I’m White

Child Labor Law Violation 1

Child Labor Law Violation

I had a bad time at CWC today.  I didn’t go alone, but it didn’t matter.  No one was listening to anything I said, and they were rude and angry if I did try to defend myself.   One of the consequences of my tough decisions in the last couple of months is that not everyone was happy, of course.  For matters of privacy I will be brief, but will say that adolescents, and I believe particularly adolescent girls can be very destructive, and very charmingly convincing that they have been wronged.  In fact this girl has been so wronged CWC now wants to see if the other girls are likewise being exploited in violation of Child Labor laws.

It sounds silly but I remember as a kid cleaning the house with my mother, playing music, talking…. taking care of our home.  I was told today though that in India this is not done, that girls/women don’t clean their own homes.  But what about my girls?  Should I assume they will all be affluent enough to hire servants to cook and clean?  You think those are the families they will marry into?  I think I somehow really challenged a cultural norm.  I think these people at CWC are enraged that the girls clean.  Maybe it’s my being a white American and some image of my exploiting them?  I tried to tell the CWC that I clean the bathroom, which is true, but they weren’t listening to anything I had to say.  I clean the bathroom for several reasons.  First, no one else wants to do it.  Second, in my mind, cleaning is honorable work.  Third, the girls have come to really appreciate a clean bathroom.  They take care of the other bathrooms. That’s not a bad thing.  And of course the hippocracy of all this is that in India it’s the middle class who most uses child servants in their homes.

They seemed enraged that a girl was expected to change the diaper of a child with disabilities.  I’m thinking this is all an April Fools joke and they are dead serious.  So the issue of diapers let to a sudden reaction that I had “normal and handicapped” in the same home and that had to end!  I said that CWC had given me these girls, but that wasn’t relevant either.  It was really ugly, and I expressed my feelings about it, which is to say I was not submissive.  I finally got one person who was lecturing me that this was a court, to understand this court had jurisdiction over the child but not over me.  They simply do not have the authority to force me to take a violent girl back into the home, however much she sheds tears.  Their plan was for me to take her back but not give her work to do.  Yeah, right!

I am not dealing with a rational system here.  I heard it described as judicial anarchy, and I think this is true.  There are no real rules.   Our home has been inspected seven times, with the same kids, same mix of “normals and handicapped” as they continued to describe them.  There has never been a problem.

Would this all be playing out differently if I were Indian?  I’m thinking yes.    It’s been the divide until recently even within the home.     Are they seeing me as the White lady using Indian girls to clean her house?    If this is the stereotype can they  even see beyond who I represent?  This is personal.  I have visited NGO’s where they show off the weaving being done by five year olds (vocational training), and no one says anything.  I reported a home almost ten years ago where girls were being used as servants instead of being sent to school.  I had proof, documents, school records, attendance records, but I could not get anything changed.

This is the CWC where I brought the eight starving children from Aunty’s, where three children there have died since then, but no one will do anything.  The last time I was there, I was standing outside and Aunty told me to move because the feces was coming down over the balcony and she didn’t want me to get dirty.  Government inspectors came but they ignored everything.  I was there.  They ignored me.

Now it’s 2:30 am and I can’t sleep.  I tried.  I’m also in the middle of major dental work, as things seemed a bit quiet and I took the time.  Well, I guess from the tension this evening, the temporary bridges and crowns cracked and my mouth hurts.  I’m afraid to leave Shishur Sevay until this “surprise” CWC inspection happens this week so I’m not sure what to do, except drink a lot of liquids only, and keep my mouth closed… not so easy…

We told the girls what was going on because they will be interviewed, and because we will be sprucing up our paperwork, which needed doing anyway.  So a friend told me to have them prepped and all I could think of were the custody cases in the US where the first question is always, “Did your mother/father tell you to say this?”  Nope, they will say what they want and I will deal with it, whatever it is.

I know we will survive this — but I’m scared.  I’m also pissed.  I’m a seventy year old doctor, psychiatrist, and obstetrician and gynecologist.  I have 45 years of clinical experience working with woman and children.  Actually I wrote that in my report today but they ignored it.  Even when Seema Gupta translated it into Bengali they ignored it.  They are out for blood, my blood, this White woman’s blood.

The Seventy Year Old Doctor

The Seventy Year Old Doctor

Here is my testimony:

Dance and Movement, Inclusive as it should be

Dance and Movement, Inclusive as it should be

This is a picture from our new Dance and Movement classes three times a week.  On the days between classes the girls like to put on the music and practice.  Six years ago I promised Ganga she would dance one day, and now she does.

We live as a family.  We eat together, sleep together, watch tv together, pray together.  We don’t separate by abilities because we all have so much to give each other.

OOPS!  Another picture of all of us together.  no separate  beaches.

OOPS! Another picture of all of us together. no separate beaches.

The group who came with me today was

1.Seema Gupta, Board Member, Joint Secretary, and Deputy Registrar of Calcutta High Court.

