you go out, you discover more."

For more than two years now, the two schoolfriends have been filling every spare moment travelling to remote villages in the north of India with their video camera and microphones and recording traditional music they fear is at risk of forever being lost.

Inspired by the folk historian Cecil Sharp, who toured the British countryside by bicycle in the early 1900s, and Alan Lomax, who recorded country, blues and folk musicians in America during the 1930s and 1940s, the pair's dream is to create an archive of recordings not just from Rajasthan and Gujarat, but from across the country.

The two blues fans, who went to school in Delhi, also want to ensure the musicians they are recording benefit directly from their work. Already, the pair have produced three albums of traditional songs and arranged several concerts. They say that half of all profits go directly to the artists. They have also uploaded more than 50 videos on to their website, which anyone can access. Their record company is called Amarrass, "Eternal Essence", and they stress the need to publish authentic tunes, rather than some impresario's assumed idea of what the outside world expects Indian folk music to be.

They are hoping the project will one day at least break even, but for now they are driven by their ferocious love of the music and the friendships they have developed with the musicians of the desert. The project is financially supported largely by the travel agency Sharma set up in Delhi when he was 19 and embarking on a different career.

Slowly building relationships with the artists has been no small undertaking. The duo's endeavour has led them to drive hundreds of miles across scorching territory, endure dust storms that have besieged villages and forced them to cancel recordings and, on the part of Malhotra, juggle another life as a part-time professor in the US. On one occasion, the battery in their car cracked and, rather than risk not being able to start the engine again, they drove 18 hours non-stop back to Delhi.

It is a blisteringly hot spring day in the town of Jaisalmer, not far from the border with Pakistan, and in his workshop, the musician and blacksmith Mohan Lal Lohar is getting out his bellows to work up a fire. While he can make and play several instruments, he is best known for producing the morchang, an instrument widely used in some regions of India and known in the West as a jew's or jaw harp.

As his wife, Gigi Devi, pumps on the leather bellows, Lohar and one of his two sons hammer in unison on a glowing piece of metal. A simple morchang can be made in hours; a more elaborate design could take a couple of days. Watching and listening to the trio – the two men bashing on the metal, Devi pumping the 100-year-old cowhide bellows – is itself like witnessing a musical performance.

Sharma and Malhotra, both 37, have already recorded Lohar playing the morchang, but today they are here to record him playing the algoza, a double-barrelled flute with the left-sided instrument operating as a drone and the right used to perform the melody. Beeswax is used to fill stops on the drone to alter the pitch.

Playing the flute requires circular breathing, something Lohar claims took him two or three years to master. "If someone played for one-and-a-half hours every day they could play OK at a beginner's level after one or two years," he says. "After about 20 years, you are pretty good.

"There has never been an institute for folk music," he adds. "It has always been something passed from father to son and sustained by people's interest." He explains that much less traditional music is being played these days and one of the reasons, he believes, is increased urbanisation. People are moving into the towns, away from the villages, away from the goatherds and the way of life that sustained traditional music. The growth of tourism, he says, has provided an outlet for some musicians who play "traditional tunes" for foreign visitors in upscale hotels, but not enough to make up for the overall decline.

Such a fall-off has a direct impact on families such as his, who make their living producing instruments. "We have to hustle more," he concludes.

Beneath the metal roof of his workshop, as a couple of goats look on, Lohar starts to play.

The tune is melodic, delicate and enchanting, and his long, thick fingers flutter on the right of the two flutes. He might be a goatherd, playing for his animals.

But what is most unnerving about his performance is that here in the Thar desert, in the very heart of south Asia, his tune sounds like nothing other than a Scottish reel. Sharma, Malhotra and Lohar are barely surprised by such an observation. They are among many who believe the nomadic musicians of Rajasthan may have been responsible for transporting an entire body of music and tradition westwards, feeding into Roma gypsy, flamenco and Celtic music. Professional ethno-musicologists say there is no conclusive evidence to prove this, but many musicians from various cultures say they believe there is a link that is clear to them when they play together.

Last year, Sharma and Malhotra, whose record company also comprises friends Ravneet Kler and Avirook Sen, organised a series of concerts in Delhi to which they invited traditional musicians from Rajasthan and celebrated traditional West African performers from Mali, including the 21-string kora player Mamadou Diabate, and guitarist and singer Vieux Farka Touré and his band.

The highlight of the event was the final performance of the second night when everyone took to the stage and jammed together, the desert sounds of Africa and India blending seamlessly.

Whatever the truth about the purported westward migration of the musicianship of Rajasthan, what is beyond doubt is the complexity and richness of the culture that has developed. Even now, some of it, in particular the "kinship practices", are not fully understood.

The musicians of western Rajasthan, centred around the district of Barmer, belong to two Muslim castes, the manganiyar and langa. Traditionally, the two groups have performed music for a community of "patrons", a word that imperfectly refers to a relationship in which the musicians receive sponsorship, money and often payment in kind from the more dominant group. (The langas have always performed for Muslim patrons, while the manganiyars perform for the Hindu rajput caste.)

