Saturday, January 06, 2018

The colony of cooks-3:The first court case 1991-94 ( continued)

The Revenue Department refused to survey the land for allotment. We had to hire a private surveyor to do this. He surveyed, made room for roads and we finally allotted about 750 square feet of land for each person. There were two other allotments. One for me in a corner where I built a Short Stay Home for women and another for Mattibandi (cart of soil) Venkaiah who helped us at cheap rates to fill up the allotted plots again with fresh earth. Meanwhile, there was fresh trouble. We heard that several politicians were making representation to our local M.P. to cancel our allotments. His name was Magunti Subbaramieddi, and we heard that he was in Tirupati making arrangements for a Congrss Party session. We hired a Commander Jeep and made a dash to Tirupati to meet him.i and Saraswati Lakshmi Kumari were in the front seat and Sesharatnamma, Vijayamma., Singaiah, Raja and others in the back seats. We met Sri Subbaramireddy. He said that he knew Babu (C.B.Naidu) well and that he would speak to him ( by that time, they were in different parties but there were family friendships). Since we could not afford to keep the Jeep for the night, we started back immediately. I was at the end of the front seat of the Jeep and I did not sleep during the previous two nights. Around midnight, Lakshmi Kumari suddenly pulled me inside. Apparently, I fell asleep and was about to fall and if Lakshmi Kuari had not pulled me inside, I would not have been here to tell you the story.
By 92-93, we somehow built our houses, many of them tin sheds, after a lots financial struggles. However, our troubles continued. The Municipality used to dump rubbish on our land. Some rowdies burnt the huts without tin roofs. Luckily the damage was contained with our collective efforts and finally by a fire engine. A complaint to the Collector took care of the dumping of rubbish. We took turns to keep vigil during the nights to protect the houses from vandals and rowdies.At one time there was a rumpor that there was price of one lakh rupees on my head and some rowdies were hired from a neighboring district to assassinate me. I was unaware of these rumours and once went home on a scooter driven by Lakshmi Kumar. She was blasted by my husband who just then heard the rumours. We had help too. Our lawyer Karavadi Raghavarao encouraged us. The local S.I. Murali Krishna used to visit us often.
At the same time,APMAS (Andhra Pradesh Mahila Abhyudaya Samiti) with Ramalakshmi Arudra, Dr. K.V.Krishna Kumari, Roudri and others encouraged us. We ( the cooks group) started participating in some of the activities like movement against excessive prices, indecent pictures,... some of the younger people started Yuva Jana Abhyudaya Samiti and it was encouraged by the elders. Lenin was supposed to have said ‘every cook must learn to rule the state’. We probably made a start on this. The women in the movement used to try to protect the colony in the night with big ladles available to them and in the day moved around the government offices with me leaving the houses in the care of their husbands. This went on until 1994.
Then we had municipal elections. Mantri Sreenivasa Rao contested on behalf of the Congress Party, Venkata Rao on behalf of TDP, me and Matte Raghava Rani as independents. Sreenivasa Rao won the election and as soon as he won, he sanctioned electricity to the Colony. We used this for organising payment of taxes. Raghavarao argued well for us in the Municipal Court and one Pushpamba proved to be an excellent witness for us. And we won the case in 1994. As soon as we won our folks went around to various goddesses to honour their previous vows, took me along and also treated me as a goddess. I tried to dissuade them from doing this since it would be very natural to treat me as a devil if I made mistakes. This caution proved to be useful in the next few years.