2. Purba Rudra, Ph.D, our Academic Director

3. Sudipendu Dutta, my secretary.  (I hired him as assistant, but in India, Secretary is higher, so now he is my Secretary).  Sudip is an incredibly hard worker, sincere, responsible, and cares so much about what we are doing.  He also has Cerebral Palsy and walks with sticks.  He manages.  I kept wondering what it was like for him, listening to all this about not having “handicapped and normals” together.   What did this mean for his life, his family life, his work life…. Was it OK that we were all together or should there be separate accommodations for him?   He is also an activist working with others on creating a residence for people with disabilities…. and has been talking about the success of inclusion, Shishur Sevay as a model of how good it can be.  What was he thinking?  I’ll have to ask him in the morning.

Now it’s 3:30 am and I think I’m ready to post this and try to sleep for a couple of hours.

In Search of Security-UPDATE 19 November 2012

UPDATE:  Sometimes things DO work out.  The man did not want to lose our business.  In fact he seems to really want to protect us.  So, he is doing the night duty himself until he can find someone reliable.  This is a huge relief as he stays awake, walks around, and keeps an eye on what is going on.  Has he dozed off sitting in the chair?  Of course.  It’s really normal.  I don’t get upset about that.  This morning he brought in a new day guard to meet me.  The boss will continue at night for now.  He asked if we can start over.  New day begins. 

 

All security agencies provide deteriorating service over time.  It’s one of my “Harrison’s Rules of Life.”  It can take a year, or two weeks, which seems to be the latest case.  Each starts the same, whether they came recommended by someone, or from the internet…. They “LOVE’ this home and the work I am doing.  Usually they call me “Ma” but this one refers to me as Didi.  The line goes something like, “You are my Ma/Didi and I will take care of you.”  I think they learn this from watching satire.

I get scared when I realize our security is falling apart, as it is now.  We are alone here, women and children.  We are surrounded by criminals who would love to have access.  I just called the boss, the new boss, and he was “shocked” that the night guard didn’t show up, said the day guard would stay on.  I said I don’t do 24 hour shifts because they can’t stay awake!  Two nights ago at 2 am when I was up with a crying child, I saw that the guard had shut himself away and was fast asleep.  I called the boss in the morning but his phone was “lost” and the second number didn’t answer and he had already asked for “one more chance.”

Old stories for context…

First ever security agency was fake.  One of my board members, actually our Treasurer, arranged the service.  Then the local goondas discovered he was fake, fake company…..

Then there were the ones who were getting drunk from alcohol from the goondas next door.

Then there was the one I found, around 3 am, lying in our entrance way playing with myself.  It was really hard to make the phone calls to tell the company what the problem was.

Along the way I hired G4S.  They are the same company that didn’t do so well for the Olympics in London.  They are the best known, and guard the consulates here in Kolkata.  It was nice to have them because they responded to the complaints, so it was a feel good, but the guards slept and drank.

Early on the local goondas decided my guards were entitled to sleep.  These were 12 hour shifts.  The goondas demanded I provide blankets and pillows.  I refused, said I’d rather save the money and guard by myself (behind the locked grille).  When I finally demanded this guard be transferred he turned to the community and that was the cause of the first of our riots.  By riots I mean about 30 drunken men, and the women neighbors too screaming at me to leave, telling the girls they will kill me, and telling me not to call the police because they owned the police.  When I called the local political leader he said, “They don’t want to hurt you.  They just want your money.”  That was so reassuring.

One time when I got rid of a company, we cleaned out the locker and found a bag of condoms and empty alcohol bottles.

The cost has ranged from about Rs. 16,000 to Rs. 26,000 a month.  That’s a huge part of our budget.

This is really sickening, isn’t it!

We had a guard about a year ago we really liked.  All of us liked him.  Then we found out he was giving his mobile phone to the girls and trying to set them up with local boys.

Oh yes, and then there was the massi who was stealing money from me and passing it through the window to the guard…. and riding home with him on his bicycle.

Remember, these are only the stories I know……

Where do I go from here?  I guess I go the same place, the same route, because it is the only one here….  This is Kolkata.  Nothing works.  It’s not intended to work.  I’m angry.  I’m angry enough to tell him just to leave, to fire them now, to just live without a guard.  We would be safe for the night, but the criminals would come over the fence and steal everything that was not chained down.

Another guard story.  Saraswati Puja is celebrated in late Jan or early February.  Two years ago we bought a woven cane pandal to put up, and to decorate.  The statue of Saraswati was inside. (No, that wasn’t stolen.)   After the holiday I wanted to put it in the garden as a play house for as long as it survived the weather.  It was about 6’x6’x6′, perfect for the kids.  A couple of days after the Puja, I suddenly noticed it wasn’t there, in the front and it wasn’t in the garden.  It was GONE.  What is amazing is that neither of our guards had any idea where it had gone! Six by six by six had just absconded.  The next day I heard from someone, I can’t remember who, that a neighbor had it.  So I went to the neighbor with one of our teachers to translate.  We were a funny sight.  Only the woman was home in their tiny rented quarters.  “Yes, my husband brought it here.”  I didn’t see it though and she pointed to the ceiling as the panels had been taken apart and put up for insulation.  I smiled and thanked her and said no, there was no problem.  I just didn’t know where it was.  So then the guards who had no idea where it had gone said they thought I was throwing it out so they gave it away, and so on.