"A lot of the songs would be about traditions," says Malhotra. "At a wedding of a patron, there would be one song performed for guests arriving, another performed when guests were leaving. There would be songs for when the woman leaves for her husband's village."

Not surprisingly in this desert environment, water is a recurring theme. There is an entire sub-genre of songs relating to so-called paniharis, women whose job it is to get water. "There are lots of songs about women collecting water – women taking clay pots and going to the well."

Shubha Chaudhuri is an ethno-musicologist and director of the American Institute of Indian Studies at Gurgaon, a satellite city of Delhi. The private organisation houses an archive of traditional music from across the country. Chaudhuri believes the traditional music of Rajasthan is robust – she points out that many traditional musicians have toured the US and Europe – but accepts that the repertoire being performed for most listeners is becoming smaller. She refers to it as "erosion".

A co-author of the exhaustive Bards, Ballads and Boundaries: An Ethnographic Atlas of Music Traditions in West Rajasthan, Chaudhuri says that between 10 and 20 songs are played all the time at concerts in India and abroad and she believes the performers feel that an audience of the general public – unlike their traditional patrons – would not want to hear the more "authentic" songs.

"I have been arguing against [the musicians] dumbing down. There are still a lot of discerning audiences out there. Otherwise, how would traditional Indian classical music survive? It's their perception," she says. "My attitude when I am with them is to try to make them sing songs they no longer normally sing."

Sharma and Malhotra, who readily admit to being amateurs, believe the situation is more dire. They point to musicians such as Lakha Khan, a celebrated player of the sarangi, a traditional instrument, and the uncertainty about its future. "He is the last grandmaster of that instrument in his community. He is struggling to persuade his sons to pick it up," says Sharma. "If they do not, all that knowledge will be lost. The tradition will not slowly die off; it will die an instant death."

Yet, like Chaudhuri, they believe the authentic music can survive if a large-enough audience is made aware of it. Unlike their hero Alan Lomax, who struggled with desperately heavy equipment and aluminium plates, digital technology has handed them a much simpler way of recording and publishing the music. Adds Sharma: "The music is good. There are enough people to sustain it, but we need to make those people aware of it."

Sharma's SUV bounces over the railtracks on the way to the village of Hamira, in the Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan. In the back-seat is Sakar Khan, a celebrated performer of the kamancha, a bowed instrument that has 17 strings, three of gut and 14 of steel. Sakarji, as he is referred to, is aged 76, wears a splendid white moustache, and has been playing since he was a boy. This year the Indian government announced they were giving him the Padma Shri, a civilian award, for his services to folk music.

Malhotra and Sharma had been planning to record Khan and his musician sons in their home, but there has been a death in the village and such an endeavour would be frowned upon. Instead, they set up on mats on a small hill a short distance away, overlooking a small lake. There are six separate microphones as well as their video recorder.

Sakarji is to perform with three sons – Ghewar, Feroz and Darra – and other assorted musicians from the village. "We are musicians by caste. My father, my grandfather, we all trace ourselves back," says Ghewar. "I started playing the kamancha when I was 14. For the first two years I did not sleep [at night], just played. I would practise all night and then fall asleep at dawn. I would watch my father playing. It took me five years to master it."

And why did he choose the kamancha? "The sound is so special and otherworldly. It's like a lullaby. It can put a baby to sleep. It has a comforting sound."

The first tune they play is an emotional song, performed when a bride-to-be leaves her family's home to go to the house of the husband. The sister of the bride grabs the hem of her sibling's sari. "I won't let you go," say the lyrics. "Please stay here with me. As I look at you putting your feet in those shoes, my eyes are filled with tears because you are leaving."

Having warmed up with this plaintive number, the musicians are ready for something a little more lively, a self-penned composition that relates to their recent history. Until 1958, Jaisalmer had no paved road to connect it with the outside world. Ten years later, the authorities decided to go one step further and extend the railway line from the town of Pokhran. Sakarji was asked to perform at a ceremony to welcome the first train and he wrote a special piece of music, designed to imitate the sounds of the engine getting nearer and nearer.

With Sharma and Malhotra giving the signal, the musicians get under way, building slowly to a grand climax suggestive of the engine and its carriages drawing up at the platform.

Malhotra and Sharma are happy with the first take. Yet Sakarji is not overly optimistic about the future of the music that he and his sons play, and he dismisses many of the songs played by some performers as being "like nursery rhymes". "Our songs are not dead yet, but I see that at some point they may be," he says, as the sun starts to slip from the sky. "The kamancha should stay alive and we should be able to teach it to our children. We hope that we can do this."

For more information, and to hear a recording of 'The Train', visit Andrew Buncombe is the Independent on Sunday's Asia correspondent

No comments:

Post a Comment