The colony of cooks-3: The first court case 1991-94

Below I will describe the years of struggle in Aruna’s own words transcribed by me. This is what she remembered during a few days of December, 2017 when I spent some weeks in Ongole. The dates may not be entirely accurate but she has newspaper cuttings from that period and a more accurate account can be put together at some stage. The story so far is that a swamp land near the Ongole bus station was sanctioned for cooks colony by the Revenue Department.The cooks drained the land to some extent and built a few huts on the higher ground. The Municipality went to court against the Revenue Department for sanctioning the land without their consent. The society formed by the cooks entered the case as the third party respondent with Karavadi Raghavarao arguming for them. There was a stay order since the cooks were already in possession of the land. Though the cooks were not supposed to do any thing more until the final decision was given by the court, the conditions were unlivable with only bits of higher ground in the swamp and Swampy conditions with mosquitoes all around. Back to Aruna.
The grant of valuable land in the middle of the town was not appreciated by either the political parties including leftist ones or the various wings of the government. It was around this time I shifted from Communist Party to Telugu Desai Party.The shift did not help. But some particular politicians off and on and some individuals interested in the welfare of the poor helped us as I continued to lead the cooks in establishing the colony. I will mention some of these names as I go along and might have forgotten some names, I hope to include some of the other names in a fuller account later on. Some of the early supporters I remember are Dr. A.P.Vithal, A.V.S. ( movie artist)Dr. Chavali Santikumar and various other progressives.There was a police officer, the late Murali Krishna who was S.I. at that time and became a D.S.P. later on provided us with protection. Apart from the political parties who were opposing us, there were also other establishments like the Veterinary Department,R.T.C. , Ekalavya Colony nearby who were claiming parts of the land sanctioned to us and also started encroaching on the land sanctioned to us. Then there were rowdies harassing us and we did not know at whose behest.And we did not have the minimal infrastructure to establish the colony. We decided to proceed with establishing the colony despite the limitations imposed by the judgement of maintaingn the status quo.
The first problem was to fill up the land outside the higher ground on which we established the huts. At that time we had communal meals with lanterns and candles. Finally I decided to proceed with the development of the colony and sold my gold bangles to start the proceedings. Dr. A.P. Vithal also helped with the finances. The first step was to fill up the land away from the huts. The rubbish dump to the Municipality was close to us. We spoke to the drivers of the tractors dumping the rubbish and during the next few months diverted thousands of tractors of rubbish, at the cost of twenty rupees to each load, to fill up the rest of our allotted land. The smell was unbearable but we had to stay there to make sure that the rubbish was dumped on our lot. Some of the people who stood guard to achieve this were Sesharatnamma, Saraswati Lakshmi Kumari, Sivapraxad, Rajyalakshmi, Koteswararao,Shyam and others. Once Sivaprasad was badly hurt by glass pieces while rearranging the rubbish but did not flinch. I tried to help him and I too was hurt. Then the attention of all shifted to me and after that I stopped getting in to the rubbish and just guided the others. Those were difficult times with mosquitos all around. We used smoke tablets to drive them away to some extent, bought mosquito nets and blankets for protection during the nights. Finally, we filled the dump some time during 1992. The nest job is to fill up the land with proper soil to cover the rubbish. We felt that unless we built semi-proper houses on that land, it would be difficult to keep the land. It was also necessary to make proper house allotments instead of the huts we arbitrarily built earlier. ( to be continued)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

How Inequality works “The political upheavals and populist incursions of the past few years owe much to widespread perceptions of inequality and economic injustice in advanced economies. While median wages have stagnated, incomes at the top have continued to rise, and there is growing evidence to suggest that the two phenomena are connected.“
World’s richest become 1 trillion richer in 2017

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Teaching reading

This is what I want for my students. First, I want them to read a book, all the way through. I want them to find something difficult and do it anyway. Then, I want them to notice what a powerful tool literature is, to understand that without it we can’t know ourselves or the society we live in. I want them to discover that if they learn to handle language they’ll no longer be helpless, drowning in sugary gratification. Finally, I want them to see that reading breeds thinking, and thinking breeds resistance, and surely, especially right now, that is a good thing.“ from 'The difficulty is the point': teaching spoon-fed students how to really read 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A birth in the Short Stay Home (Swadhar Greh)