This is boring, to write, and to read, but it’s the stuff of what drains my time and my energy.   I feel incredibly alone with this.

The Pandal That Absconded 2011

Keeping Girls Safe in Kolkata

Last night the girls and I sat and talked…. I felt a familiar intimacy,  as mother and her daughters.   Each evening, one of our staff takes Rani for a walk, with one of our older girls, as Rani really needs someone on each side.  On this evening, two local men followed them from our gate, met up with more young men and made the staff person very uncomfortable, and afraid one of them would grab our girl.  Meanwhile, our girl, characteristic of the cognitively impaired, lacking judgement, smiled at them broadly.    Our little group left the park and came right home with the young men following them to our gate.   “Nothing happened,” except fear, and fear is a happening.    Our talk last night was because these walks will end now.

“Mummy, I’m not worried because if someone tries to grab me, other people around will help.”  I wish I believed this.  “No, it’s not true.  Maybe they would and maybe not.”  So then I told them about Guwahati, where a woman was gangraped recently while reporters filmed and crowds watched as she cried for help.  I also told them more about our community.  When I go out on the road, I’m often referred to as, “The Mother Teresa of Our Area.”  But when we have been under attack from the goondas, when they told the girls to get me inside of they would kill me (I didn’t go) those people who likened me to Mother Teresa did not come to help.   Instead they formed a large crowd out on the road where they got reports, updates, and finally the police came…. but none of those people came to help.  They would not challenge the criminals at our gate.

The girls listened, and then one of them said poignantly, “When we were little you didn’t tell us these things, but now we are big and so you have to tell us.”  She got it right.  I talked about “bad things on the street” and each one nodded that she knew about bad things   They each had lived bad things on the street.  They did not argue.

Purba, Maggie and I had been talking recently about the lack of free movement in the girls’ lives.  They don’t go to the park because it is not safe.  They will be stared at and heckled.  It’s not just them.  Girls are not outside in the park, or rather only little girls are outside.  When I bought the house I imagined the girls playing outside our gate, running in the lane in front of us, still a few bends from the road.  But men carrying small black pouches come and go, doing the business of the area.  And the goondas of last evening stand around and stare.

As I write I hear the criticisms from many that I am too overprotective.  But I don’t know what “over” means.  I protect them because they are in danger.  They are prey.  As girls they are prey and as orphans they are prey.  I was a teenager when I was raped in New York City.  So it’s true that I will do everything in my power to protect these girls, as I did with my first two daughters in the US.  My daughters here do not yearn for freedom.  They had a lot of it and they are still recovering, still happy in the safety of Shishur Sevay.  What I would find stifling, they find comforting.

I yearn for open spaces where they can run and play.  We once went on a picnic where by afternoon we found ourselves in the middle of a riot.  We only got out alive because of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) who came to rescue us with rifles and shields and led us to safety.  I’m not ready to write more, but this is a dangerous place for girls, a very dangerous place.  It’s why I’m here,  a one person RAF trying to protect 14 orphan girls.

Sending Food for Aunty’s Children

Aunty sent an auto-rickshaw for supplies yesterday morning.  That’s it parked in the lane in front of Shishur Sevay.  I sent Bijoy to the store and we bought rice and other staples that should last about five days.   

We sent rice, Maggie Noodles, Dal, Chana Dal, eggs, powdered milk formula for babies, neutrala, a soy product, chira (flattened flaked rice) potatoes, and sattoo (powdered chhana).  The cost was Rs. 3889, or USD about $80.

I’m planning to visit there tomorrow.  I’m bringing someone from a home that is considering taking one of the severely disabled boys.  It’s a good home, like ours, and we do this by keeping the number of children within our resources. Knowing our limitations is one of the most important components of success.  Saying no is painful.  So, we live with that, and once in a while we find reason to stretch a bit.

The biggest obstacle to feeding the children is an attitude by the staff that because the children are so starved, you cannot give them much food of they will vomit and have diarrhea.  So, they let them be hungry.  I cant’ seem to get past this with anyone!  I’ve tried to de-worm them but so far it hasn’t happened.  I’ve suggested frequent small meals but that hasn’t happened.  I brought two dozen bananas the day we took the sickest ones to CWC, and the bananas were still in the office at night.  One day I was told that the boys have an “emotional” problem over food.  I said it’s called starvation.

I know it is painful reading this, as it is painful living it.  There are problems with the government and problems in the home.  And no one cares!  The best chance those kids have now, the ones I can’t place, is in that home — if we can manage the problems.  If we can’t, I still don’t know.  Over the weekend I talked with friends here and heard terrible stories about other places they knew.  One friend said, ‘The government doesn’t care if they live.”

Lots of thoughts in my head, and probably some of the same in your heads.   Tomorrow is another day.  I’m so totally swamped with work at Shishur Sevay, but I’ll go to see the children at Aunty’s.  Balance in my life? Nope, and not yet time to rest.

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