This is currently run by Aruna Tella under the auspices of APMAS. Yesterday night, one of the girls here gave birth to her second child, a son again. The pains started around one in the morning but the girls could not get a response from the hospital. Aruna Tella was woken up around three a.m. and somehow the voice of the person who spoke mattered and an ambulance was arranged immediately. The birth came around four thirty in the morning. There was no doctor at that time though one was supposed to be present. But the ambulance and the treatment were free thanks to a scheme introduced by CBNaidu and improved by Y. Raja Sekhara Reddy.
Some of the cases I have seen here are from lower middle classes with failed marriages often arranged by parents for underage girls. The girl’s case is one such. Parents forcibly married her to a person who turned out to be a drunkard and wife beater. She could not take it and came to the house with one child. Then there was reconcialiation for few months and she came back again pregnant. At some stage she developed a relationship with somebody she liked. She claims that the second child is his and possibly the first child too. Luckily, he is prepared to marry.
She was taken to the hospital by two other girls who were also in the home after difficult relationships. The first girl was in love with a person of different caste and her parents were against it. She joined the home and started working hoping to marry after she turned eighteen. She started working and fell in love with another at work. The first lover was heartbroken and tried to commit suicide. After that failed attempt, he continued to implore her and she complained about him to the police for harassment. The other girl came from better economic background and waiting for her lover to complete his studies. But she does not want to share work with others and often pays others to her share of work. There are some problems of fights, thefts and so on but in emergencies, they seem to come to each other’s aid.

some of these problems seem related to sex and marriage. There is an impression that extramarital affairs have been generally on the rise. The cause of these problems may be the desire of the parents to marrying off the girl’s at a young age with their own norms of alliances, property, status etc and not taking in to account the temparement of the children.

Addendum to The Colony of cooks-2

I would like to point out some special problems faced by women in these agitations. In this particular struggle, we had to meet politicians and officials. They were generally courteous but even during this brief period, there were a couple of disconcerting instances.
Once we had to meet a politician known for his fondness for the other sex, and I met him with a couple of cooks. After a meeting, the politician asked me to meet him alone in the evening. We were a bit vary of the prospect. The other two ladies were reluctant to let me go alone. They said that they would come along with me, wait outside and if I did not come out in five minutes they would burst in to the office. They also said that they were prepared to give up their allotment but would not leave me to the whims of a known womaniser. Possibly apart from the desire to finish the process that I started, the loyalty of such friends kept me going. Once inside, I reminded the politician that I was friends with his son and he addressed me ‘akka’. I also told him how good looking his granddaughter was. Anyway after five minutes, the other ladies came in and the meeting ended without much problems and there was no further trouble with the politician.
The second time, there was a municipal council meeting about the sanction of the land to us and we met and requested the councillors not to object to our request. The resolution supporting us almost passed but there was one dissenter. Since it was the last council meeting before the next elections, the matter was sent to an officer to either uphold or squandered the dissent. The official also knew me from other agitations in which I was participating at that time. He wanted to discuss the matter privately with me. But I went with my colleagues when I met him next and the official upheld the dissent and that was how the matter was sent to the court in the first place but the judge upheld the status quo. But as they say correlation is not the same as causation.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The colony of cooks-2 : sanction of the land, beginnings of housing and legal problems

We met in our house, formulated the aims and by-laws of the society and registered it under the name  ‘Prakasam jilla vantapanivarala samshema sangham’. This was in 1991. For the beginning ceremony, we invited the district collector Sri Abbanna, Zilla Parishat Chairman Sri Gutta Venkatasubbiah and other local luminaries. It was not really the season for cooks and during the speeches, one of the cooks collapsed out of hunger. The district collector was moved by this incident and recommended the grant of land. An assignment committee was formed with help of then current MLA Bacchala Balaiah, MP Magunti Subburamireddi, Mandal Revenue Officer Venkateswalu and it was decided to assign land to a hundred cooks. Originally, I hoped to get land in the suburbs where the cooks could build roomy houses with greenery around. But the MRO felt that a swamp near the bus top would be more convenient for nearby villagers who will be able to hire the cooks soon after getting to the town. Finally a smaller piece of swamp land near the bus top was granted to the society. This was on August 23, 1991 on the occasion of Tanguturi Prakasam’ birthday, a day that I still remember. Unfortunately, this was also a piece of valuable real estate and the cause of some future problems.

Three weeks before, I had a major operation but immediately got in to the swing of things. The swamp was full of thorny shrubs and one could not even enter it. We collected some money and drained the swamp and cut down the shrubs. Soon, a few pieces of high ground showed up and we built a few huts on the high ground and started cooking facilities for all on a larger piece of high ground. I stayed with the cooks and ate with them. The huts were full of mosquitoes and we had to keep covering the children with bedsheets during the night. It was also the cause of some friction at home. Though my husband Kumpalli Balakrishna generally encouraged me in social work, he did not appreciate my long absences and also felt that living in these unhygenenic conditions was not good in my state. But I could not stop once we started since there were problems every moment that had to be solved. We worked day and night , used to sing songs part of the time and brought to some shape the land with dirty water around.

Then, trouble came in the shape of a person from the municipality. This representative said that the Revenue Department granted the land without the permission from the Municipality and that if we wanted to avoid trouble we should grease some palms. We were already hard up with financial problems building the colony and much more work had to be done to fill the swamp and construct at least temporary residences. In any case, the land was sanctioned to us and we did not have the resources to pay bribes. The Municipality went to court against the Revenue Department and we went to the court as third party in the litigation and Karavadi Raghavarao argued on our behalf. The court ordered to maintain the status quo since we were already in possession of the land. Once the order came to maintain the status quo, we started efforts to fill up the swamp. But there were more problems ahead...

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The colony of cooks-1

in a series of posts, I plan to describe the work of Aruna Tella in establishing a housing colony of cooks. This time, I have the benefit of some notes given by her. I will describe the work in her own words.
It was possibly 1988. I was 33 and undergoing some training camp in politics with a wing of the communist party, it is another matter that I shifted to Telugu Desai Party later on. Political parties were not that important in my life. Wherever I went I used to try to meet the poor and working classes and there was a desire to help them. During this sojourn, I met one of the cooks at the camp by name Sesharatnamma and got in to a conversation with her. She described some of their problems. Their work seasonal and during periods when there was no work, they used live on borrowed money. The workers came from various castes since the work consisted of several parts from cutting vegetables to cleaning vessels and actual cook(ing. They all lived together during the work season. But they had problems getting to their temporary homes since there both men and women in the groups going home at odd times and there was harassment by the police. She said that if they had a union and fixed residences they could escape these problems and requested me to find a place through the government agencies for their residence. I was impressed by her demeanour, gave her my address and asked her to meet me at a convenient time. In due course, this led to the establishment of ‘vantapanivarala samshe a sangham’ ( which roughly translates as ‘The society for the welfare of cooks’).
Things stood still for a while until I suddenly had a phone call from Sesharatnamma. She was arrested allegedly for prostitution and asked for my help. I went to the police station, argued with the police and got her out. Then I reminded her that if they had Association and leaders, they could have possibly avoided this kind of problems. She immediately gathered many in her profession for a meeting and invited me to the meeting. All agreed to form a society and named it ‘Prakasam Jilla Vantapanivarala Samshema Sangham’ this was in 1991. We then organised a meeting in our house ( those days, we had our own house) to register the society

New findings about memory

Light-Triggered Genes Reveal the Hidden Workings of Memory “Neuroscientists gained several surprising insights into memory this year, including the discovery that the brain creates multiple copies of memories at once — even though it hides the long-term copy from our awareness at first.”

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A mental case

I have been staying near the Short Stay Home of APMAS ( Andhra Pradesh Mahila Abhyudaya Samiti) (addressMIG-163, Housing Board,Ongole 523001)and go there daily to eat with Aruna Tella and others. I have been listening to the stories of hundreds of women who passed through the home who came here to escape abuse at home. Many end in temporary reconcialation, others get some training and help to look after themselves. There are also some cases of mental instability caused by problems at home. These may end up with temporary or permanent problems. One such case was described in A dedicated lady, where the lady’s condition has improved but delusions remain. Most of the girls I have seen look better than average looking girls and that may be part of their problem. I will refrain from giving actual names or photos for obvious reasons. Here is a traumatic case from this year.
The story started around 2009-2010 in a small town nearby called Giddaluru. A girl in eighth grade, who was living with her father who worked for the military and a step mother, started absconding from classes and wandering around the town and forest nearby. The indications are that she was sexually abused by several people. Then, one day this year, her father found her unconscious in the forest and brought her to a hospital in Giddaluru. Her condition was quite bad, body full of various infections and head full of lice. As soon as she recovered consciousness, she accused her father of sexual molestation. A case was registered against him and she was brought to the Short Stay Home ( now called Swadhar Gruha) in Ongole since that is the only centre around which caters to such unfortunate women. She started getting treatment for her infections and her head had to shaved off to get rid of lice. There were also signs of mental instability and she used to pass urine wherever she liked. Some of the other girls took care of her cleaning her and around her and these included the dedicated lady above who had her own mental problems. She also started getting treatment from a psychiatrist in a government hospital and showed improvement on all fronts. But in a few months ( her total stay in the Short Stay Home was for approximately six months) her condition deteriorated again and she also started hitting people who went to assist her, though sometimes she exempted the dedicated lady. Aruna Tella felt that there were no chances for permanent improvement and that she should be sent to a regular mental hospital. But the doctor felt that her condition was improving under his treatment and refused to recommend such an option. This lasted until she attacked the doctor and he had to hide behind a table. Finally the doctor recommended her to be taken away to a hospital.
At this stage Aruna Tella attended a public meeting and spoke of her frustrations running the Short Stay Home ( now called Swadhar Gruha). One of the audience was a retired police officer from Giddaluru and he immediately phoned the current C.I. who responded by sending an ambulance at his own expense (apparently the government does not provide finds for such expenses to the Short Stay Home or the police). This process took about a week and they needed the permission from the magistrate to transport her to the mental hospital in Vizag. But the magistrate wanted a new certificate from a doctor again because of the delay. The C.I. took the trouble to wait at a doctor’s place until he returned from an assignment and finally the girl who is 21 now was ready to be sent to vizag. The dedicated lady and another lady went along with lots of clothes to change whenever the girl urinated and finally took her to Vizag where the hospital refused to admit her since it was a Sunday. Again the C.I. From Giddaluru had to intervene through police connections to get her admi
That was about a month and half ago and there is another twist to the story. The girl’s condition seems to have improved vastly in Vizag and she made a confession. Apparently, infidelity among military wives is suspected because of their long absences from home. Such suspicions were raised in her father’s case. One day she came home and saw her mother’s head split by an axe, allegedly killed by her father and that started her trauma. And when her almost lifeless body was found by her father and taken to a hospital, after partial recovery she accused him to revenge for her mother’s murder. The case is still going on. The father may escape one accusation and face another.

This seems to be the kind of problems that people face when they run Short Stay Homes. As it is, they develop reputations as brothels since the girls are usually better looking than average girls. There is shortness and delay of funding and no funds for medical needs. Generally public is not sympathetic to such places as the girls have shown some pluck and independence. I think that they deserve more sympathy and help.

There is another evolving story of delay in funds, government officials imposing arbitrary rules for new certificates of verification and so on for delayed funds which are already sanctioned. When I suggested to Aruna Tella that newspapers should take up such stories, her response was that pro-government papers do not publish such stories. But in general, there seem to be several schemes in place by the government with usual delivery problems and red tape.

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